Abigail sat at the table by the window because she adored the view across the park. What a brilliant idea it was to have built her restaurant on this elevated spot. Since from within the dining room all her guests could enjoy the vista of the open space while they ate. They could delight in the comfortable elegance of the interior décor as they selected their gourmet meal, and still experience an ambience of the outdoors.
The park was full of life; from the tiniest of insects, to birds on the lake, and a range of wild animals. It was also a place where leisurely people walked their dogs; strolled for a breath of fresh air, or in colourful Lycra would jog along the wooded avenues. In the afternoons the restaurant veranda would be full of customers who engaged in their pastime of people watching as they consumed cream cakes with tea or coffee. But Abigail offered so much more than just coffee. She smiled and through the window she watched a young couple as they dawdled by. If only they knew.
‘Are you ready to eat, Miss?’ The waiter demanded her attention.
‘Ah Preston, yes. What’s the soup today?’
‘It’s Wednesday… coriander and carrot Mistress –‘
‘Careful what you say!’ she interrupted him.
‘What about the chicken, is it succulent and fresh?’
‘Of course.’ He grimaced, and quickly arranged her cutlery. He then turned and strutted away. ‘Of course … it is always fresh,’ he mumbled shaking his head.
She might have to get rid of Preston since he wasn’t as astute these days, and at times he was insolent. He made mistakes, dangerous mistakes that might expose her past. She was the Mistress and Captain of culinary delights, but being called Mistress by Preston would turn her guests’ attention towards her. Once she heard the whispered innuendos from a group sitting at a corner table. They had pushed their food around on their plates as if the green of the peas was some genetically modified discolouration. That won’t do. She revelled in the thrill of watching her diners squirm with delight when served with an elaborate presentation of food, and listen to them moan in ecstasy as they savoured the tastes of the dish. Perfection. It was a discourtesy to allow Preston’s behaviour to distract them from their food.
‘Your soup Miss.’ He put the plate down, spilling some over the tablecloth.
‘Preston! This is mushroom and dandelion from our Friday menu.’
‘Yes Miss, today is Friday.’
‘Really!’ She stirred her soup. ’Are all the ingredients fresh?’
‘Early this morning Miss. Baby Liberty Caps direct from the park.’ He grinned and backed away. ‘Of course, magic mushrooms and sweet dreams,’ he whispered.
Abigail was a Gothic princess, and on the inaugural night of the restaurant she flaunted her status by wearing a dark velvet cape; laced boots, her ceremonial knives, and titanium jewellery, which were all the symbols of her royal patronage. However, it was also a costume that attracted inappropriate curiosity and weird voyeurs.
That evening she had forced Preston to wear his gossamer body suit made from the skin of his pet python. The snake meat had not been wasted and was served in a delicious soup with pepper and lotus flower petals. However the fool over did his role with a hissing and clipped way of speaking. A pubescent girl had sat terrified by his manner of preceding every sentence with a slow “Yesss… Mistresss,” and he had a wriggling rat’s tail hung from his mouth. The traumatised girl ran out with urine trickling down her legs, unforgettable and unforgivable. It was a disruptive occurrence that prompted many of the guests to leave halfway through their meals without paying, some had said they were sorry as they rushed for their coats. The evening was a disaster. Clearly, these people were not ready for her sophisticated style, and this unfortunate start dissuaded the true gourmet diners. There had to be change.
Over night, she had revamped the restaurant and changed her clothes for a light business suit. It made her feel almost human. She chose a light-grey theme with maroon bow ties for the staff uniforms and ordered them to carry brilliant white napkins. However, it was typical of Preston to object and he refused to tuck in his shirt, until she threatened to send him to hell.
When it came to foraging for food Preston was her expert and so it was inconceivable she would send him away. For instance, he was a master at identifying wild mushrooms and herbs, and skilled at hunting the deer. There were also other lurking creatures that frequented the park at night, cottaging around the rhododendrons, and Preston always had this speciality meat ready and hung in the cooler for the next evening’s dinner.
Abigail’s adventurous menu also contained fox, badger, rabbit and the oily eels from the lake. These were disguised as chicken or lamb and served in rustic curries or soup. Preston could always be trusted with discretion, particularly as to the source of the “reality meat” for the cottage pies served on theme nights.
Her favourite guests were from the county courts, the lawyers and their staff, who demanded cannibal evenings, “for just a bit of fun”. An inebriated secretary once remarked on how life-like the stuffed heads of the children looked, centrally plated as décor on the table. Preston, the idiot, had taken a liberty and had left the eyes intact.
‘Your coriander and carrot soup, Miss.’
