Called “one of the innovators of the short short story” by Publishers Weekly, Peter Cherches has published three volumes of short prose fiction with Pelekinesis since 2013, most recently Whistler’s Mother’s Son (2020). His writing has also appeared in scores of magazines, anthologies and websites, including Harper’s, Bomb, Semiotext(e), and Fiction International, as well as Billy Collins’ Poetry 180 website and anthology. His latest book is Masks: Stories from a Pandemic (Bamboo Dart Press, 2022). He is a native of Brooklyn, New York.
“There’s a new restaurant I’ve been meaning to try,” Carla said. “It’s getting rave reviews.”
I was staying at Carla’s. I was in town for three days, and she had kindly offered her sofa.
“I’m paying,” I said, without an inkling of the price.
“Fair enough,” she said.
She made a reservation. Later, we drove over.
It looked empty. “Are you sure they’re open?”
“Yes,” she said. “They took my reservation.”
We went in. “Do you have a reservation?” the hostess asked.
“Yes, Carla, for two,” Carla said.
The hostess looked in the book. “Ah yes, Mr. and Mrs. Carla, we do have your reservation, but I’m afraid there will be a fifteen-minute wait for your table. I’m afraid we’re busier than usual, but the couple at your table are just finishing dessert.”
“My name is Carla,” Carla said.
“Yes, Mrs. Carla,” the hostess said.
“No, not Mrs. Carla,” Carla said, “just Carla. I mean I do have a last name too, but not Carla, Carla’s my first name.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Carla,” the hostess said, then turned to me and asked, “And what’s your first name, Mr. Carla?”
“My last name is Cherches,” I said, “not Carla. What’s the difference what my first name is?”
“No need to get snippy,” she said.
“Snippy? I’m not snippy, but if I wanted to be snippy I’d have plenty of cause to. What do you mean the couple are finishing dessert? The restaurant is totally empty.” Carla shot me a “please don’t” look.
“If you’re going to point out faults before you’ve even been seated, I’m afraid we can’t serve you.”
“What do you mean you can’t serve us?”
“Are you a protected class?”
“No, but what’s that got to do with it?”
“Well, if you were, you might have stood a chance, but do you see that sign on the wall?” The sign said: All service at the management’s discretion.
“Are you the management?” I asked.
“I’ve been deputized.”
She was clearly on a power trip.
“Let’s go somewhere else,” I said to Carla.
“There’s a fifty-dollar fee,” the hostess said.
“What?” I said, flabbergasted.
“There’s a fifty-dollar charge if you don’t cancel at least a day in advance. That’s why we require a credit-card guarantee.”
“Wait a minute, you’re refusing to seat us but you’re charging us fifty bucks?”
“I’m afraid so,” she said. “Unless you’re OK with waiting.”
So we waited. For two hours. In an empty restaurant. It was killing me, but I was on my best behavior. It was Carla’s choice, and I was her house guest. She was dying to try this restaurant, and I didn’t want to rain on her parade. When we were finally seated, the waiter introduced himself. “Hi, how are you folks doing tonight?” I held my tongue. “I’m Pascal, and I’ll be your server. If you have any questions about the menu, just let me know.”
I didn’t have any questions about the menu, other than philosophical ones. The menu was very small and very strange. Maybe not strange, just unappealing. The soup du jour was called “Campbell’s-style Chicken Noodle.” The only appetizers were “Broad-ridged Potato Chips with House Clam Dip” and “Sriracha Vienna Sausage in the Tin.” There were two main courses available, “Niman Ranch Classic Salisbury Steak with a Ruffino Chianti Reduction” and the vegan option, “Medley Géant Vert.” I continued to hold my tongue.
Pascal returned to take our order. “Well, folks, do you have any questions?” I had plenty, but I held my tongue.
Carla and I had agreed to split the two appetizers and the two mains, but when we tried to order them Pascal told us they were all out. “Oh, I’m so sorry, but it’s been a very busy evening, so many large groups celebrating birthdays and anniversaries.”
Still holding my tongue—for the most part—I said, “So you’re saying you don’t have any appetizers or any main courses?”
“I’m afraid that’s true,” Pascal replied.
“Well what do you have?”
“We still have some soup, and you’re really in luck, because it’s one of our most popular items.”
“Well, I guess we’ll have two soups,” Carla said as I held my tongue.
So there we were, in an empty restaurant, starving, and it was about a half hour before our soups came out.
“So sorry for the delay,” Pascal said, “but we make everything from scratch.”
The bowls were pretty small, hardly enough for a meal, but I held my tongue. It had the Campbell’s chicken noodle soup aroma I remembered from childhood, something akin to sweaty armpits. The noodles were, of course, limp, soggy, mushy. I waved Pascal over. “By any chance do you have any bread?” I asked, hoping for something I could fill up on.
“Oh, we have the perfect complement for the soup,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”
The perfect complement turned out to be a pair of cellophane packets of those tiny oyster crackers, I think they’re called Oysterettes. I dumped a packet into my bowl.
“Enjoy your meal,” Pascal said.
Carla and I ate in silence. Then I asked her, “So, what do you think of the soup.”
“It’s amazing how they got it right, down to the last detail. It’s exactly like the Campbell’s soup I remember.”
“I think it is the Campbell’s soup you remember.”
After we had finished our soup, Pascal returned. “How was everything?”
“Oh, fabulous,” Carla said. “My compliments to the chef.”
“Is there any dessert?” I asked.
“I’ll have to check,” Pascal said. “It seems like everybody was ordering dessert tonight. I’ll be right back.”
He returned with one small plate. On it was a little roundish pink cupcake or something. On closer inspection, I realized that the something was a Hostess Snoball. “You’re in luck! We had one left. The Bola de Nieve Especial! And because you’ve been so patient, it’s on the house.” Carla and I shared it.
When we got back to Carla’s place she said, “I’ve got to write my Yelp review while the meal is still fresh in my mind.” She gave it five stars and waxed elegiac about the soup.
I held my review.