Excerpt

The Dishwasher

Stéphane Larue (Trans. Pablo Strauss)

August 23, 2019 
The following is an excerpt from Stéphane Larue's debut novel The Dishwasher translated by Pablo Strauss. Stéphane Larue was born in Longueuil in 1983. He received a master’s in comparative literature at Université de Montréal and has worked in the restaurant industry for the past fifteen years. He lives in Montréal. Pablo Strauss has translated several works of fiction from Quebec, including David Turgeon’s The Supreme Orchestra and Maxime Ray­mond Bock’s Baloney.

The snowplow’s rotator beacons light up the buildings’ white-coated facades as it slogs up Hochelaga pushing snow. We finally manage to pass it and turn onto a small, dimly lit street. Low-hanging cottony clouds fill the dark sky. The comfortable warmth of the car interior is almost enough to put me to sleep. You can just hear the dispatcher’s voice on the CB. Mohammed turns down his music the moment you get into his black Sonata. He keeps his car immaculately clean. No crumpled-up newspaper floor mats, no old coffee cups or leftover food in the compartment under the radio. Just a small Koran with an illuminated cover and a receipt book. The leather seats are good as new. A fresh, minty aroma suffuses the car.

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We pull onto Rue Ontario. Tall snowbanks line either side of the street.

Mohammed ignores a call on his cell. He never answers when he’s with a customer. In the extra rearview mirrors he has mounted on each side of the windshield, I can see his serene face and wrinkled, baggy eyes under bushy eyebrows. We keep driving to Sicard, then turn right. I don’t have to give him directions. Mohammed knows the route by heart, has for some time. Mohammed, Car 287, is senior driver at the cab stand on the corner of Beaubien and des Érables. Mohammed is the cabbie who nightly takes home half the bar and restaurant workers who ply their trade in Rosemont. Mohammed is a fifty-four-year-old Algerian. He’s owed favors by every taxi driver working the area between Saint-Laurent and l’Assomption from west to east, Jean-Talon and Sherbrooke north to south. Even the old guard, the holdouts still driving for Taxi Coop, respect him to a man. Half the time I catch a taxi at the stand, I don’t have to say where I’m going; every third time I don’t even give my address. It doesn’t matter who’s driving. They know me because I’m a customer of #287. Mohammed is as generous as they come. The kind of guy who’d pull over to help two people moving, stuck under a fridge on their outdoor staircase.

I remember one time two or three years ago. We were driving down D’Iberville, getting close to my house, must have been 1:30 in the morning. The moment we turned onto Hochelaga I had a nagging doubt. This was back when I was closing by myself. At the end of a busy night I’d be so spent I’d sometimes forget some of the closing jobs, like making sure the heat lamps were turned off, or that the cooks hadn’t left the convection oven on. That night I just couldn’t remember if I’d locked the back door of the restaurant after taking out the dining room garbage. Mohammed stopped in front of my place. He looked at me in one of his mirrors. I still wasn’t certain, but I convinced myself I must have done it automatically. I got out of the cab. I stood there next to the car, hesitating, with my hand on the open door. Mohammed turned around and said:

“Get back in, my friend. We’re going back.”

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He didn’t turn the meter back on. It turned out I hadn’t locked the back door, and the meat order hadn’t been put away in the cooler. When we got back to Aird and La Fontaine, where we’d started, I held out sixty dollars.

“No no, my friend. The usual fare.” He wouldn’t take more than twenty.

“It was my pleasure. You’ll sleep better tonight.”

Sometimes, in the depths of the night, you come across people like Mohammed. After years of night shifts, years of going to bed at four in the morning, I’ve gotten to know all kinds of characters, from young kids so jacked up on coke they chatter uncontrollably to hard cases content to ride their downward spiral all the way to rock bottom. The night sadly doesn’t belong to the Mohammeds of this world. But they’re out there, making it a more hospitable place for its denizens.

