It’s a great job. I’m lucky. It’s a great job.
(But do you have any idea how dirty restaurants are?)
I start washing my hands early in the shift, and five hours later at the end, I’m washing them almost every two minutes, which by then doesn’t feel like often enough after touching one of the sponges we use to wipe the crevices of the booths after we close.
“One hundred and thirty-five.” Jared counts his money, sitting on the steps down from the storeroom. “One hundred and thirty-six dollars and … seventy-two cents.” He straightens all the bills into a neatish pile and shoves them into his polyester uniform pocket. “Not bad for a Tuesday.” He looks over to where I’m standing at the prep room sink. “What about you?”
“A hundred and seventeen even,” I say, rinsing off the soap. I leave the water running. I’ve washed my hands so many times tonight two of the fingertip pads on my right hand have cracked and started bleeding. The skin from my fingers to my wrists itches and burns because I’ve washed every bit of natural oil out of it. I grip my hands into fists, bearing the pain.
Then I squirt some more soap on them and start washing them again.
“You guys are the lucky ones,” Tina says. She’s in the closet-sized office they give to the managers.
The door is open, and she’s basically sitting next to Jared, her cheek resting on her computer keyboard, volumes of blonde hair splayed out over the desk. “You’re so young. You’re so lucky and young.”
“You’re only twenty-eight,” Jared says.
“I know,” Tina moans.
Jared gives me a quizzical glance as I wash my hands again. “Tell your Uncle Jared what’s wrong this time, Tina.”
She shoots him a dirty look, her face still moulded onto the keyboard. But she answers anyway. “I think Ronald’s cheating on me.”
“With who?” Jared’s a little too surprised.
“Hey!” Tina says. “Ronald’s an attractive guy!” She hesitates. “A little short, but…”
Ronald, who stops by every Saturday afternoon for a free lunch, comes up to Tina’s shoulders. And Jared’s belt.
I’m only slightly exaggerating.
“Is it revenge for your thing with Harvey the Chef?” Jared asks.
Tina sits up, a cluster of keyboard squares embossed on her cheek. “Probably.”
I squeeze another blob of soap on my hands. I can feel my chest start to constrict, actual tears welling up in my eyes. I’m just burning with rage at myself.
But I rinse off the soap and start again.
“He’ll come back,” Jared says, standing. “He always does. So do you.”
“He hasn’t gone anywhere,” Tina says, locking the safe and picking up her purse. “That’s kind of the problem. If he left, I’d at least be able to clean up the house a little before he came back.” She flicks off the light in the office. “You know he actually once lost a whole frozen turkey? And not even in the kitchen.”
“Mm-hmm,” Jared says, his eyes on me.
“You guys done?” Tina asks, locking the office door.
“Almost,” I say, hoping she doesn’t hear the crack in my voice.
She doesn’t. “Good. I’m going to go set the alarm and then we’re outta here.” She heads out into the main restaurant where the alarm pad is, disappearing past the walk-in freezer.
In two steps, Jared is behind me, putting his bigger, longer, stronger arms around me to pin my own against my side. He turns it into a kind of imprisoning bear hug, lifting me up and away from the sink. He just holds me there for a second, a few inches off the ground, neither of us saying anything.