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I pointed back out the walk-in door. Cold air was sweeping away, dollars draining out by the second. "Rick on the phone," I coughed, shaking my head like I was trying to get bugs out of my hair.
"Oooh," she said, leaning back against the door, peering into my face to read my lips. She wasn't the type to try to console me. "O-kay." She stepped back out of the walk-in and left me alone to look at the lettuce.
The rest of the day was a disco fog. I sent Pat out to hang with Gail, crapped out a load of artichokes by rote, let their music swirl around me, loud obnoxious thumping against my will. Dinorah was mouthing, "if you want my body." Before he called I hadn't had much anger exactly, just dark, sickly sweet confusion. Now rage was seeping out of my bones through the muscles and settling carcinogenically just underneath my skin. I never made it out front to talk to Gail Straight. It wouldn't have been a good thing.
The review appeared in the paper the following Friday. It was written in such purple flowery language that, when I passed the review around the restaurant, nobody could understand what the hell it really said. But Gail gave us four chef's hats according to the paper's inane rating system, which went like this:
Five hats = Excellent! The tops in town.
Four hats = Wonderful!
Three hats = Average. Room for improvement!
Two hats = Not bad.
One hat = Avoid at all costs.
Pat was the first one in that day, after me. She'd already read it by the time she got there. She pursed her lips as she yanked her apron out of the drier.
"Four hats is not terrible," she stopped by my desk and leaned up against it, crossing her arms, plump and motherly. "Four hats is not a bad review."
I made a great show of sipping my coffee and crossing my feet, sitting in my chair and staring at my toes.
"I don't think I can forgive Rick for this one," she murmured through clenched teeth. I must have looked at her quizzically, because she said, "I think he probably watched her come in and then called you. Don't you?"
Don't I? It hadn't occurred to me. Pat pretended she knew I'd thought of it first. She went to get creamers out of the walk-in and get going on her day. The paper reviewed Pamela's the next weekend and they got five hats. She even described Marta in the review, her stately blond waitress, who had her service down and knew her Chardonnays cold. She noted that Pamela's had a huge herb and vegetable garden out back, "no doubt allowing for the inevitable freshness of all the incredible gastronomic feats that delighted all the members of my party." Described Rick as "warm and welcoming." Whatever.
I kept wanting the newspaper to take a moment to explain the difference between five hats, Excellent!, and four hats, Wonderful! We thought somebody at one of the other restaurants in town might have called by now to let them know what it meant for us: four hats brought the steady minimum of just enough customers to pay for the produce order and five got them lined up around the block for the rest of the season.
After her shift that Friday, Sherry took a flat full of old rotting tomatoes out into the parking lot and started throwing them against the back wall until they made a lovely flower pattern. I spent the afternoon smoking cigarettes out back and hosed the wall down before I came in.
My staff camped out in Pamela's dining room being hostile one night about a week later, but nothing really came of it. Juan showed up again and dry-heaved over our herbs a time or two more after that.
But then the war seemed to die out and I think everybody just moved on.
Originally from Florida, Kim MacQueen moved to Atlanta four years ago. She works at Georgia State University and lives in Cabbagetown with her husband, daughter and dog.
Parks are run by cities not metropolitan areas.
"Atlanta isn't among the nation's 25 largest cities. 40th in population. 71st in land area."?…
My family's traditional winter celebration involves decapitating a goat and placing the severed head on…
Atlanta isn't among the nation's 25 largest cities. 40th in population. 71st in land area.