The Bistro Bitch

She might have known she would be reduced to working in a restaurant eventually. Her fate being sealed when “a favor was called in” by her aunt, Elyse, who once had an affair with the owner at Maratea, so yeah, that immediately set Lavinia off on the right foot with him, having been blackmailed into giving her a position that most people unacquainted with the ways of New York would have said she could have simply got on her own. Those naive outsiders blissfully unaware that the only thing more mafioso than college and the entertainment business was the service industry. You had to know someone to even be given a second look. A resume was never going to be enough in and of itself. Which is why she couldn’t get too upset at Elyse for intervening from one of the last remaining places of kindnesses in her heart. She was aware that Lavinia, who was now trying to go by Lava ever since she had joined some bad imitation of a punk band, had been kicked out of the house by her mother, and was relying on the arbitrary generosity of friends and lovers picked up at local bars. And though Elyse was aware that Lava probably thought this would be a boon to her “art,” she could see she was going down a dark path getting darker every day as a result of her lack of finances. Made worse by the fact that her mother, who had always indulged her every whim, could not understand that someone such as Lava wasn’t simply to be cut loose into the world. She had no survival skills, and that wasn’t totally her fault. For her mother to abruptly sever the pursestrings after having coddled her to the point of allowing her to have her own personal maid separate from the rest of their Upper East Side townhouse was, in Elyse’s opinion, an ill-advised and non sequitur parenting move.

So she stepped in, figuring that restaurant work would quickly humble Lava and subsequently remembering Marco, the married owner she had slept with a couple of months ago after getting too drunk at Maratea with friends and staying well past closing time. Ah yes, occasionally New York could surprise you again behind its permanent veneer of sanitization, could present you with such “seediness” (literally) as fucking a man in his place of business when the door closed to the public. Elyse supposed she had been yearning to feel that way again about the city for a while. But it was already too late. She was leaving next month, and in her last effort at a good deed, she would get Lava this job. And, knowing that Lava wouldn’t be able to keep it herself, ensure that Marco would never fire her lest he risk Elyse’s barrage of drunken selfies of the two of them from that night getting sent to his wife.

Lava had no idea of this as she walked into the restaurant on that first warm day of summer in early June. She wore her best attempt at the uniform, interpreting a white shirt and black pants as dark blue denim jeans and a Buttweiser tee in honor of Del Rey’s early days. Marco took one look at her and immediately knew he wanted to fire her right then and there, consequences of infidelity be damned. But he took a deep breath and curtly instructed her to go to the employee locker area and gather, at the bare minimum, a button-front white shirt to substitute her current attire. Lava obeyed, already hating her foray into the commoners’ world. Why had her mother forsaken her so? Just because she hadn’t chosen a “productive” life path? Was she not aware that musical creativity took up all of one’s energy?

Sighing heavily, things began to look up when she turned to see Maurizio, a well-toned fellow server who was changing into his own work shirt. Seizing an opportunity to showboat, Lava took her top off in just such a way as to make her tit pop out of its bra in front of him. He smiled at her and laughed, “You’re going to make things very interesting, aren’t you?” With that, he walked back into the main dining hall. Disappointed that her breast reveal didn’t result in some sort of affirming display of physical contact, Lava was faced with the hard reality that she would be stuck in this place for the next eight hours. Was drinking allowed at any point? she contemplated internally.

Marco assigned Lava, perhaps intuiting her flirtatious nature, to a female server to train under. She had been working there for five years and was clearly very bitter about it. Maureen. She smelled like cedarwood and Lava always wanted to ask her why but she ultimately wasn’t all that interested. Instead, she glazed over thinking of potential rhythms and song lyrics that might one day make her rich enough to take her away from this place.

Gradually, she learned to fall in line, not aware that she could break as many dishes as she wanted without comeuppance thanks to the fear Elyse had instilled within Marco. Had she known, she might have indulged in even more egregious behavior than shooting up in the alley with Maurizio, seducing Maureen so as to get her to take more of her tables while still splitting the tips with her and getting sucked off by the sous-chef in the freezer (a testament to how wet Lava could stay when she was in the mood–and, of course, to the name Lava itself). Yes, her behavior might have been even more erratic with the knowledge of her “employment for life” status.

And after a few months, like most sharp pains turned dull, she even started to somewhat like the imprisonment called “a sense of routine.” She began to forget about band practices or ideas that had come to her in her sleep that she would usually write down. Instead, visions of penne all’arrabbiata, risotto al cavolfiore, cotoletta alla petroniana and acqua pazza swirled in her head to create some sort of insane Italian jambalaya.

