ANOTHER CUSTOMER by Sascha Belle Nastasi

ANOTHER CUSTOMER by Sascha Belle Nastasi

It is Tuesday the third of November and I eat chocolate for breakfast. I like to think I can feel my enamel degrading. 

Later, I leave my house for a diner about which I’ve heard middling things. The walk is short and unpicturesque. 

I’m the only one here. I notice a sign on the wall that reads Now Hiring in a desperate font: Helvetica Neue. Several minutes pass before a waitress appears and leads me to a booth.

“Are you alone?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say.
“It isn’t usually this empty,” she says. “Another customer is probably coming soon.”
“I’ll start with a chocolate milkshake, please.”
“No,” she says and
“No?” I ask and
“It’s a grilled cheese restaurant. But we have a lotta different kinds of cheese,” she says.

I grimace and slosh spit in my mouth. 

“Nothing chocolate?” I say.  She shakes her head. “Coffee?” I say.  She shakes her head. 

I allow her to watch me as I pick dirt from under my fingernails and deposit it onto the linoleum-ish table. 

“Why don’t I bring you the menu? ‘Ts got pictures,” she says. I hate menus with pictures.
“No,” I say, “Sorry, no.”  I get some kind of idea. “I want you to show me what the different cheeses taste like. I want you to show me with your body and your face. I want you to play charades for me,” I say.

The waitress nods her big head – she has a big head – and tells me I can’t laugh.
“I won’t laugh,” I say.
“Another customer could be coming soon. So it must be quick,” she says. “OK?”

I nod and slosh spit in my mouth. 

She starts to say words that I did not know could mean some kind of cheese. Words like gruyere and timberdoodle and camembert. She has this woeful beige hair tie around her wrist with little hairs attached to it.

After she says each word, she contorts her body and does awkward and exacting movements. A left arm through the stomach for brie. A juggling of her own two ears for gouda. A simple head scratch for halloumi. 

For feta she removes her right hand, places it on the floor, and with her left picks crumbs of blood from her pubic hair through a hole in the crotch of her tights. The hair tie is on the floor now. 

She stops.

“Another customer could be coming soon,” she says, giggling.
“No one is coming,” I say. It’s my turn to laugh. I tell my eyes to sparkle.
“Don’t laugh,” she says.
“You’re funny,” I say, “Keep going,” I say, and she does.

She wraps her leg around the band of her chest and hops for limburger. She pulls her tongue – long and thin like a specialty Persian rug — from her throat for gorgonzola. Walks on her ankles for mozzarella. Allows milk to fall from her newly naked nipple for Yak.  Fills a cavity for sheep’s milk feta. And so on. And so on. 

This lasts a while.

I am amused but not much has been conveyed in terms of taste – not much at all – and so I stop her, suddenly aware and ashamed of the waste I’ve allowed. She is breathless and bleeding. I consider applauding her out of sympathy. She has failed.

“Why don’t you get cheddar? Classic,” she says, retrieving the hand and hair tie, putting her clothes back on. I nod. I’m hungry now. She hurries towards the kitchen. 

When she brings me the sandwich she tells me that she prepared it herself. She had no choice, she says.

“The chef has gone home,” she says. “Who knew. He left early. I’m a bit worried. I mean, another customer could be coming soon…”
“Right,” I say, “It’s all right.”

Her sandwich – mine now – is sloppily assembled, the melted cheddar thick with oil like a handsome man’s mucus. I eat without chewing much, and finish quickly. The waitress loiters.
Outside, rain has begun to fall. 

“Do you want to know me?” she says, plucking at that hairy beige hair tie on her wrist. “Do you want to see me again?”
I feel inside myself for something to say in return.
“Do you live near here?” she continues, “It seems like you might.” She plucks again.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I request the check. I feel inside my pockets for change.
“On the house,” she says. I try to grumble appreciatively, but it’s hard to lie when grumbling. She waits a while, distending time with her will. Pluck.
“So? Shall I leave with you?” she says, blushing. “I’ve never asked anyone anything like that before.”
Her wrist is red and angry now. 

I look at her in the head. She resembles a sleepy deer. I could take her home in my arms, I think. I could take her home in my arms and suck the excess flesh from her body: her breasts, her stomach, her thighs. I could chew it up and spit it in the toilet bowl. I could take her home in my arms and free the nails from her fingers with a carrot peeler. I could take her home in my arms and throw big rocks at her. I could take her home in my arms and get her sick with the flu, watch her fester and then help her heal. I could take her home in my arms and pay off all her loans and her sisters’ too. I could take her home in my arms and lie with her and stick my pointer finger deep in her belly button and try to feel through her entire diameter. I could take her home in my arms and not put her down at all; I could hold her for eternity and sometime in that eternity become the strongest man in the world. I could. Yes, I could. 

“You probably shouldn’t,” I say. “Another customer is likely coming soon.” 

Sascha Belle Nastasi is an actor who writes short fiction. She dislikes tomatoes, and almost attended New York University.

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