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View Full Version : The Queen of the Cuisine [3,300 words, mild language]



troughs
July 9th, 2015, 02:14 PM
This is my first time posting a piece for critique, so please be as honest and unforgiving as possible. If the piece excites you, or bores you, or makes you laugh, or cry, please let me know. Any comments will be greatly appreciated. :sunny:

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Gracefully, majestic Irena ascended the steps to the golden podium carrying steady nerves and a carefully wrought smile. There must have been a thousand people here in the crowd – maybe even a million? Too many to count, altogether. Some cried frenzied tears of joy but the majority stood quietly entranced, waiting for the words that would affirm their lives, for the message they so desperately craved. Air horns horned in the air and men whistled between their teeth, as men often do. Children aiming to please their parents held purple banners high above their heads, on which were printed the name of their ruler. Irena scanned the masses for some sign of her location, but each direction she turned to was blanketed by a tapestry of eager faces. Never mind – it didn't really matter; right now, all eyes were focused on Irena, standing erect and prim as a roman pillar. Her people were waiting.


She cleared her throat and projected:


'The purple on those banners must go.'


Her voice boomed deeply, deeper than it normally did, which gave it the effect of being spoken through a megaphone as it scurried towards the far edges of the crowd.


'What an awful colour.'


Once the echo of her disapproval had rung out, the crowd were plunged into an ominous silence, in which nothing was heard besides the laboured breathing of diligent children and their hurried scrambles to swap the banners for more suitable displays. Green flags, with 'I-R-E-N-A' printed in letters bolder than before, were hoisted into the air before she was able to draw another breath. There was no fuss about these things. This was an implicit agreement: Irena speaks, Irena gets.


'As your absolute ruler, I would like to make sure that we agree on a few things. I feel it is time to set the record straight, once and for all.'


She spun a hand in the air as shes poke, imbuing her words with a dictatorial importance. She continued:


'I would like...' but the words drawled out of her mouth and tapered off.


'I...would...' and again they became a desperate whisper.


'I...' she croaked, her throat tightening for no apparent reason.


What was going on?! Panic seized her bones, trembling, and her flesh seared in a quiet crimson anger. Her vision rummaged through the green banners held before her; green as the earth, and the trees, and all other things Irena had absolute dominion over. No earth or tree however seemed able to free her tongue from the grip of her throat. What could she do? She couldn't believe that her body had betrayed her, now, in this crucial moment!The faces in front of her began to twist into various stages of sour perplexity, and she knew then that she had lost them forever. She was done.


'Why is my mouth so dry?!' screamed her mind in anguish. She stomped a foot in rhythm to the pulse of her thickening blood, a childish rhythm that seemed to cry: 'Why won't the words come out? WHY?'


The crowd apparently felt the need to aggravate Irena's crisis, because they began to disperse now from the middle, forming a narrow empty column as though a sea parted; in the resulting path stood one plump and balding man dressed in a black dinner jacket, who held in his hands a thin wooden stick aimed straight for Irena's forehead as if passing the gravest of all judgements upon her life. His eyes shone at her with a blunt ferocity several magnitudes greater than that of the sun above their heads. In a serious gesture he raised his hand and began to swing it violently before him as if fighting with an ancient sword some incredible beast. Irena felt every blow. The crowd, now a perilous grumbling mob, seemed out of nowhere to produce an assortment of classical instruments and began to play a furious orchestral explosion in her direction. It soon became apparent that this discordant fanfare embodied a hurricane of both grief and chapped lips. It recalled for Irena a succession of fears and failures in her life, which caused her body to shrink pathetically behind the golden podium she had once ruled from. She converged into herself and lay there looking like a bronze tuba; limbs and neck curved to a dry mouthpiece, sputtering and choking.


No! NO!


Irena's eyelids jarred wide open. Where... what? And for how long? With some effort she tore her tongue from the roof of her mouth and grumbled the remnants of her dream through gritted teeth. Drool encrusted a path from the corners of her lips to her satin pillow. That sound... she could still hear that awful sound! They were still playing that wretched fanfare! But where?! She was suddenly aware of a vehement buzzing at the bone of her shoulder – her phone! Her ringtone! Of course! Yes!