So we’re heading down La Fontaine. It must be midnight, maybe quarter past. The taxi stops on the corner of Aird. The tires squeal in the snow tamped down by the plow. I pay. Mohammed says bye, bids me goodnight. He has the powerful voice of a Russian lumberjack. I get out of the taxi with a final glance at the back seat. The streetlights gleam orange. The vehicles parked on either side of the road have disappeared under snow. I close the door. The cab drives off, turns onto William-David and disappears. The night is hazy and mild. I leave my leather jacket unbuttoned. I’m the only living thing for miles around. You can tell the snowplow did a pass an hour or two ago. In the distance I hear metal scraping on sidewalk. I look up at the dark windows of my apartment, as I pull out my keys. The steps up to my house are covered in snow. It looks like icing sugar.

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I steady myself to throw a leg over the snowbank and clamber onto the sidewalk. That’s when I get a feeling: something disturbing the calm of this night. It’s coming from the other side of the street, probably the apartment directly across from mine. I don’t turn around. Someone is hurtling down the staircase on the second floor, really stomping. There’s another grunt, clearly intended to get my attention. It’s not the first time I’ve been accosted in the middle of the night. It must have happened a hundred times since I moved to Hochelaga. An addict trying to sell me a TV picked off the sidewalk; some girl far too young to be out, barefoot, asking if I have a smoke, five bucks, a place to crash. So as I’m getting ready to go up the stairs I hear a “Hey!” that sounds like a challenge. I stop. I recognize that voice. It hasn’t changed. I heard it for the first time maybe twelve or thirteen years ago. I turn around. It’s him. I feel a big smile forming on my face.

Now he’s coming toward me, this big stocky guy with a shaved head walking right out of his building, right out of my past, bundled up in a Canada Goose parka. He blows out a puff of smoke and flicks the butt. I zip up my jacket and greet him.

“Bébert. Fuck, man . . .”

He chuckles. His laugh is deep and contagious and he holds out a massive hand. I let a few seconds go by, as it sinks in that it’s really him. Then I shake his hand. He almost unjoints my shoulder, seems he’s just that happy to see me. His palm is callused. I start laughing too.

He’s a little fatter, and though it’s a touch rounder he still has the same face of a cartoon alcoholic punk. If he’d been born in another era Bébert wouldn’t have lived long, carrying on and partying the way he does, never stopping to catch his breath. His cheeks are puffed up and red from the cold and the booze. It’s hard to believe that a whole slab of my past is standing there, more or less intact in the lamplight, solid as a stone stela or barrel of rum.

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“What are you doing here?”

“I’ve lived across from you for weeks, man. I’ve seen you walk by a bunch of times, but never caught you.”

“Where are you going like that?”

I still can’t believe it. Bébert has been living across the street from me for weeks. His sugary breath condenses into little curls of cold air. He passes me a bottle of St-Leger whisky. It’s two-thirds empty. His smile takes on its full bloom. The guy hasn’t changed a bit. He hasn’t been to the dentist. He’s still missing the same eye tooth he lost, after the worst ass-kicking of his life, somewhere in the middle of a three-day bender.

Bébert lifts the bottle up toward me. Its green neck gleams. So do his eyes.

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“You’ve got time for one drink with me.”

“I was on my way to bed, man.”

He shakes the bottle in my face. I laugh loudly.

“And I don’t drink hard liquor anymore.”

“Get lost!”

I pick up the bottle and take a healthy swig, then wipe my mouth on my cuff. I’m expecting it to go down like bleach—but it feels nice, lights a little fire in my throat. I take another sip and give the bottle back to Bébert before I start hiccupping.

I take a long look at my girlfriend, then remember Bébert waiting for me outside.

“Give me a minute.”

