It’s Sunday and I’m late for work. Pulling on my tie I race into the Bistro.
“You’re late,” Fluvio says, not looking up from the reservation terminal.
“Sorry,” I reply.
“I’m taking my wife out to dinner so I’m leaving.”
“How many we got on for tonight?”
Fluvio tells me. We’re gonna be busy.
Suddenly I hear a woman sobbing. Peeking around the corner I see a thirtyish woman weeping into her tiramisu.
“What’s happening with that woman?” I ask Fluvio, “She get the bill?”
Fluvio shoots me a sour look. “Husband left her,” he says.
“That sucks,” I say.
“She’s been crying like that for ten minutes,” Fluvio says.
I crane my neck to get another look. Mrs. Dumped is commiserating with her girlfriend, telling everyone in the front section what a bastard her soon to be ex-husband is. While the other diners look on with varying shades of compassion, annoyance, and disinterest, a patron at the next table sympathetically pats Mrs. Dumped’s shoulder.
“Jesus,” I say to Fluvio, “I feel like I’m on the set of Oprah.”
“Tell me about it,” Fluvio replies.
Mrs. Dumped starts crying again. Her girlfriend soothes her in measured reassuring tones, reinforcing the ex-husband’s bastardry. Experience has taught me there are two sides to every story. And judging from the vituperativness of Mrs. Dumped’s commentary there might have been a good reason for her husband to skedaddle. Who knows?
“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” I murmur.
“Tell me about it,” Fluvio repeats.
“Oh well, “I sigh, “Another day in paradise.”
After I hang up my coat I start to do my side work. As I’m lugging a crate filled with lemons and Pellegrino to the prep area, Mrs. Dumped walks past me on her way to the bathroom. I can’t help but notice that her thong is halfway out of her pants. It’s lace. It’s pink.
Mmmmm. She has a rather nice ass.
I stock the fridge with overpriced bottled water and start making those little lemon rinds that’s served with espresso. I take a big fat lemon, cut off the ends, insert a spoon between the rind and the pulp, and rotate the spoon through, dropping the core into the trash. Grabbing a razor sharp knife I begin to slice the rind into neatly uniform slices. I’ve been doing this a long time. My lemon peels are a work of art.
Suddenly my hand slips. The knife slices my finger. Burning lemon juice is injected directly into my blood stream.
“GODDAMMIT!” I yell, popping the finger into my mouth.
“What happened?” Moises, the salad guy, asks.
Wincing in pain I reply, “I cut my finger.”
“You need a Band-Aid?”
I move over to the sink and stick my injured digit under cold running water. Moises peers over my shoulder.
“Ay! Mucho sangre!”
Blood percolates out of my finger at roughly the speed of brewing espresso. Mixing with the cold water in the sink, the result looks suspiciously like pink grapefruit juice.
“Shit,” I say, “I think I need a stitch.”
Fluvio walks into the kitchen. “What did you do now?” he asks.
“Cut my finger. I think I need stitches,” I whine.
“You baby,” he snorts, “Let me look.”
I pull my finger away. “What are you gonna do?” I ask.
“Hey I was in the army; I know how to fix it.”
“Yeah – the Italian Army. No way you’re touching me.”
Fluvio grins. I always bust on him when he talks about his national service. I once saw a picture of him from that time, tall and gangly in his uniform, lovingly cradling a submachine gun. Scary.
Wrapping a napkin around my finger Fluvio starts applying pressure. The kitchen guys start laughing. Their scarred hands all pay witness to years of cutting fish, slicing meat, and playing with sharp knives. They’re singularly unimpressed with my injury.
“Oh poor Waiter,” Armando teases,”You wanna I kiss it and make it better?”
“Maybe Arturo can kiss it for you?” Armando chuckles.
Arturo leers at me and blows a kiss.
“I’d rather die from septic shock, thank you.”
Fluvio removes the napkin. I’m still bleeding.
“Do we have any antibiotic ointment?” I ask.
“Uh no,” Fluvio says.
“Well, I’ve got to disinfect this.”
Fluvio grabs a bottle of Absolut and pours some over the cut.
“Ouch!” I yelp.
“Pussy,” Armando says, “Maybe you should be drinking that instead.”
“You guys are all about compassion I can tell,” I say.
“Just let it run under cold water for a while”, Fluvio says.
I let the cut bleed into the sink. After a few minutes it clots up. Fluvio takes a closer look.
“Nah,” Fluvio says, “You don’t need stitches.”
He’s right. I’ve peeled a flap of skin halfway off my fingertip, but it’s superficial. I push the flap back into place and Moises slaps on a Band-Aid.
“All better,” he says mockingly.
“Thanks a lot.”
I return to cutting up my lemon slices. They’re covered in blood. I throw them out, disinfect the cutting board and knife, and start all over again.
As I’m slicing up the peels I’m angry with myself. While I’ve nicked my finger on wine foils from time to time I haven’t cut myself with a knife in over 6 years. Oh well, I guess I was due.
Or was I?
I suddenly intuit that I’ve just been pimp slapped by karma.
And I realize that Mrs. Dumped is the reason.
No – I didn’t cut my finger because I checked out her ass. If that was the case, there’d be very few men in the world who could type. There’s nothing wrong with admiring the human form.
It was the attitude I had when checking out her ass. I made jokes about Mrs. Dumped’s distress and then followed it up with a little gratuitous ogling. Sometimes I’m not very compassionate.
I catch my reflection in the knife’s blade. I still like what I see. But I’m a work in progress. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t always beat myself up over stuff like this. But every once in a while I get a reminder that I’m not as good as I think I am.
I run my thumb down the edge of the blade remembering something Maugham once wrote.
“The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.”
“Huh?” Kylie, one of our servers, says. I didn’t realize I was talking out loud.
I return the knife to its holder.
“Never mind,” I say.
A little while later I’m opening up a bottle of wine on table twenty. A female customer sees my bandaged finger and asks “What happened to your finger?”
A small smile plays on my lips.
“Karma happened madam.”