Absorbed into a flurry of panicked fumbling, her arm catapulted a glass bottle out from her bed, which rolled slowly and ominously across the green carpet. Through one eye still thickened with the fog of disturbed sleep she read the letters V-O-D-K- and, following a fruitless scan for a glass that she must surely have used to drink from, she gave a gurgled moan and smeared the phone into her free ear.


'Hello.' came a thick, static male voice.


'I... can't even.'


'Hello?'


'I'm so hungover... I'm--'


'Come here now.' interrupted the man,a man who was evidently not interested in petty details, particularly those tedious ones divulged on a regular basis and of no real value.


'I have heatstroke.' mumbled Irena.'I...ca--'


'Thirty minutes. You will be here inthirty minutes, right?'


Irena hesitated, forming elaborate words in her dry mouth, though convinced already by his good-natured confidence in her that she was going to piece together the fragments of her confusion and arrive at work in thirty minutes or less.


'Yes Machinmo.'


She ended the call and booked a cab,which gave her just enough time to polish her nails, comb what hair she could manage into place, brush her teeth, and grab a carton of coconut water from the fridge. The coconut water was particularly important – it contained many good electrolytes to maintain in her a good level of hydration, which was good. No girl, she was assured, would survive without coconut water.


She arrived breathless, disheveled,and sweating through her black waitress uniform all the poison of the prior evening. Her boss, Machinmo, led her to the outside patio where she was to serve today, because the sun and the heat were simply too good to miss, and who wanted to be inside anyway where the air was stale and stifling? On a table tucked underneath an overbearingly large mint tree she found Powell, a waiter with whom she had the misfortune to share a weekly shift. Today he sat in a plain white t-shirt, yin-yang inked monstrosities poking out through the sleeves.In front of him sat a pair of meretricious tortoiseshell sunglasses upon a nose excessively curved, both belonging to a young man who had evidently bonded with Powell over the collective disarray of their beards. Eying them derisively from behind the cash register, Irena surmised that it must have been Tuesday; Powell never worked onTuesdays. In fact, he had never really worked, but preferred instead to harass the workforce with a staunch vulgarity, often doubling his efforts with new, vulnerable recruits – “fresh fish” he called them. Irena walked towards the little bun of hair poking out through the frail branches of the tree, carrying inside her head some erratic notion of goodwill and the poor judgement usually owed to disjointed alcohol-sleep.


'You look like shit.' said Powell when he caught her hunched figure, rolling the words confidently inside his mouth alongside a grilled prawn starter.


'Thanks.'


'This is my friend, Lincoln. Lincoln,this is Irena, but you can call her Stalin.'


She took hold of a frail bony hand; slippery, utterly caked in oily prawn grease.


'Er...greasy.' mumbled the man through a mouth that was far too small for his face. And why did it twist slightly at one end, as if he were mocking her as he spoke?


Irena served the pair for four long hours. Each hour that passed raised Irena's blood pressure considerably until she found herself pulsating with heat, left to swim through her own sweat. She brought them each a grilled lobster and assortments of Calamari that simply must have attributed to an entire squid, which Powell claimed would 'cleanse their palettes'. This he did amidst an exchange of eyebrow gesticulations with his greasy friend, most likely a reference to the sheer cost of their meals, which they would not be paying due to Powell's assumed privileges. Then came the Dover Sole, and upon hearing the greasy man announce that he had never before heard of the dish, Irena slowed her movements and concluded that a dining party of this nature would not mind if, perhaps through some regrettable kitchen error entirely independent of her doing, the food were to arrive cold and excessively salted. These things happened, after all, didn't they?You never knew what went on in those kitchens where the cooks toiled endlessly, not once granted a taste of their creations, into which they selflessly poured their blood and sweat, and at times, unfortunately, far too much salt.