I climb the stairs to my apartment. Push the key into the lock and carefully turn. Go in and gently close the door behind me. Even the hallway is warm. Pale yellow light trickles in from the living room. The whole apartment smells like cumin and coriander. I go into my office to put down my bag and my cat comes up to rub its face on my snow-covered ankles. I cross the living room and pick up a cup of tea left out on the coffee table, take it to the kitchen sink. A pot of dahl is cooling on the counter. I’m hungry, a bowl would be nice. I go down to the bedroom. It’s pitch dark, but I can still see Isabelle sleeping. She’s pushed the covers away and is lying on her side with a pillow under her thigh. I take a long look at her, then remember Bébert waiting for me outside. The endless nights we spent together all come flooding back. Twenty-four-hour benders, party-hopping across the city. For a moment I contemplate leaving him out there. I feel like taking off my boots and crawling into bed with my girlfriend. I turn the bedroom thermostat down a notch. Look at her for another few seconds. Then I retrace my steps back through the apartment, careful not to make the floor creak. I head out and lock the door behind me.

I go down the stairs to meet Bébert on the sidewalk. The storm has blown over, leaving only the odd flake drifting between snow-covered branches. The cold is getting sharper.

“All right. Where we going?”

Bébert polishes off what’s left in the bottle and tosses it into the distance. It lands soundlessly in a snowbank. He turns back toward me, expressionless. For a second his face seems to tighten up, as if shot through by a sharp pain. His smile soon returns.

“You okay?”

“Let’s go. Plenty of time till last call.”

Bébert gets walking, weaving slightly. He’s got Etnies on his feet, an unzipped jacket, and nothing on his head. A halo of condensation rises from him, like when you pour water on a hot rock in a sauna.

*

This was around the time when all the old bars in Villeray and Petite-Patrie were being bought up by younger people, fixed up and modernized. But the wave of renewal that had crashed and washed up all the way to Boulevard Masson hadn’t yet reached Hochelaga. We’re talking back when Brassette Letourneux was on its last legs, the Crazy was boarded up, and the Davidson still had no competition on Ontario—the exact moment when the face of this street begins to change, abandoned factories start turning into condos, greengrocers move into former pawnshops, and young families move in.

We grab a table. The lights are bright as a dentist’s waiting room, the furniture looks like it got auctioned off when the factory cafeteria shut down. Six or seven old timers are shooting pool in the back. Sleeves rolled up, forearms a jumble of faded tattoos, knuckles ringed with skulls and crossbones. They all kind of remind me of my ex-girlfriend Jess’s dad: a party guy who never really made it out of the seventies. He worked as a welder when he managed to sober up long enough. Kind of guy who’s a little too sketchy to really go straight, but too lazy to make it as a real criminal. He may have had a biker gang after him, but the person he feared most was his landlord. He’d go in and out of his apartment through a window to avoid running into him. You know, the type who just keeps trying to fend off bad luck by stuffing it away in the back of his closet or under his sink. The bartender here is the same age as his customers: late-fifties, early sixties. Everyone is on a first-name basis with Réjean, who wears a white shirt and a black leather change-purse around his waist. There are salt-shakers on the yellowed linoleum tables and the walls are like a basement rec-room, covered in wood panelling and decorated with neon signs for beers that were already off the market when I drank my first Bull Max. Two TVs hang from the ceiling. One shows a hockey game, the other a baseball documentary. I sit down in front of the baseball. Catch a segment with the Yankees up to bat. That was my dad’s favorite team in the American League—the only team besides the Expos I paid attention to when I was a kid. Yankee Stadium is sold out, and the packed stands make me think of the nearly empty ones at my very last Expos game at the Big O. For once, it was me who brought my dad. A customer at my restaurant had given the owner two free tickets. I’d just done two double shifts in row, and he wanted me to do two more. I almost told him where to go, but he won me over with the tickets. The Padres slaughtered the Expos. But it was worth it to sit in those stands one last time, with my dad who had taken me so many times as a kid. We used to see ten games or so a summer, sometimes more. It was one of those summers when he gave me his softball mitt. We’d while away hours playing catch after dinner, talking away, until it got dark.

You know, the type who just keeps trying to fend off bad luck by stuffing it away in the back of his closet or under his sink.

I pour my big Tremblay into a small glass, like the other patrons. Bébert drinks his straight from the bottle. He’s taken up a position with a view of the whole room. His eyes dart from the bar to the TV to the front door to the pool players. Suddenly he looks nervous. I take out the book I’ve been carrying around in the back pocket of my jeans and put it down on the table next to my beer.

