The Trattoria is expecting a particularly busy Friday night, so of course Jay calls in sick, thinks Kim as she sets the last of the restaurant’s twelve tables. Placemat, plate, folded napkin, fork and fork and knife and knife, cup for water, cup for wine, won’t you be my valentine, she hums to herself as she lays out the elements in perfect order. Jay is not going to ruin this night. Yes, she admits to herself, just she and Anna in the whole front of house will be tough– poor Anna, her first Friday shift and we’re man down– but we’ll make it through, and we’ll take home more tips for it.
Friday the 13th, Kim thinks, what a lucky day… and how lucky of me to know how lucky it is! Most people think it’s unlucky, but I know different– it was Friday the 13th last June I met Jack, and I’ve never been so lucky in my life. As she walks from table to table, squaring corners, lighting candles, Anna calls ten minutes from the hostess stand.
One of the cooks, Luis, walks through the double doors, his apron bloody with au jus, a pack of Camels in his hand. He extracts one with his teeth and asks through open lips if Kim wants to come out back. “We open in ten minutes,” she scolds him, “you don’t have time!”
“Sure I do,” says Luis, “you ain’t gonna take their order for at least ten minutes after that… so maybe you don’t,” and he winks at her before turning and re-entering the kitchen. Kim sighs exasperatedly. She walks towards the front of the room, where Anna is leaning uninterestedly on the podium, as if she is about to address a crowd of high-schoolers.
“Do you think Luis likes me?” she asks Anna.
“I think Luis tries to hit on everything,” Anna answers, looking out the darkening window at the passers-by, “but he knows you have a boyfriend.”
“It’s not even anything he says,” Kim muses, “it’s just that stupid fucking winking.”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed that,” Anna says. “Hey, so, what do I do if there’s a line?”
“You know, like, we’re full and people keep coming in?”
“Take their name and put them on the list,” Kim says slowly, “just like any other night.”
“Oh,” Anna says, “that makes sense.”
Kim is suddenly less certain of herself. Goddamnit, Jay, she thinks… well, at least it’ll be over by eleven, and Jack is coming home tomorrow. In just one day, can’t you see, you’ll be back at home with me… I just have to get through this, she thinks, “we just have to get through tonight, Anna,” she says.
“Yep,” Anna murmurs. She takes out her phone and starts thumb-typing. Almost simultaneously, Kim’s starts to buzz in her pocket.
“OK,” Kim says, “that’s the alarm. Let’s open ‘em up.”
Anna looks at her phone. “It’s only 4:55. I think we have five minutes.”
Kim reaches into her pocket. “It’s… oh.” She pauses, bewildered. “It’s my mom.” She lifts it to her ear. “Hi, Mom, this is not really a good–”
Anna keeps texting as Kim stands listening. The expression on her face is a combination of mild confusion and annoyance that her mother is choosing this time to call her. “No, of course not, I’m at work, how would I be watching the news? …I can’t right now, we open in like four minutes, can you just tell…”
She is silent for about fifteen seconds. As she listens, her face changes, tightens. The confusion becomes shock. She raises a hand to her slowly opening mouth… “Oh, no,” she says, “that’s…” And then, suddenly– so quickly, in fact, that Anna almost involuntarily spins around to see– the shock gives way to panic, to terror. Her eyes widen, her skin perceptibly whitens. “He’s on assignment,” she whispers voicelessly, “he’s photographing some band… I don’t fucking know, Mom, some fucking band, Mom, don’t fuck with me like this, the– how the– yes. Yes, that was them. Yes, the fucking Queens of the Stone Age spinoff thing… yes, that’s them. Mom, I need to go, I need to make a phone call” and she hangs up, raises the phone to her mouth and orders it to “call Jack” as Anna stares, wide-eyed, at the being Kim has suddenly transformed into.
“What’s happening?” asks Anna.
“It’s ringing,” says Kim, “it’s ringing…” Anna waits. “It’s… it’s ringing…”
Finally, after what seems like too long, Kim hangs up. She turns to Anna. Her hands are shaking. “I’m going to go smoke a cigarette,” she says, “with Luis.”
“What’s happening?” whispers Anna.
“I’m– smoking– a– cigarette,” Kim intones, “just like any other night.” And she turns around and strides into the kitchen. Anna is alone in the dining room.