Once every twenty minutes or so, Powell would tilt a curled palm to his lips as if drinking from a bottle and, clicking his tongue loudly against his teeth, give Irena a careless wink. She felt then that she had ought to bring them a drink of sorts but she wished he was less demanding in his demeanour,less proud of the subtle patriarchy that came through in the insistent pivot of the wrist. So she carried to the table some four or five bottles (perhaps six?) of white wine over the course of their feast, being careful to note the price of each next to Powell's name on the staff register. The pair attempted to pronounce the names on the labels in a mockingly eloquent fashion, but their mouths were obstructed with too much lobster, too much calamari, too much dover sole, and really too many chargrilled chicken breasts to laugh effectively. Perhaps the boss would, in a routine checking of company records, come across mysterious scrawlings that betrayed some kind of foul play on Powell's part, because he really was a meticulous man who checked over things endlessly, and you never could tell what information he might come across.


'Waitress! Waitress!' shouted a petulant, irritating little voice behind her as she was leading a group of recent arrivals to their table. She turned to find the pair inspecting the smaller dessert menu with a distasteful look on their faces. Lincoln clicked a bony finger.


'Let me have the gateaux, simvoo play' he spoke through the twist in his mouth, pronouncing the 'x' in gateaux with a spectacled gusto.


'I'll have the same, darling, I will.' followed Powell.


She quickly presented them with two immaculate gateaus, not sabotaged in any way; these were made by a meek new kitchen recruit and she hadn't the heart to ruin this one,this beautiful assortment of strawberries so shiny and red, drizzled in a delicate lemon sauce crawling scrumptiously across a thick brown fudge; all illuminated by the greatest light in the galaxy that shone shyly through the mint plant's leafy tendrils hanging over their table.


'This literally looks like shit. What is this shit?' sputtered Lincoln, raising a greasy hand as well as his voice, which caused a smudge of wine to snort out of his curved nose nostrils. 'Get me a tar-tee tay-tin, pronto.'


'She must be drunk. Are you drunk Irena?' added a smirking Powell, having noticed that the majority of patio diners had their heads turned to observe a red shadow suffusing upwards Irena's neck. 'You know she likes to drink. Likes a bit of the old bottle, likes it a little too much if you ask me.'


'Well I'm not eating it.' said Lincoln through his curved, dripping nose. 'She can forget about a tip too. Tar-tee tay-tin, go on then!'


Irena needed no coaxing; she was mid-shuffle towards Machinmo's upstairs office carrying her warm red face high against the pull of gravity. On the way she poured herself two Tequilas from an open bottle at the bar and she glugged these forcefully through a throat that was tightening far too rapidly. She resumed her journey with heavy and deliberate steps, consciously matching the angry beat of her heart: Tar-teetay-tin. Tar-tee tay-tin.


A strenuous staircase later, she knocked on a large wooden door. She hoped that the sound of her angry fists would travel through half a foot of oak but entered anyway with an air of some vicious queen who deserved better than being made to wait. She stooped over instantly, suddenly remembering the low curve of the stone arch above her head. Machinmo was a man who wanted you to enter with your face to the ground, so that as you slowly raised your head you were met by the blast of his benevolent authority. Irena felt his gaze instantly, felt the space he occupied envelop beyond that of the rich leather managerial chair underneath him. He was so intensely here, she thought to herself as she looked around the room, so definitely inside this room, so very assured in all things; all the jewelled chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and all the papers stacked so perfectly upon the deep beautiful grain of the wooden desk and the elegant curvature of the windows through which one could observe the entire restaurant floor and patio, and the sheen of the large marble globe that spun by his hand; assured even in, or perhaps also expecting all the things she was about to tell him. He tapped a finger on the desk, poised as a china porcelain statue, waiting.


'I... I feel awful.' said Irena, whose boiling blood had been cooled by the furniture.


'You do?' came the static reply.


'I hate this. All of this. They treat me like a worm out there. Powell and his friend... they embarrassed me in front of everybody. And they laughed. They actually laughed!'


'Why should I care?'


'Why should you care?!' Irena swallowed the contemptuous twinge rising in her tightened throat before continuing. 'I... look. This is all I'masking. Make Powell and his friend pay. That's it. I want to see money on the table for my hard work. Do you know I haven't slept?I got up and-'


Machinmo interrupted her with the slow, choreographed raising of a hand. He allowed the effect to linger for one Irena blink, two Irena blinks, a third.


'No. I think you had better go out there and serve them.' he said finally, and he gave her a lengthy masculine look that appeared to solidify his figure until he was an indistinguishable portion of the chair, or, say, a translucent reflection upon the curvature of the windowpane.