“So this is your spot?” I ask.

“No. Second time I’ve been here.”

“Like the neighbourhood?”

“It’s all right, I guess. If you’re into hookers and shooting galleries.”

He scratches his stomach. The Yankees hit a homer, which captures his attention for a while. It cuts to an interview with Derek Jeter.

“C’mon, it’s not all that bad anymore. It’s getting cleaned up a bit.”

You hear stories about landlords setting shitty old buildings on fire and building condos in the ashes. Not a week goes by without some gang of crack dealers getting busted up. The other day they took down a doorway on Aylmer: battering ram, swat team, the whole shebang. Bébert tells me not to worry, there’s still plenty of drug houses left in the neighborhood. Says he found himself in a lovely crack house a couple days ago, just a few blocks from us. People who don’t know Bébert well think he’s full of shit. His girlfriends call him a good-for-nothing liar. But over time I’ve learned that the more improbable whatever comes out of his mouth is, the more likely it is to be true.

“What were you doing in a crack house?”

Bébert flicks his pack of smokes around in circles on the glossy tabletop.

“Nothing, man. Just hanging out.”

A peal of laughter breaks out in the back of the room. You can hear the sharp loud clack of two billiard balls colliding over the music. The players swear in appreciation. I turn around. The guy who clearly just shot is already leaning over the table, concentrating like a sniper calculating wind speed.

“Last time I saw you, you were working in the Old Port, right?”

Bébert stares off into the distance. I say it again. He takes another look at the door.

“When was that again?”

“I ran into you at the bar. You were with your staff.”

“Hold on a sec.”

He puts his elbows down on the table. A crease appears on his forehead.

“The time we ended up on the roof, with Johnny’s absinthe?”

“No, that was at least two years earlier. You were going out with a tattoo artist.”

“I don’t remember that at all. I must have been really fucked up. Was it winter?”

“It was summer. It was hot as hell. At the Zinc.”

His eyes light up, and he chuckles.

“Yeah, now I remember! I woke up at the McGill Hospital. Emergency Room.”

Six years ago, just a few months before I stopped working on the Plateau, I’d run into Bébert in a bar on Mont-Royal Avenue. He was out with his work crew. It must have been the entire kitchen staff, plus some busgirls, and half of them were riding the white horse. I went over and sat with them. Bébert was completely out of control, stealing beers from other tables in between rounds, dropping out of the conversation after a few comments, doing big keys of coke in front of everyone and walking around barefoot as if he was in his living room. The bartenders just let him run wild, they’d long lost control of the bar. The tables were overflowing with empty glasses and half-drunk pitchers, beer was dribbling onto our thighs. The kind of night when everything is bathed in a dirty pool of beer. The sous-chef was ordering rounds of shots, twenty at a time. I tried to keep up. I knew one of the busgirls, we’d worked together at Pistou, and she came and sat between me and Bébert. She told me about a time, on the day of the sidewalk sale, when they were still taking new tables two hours after closing. Two of the cooks said fuck it and slept in the restaurant, right in the booths, so they’d be there to open the next day. For the entire hour she spent beside me her hand never left my forearm, and she gave me a squeeze every time she wanted to emphasize a point. She was practically talking right in my ear. We’d always been kind of into each other, but that night I met my Waterloo. I’d gotten too drunk too fast. When she said she had a little weed and asked if I wanted to go out and smoke, the Jameson came up in my throat. I jumped up, bumping the table on my way, and made it out of the bar just in time. The nausea subsided a moment but I ended up a few streets away puking my guts out in front of a McDonald’s, holding myself up against the window, in front of an old couple peacefully sipping coffee. Bébert never saw me leave.

“You were at Portico, right?”

“If I was at Portico we’re talking more like five years ago. Maybe six. Yeah, six.”

Bébert is tearing the label off his bottle, one strip at a time.

“How’d you end up here?”

He leans back on his chair and gave me a quick look.

