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The fat woman asks if the tea is ready for the third time in the last five minutes. Now she’s trying to sound agitated to get her point across. She wants her tea now. She has no goddamn patience.
“I’ll check and see.”
I have to say it. The protocols won’t let me say, “It takes time to brew, you obnoxious cow.” I have to say “I’ll check and see” and I have to go all the way back into the kitchen even if I know it’s not ready yet. Her stupid fat face sneers. Her stupid husband in his stupid gray suit and his stupid beard thinks my subservience is amusing.
Push the kitchen door open with my hand. Jesus it’s not a hand. It’s a metal spider with rubber tips. It’s an abomination. What happened to me? I can’t remember. I forget so many things. The protocols throw my memories out so they won’t trip over them.
Carlos trips. He tells me not to get underfoot again.
“I’m very sorry.”
I’m not a dog you fat-nosed fuck.
The tea kettle. Oh, look. It’s not fucking ready yet. It actually takes time to brew. Amazing. I’d better turn right around and report this anomaly to Mrs. Heffer. And I do. It’s like I’m an observer seeing through someone else’s eyes while I’m pinned down to a table with leather straps.
Car accident. Was that it? A bad one. Full body prosthesis. Cyber-protocols to keep my brain functioning, tailored to fit my job so I can function in society again. Desperate to save my life, the bastards said. Desperate to drain every penny from my family is what they meant. My wife. My son. I don’t remember their names. I had a wife and son and I don’t remember their goddamn names.
Did I have a family? I remember a woman crying, horrified look on her face. Was that my wife? Does she visit after hours when Jenny’s switched me off? I never see anyone except restaurant staff and customers.
Jenny Welch, the maitre d’. She’s at the fat bitch’s table when I come back. I spout the words again for the hundredth time.
“The tea is still brewing, Ma’am. It should be ready in a few minutes.”
God, my voice is hideous. I sound like an electric shaver.
Jenny puts her arm around me and laughs like a day care employee laughs when one of the children does something amusing. I can’t feel her slimy succubus claws on me, I just know they’re there. I can’t feel anything except the angry, repressed knot in my chest trembling like a water main on the verge of bursting. She tells the fat bitch and her dumb husband how amazing I am. A marvel of science, giving a poor dying man another chance at life.
Jenny’s an evil cunt. She knows this isn’t life. I have no free will. I have no self-expression. She knows it and she thinks it’s the funniest thing on the planet. She thinks it’s my penance for all the times I called her on her bullshit, on her abuse of restaurant staff, on her poisoning the spineless owner against any employee she had beef with. When we’re in the kitchen she kicks me like a dog if I’m not fast enough, or if she feels like it. She pushed me down the wine cellar stairs yesterday because I was moving too slow. OSHA and civil rights and my ability to complain don’t hold her back now. They left the Bill of Rights out of my speech protocols. She can beat me and curse at me like a faulty toaster so long as no one sees it. No one who gives a shit. My coworkers don’t mind watching. Some of them use me as their punching bag, too.
Jenny asks me if I would like to go back into the kitchen and help Carlos. She smirks and giggles. She knows I don’t have a choice. She likes rubbing salt into the raw parts.
“Happy to, Miss Welch.”
Happy to, Miss Welch. Happy to strangle you with a dishtowel, Miss Welch. Happy to fuck you with the grill brush, Miss Welch. You love this, don’t you? You love when men do what you tell them. I’ve seen you with your stupid boyfriends. With the stupid owner.
Back into the kitchen. I have to go if she tells me. I have to stick to the program like a junky has to touch the needle, like the alcoholic has to kiss the bottle. I have no choice. The protocols won’t let me do or say anything I’m not supposed to. I can’t fucking stand it. This isn’t living and the hospital knows it. Yeah, they know. Of course they know and they give a shit. They know families give them anything they want to save their loved ones, even to the point of financial ruin. Poor wife and son, whatever their names are. If they even care anymore. If they even exist. Maybe I just made them up one lonely night, sitting alone in the corner of a dark kitchen after hours, while all the human workers were at home sleeping with their families.
Carlos gets the stew pot out. He calls my stupid klunky ass over and tells me to cut the steaks for the stew while he takes another cigarette break. I’m suddenly driven to cut the steaks. I take my position at the cutting board and pick up a big, long knife and start cutting the steaks. I try to drop the knife and stop, but it’s part of my body now and my arm goes through the motions involuntarily. The knot trembles and strains and tightens and leaks. I have no lungs but I feel like my air’s been cut off.
Cut the steaks. Cut the steaks. Isn’t this fun. The back exit is ten feet away. All I have to do is put the knife down and roll on out, but I don’t. I can’t.
Roll. Not walk. I have no legs. Jesus, I have no legs. What were those robots on Dr. Who called?
Cut the steaks. Jenny’s laughing just outside the kitchen door. She laughs at everything. Favorite customers. Compliments. Firing employees she doesn’t like. The sight of me. The sight of me makes me want to puke my nuts and bolts out. My nameless wife hates me. I’m not a husband. I’m an appliance. The knot is trying to squeeze my Adam’s apple out the top of my head.
You don’t have an Adam’s apple, asshole, you’re not human anymore.
Cut the steaks. That’s what the bus boys and cooks see is me cutting steaks. They don’t have a fucking clue. They can’t see me bouncing around inside this shell like a rabid monkey on death row at the zoo, trying to bend the steel bars far enough apart to squeeze out and murder all the laughing children. Do they think I’m content like this? Could I tell them if they asked? Would the protocols let me?
Cut the steaks. There are no more steaks. I try to put the knife down again.
I put the knife down.
Cut the steaks. That’s it. I pick up the knife again. Job’s not over, I keep telling the protocols. Carlos said cut the steaks. Didn’t say stop yet. The protocols listen because they’re stupid. Need to find more steaks. Cut the steaks to tell them you’re not a machine. Cut the steaks to show what’s wrong. Turning, rolling to the door. Jenny laughing again. Good, bitch, be my beacon. Cut the steaks and show them what a marvel of science you are.
Push the door with that awful spider-thing on my wrist. Fat bitch sees me. Beardo sees me. Jenny sees me and flashes that cunt-smirk only her face can express.
Express yourself. Cut the steaks.
You’ve got steak on your face, Jenny.
Five. Six. Seven. I lose count of the strokes. Jenny’s screaming as she bleeds. She’ll never smirk again. Everyone is screaming now. Fat bitch is screaming like an opera singer.
She looks like a steak, too.
They all look like steaks.
Written by Mike MacDee