Home > Don't You Forget About Me(4)

Don't You Forget About Me(4)
Author: Mhairi McFarlane

With crushing inevitability, as soon as I’ve done this, Mr Keith beckons me back. I have to leave. I have to leave. Just get past this month’s rent first. And booking that week in Crete with Robin, if I can persuade him to it.

‘This is the same dish. As in the one I sent back.’

‘Oh, no?’ I pantomime surprise, shaking my head emphatically, ‘I asked the chef to replace it.’

‘It’s the same plate.’ The man points to a nick in the patterned china. ‘That was there before.’

‘Uhm … he maybe did a new carbonara and used the same plate?’

‘He made another lot of food, scraped the old pasta into the bin, washed the plate, dried it, and re-used it? Why wouldn’t you use a different plate? Are you short on plates?’

The whole restaurant is listening. I have nothing to say.

‘Let’s be hard-nosed realists. This is the last one, reheated.’

‘I’m sure the chef cooked another one.’

‘Are you? Did you see him do it?’

The customer might be right, but right now I still hate him.

‘I didn’t, but … I’m sure he did.’

‘Get him out here.’


‘Get the chef out here to explain himself.’

‘Oh … he’s very busy at the stove at the moment.’

‘No doubt, given his odd propensity for doing the washing up at the same time.’

My grit-simper has gone full Joker rictus.

‘I will wait here until he has a few minutes free to talk me through why I have been served the same sub-par sloppy glooch and lied to about it.’

Glooch. Good word. Just my luck to get the articulate kind of hostile patron.

I head back into the kitchen and say to Tony: ‘He wants to speak to you. The man with the carbonara. He says he can see it’s the same one as it’s on the same plate.’

Tony is in the middle of frying a duck breast, turning it with tongs. I say duck. If any pet shops have been burgled recently, it could be parrot.

‘What? Tell him to piss off, who is he, Detective …’ he pauses, ‘… Plate?’

In a battle of wits between Detective Plate and Tony, my money is on the former.

‘You’re the serving staff, deal with it. Not my area.’

‘You gave me the same dish! What am I supposed to do when he can tell?!’

‘Charm him. That’s what you’re meant to be, isn’t it? Charming,’ he looks me up and down, in challenge.

Classic Tony: packing passive aggression, workplace bullying and leering sexism into one instruction.

‘I can’t tell him his own eyes aren’t working! We should’ve switched the plates.’

‘Fuck a duck,’ Tony says, taking a tea towel over his shoulder and throwing it down. ‘Fuck this duck, it’ll be carbon.’

Complaining about the effect on the quality of the cuisine is a size of hypocrisy that can only be seen from space.

He snaps the light off under the pan and smashes dramatically through the doors, saying, ‘Which one?’ I don’t think this pugilistic attitude bodes well.

I Gollum my way past Tony and lead him to the relevant table, while making diplomatic, soothing noises.

‘What seems to be the problem?’ Tony booms, hands on hips in his not-that-white chef’s whites.

‘This is the problem,’ Mr Keith says, picking up his fork and dropping it again in disgust. ‘How can you think this is acceptable?’

Tony boggles at him. ‘Do you know what goes into a carbonara? This is a traditional Italian recipe.’

‘Eggs and parmesan, is it not? This tastes like Dairylea that’s been sieved through a wrestler’s jockstrap.’

‘Oh sorry, I didn’t realise you were a restaurant critic.’

Tony must be wildly high on his last Embassy Regal to be this rude to a customer.

‘You don’t need to be A.A. Gill to know this is atrocious. However, since you’ve raised it, I am reviewing you tonight for The Star, yes.’

Tony, already pale thanks to a diet of fags and Greggs bacon breakfast rolls, becomes perceptibly paler.

If this wasn’t a crisis and wildly unprofessional, I’d laugh. I pretend to rub my face thoughtfully to staunch the impulse.

‘Would you prefer something else, then?’ Tony says.

Tony folds his arms and jerks his head towards me as he says this, and I know in the kitchen I’m going to get a bollocking along the lines of COULD YOU NOT HAVE HANDLED THAT YOURSELF.

‘Not really, last time I asked for you to replace my meal you reheated it. Am I going to be seeing this excrescence a third time?’

I notice Mrs Keith looks oddly calm, possibly grateful someone else is catching it from him instead. Unless she’s a fake wife, a critic’s stooge.

‘I thought you wanted it warmer?’

‘Yes, a warmer replacement meal, not this gunk again.’

Tony turns to me: ‘Why didn’t you tell me he wanted a new dish?’

I frown: ‘Er, I did …?’

‘No, you said to warm it up.’

I’m so startled by this bare-faced untruth I have no comeback.

‘No, I didn’t, I said …?’ I trail off, as repeating our whole conversation seems too much treachery, but am I supposed to stand here and say this is all my fault?

A pause. Yes. Yes, I am.

‘Are you calling me a liar?’ Tony continues, entire dining room riveted by this spectacle.

I open my mouth to reply and no words come out.

‘Oh right, you are! Tell you what. You’re fired!’


I think he must be joking, but Tony points at the door. Across the room, Callum is shocked, mouth hanging open and hands frozen round a giant pepper pot.

‘Oh, hang on, this seems excessive …’ says Mr Keith, looking suddenly chastened. This is why Tony’s done it. It’s the only way to get the upper hand again, and hope his write-up doesn’t focus solely on the gusset-flavoured carbonara.

You could hear a pin drop – apart from Dean Martin crooning about Old Napoli.

I untie my apron, chuck it on the floor, find my handbag behind the bar with clumsy hands.

I dart out, without looking back. Incipient tears are stinging my eyeballs, but no way are they seeing me weep.

When I’m round the corner, fumbling for a tissue as my non-waterproof mascara makes a steady descent, I get a text from Tony.

Sorry, sexy. Sometimes you need to give them a scalp. We’ll have you back in a fortnight and if critic fuck finds out, tell him your mum died or something so we took pity. Call it a holiday! Unpaid though.

That’s Amore.

Then another realisation.

For fuck’s sake, I forgot my coat!


First thought: it’s a prisoner of war. They can’t torture it, so leave it behind. Second: damn it, it’s the bubblegum-pink faux fur. It’s armour, it’s my personality in textile form. It’s up there in sentimental value after my ancient tortoise, Jammy. Also, I’m shivering already.

Wait, wait – I have a man on the inside: Callum. I message him to ask, thinking he’ll surely feel sorry enough for me to do it.


I will give you your coat if you will go on a date with me

I blink, twice. You’ve just seen me get sacked in the most public, humiliating way and now you’re holding me to sexual ransom? I consider a blunt response saying, ‘I’m washing my nipple hair that night.’ Or pointing out it was only £50 in the Miss Selfridge sale three years ago so definitely isn’t worth that, concluding with the insult of a cry-with-laughter emoji.

But the objective is to get my coat back, not a load of middle fingers and a photo of it in the scraps bin.

Hahaha if I’m not too unemployed and skint to stand my round

See you at the front door in 1 min?

I would pay. Is that a yes lol?

Is there anything less charming than someone trying to push you into something unwillingly and acknowledging they are pushing you into it, and carrying on anyway?

OK, lying it is.


… LY NOT. And he knows I’ve got a boyfriend. We had a conversation where he said ‘Lol his name is Robin do you ever call him Cock Robin’ and I said no and he said hahaha, wicked bants.

Outside the door, there’s no sign of Callum. I wait for five minutes which feels like five hours and then text him a question mark. Another three minutes and he appears round the door.

‘It’s busy with only me on.’

I wonder if I am supposed to apologise for this.

I look down at the material he’s holding. A beige trench coat.

‘That’s not mine.’


‘It’s pink and fluffy.’

Callum disappears back inside. Minutes pass and I think: there’s no way more than one piece of outerwear the colour of taramosalata in the cloakroom to justify this length of hold up. I bob down and peer under the tea-coloured nets in the window. Callum is taking an order for a table of eight people. He is chatting and joking and obviously in no rush.

Frustration wins out over shame and I wrench the door open and march back in. I feel multiple pairs of eyes on me as I rifle among the row of pegs on the back of the door behind the bar and claim my property.

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