“That’s a long fucking story, man.”

His shoulders are a little broader than back in the day. His big cheeks are just as red. Alcohol and rosacea. Bébert was never one to look after himself. But he might have laid off the pills and stuff.

“I tried to open a restaurant in Sainte-Agathe,” he said, rubbing his skull. “It failed. Bad. One of our partners fucked us over. But on paper he was in the right. There was nothing I could do. Couldn’t even get back the money I’d put in.”

“How much?”

“That was like a year and a half ago. Anyway, I came back here, broke as fuck and kind of pissed off. Took me a while to find a decent job. I worked for a Portuguese bastard who never paid me my full hours. There’s someone waiting to rip you off around every corner, man. Then my roommate took off with three months’ rent, my TV, my DVD player, and an ounce of hash I had stashed. Motherfucker, when I moved in he looked me in the eye with his pretty-boy suburban face and was all like, ‘I always pay on time, you better not make me chase after your half of the rent.’ Two- faced bitch. Hadn’t paid the rent in months. If I ever see him again he’ll be leaving in a coffin. In the end I had to sneak out of that apartment too.”

Thousands of shifts spent shelling, peeling, dicing, stirring, gutting, deboning, and chopping.

He runs a meaty hand over his bald head. In a way he looks like Frank Black playing Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. In another way he looks like Buddha. On speed.

“I’ve sorta been couch surfing since then. That’s how I ended up across from you. At my buddy Doug’s place.”

I remembered Doug. No dad, looked after his younger brothers, and his mum too, for ten years, until she was confined to her hospital bed. Huntingdon’s disease. That made him kind of angry. Guy wouldn’t say a word until he started drinking. But once he was drunk he had a real big mouth, and he was drunk most of the time. He’d order liquor by the bottle, at the bar, whichever ones hadn’t banned him yet. Then he’d go on a GHB binge. Got arrested a couple times—possession, assault. At the Living he managed to permanently disfigure some dude with the cast on his arm, a souvenir from his fight with a doorman a couple weeks earlier.

“Where you working now?”

“I’m not working. Got laid off in the fall. Saw it coming though. I’ve got two months of unemployment insurance left.”

If he could talk about it so calmly, this must have been one of his smoother exits. Either that or he’d pulled something dirty on his way out the door. That was Bébert’s style: the man just enjoyed getting even. On his last night at Tasso he’d unplugged the seafood fridges when he was closing. At Saisons, where he got me a job seven or eight years ago, he’d taken all the knives, tongs, and ladles and frozen them in buckets of water just to make sure the team got to start the next day empty-handed.

I take a sip of my Tremblay. The taste of moist grain fills my mouth. Bébert’s keeping one eye on the hockey game, and one hand on his big bottle of beer. He has tattoos all the way down to his fingers now, and his hands have grown fatter, hands inscribed with the scars of twenty years in the kitchen, burned daily and gouged by wayward oyster shuckers and subjected to malevolent blades severing tiny chunks of fingertip; thousands of shifts spent shelling, peeling, dicing, stirring, gutting, deboning, and chopping; the never-ending repetitive handling of foods raw and cooking and cooked; the infinite cycle of frying pans and scouring stainless counters with steel wool and industrial-strength degreasers.

“You looking for a job?”

“No, I’ve got plans. Might have a job in a hotel, in Belize.”

“Belize.”

He nods and then takes a long swig of beer, with his head turned at an angle so he can keep watching the game.

“You could go sailing. Still go once in a while?”

Two guys came in right as he was going to answer. Bébert followed them with his eyes. He tensed up. They look like a couple back-alley wannabe gangstas in their mid-thirties, kind of dudes who finished high school in prison. The first is wearing a Celtics jersey under his X-large Ecko parka. Tattooed temple, unlaced Timberlands. The other one’s rocking an unzipped puffy coat with an Ed Hardy panther T-shirt and red Pumas. The guys at the back of the bar lift their heads from the pool table a moment, then look back at each other, and the table. The two guys head toward the bar, in no rush. Bébert take his eyes off them. I figure he knows them.