Yet her forced skipping off into the sunset when it came to accepting her riches to rags destiny as a restaurant worker came to a crashing halt–a severe bruising of the knees after tumbling during that aforementioned metaphorical skip–when her past came to dine one evening.

It was Ally, the cousin of her ex-boyfriend whom she had befriended more than anyone else in his family. She had showed up with the latest stockbroker type she always tended to gravitate toward dating (they could take her to the best places, after all), awaiting Lava at the table she had been saddled with for the night (Maureen had agreed to take all the others, so she couldn’t ask for yet another favor). Because fate was never not twisted in its sense of humor and, knowing how emotionally wrought the breakup between her and Remy had been, wanted to remind her of it once more even though not even a year had passed since it happened. Since Lava caught Remy finger banging a fellow bandmate in the bathroom stall of The Magician. It was in very poor taste. Who finger bangs anymore? Remy was their drummer, adding complications to the matter at hand. He was also the one who had the most contacts with booking agents at music venues throughout the land of NYC. Kicking him out would be a very big step back for the band. But Lava presented her case to the others, how her feeling of betrayal was not going to turn them into Fleetwood Mac but instead Spice Girls. She would leave if both Remy and Sara weren’t given the boot, resulting in their new permutation as a three-piece entity with no drummer. It was disastrous, and Lava had lost the two loves of her life-the band and Remy–in one fell swoop.

Thus, to see Ally brought her right back to that emotionally rife moment–one she thought that she had been able to lock tightly inside of herself and never open again. She did her best to push it down as she approached the table. Ally glanced up from her menu and did a double take at the sight of Lava. She tittered, “This is what you’ve been doing? I can’t tell Remy, he’ll think he’s ‘won.’ You know, there’s always a winner and a loser in a breakup. And right now, Lava, it looks like you’re losing.” Lava supposed all those previous feelings of closeness had disappeared when her relationship with Remy did.

Lava sneered, “You shouldn’t act so rudely toward the person who has the opportunity to spit in your food.”

Ally laughed. “Come on, you know I’m just giving you shit. It’s all in good fun. Plus, I haven’t seen you in ages. I just didn’t think this is what you’d be doing. You caught me off guard.”

“What did you think I’d be doing?”

“I don’t know. You were always talking about being a famous musician. I thought I’d be seeing you open for Billie Eilish or something by now,” she offered with more than a tinge of sarcasm.

“Well-played, Ally. Now what can I get you?”

Ally eyed the menu as though she didn’t know exactly what she was about to say next. “Hmmm, the chitarra pasta looks good–oh, is that upsetting to you for me to say…since you used to play the guitar, and now you’re doing this?”

“Wow, Ally, way to show off your fluency in Italian. Too bad your accent still sounds like vomit. Please spare the French and don’t try learning that language, too.”

Ally glared at her. “No seriously, I’ll take the chitarra pasta.” She then turned to her mute date, typically beefy and wearing a suit as all frat boys turned stockbrokers do. He warbled, “Ossobuco,” and just as he said it, Ally took his menu so she could thrust both of theirs at Lava for heightened effect. “And we’ll take whatever red wine you might recommend. Risky though that may be…based on your taste.”

Lava chuckled faux good-naturedly and returned, “Oh, I’m sure as long as I choose the most expensive bottle, you’ll get a hard-on for it.”

With that, she sauntered away, proceeding to spiral into a hyperventilating panic attack upon entering the kitchen. The sous-chef who ate her out in the freezer regularly noticed right away, but couldn’t leave his cutting board for fear of being berated by the volatile chef. Chef Rosso, incidentally. That was actually his last name. And it perfectly suited his perpetually red face. The only clear beacon that Lava could focus on in her fraught state. The thought of having to serve Ally for the next hour or so was enough to make Lava want to walk out on the job right then and there. And as it just so happened, her proverbial fairy godmother called right at that moment to check up on her. Lava, who was never one for refusing calls at work, answered.

“Aunt Elyse, is everything okay?”

“What? Something has to be wrong for me to call you?”

“No I just–”

“I was sitting here looking at my increasingly empty apartment and realized I haven’t set up a time to give you your gift yet.”

“But Elyse, you’re the one leaving. You’re supposed to get gifts, not give them.”

“Add it to the fucking list of things I’ve done wrong in life.”

“Well, I’m free maybe…now.”

“You’re not at work?”

“Um, about that, I think I need to just walk off the job right now. Remy’s cousin is here and I’m assigned to her table.”

“So?”

“So I can’t swallow shit from one of his relatives, it’s too upsetting.”

“Why don’t you just switch tables with someone else?”

“Because then she’ll know she affected me.”

“If you leave, she’ll also know.”

“Yeah, but I won’t still be here to see the satisfaction on her face.”

