As she barges through the swing door, Ruth oh so nearly drops what she’s carrying, cos shit, the button’s popped open on her blouse again. Gravy wet plates skid onto the counter as she raises a hand to fasten a button. She convinces herself it’s all been hidden by the droop of the pussy-cat bow.
The kitchen’s stopped serving so the pressures all on the waiting staff. A restaurant full of plates to clear and sweets to serve, scraped from the freezer, plonked in the microwave. The kitchen staff all have their backs to the door, gathered like a bouquet garni, one seeped in the scent of Lynx and Gillette. That God awful Billie song is blaring out of their radio again but they seem oblivious. Why you gotta play that song at all? Number one? Sheesh.
There’s redcurrant jelly smeared on the chef’s back, from his stiff white jacket to the starting grid checks of his oversized trousers. He suddenly turns. Ruth flicks her eyes down to her fingers, still pressed against her cleavage. Then the rest of the group turn towards her too.
‘Whadjya think?’ the underchef snorts, his skin taut and shiny with the heat, ‘it don’t bother ya, does it?’
The bouquet parts to reveal an image stuck to the kitchen wall, enshrined in A3 glossy print. Tits. Enormous brown knockers. The strip lighting casts the model’s face in shade.
Words drop from Ruth’s mouth, ‘That’s so not cool.’ Her belly cramps.
The two younger men snigger in gulps and hisses. The chef’s still looking at Ruth as his lips part. Is this where he apologises? Ruth can take a joke.
Hibo bursts through the doors. She’s been sitting her GCSEs all week and only works at the weekend. She squeezes her plates onto the cluttered counter, rubs her eyes, then heads back into the restaurant again.
Ruth wants to know what Hibo’s seen, whether this mess is already escalating. She starts towards the door but the chef calls her back. Such a relief. So much easier if they just back down now. She knows it’s a joke. Just not a funny joke.
‘Ruth-y. Oh Ruth-y’
She spins around, feeling brighter, ready for their apology.
‘Plates need scraping. And if you get that other one’s done too I shan’t escalate it this time.’
Behind him two nipples glisten the colour that Ruth feels rising from her gut.
In 2019 Claire HM had an essay published in the anthology, I Wrote it Anyway, about the experience of accessing university, and the long journey of finding the confidence to write as a woman in her forties from a working class background. Claire’s poems have most recently been published in streetcake, Tears in the Fence, Coven, Cape Magazine, andNymphs. How to Bring Him Back, a novella set in the 90s Birmingham subculture, is a story framed by a spell to let go of the past and will be published by Fly on the Wall press in October 2021.