“What about you. Where are you now?”

“I work with Fred.”

“Therrien?”

“No, Kazemian.”

“Freddy-E. He took you in the kitchen?”

“No, I’m on the floor now. Been out of the kitchen for a while.”

It took a while, but eventually I got fed up with the shitty pay and unrelenting rushes, the hours cooped up in microscopic kitchens in suffocating heat, your face dripping sweat and grease, parked in front of your station while new orders just keep pouring in by the thousands without an extra minute to put them out, until you end up slapping the finished plates down with venom. Yeah, when I got the chance to move to the floor I jumped.

Over time I’ve learned that the more improbable whatever comes out of his mouth is, the more likely it is to be true.

“So that’s why you’re clean-cut now. Clean-shaven, cleaned up.”

“Yeah, I have to shave now. I guess I’m cleaning up my act a bit too.”

“Cleaning up your act, c’mon. You were always chill. Never made waves. Always had your shit together.”

“Yeah, I guess compared to you we’re all pretty chill.”

This cranks up Bébert’s laugh, like a powerful croaking. But it doesn’t last long, and he’s back in serious mode pretty quick. Sort of. He lifts his bottle at an angle. It’s empty. I keep talking.

“Yeah, I do some managing, and some serving.”

He smiles in the corner of his mouth. Waves the bartender over. One of the two guys, in the Timberlands, is playing with his phone. Mr. Puma is playing the VLTs. From my seat I can see the combinations scrolling down on the colored screen. He’s playing Crazy Bells. The results come up. Nothing playable on the horizontals, just one 7, no bells, not even a cherry.

“It’s going pretty well,” I said.

“No surprise there.”

There was not a trace of friendly mockery in his voice.

“Hey, did you hear that La Trattoria shut down last week. I heard it from Fred.”

The bartender comes over, still watching the hockey game. He asks Bébert:

“Same again?”

“Yeah, but also,” he says, lowering his voice, “I also want you to take two 7Ups to those two clowns over there.”

Without changing his expression the barman looks over at the two guys, then turns back to Bébert.

“You sure?”

“Yeah, yeah. Look at those faces. Kind of guys that just love a good 7Up.”

The bartender looks at Bébert for a few seconds without saying a word. His hands are panning through the change in his pouch. He’s sixty, easy. Skinny chin, close-shaved, a long laugh line on either side of his mouth, hair slicked back. David Carradine in Kill Bill.

“Funny,” he says. “They don’t strike me as the kinds of guys who like 7Up.”

“Well we’ll never find out if you don’t take them one!” Bébert has a big grin as the words come out. His teeth are a shit-show.

At the back of the bar one of the pool players breaks explosively. There’s more swearing. Bébert and the barman turned around. Four balls in succession drop into their pockets with a muffled sound. Two of the players high-five.

“Come to think of it, I’m out of 7Up,” said the bartender. “I’ll be back with your beers.”

He walks away from us, toward the pool table. “You haven’t changed, eh?”

“Why would I? Got millions of friends, no faults to speak of. It’s all good.”

“Speaking of friends, heard anything from Greg?”

“It’d surprise me if I did.”

“Why? Where’s he at? What’s he up to?”

Bébert looked me square in the eyes.

“Remember what I told you back in the day. About Greg. And asking questions?”

“Okay, okay.”

I sure did remember. I had to laugh, a little ruefully, and take a last sip of beer to chase the bitter memory.

“What about Bonnie, any news?” I eventually asked.

The bartender comes back with our beers and puts the two big bottles on the table. Bébert hands him a twenty. The bartender gives him his change without a word.

“Bonnie, man—haven’t thought about that chick in ages. Haven’t heard that name in five years. She went back to Ontario. Got married to some hippie grows organic vegetables. Somewhere in southern Ontario. She’s through with cooking and shit.”

“Married. Damn.”

“I’m sure she’s just as confused as ever. What about you, you hear anything from Renaud?”

“Uh, yeah. I did.”

“You ever run into him?”

“I must have seen him a couple times since La Trattoria.”

“Well if you see him tell him to fuck off, from me.”

I can see from the expression on Bébert’s face that this night is about to take a sharp right turn.

I fill my glass with beer. Take a look at  the bartender, then  at Timberland and Puma sitting at the machines. Timberland catches my eye and gives me a cocky wink. I turn back to Bébert.

“That’d be tough. Renaud’s dead.”

I take a sip and push back my hiccups. Bébert doesn’t react. Then he leans back and takes a big swig, as if he hadn’t had a drink in weeks. I go on:

“Died last year.”

“Well tell him to fuck off anyway. Asshole.”

He makes a move to get up. The legs of his chair scrape on the floor tiles, but he sits back down. He looks over his shoulder. The two guys are coming toward our table. They’re walking slow and nonchalant, as if to let us know that they own this joint. I can see from the expression on Bébert’s face that this night is about to take a sharp right turn. Or maybe it’s headed exactly where it was going all along and he’d merely neglected to inform me. From a distance these guys may have looked like a part of two-bit clowns, but now that their hard-luck faces are right up in our grills, the joke isn’t so funny. Bébert leans back in his chair again, as if he was the one who’d decided to stay put, and calls out to the bartender:

“Same again. Just me and him though.”

I don’t say a word, though I’ve barely touched my bottle. Suddenly I realize I can’t hear the pool game any more. The guys are almost frozen in place, staring at us. For a few seconds no one moves. No one says a word. An entire verse of “Living on a Prayer” rings out into the emptiness before one of the players leans over the table again. The shot rings out throughout the bar.

Timberland puts down his gin-and-tonic and sits at one of the little tables, sprawls right out. The other guy backs up a bit, arms crossed, between us and the front door. He looks like he just bit into a lemon. I should have stayed home, warmed up with a bowl of dhal. I should have come up with an excuse for Bébert, to put it off until another time. It was late, I would have drifted off to sleep, next to my girlfriend.

Bébert gives Timberland a cocky grin. It looks forced. He stretches, forming a V with his arms, and moans like a moose. Clearly I’m the odd man out in this new grouping. I decide to stay seated and bide my time.

“You didn’t choke. Smart move,” says Timberland.

“Tell him we don’t have all night. I’ve got wet fucking feet.”

Timberland’s hands are red and chapped, like beer delivery-men during the holidays.

“You should try wearing boots like everyone else,” he says, turning slightly toward the guy wearing Pumas.

Bébert is tucking into his third big beer. I can feel him coming to a boil. Timberland acts like he’s suddenly noticing me. He stares me down. I lower my eyes. Fucking Bébert.

“Who are you? We don’t know you.”

He looks at Bébert, who’s grinning like an idiot. He stinks like an ashtray.

“So you brought a little bodyguard?”

Bébert lifts up his hand, with his palm toward the guys—like Magneto stopping a hail of bullets. I’ve never seen him tense like that, caught without a comeback.

“I’ll catch up with you boys in a minute. We’re not done here. You guys are kind of in the way, eh?”

Puma uncrosses his arms with a sniffle. My armpits are wet and I can feel sweat running down my back. I can see the bartender staring at us, oblivious to everything else. Timberland slaps his thighs and gets up heavily.

“Sure. We’ll go for a little walk while you guys catch up. And you better be here when we get back. You’ve been jerking us around long enough.”

Timberland claps Bébert on the shoulder and heads out. Puma’s already outside, lighting a smoke. I let out a sigh of relief and take a big sip of beer.

“Jesus, Bébert, you could have warned me.”

“Don’t worry about that. That’s nothing.”

“Who are those guys?”

Bébert’s got his big crooked smile on again. He looks at me.

“Man, it’s good to see you again.”

__________________________________

From The Dishwasher. Used with the permission of the publisher, Biblioasis. Copyright © Stéphane Larue, 2016. Translation Copyright © Pablo Strauss, 2019. First published in 2016 as Le plongeur by Le Quartanier, Montreal, Quebec.




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