At last came the tarte tatins to the table, jiggling jubilantly atop two bone china dessert plates. For a cheap French restaurant, thought Irena, there were quite some luxuries lying around, weren't there? She lowered them in front of the hungry pair with a mechanical precision.Then she stoically straightened her spine and, taking a deliberately deep breath, she shot a quick sharp smile to the table and turned to walk away. She had barely covered the distance of a dessert fork when behind her sounded the flick, flick, inhale that she knew all too well. She rotated slowly.


'Excuse me.'commanded Powell behind the fog of smoke exhaled from his nostrils.He turned his cigarette slowly and deliberately in between his fingers as if inspecting some delicate treasure, eyebrow arched with an assumed sophistication. Smoke rose and dissipated amongst the strands of hair curled into a tight bun upon his head. 'This tarte...it appears to be moving. I don't trust the way it moves.'


'Can't you do anything right?' sniggered Lincoln.


Irena's mouth dropped open, not very far, but far enough to carry the bewildered expression of a person who had very recently been shot through the heart, and could not understand why. It all happened very suddenly then – a rapid welling of rage filled her chest hunting about for some outlet, some exit for this torrent of grief burning the back of her neck and wetting the corners of her fierce eyes, this sharp heat of a thousand suns scorching violently through her veins. Her painted fingernails dug deep into her tight palms with the ferocity of tiger teeth, narrowed wobbling eyes turning incredulously to Powell, then Lincoln, the Powell again, taking in all at once the totality of their childishness, the stench of their flatulence, the rude assault of their burps, feeling all at once a deep contempt for this seedy little boy's club in which she found herself shackled, this tacky club run by tacky tattoos and pathetic moustaches and the little giggling amongst themselves about the way that her chin jutted out slightly when she spoke and the droop of her eyelids from lost sleep and all those embarrassing things she said when drunk and how she ought not to drink so much and seething, seething with a hatred confined tightly inside her bones that they could sit there in a hair bun and one inflated nose and another curved aggressive nose and pretentiously large glasses on faces stewing in the sweat of ill-shaved lobster filled beards through which they smiled at her with sleazy little cigarette smiles. She damned them to the deepest chasms of the deepest culinary hell.



'I. WILL. NOT. SERVE YOU.'



This primal, guttural yell is rumoured to have been heard for many blocks down the road, where a nearby weather observatory apparently claimed to record some spike in seismic activity, some as-yet unexplained source of deep disturbance. So the story goes.


There is also a moment when a turbulent lightning storm, having for a restless evening wrecked upon the city some cacophony of thunderous quakes and other such monstrosities, begins to clear and the sun, the sweet innocent sun can be seen rising victorious, peeking through the clumped remnants of clouds and scattering upon the earth some fragments of light and giving way to a stillness, a perfect silence that freezes with its aching majesty the process of human petulance. No one dared to lift a fork. Had she taken things too far? It didn't matter; right now all eyes glared at Irena, stood prim and erect as a fondue fountain. Her people were waiting.


She cleared her throat and projected:


'Eat.'


And they ate, dutifully, chewing more ravishingly and swallowing more emphatically than before. Powell and greasy looked at one another in silence, then gave Irena only a quick glance before pulling their wallets from their pockets and placing them neatly, obediently upon the table.


Irena waved to a colleague to attend to the pair's payments before she glided indoors towards the office.She entered without knocking this time, feeling a giddy inebriation sweeping the hairs on her skin. Machimo watched her silently as she approached the globe by his hand. She curved one hand around it, then the other, appearing to cradle it seductively inside her palms. And then – with that far-away look in the eyes that belongs to a person that has forgotten their immediate surroundings – she pushed against it with her fingers, tenderly, as if attempting to mould its shape. Machinmo sighed and spoke:


'What are you doing?'


'Oh, nothing.' said Irena.


She gave him a slow, careful smile.

scrub puller
July 10th, 2015, 12:22 AM
Yair . . .

troughs


Gracefully, majestic Irena ascended the steps to the golden podium carrying steady nerves and a carefully wrought smile.

I read that first line and it would never cut it with my editor . . . everyone has their own style but try . . .

"Graceful and majestic Irena ascended the steps to the golden podium carrying steady nerves a careful smile."

