This Goddamn Place by Matthew Lyons

The fight starts in the kitchen between a couple of chefs, which means it could be about any number of things (drugs, booze, girls, hours, pay), but because Terry and Sean are a pair of obnoxious, stupid assholes, it’s about some soup.  Terry thinks the bisque could use some paprika, but Sean fucking hates paprika.

That’s it.  That’s all it takes to set them off.

To be fair though, this has been coming for a long time, now.  They’ve worked together for a bunch of years, quietly needling each other with the kind of tiny, petty aggressions most normal people usually save for marriage, har-har.  People make that joke a lot, and it’s never stopped getting old.  You and your husband, fuck you.  If they could have sorted shit out, they would have done it by now, and over years, everybody else at the restaurant just sort of gradually figured that out.  Something in each of them just sort of hated the other one from the start, and it only got worse the more time they gave it.  Something chemical, spiritual, existential.

And this is where it finally ends: with Sean knocking a spice jar out of Terry’s hand, and Terry screaming Motherfucker before diving through the brick-red cloud to tackle Sean over the flickering blue range.  They hit the floor as one, their bones clacking against the hard tile, then break apart and start swinging fists.  All around them, the rest of the staff just stares, not a surprised expression among them.  They let it happen, watching the two men scrabble and swipe at each other, all of them maybe just relieved that they manage to not get pulled into the middle of it.  It was always just Sean and Terry’s shit, anyway.  It should really only be them, doing it like this.  This is okay.

Terry catches Sean in the teeth with an elbow and there’s a spray of blood, Sean drills one of Terry’s knees with a well-aimed kick and down they go again, spluttering curse words and angry animal noise.  It’s not graceful, it’s not smooth or choreographed, it’s not anything but ugly, awkward angles crashing against same.  The sounds of impact fill up the quiet kitchen and out at their tables, the diners are starting to notice.  One of the managers turns the ambient music up a few notches to try and counterbalance the noise.  Overhead, the restaurant’s sound system plays Hall & Oates’ Rich Girl while Sean starts stomping Terry’s dick and balls into mashed potatoes.

Some of the wait staff whisper amongst themselves, taking bets on who’s going to win this thing.  So far, odds are pretty much split.

Terry breaks free from Sean’s death grip and swipes a box of kosher salt from the prep station, winding up and bricking the younger man in the side of the head with it, sending him reeling, but Terry isn’t finished yet.  He clobbers Sean to the ground and forces his mouth open, then upends the salt box over it.  Sean only has half a second to scream and rage before he starts to gag and choke and shudder.  When the box is empty, Terry throws it aside and settles for punching Sean in the face, tiny white grains sticking in his knuckles, until Sean kicks him clean off and vomits a salty pool across the kitchen floor.  Terry stumbles away, streaked in puke and sweat, to lean against the wash station, and Sean stays on all fours, panting, staring at nothing.

Hall & Oates switches over to Steve Winwood, but other than that, everything’s quiet.  Nobody says anything.  That should be the end of it.

But of course, it isn’t.

Before any of them can stop him, Sean clambers to his feet and grabs a meat fork from one of the magnetic racks and charges Terry, screaming through his teeth.  There’s nothing any of them can do about it: he jams the tines deep in Terry’s belly, piercing the flesh with a satisfying snap, and everyone but Terry screams.

Sean yanks the fork this way and that, trying to ruin as much of the old man’s insides as he possibly can, laughing as he does it, too preoccupied to see Terry lift the meat cleaver out of the soapy water in the sink, calmer than a gut-stabbed man rightfully should be.

For a second, nobody thinks he’s really going to do it.

Then he really does it.

The big flat blade flashes down and clangs off Sean’s skull, knocking him back, a thick red stripe opened up from hairline to jawline.  Terry lurches forward and smacks him again, rocking Sean’s head on its axis and washing his neck and shirt with a sheet of blood.  Sean stumbles backward a few steps, pulling the fork with him and a loop of Terry’s insides along for the ride, like red boudin.  Terry groans and goes with him, still hammering him with the cleaver, each successive impact ringing off bone, swing-by-swing splitting Sean’s head like a pistachio.  On the floor, their blood swirls with the salt vomit into a kind of pink froth as the two men sidewind back and forth, each trying not to be the one who dies first.

They drop together for the last time and stay that way as the rest of the staff stare down at them in shock, all screamed out.  There’s a moment where nothing happens, when they’re all too stunned to do anything but breathe, but the moment passes and each of them grabs a fork or a knife or both, and they all fall on the dead men as horde, stabbing and picking and shredding them and gorging themselves on the meat.  They devour them apart, making lurid, sexual noises as they do, fighting for scraps and licks of what’s left, animals in the dark, wallowing in the obscenity and horror.  They take eyes and fingers as trophies, then keep eating.

When Terry and Sean are little but bones, the staff throws the ruddy skeletons to the diners, and standing on a table, the hostess demands two volunteers to come and play chef as her coworkers stand around, licking their lips and sucking their teeth and rubbing against each other with eyes clenched shut.  They’ve got the taste for it, now.  Two tables kick forward their young, who slink toward the blood-dashed staff like cows on a conveyor belt.  Back in the kitchen, the sacrifices are asked if they like paprika.  They both say yes, but one of them expresses a pointed distaste for sage.

They’ll do just fine.

 

Matthew Lyons

Banner Image: Pixabay.com

4 thoughts on “This Goddamn Place by Matthew Lyons

  1. The action is well paced. Often, physical scenes get rushed and are knocked off kilter by the writer’s adrenaline. This is meticulously avoided at no loss of “Now.” Still, it went on longer than I could hold out against it, and I’m a little mad at Mr. Lyons at the moment; I had been so looking forward to breakfast.

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  2. The description of the fight was detailed and almost clinical, yet conversational. Those qualities drew me in despite the likelihood of a dire outcome. Then things got really weird! This would have been a disaster if it had not been executed with so much craft. “screaming through his teeth” was a photo and a paragraph in just four words. Very good stuff. Dark, surreal ending, but where else could it go? This story will stick in my brain for a while. Hopefully not my dreams.

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