“You know what? Just come over.”

“Really? You’re sanctioning this?”

“Of course, I mean, I’m technically the one who put you in this position.”

“You’re right. You owe me for getting me into this situation in the first place.”

“Okay, okay, let’s dial it down.”

“Noted…so all right, I’m just gonna do this. I’m leaving. Right now. B–”

“Take a car, will you? I don’t want to wait for almost an hour and end up drinking another bottle of Prosecco by myself.”

Elyse hung up before Lava could confirm that she would, knowing it didn’t take much to convince her of partaking in luxury.

And so, eyeing the sous-chef with a tauntingly salacious glance as she headed toward the back exit, she gave up her career as a “bistro bitch,” assuming that Marco would never take her back after her brazen comportment.

It was only at Elyse’s, after about two bottles of Prosecco between the two of them (though Elyse had already finished one before Lava’s arrival), that she learned the truth about her job security.

“Fuck. I wish you hadn’t told me. Now it’s like I have no choice but to go back there. I would be a fool not to take advantage of the opportunity to make Marco squirm. Why didn’t you tell me before?” Lava demanded as she took another swig from her champagne glass.

“Because I know that power serves for evil in your hands.”

She balked. “I can handle power, okay? You’ll see. I’m gonna go back there and I’ll never let on about what I know about my ironclad job security.”

“Or you can come with me to New Mexico and retire from this shithole.”

Lava burped. “No thanks. I’m not totally hopeless about my music yet.”

Elyse shrugged. “Then I guess I’ve done that final good deed I wanted to in getting you some money without actually just giving you money.”

“Wait, why don’t you just do that?”

“Oh you know, because if you teach a man to fish, he’ll…get used to the scent of pussy…or something.”

“Thanks for that.”

Elyse chugged the rest of her Prosecco and hiccuped, “Oh, yes. Your present.” She retreated into her bedroom and reemerged roughly five minutes later with an electric guitar in hand.

Lava got up from the floor to take in the sight of the sparkly whiteness. Elyse noted, “I know it’s not punk rock or whatever to have a family member buy you an expensive guitar, but I think we all know at this point you have to be rich to be a musician.”

Cautiously, Lava took the guitar from Elyse’s hands. “Thanks Elyse, this is…” she paused to look her aunt directly in the face. “…More than I could have ever expected from my own mother.”

“Your mother has some issues, it’s true. But she’s not the devil. One should only speak ill of the devil, he can take it.” And just as she finished her sentence, she keeled over. At first, Lava was certain that she had merely blacked out as usual, yet upon closer inspection it was apparent that Elyse was no longer breathing. In her drunken stupor, Lava kept calling 311 for help. Each time she got an automated message, she grew increasingly alarmed, wondering if maybe an apocalypse had occurred that she wasn’t aware of. Why else would no one be answering? Not thinking clearly, she dragged Elyse’s body across the floor and lifted it onto the couch. Lava decided she would have to go out to get help. And the only person she could think of to ask was, of all people, Marco. No, her mother didn’t cross her mind at all as a source of aid.

***

Upon reentering Maratea to see that it had largely trickled out of its clientele (Ally and her meathead included), she was met with not contempt but looks of relief, Maureen being the first one to greet her with, “Thank god you’re back. We thought you quit.”

“Huh?”

“We were worried we weren’t going to see you again,” Maureen reiterated.

“Oh. Okay…well, I’ve gotta talk to Marco.”

“You’re not quitting are you?”

“Not that I know of,” she said as she pecked Maureen on the cheek condescendingly.

As she barreled urgently through the door to Marco’s office, he stopped her from spewing out her information about Elyse with the firm statement, “No need to beg, I’m letting you come back because I think you’re a good server. Believe it or not. Since you’ve been here, Maureen has been restored to life. I’ve never seen her so productive. Maurizio has some kind of spring in his step–the sous-chef is more on the ball than ever with restocking the freezer. And I know that it somehow all has to do with you. I also know that you secretly enjoy this. It gives you an actual reason to hate life as opposed to just pretending to hate it for your ‘art’.”

Lava was floored. She had no idea Marco had been so observant of her character. And since he seemed to like her so much, she suddenly couldn’t bring herself to burden him with Elyse’s corpse. Plus, as it just dawned on her, it would mean he would be cognizant of her aunt’s blackmail being null and void. So instead she returned his assessment with cold professionalism, assuring, “See you tomorrow then.”

Back at Elyse’s apartment, she sat down in the chair next to her aunt’s body, poured another glass of Prosecco and started to strum a tune on her new guitar. “This one’s for you, Leesy. It’s called ‘Bistro Bitch.'”

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