Michel the sous chef was simulating an ecstatic kind of anal sex with a skinned rabbit on the stainless steel cooker in the kitchen downstairs at William’s, the Soho restaurant where I’d worked for the last five months. The rabbit’s eyes were agog and aware like a human. It looked mortified. Michel held the hind-legs with the force of a man about to come and banged the livid red pelvis into his own again and again. The rabbit’s body was long and muscular. Only the fluffy tail remained, which Michel squeezed and shut his eyes and hollered something about monogamy before he performed a vicious orgasm and collapsed on top of the rabbit’s slender back so that we all heard the ribs crunch.
The rest of the kitchen slaves cheered and whistled and looked genuinely happy for once. A pile of rabbits awaited their violation to the left.
This was why I chose the hospitality and catering industry after I failed my degree. I had read Marco Pierre White’s memoir White Slave, later more tastefully retitled The Devil in the Kitchen. All that protein and aggression appealed to me – I wanted to experience it for myself.
Now I made an espresso and returned upstairs.
The reception was my domain. I was the reigning door bitch, crowned in the summer, when I had answered William the manager’s ad on Gumtree and made my way to Soho shaking like a horse in a thunderstorm. The aftershocks of Finals were intense. I lied about my degree; I said that I’d left school at sixteen. William looked at my legs throughout the interview. He told me that my skirt was too short. I said thanks, it was a dress. William said that he’d give me the job if I gave him a blow job. I said no fucking way and stood up, but he said fine and gave me the job anyway, which undermined his authority forever in my eyes.
I had assumed that William owned the restaurant because it was his name above the door, but later Michel told me that no, William had applied for the job as manager because someone with the same name had owned the restaurant back in the 50s, when Muriel Belcher’s The Colony Room was at its height just around the corner and Soho was a place. William desperately wanted Soho to be a place again. The real owner was a man called Bob who never appeared, but oversaw the accounts. He oversaw the renovation of the upstairs into a private members club, complete with a pianist and a team of mixologists, a billiard room, and something called The Snatch, a cushioned cell where everyone was encouraged to lie down. The iPod nailed to the wall only played songs that encouraged sexual healing.
Everything was going downhill in any case. William’s attempt to source reliable foragers in rural areas of the West Country proved bogus; there was a bad write-up in the Guardian that used the word 'gimmick' three times. But the single most powerful factor that impeded the restaurant’s success was William’s coke habit, which had soured his soul. He would have been a nice person without it. He was damaged. And damaged people constantly damage everyone else around them, as Madeline the Australian head waitress had told me often and sadly.
Madeline had left a copy of Eat, Pray, Love in the reception drawer. I read it, checking my phone every thirty seconds, then every twenty seconds, then every ten seconds, in the hope that Vic had texted me.
“He’s just not that into you,” came Madeline’s sing-song voice, as she counted the number of covers for the evening. She reeked of a celebrity-endorsed perfume. She was square like a tank but she had a smiley face. She told me about Cirque de Soleil, which she had gone to see the night before with her sister. I told her that I hated musical theatre. She said she was amazed that I didn’t want to take advantage of all the wonderful entertainment here in London. I said I didn’t have the time or money or inclination. She laughed and told me that sarcasm was the lowest form of wit. I said that I wasn’t being sarcastic, that I really hated musical theatre. I didn’t see anything good about it at all. She went to give the waiters their briefing.
My job was to be nice at all times, to stand up when a guest appeared, to not merely point him or her in the direction of the toilet, but to accompany him or her all the way into the toilet if necessary and even wipe his or her arse for him or her if he or she should so request it because he or she is paying a fuck load of money to be here and I can get another girl who looks fucking grateful to be working, William had told me. I was paid a lucky £7 an hour, which was why I took this job as opposed to the door bitch job at Ronnie Scott’s, which paid an unlucky £8 an hour.
William appeared just before the first guests were due to arrive and informed me that I was going to get slammed hard from all directions tonight so I better fucking enjoy it.
Order Eat My Heart Out here
Copyright © 2014 Zoe Pilger