Before she can point her phone to the news, the alarm rings. She quickly silences it. Now it is Anna’s turn to panic. She has no idea what is going on with Kim, why Kim is freaking out, and she does not think it is fair to leave her alone on her first Friday shift. Ah, well, she thinks, I suppose I can just wait until she gets back to unlock… but even as she is thinking it, a man raps twice on the door. Shit, she panics, what do I do? Unsure of herself, she tries to imagine herself as Kim… confident, experienced Kim, who seems to have disappeared… she takes a deep breath and goes to open the floodgates.
“Are you guys open?” the man asks. He is old, tall, and balding, dressed in a neat black overcoat. Behind him stands an equally old lady, short, with a bright red scarf.
“Y-yes,” Anna says, then more confidently, “Yes, we just opened, you are our first guests!”
“Two,” the man states. Anna looks at him. “Two?” he says again, holding up fingers in case she does not understand. “Where can we…?”
“Of course, of course,” Anna says, shaking her head, “let me show you to your table. Is by the window OK?”
“Hm,” the man hums. He turns slowly to his wife. “Window, Carol?”
“Hmmm,” she hums. “It is sort of cold, isn’t it?”
“But do you want to sit next to the window?”
“It is cold,” says Carol. “But I don’t know, why don’t you decide?”
“The decision,” mutters the man, “is not so very important,” and now another couple is standing behind them, on the street, and though they have been in line for no more than ten seconds they are already getting impatient New York faces. Anna’s heart nearly bursts through her chest. Where are you, Kim, she thinks, I am fucking up so bad already…
“Maybe a table farther from the window would be better?” she hazards.
“Well, of course it would be,” says Carol, “of course it would be, but you offered us the table by the window…”
“Ma’am,” Anna says, doing her best to feign a smile under the circumstances, “being the first guests here, you have the option of sitting wherever you’d like.”
“Well, put us by the window,” says the man.
“Away from the window,” Carol corrects him.
“That’s what I said,” he agrees. Anna leads them to a seat by the bathrooms. The couple that had been behind them is gone. Though she hates to lose customers, Anna is somewhat relieved. She goes to the bar (Jay’s usual spot) to pour two glasses of water. While she is pouring them, Kim returns from the kitchen. She sees Anna behind the bar and immediately walks over to her. Anna wants to berate Kim for leaving her alone on her first night, but she cannot; Kim outranks her, and furthermore, Anna can see that she has been crying. Her makeup is ruined. Anna tries to quash her lingering resentment.
“He’s OK,” Kim says.
“What is going on?” Anna asks.
“Jack is OK,” Kim says, “he just posted on Facebook, he was sick and stayed home, Jesus Christ, Anna, he was sick and stayed home…”
“What are you talking about?”
“Everything’s OK,” she says. She takes a deep breath. Everything’s OK, everything’s all right, the restaurant is closing soon, “Let’s just get through tonight. Let me take those waters. You go to the front door. Looks like you got a line,” she nods in the direction of the street. Anna looks up and, indeed, there are now three or four people standing at the hostess stand. It is going to be a long night, Kim thinks, a long, hard night for everyone, but it helps to have some perspective, doesn’t it? It could be so much longer… “It could be so much worse,” she says aloud.
Anna thinks for a moment. “You need to fix your makeup,” Anna says. “Let me take these waters.”
Kim touches her face. “Fuck,” she says, “I guess I’ll just rinse everything off, it’s better than all this running…” She smiles. What an inconsequential problem. “I’ll be back in a minute,” she assures Anna as she steps towards the bathroom. Anna trays the waters and walks them to the table where Carol and her husband are waiting. They, too, have their New York faces on.
“Finally,” Carol says aggressively.
“I apologize for the wait, ma’am,” Anna returns sweetly. “Your server will be with you in a minute to get you any other drinks.”
“We know what we want to eat,” says the man.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she says, “your server will really be with you in just one minute.”
“This is ridiculous,” says Carol. Turning to her husband, she asks pointedly, “Do you want to stay?”
“I don’t know,” he says, “do you want to stay?”
“I don’t want to stay but if you want to stay, I could.”
Anna looks towards the entranceway, which now has three or four entirely different people standing in it from before. The pace of life here, she thinks. Customers will come and go all night, but all we have to do is get through.