‘But I’ve just had mushroom, where has the plate gone?’
‘That was Friday, it’s Wednesday Miss.’
She must not be misled by Preston’s inept attempt to distort time, elusive as he may be. But shock does that to you, it pins you to the spot with a crystallised picture of the last moment, and your mind fractures beyond repair. It has taken him two days to bring soup from the kitchen, yes that has to be the reason. Her last black out was over a month ago, and she had recovered. So why was Preston lying?
Outside the window was where real life began. For instance, she noticed the same man arrived and sat on a bench, always at one, just before she was served her soup. He wore a different shirt every day, and was always writing or sketching, or maybe he just doodled in the notepad on his lap. Perhaps he was waiting for his lover.
Well today she would speak to him. ‘Preston, will you please invite that man to join me?’
‘No Miss, he might be a policeman.’
‘Tell him we are having champagne.’
‘No Miss, what about the twins?’
Will Preston ever forget? Everyone else has, besides no one cared. The twins had gone missing after their picnic in the park, but it was not their fault. That day, Preston had rushed out on a request from a wealthy diner, meat for a plate that had to be filled. The police had come searching the restaurant like hounds sniffing for truffles, but failed to find the missing children.
‘Make it pink champagne, Preston.’ She waved out the window to the man. How could he resist licking and lapping as it trickles over her? Would he linger with his tongue if a pool collected around her navel?
Oh, she missed the days when the park was a royal hunting ground where her entourage of princes could enjoy their afternoon of blood sport, and at night gorge on the meat of venison and pheasants. They would drink wine late into the night and ravage the captured maidens, who foolishly wandered into the woods. It was their punishment for trespassing through her Gothic kingdom. That was her world, but something had gone wrong where time had been distorted by a few hundred years.
‘Yes Miss.’ Preston stomped off. ‘Of course pink champagne, it is always pink.’
She looked back to the bench but the man had gone. Her soup had also gone cold, and was covered in flies that crawled over the oily fish.
That evening she showed her guests, the session of the court she liked to call them, to their table. They were all eager for their mock cannibal feast. The man from the park bench was also there. In fact, he was the centre of attention and as the guests sat around the table, they stared; his eyes stared back at them from his handsome severed head displayed on a sliver tray. The secretaries screamed and the lawyers shouted obscenities. They said the poor man’s name was Joseph, a man who wouldn’t have harmed a fly.
‘Preston, you idiot.’
‘You boast authentic meals for the demanding diner.’ Preston sneered.
‘I hate you Preston.’ She would have to leave this dimension now. What a pity, it was such a beautiful park and a great place in time.
The restaurant in the park disappeared overnight. The following investigation found that the buried remains, on the residual mound, were a mixture of animal and human bones. A detailed forensics examination confirmed, through dental records, that the two children’s sculls they discovered were those of the missing twins, Abigail and Preston Fletcher.
Header image: Niko Pirosmani [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
10 thoughts on “Table by the Window by James McEwan”
I love the gothic feel of this piece James. It’s unsettling, weird and has plenty of moment of very dark humour. Quite a different style from some of your other work that I’ve read but handled with no less skill. Enjoyed this one very much.
Hi Nik, thanks for reading. Sometimes weird is wonderful as it lets the dark ink spread across the page leaving calls from beyond to form the words.
This immediately brought to mind this song by Natalie Merchant. It was amusing but also very unsettling. http://www.metrolyrics.com/the-sleepy-giant-lyrics-natalie-merchant.html
Yes, I looked up the link and well I never, chewing boys and eating eels. A great ballad and I loved the slightly menacing tone of the bored giant. this music was brilliant, I think I am a fan. This just goes to show that originality is only a variation on the past ideas and thoughts of others left floating in our minds.
Hi Diane, I looked up the lyrics and enjoyed how the music had the right tone, that of a mischievous giant. Chewing small boys and eating eels sounds like fun! Great song.
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This is a hellofa good gothic story, James! I really enjoyed the view! Best wishes, June
Hi June, I enjoyed writing this, the idea of a Gothic Princess trapped in time after a traumatic event as a child came to me when I saw some girls dressed as Goths in Edinburgh. The restaurant is my protest against all the cookery programs on TV. Perhaps Abigail could have her own channel called ‘Road Kill on your plate’.
Hi June, It certainly beats fast-food for flavor. I really liked the idea of a time traveling Gothic Princess who was the reincarnation of a lost child. Perhaps she should do a cookery show on TV.
Hi James, I enjoyed this from the first moment I saw it. This is not my usual type of reading preference but that is what makes me appreciate it more.
Weird and imaginative…When weird is good!!!