It is still an awkward sentence but (in my opinion) stronger due to having lost two 'ly' words.


Cheers.

AtleanWordsmith
July 10th, 2015, 01:44 AM
The purple prose at the beginning makes it a bit hard to get into at first, but once you hit your flow, it's not bad, and you make it work later on. Expect to lose readers with the first paragraph, though--I almost dismissed it as being a Mary Sue sort of thing, myself, but I'm glad that I decided to keep reading. It's got a quirky... I'm trying to think of the word, so this could take awhile... ah, right, surreal feeling to it that I actually quite like.

There are a few points where you've got some redundancies that you could cut, the most notable being:

"'Come here now.' interrupted the man,a man who was evidently not interested in petty details, particularly those tedious ones divulged on a regular basis and of no real value."

Which should be cut to:

"'Come here now.' interrupted the man, evidently not interested in petty details--particularly those tedious ones divulged on a regular basis and of no real value."

Taking out "a man who was" restores the flow of the narrative, as does replacing the comma after "details" with a long dash. I'm sure that there's more cleaning up to do with grammar and punctuation, but I'm not really the guy for that.

Thanks for sharing! Definitely looking forward to seeing more from you.

troughs
July 10th, 2015, 10:54 PM
Thank you for your responses. That first line is actually a tongue-in-cheek play on the opening sentence to Joyce's Ulysses but perhaps the paragraph needs a rewrite if it isn't fun to read. '..The man, a man who was...' - the repetition is supposed to evoke the enigma of the character, but that needs an edit if it is coming off as clunky.

Your comments are appreciated.

AtleanWordsmith
July 11th, 2015, 03:30 AM
Thank you for your responses. That first line is actually a tongue-in-cheek play on the opening sentence to Joyce's Ulysses but perhaps the paragraph needs a rewrite if it isn't fun to read. '..The man, a man who was...' - the repetition is supposed to evoke the enigma of the character, but that needs an edit if it is coming off as clunky.

Your comments are appreciated.

Ah. I haven't read ​Ulysses, so that line went over my head. Someone a bit more cultured that I am might catch the reference, haha.

Redundancies generally make narration clumsy, and--this is just my opinon--it's generally better to remove them, if they're not incorporated into direct dialogue, or a direct inner monologue from a character.

Lumaria
July 12th, 2015, 05:32 AM
Gracefully, majestic Irena ascended the steps to the golden podium carrying steady nerves and a carefully wrought smile. There must have been a thousand people here in the crowd maybe even a million? Too many to count, altogether. Some cried frenzied tears of joy but the majority stood quietly entranced, waiting for the words that would affirm their lives, for the message they so desperately craved. Air horns horned in the air and men whistled between their teeth, as men often do. Children aiming to please their parents held purple banners high above their heads, on which were printed the name of their ruler. Irena scanned the masses for some sign of her location, but each direction she turned to was blanketed by a tapestry of eager faces. Never mind it didn't really matter; right now, all eyes were focused on Irena, standing erect and prim as a roman pillar. Her people were waiting. In this particular scene felt off. Perhaps introducing the scene could make it easier to be more descriptive.

In particularly,the part where you said "for the message they so desperately craved", here i felt you were "telling" us what they want, rather than showing us. There was already enough body-language to tell us what they were waiting for.

Perhaps describing Irena and a scene before she steps to the golden podium.



Her voice boomed deeply, deeper than it normally did, which gave it the effect of being spoken through a megaphone as it scurried towards the far edges of the crowd.
"deeper than it normally did" is also telling us. Perhaps showing us what her voice is normally like and then describing the change later on wont feel so much like "telling".

I have company at the moment, but i'll edit my comment later on to continue reading (i already read ahead)

troughs
July 13th, 2015, 12:53 AM
Thank you for your input. You're right about the telling, I think the intention was to emulate her idealism - this is a dream after all. You're right though - it's problematic because it just reads as bad writing at that point.

I've edited this piece and posted the final version here (https://troughs.wordpress.com/2015/07/12/queen-of-the-cuisine/); hopefully I've solved the problem with the introduction.

The responses in this thread have been incredibly helpful. Thanks again, everyone. :eagerness: