Sport 39: 2011
The Kitchen Pig Smokes the Mouseketeers
When I arrive, Brynn is in conversation with a hygiene inspector. He sends me out to his car for the laundered tablecloths. The guy doesn’t look like food safety somehow, and the extra car I see outside doesn’t fit either, an ′80s Falcon. I put my ear up to the lid of the boot, but I can’t hear anyone tied up in there. Colliding with him in the hall I ask, ‘Is I arrested, officer? Do you need to use your handcuffs on me?’ His hairdo I would describe as respectable, and on his feet he wears the open-toed sandals favoured by bushwalkers.
‘I don’t know what you want, but I’m finished here.’
I do a bit more inquiring, Cam-styley. ‘Have you got a badge, food policeman?’
‘You don’t, do you? You just have that sad little brochure.’ I point to the reading matter he brought with him, but a satisfactory response ain’t forthcoming. Perhaps an inquiry into the physical evidence … ‘What you got in this pocket here, Mr—’
‘Get off! What are you doing?’
‘Cam! Where are you?’ This word-making is coming from the vittles station.
‘Bye bye, Germ Fighter.’ I blow him a big bacterial kiss. To the man in the kitchen: ‘Coming!’
I go in to Brynn and put the question, ‘Is our food in danger?’ This man’s jeans are riding low on his hips.
‘We have to rearrange the big fridge. Pass me three lettuces,’ he says.
‘Lettuces: one, two, and trois.’
‘Not so hard. Tomatoes?’
‘Tomatoes.’ I pitch the bag over to him, but the tomatoes all misbehave in mid-air and come spilling out of the neck when he tries to catch it. ‘Ho. Sorry.’page 197
‘No throwing, just passing,’ he says.
‘Sorry. I got excited.’
‘You’re an idiot,’ he says.
‘I know you are. You said you are. But what am I?’
He leans to look out through the service window. ‘Shit, that’s the rafting trip. Go on then.’ Ladies and gentlemen, a vanload of triumphant tourists with wet underwear, fresh from dien raftpaddlement.
I give Terry the list of wet consumables, a power tune playing in my head. Eye of the tiger, it’s the cream of the fight. A paddler has followed me up to the bar to look at the whiskeys, so I point in the right direction. He’s Jameson, all the way. ‘Jameson please.’ Hotdamn.
Terry to him, ‘Good choice.’ To me, ‘Wait there, Cam. I’ll pour the rest of these now.’ And the last known survivor—the paddler points at my bodice, asks me.
‘Picked it up at a costume sale.’ He’s a ′70s fan right here. What comes after And the last known survivor? The not-knowing is an itch on my brain. Paddler points at the tray, asks me.
‘This? I can carry this with my arms tied behind my back. Go and sit down.’ Bam, bam bam bam, bam bam bam, bam bam bam …
Terry regards my frontage, crease-browed. ‘Jesus, Cam, haven’t they been scared enough?’ I had very few clean garments to don for dinner service, so I have on my Wonder Woman costume. I haven’t hit them with the starry supershorts, though, just the bodice and the headband. My jeans are all-conventional.
‘Do you want me to change?’
‘Forget it. There’s too much to do.’
‘Is Annabelle coming in?’ If his young wife don’t want to start early, she don’t start early.
‘At half past. These drinks are ready to go.’ Risin’ up, back on the street. One tray full o liquid lovin, comin atcha.
Tally cricket and jiminy ho, competitors. In your blocks. Wait for my signal: three, two, and one. They’re off and racing! Who do we have in lane one, Cam? In lane one, Cam, is an American couple who drove from Nelson today—possible naturists, suspiciously even tans. And lane two, Cam? Starting at two we have four trampers fresh off the Paparoas. You can expect disorientation and gratitude from them this evening. Moving across the field now, you’ll see the staff of the West Coast News. They’re out for a leaving do in lane three. Will be squiffy as buggery in no time at all. Blimey Cam, who’s this? Retirees travelling by campervan on a tight budget? Give them a thrill. Put them in the snug. And where do we think Her Royal Breastness might be hiding at this minute? Is she at home getting a few voddies on? Flicking her bean? Shooting at tin cans with a miniature pistol? I hear the ting of the food bell and perambulate to the service window. ‘Table two plating up—two groper first. What did Terry say?’ Brynn asks.
‘She’ll be here at half past. Watch out for a cake on the second shelf.’
‘When did we start a BYO food policy?’
‘Go. You’re coming back for a tortellini and a shanks.’
Even our habitually unruffled leader has an air of being perturbed when the salon-bronzed gorgon still hasn’t appeared at half past. He gazes at the phone. The rambunctious members of a to-do list are tapping their feet and clearing their throats in my head space, but even in my distracted state, a prediction strikes me now. In the current customer-heavy climate, we are going to lose our barman to a rescue operation. ‘I’m worried, Cam. Could you phone Tim?’
‘At her Nan’s 70th. You know, she’s not officially missing until tomorrow evening, and a multi-zillion percent of people show up in the first 48 hours.’
‘One hour. Then I’m going to find her.’
For the next hour I go into hyperdrive. Useful special skills might include mind-reading, telekinesis, and a savant’s talent for addition. Instead I have two mortal hands and a paper and pen. Main courses forpage 199 the newspaper coming up next. Clear table two, the weary mountain toilers. They’ll want dessert, huzzah. Replenish drinks for blue-haired Bonnie and corpulent Clyde over here, the campervan renegades. And what do you know? Another hungry couple has just walked in with a squirming she-devil, and table five is open like the gaps between her teeth. Terry seats them and gives them a highchair for their twister, menus, water. I leave my drinks order on the bar, and there’s the bell for the News mains. I slide their steak knives to them across the table. I’m at the window and Brynn pins the order up.
‘Steaks first. Burned to blue, left to right. Veg stacks are next.’
Time strikes nine. Still no troll. Terry is gnawing on his nails. He has shrunk three sizes. ‘Go,’ I tell him. I put bills down, weighted with mints, for the American couple and the hikers—two direct hits—and take coffee orders on the birthday table. Sweep for used plates on my way back to light the candles. The Kitchen Pig has taken off his smeary smock and tied a black apron around his waist. I give him the coffee list and lift the cake out of the fridge. The picture is a ninja princess and the words are Happy 10th Birthday Amber! Turn down the stereo, dim the lights; carry the glowing confection across the floor with a stage inhalation, ‘Haa—’ in you come, that’s it, don’t leave my jaw gaping here ‘—aapy birthday to you.’ The birthday table joins in, plus the campervaners and a good handful from the News. The birthday girl is taking the attention well. The polish on her fingernails says princess, but she’s 100 percent warrior when she takes down the candles. I go back for the side plates. The Paparoas posse have laid their notes in the tray. ‘Reallygood,’ they tell me, ‘thankyou.’ Pushing those gaps between words is just too much effort sometimes. Pick up the tray. Brynn hits the bell to tell me the latecomers’ pasta is up. Dingding.
A majestic downpour, gratuitous rain. The back door is open and a breeze pushes through. Monuments of dinner plates teeter on the bench. Bread baskets have spilled their crumbs over the floor, and knives and forks lie where they fell trying to reach the cutlery baskets. Brynn is elbow deep in dish gore. I show him the cakestand. A 10-year-old wiseacre has remoulded a fistful of yellow sponge into apage 200 cake shape and stabbed a candle in the top. ‘Hungry?’
‘Not for the rest of my life,’ he says. He takes his apron off. ‘Drink?’
We push out through the double doors, in the manner of cowboys in spaghetti westerns. A hombre from the News is last at the bar and brings us in on a factoid he’s telling to a chiquita in glittery pantyhose. ‘I read somewhere that pound for pound the Jack Russell Terrier is the most vicious of all animals.’
‘What about ferrets?’ says his muchacha. ‘Ferrets are nasty.’ ‘Ferrets are dawdlers,’ Brynn tells them in a monotone. ‘Never know when to leave.’ I’m hunched over the bar. Don’t look to us for entertainment, amigos.
‘Bored. Let’s get out of here,’ says the leftover. While she steadies herself on her heels, the kitchen doors swing open to let Terry through. He veers off to the side somewhat in his approach.
‘Annabelle’s left me,’ he says. The Kitchen Pig lets the register slam open.
‘She left a note,’ Terry says. ‘Apparently she wants to find herself.’
‘I wouldn’t wait up if I were you.’
‘Cam.’ Brynn gives me a look. ‘Did she say where she was going?’
‘Do either of you have anything to smoke?’ Terry asks. I’d like to help him, even if I do call this a lucky escape. I find my pouch in my bag and roll while he talks. ‘She’s been seeing this prick from a youth rescue centre in Greymouth.’
‘Do you know him?’ Brynn says.
‘Don’t have the Coaster credentials. Cam might know the family.’
I pass over the joint and give them my best Corleone, stroke my chin: ‘Family? I don’t get mixed up in Family business.’ I wait for a reprimand, but Terry is smiling, leaking smoke through his teeth.
‘Cam is what happens when a person watches too many movies,’ Brynn says. He sucks on the joint and passes it to me.
‘Weird thing is,’ says Terry, ‘in her letter she said the guy has been here. Said he got a sample of the “negative energy” she’s been putting up with.’
‘Negative energy?’ I say. I come over all sci-fi. I’m thinking black holes and imagining getting sucked into one, which isn’t a predicament that lends itself to merritude. With THC orbiting in my circulatorypage 201 system, it’s of the utmost importance that I pull myself back out. ‘Whaddaya say we take this outside?’
They achieve the required gathering of belongings, space jackets and such forth, in slow motion. I’m feeling insecure. There are astral journeys between us. We need intergalactic interpreters. ‘Oh wait, the rain,’ I say.
‘Rain’s stopped,’ says Brynn. And it has. All we can hear is pot clanks from the kitchen and the swish-hum of the dish machine. We exit through the swing doors and collect the Kitchen Pig on our way through. He snuffles his gratitude. He grunts his thanks. He mumbles, I suppose I should say. The heavens have closed but we opt for the awning anyway, where the picnic table is dry. Brynn lights the patio heater and the four of us line up, not on the seats but on the table. We breathe our fill of fresh air then pass the joint again and light new cigarettes.
I’m going somewhere with a ditty about the people in your neighbourhood, from one of the Jim Henson shows. ‘There was a grocer right? And a doctor?’
Brynn is stuck on a tennis player he idolised. ‘I used to pause the video player and imitate his serve.’
‘I saw that guy on some shopping channel selling a watch,’ I say.
‘I wanted to be just like him. I even wore the same sweatband.’
‘The mickey mouse club! M–i–c … see you real soon …’ I sing the song.
The Kitchen Pig makes a gun with his hand and picks off the mousketeers.
Chewing the chat is enjoyable, but the stars are shining above us to conjure distance and black holes.
‘Well,’ says Terry, ‘I guess that’s that then.’
‘What’s what when?’ says the Kitchen Pig. He’s genuinely asking, and it takes our addled brains a few seconds to register what he said. We launch into laughter.
‘Yeah, that about sums Annabelle up,’ Terry says. He wipes the back of his hand across his eyes.
‘It wasn’t that funny,’ the Kitchen Pig says.