Five Minutes

I entered the restaurant. A spotlight shone on the single table. Music played in the background. Opera of some sort. I wondered where my brother had found the recording. 

The table was covered with a white cloth.  There was a red rose in a gold vase.  A sweating glass of ice water tempted me to drink. I reached for the glass then withdrew my hand. “Drink nothing,” my mother had said. “Your brother is conniving.”

I pulled out the chair and sat. 

A man appeared suddenly.  A waiter.  I did not recognize him, but then again, my brother had stopped hiring people from the village. The man wore a white shirt, neatly ironed and tucked into black silk pants. There was a thin black necktie around his waist. A black apron encircled his waist. His hair was arranged in the old way, when fashion had been important. “Good evening, sir. I will be your waiter this evening.” 

My brother. Master of artifice. Leader of my village.

The waiter handed me a menu.

I hesitated to open it.

“Do hurry, sir,” the waiter said, as he walked away from the table.  “You have five minutes.” 

I had made a mistake: I had exposed my brother. I had accused him publicly of keeping the electricity off; of using the taxes for himself; of purchasing fine fruits—fresh apples and grapes and oranges—while the rest of the villagers had to content themselves with foraging. 

What can I say?  I grew weary of burdock root and purselaine. I grew angry at watching villagers die for want of medicine.

I had made a mistake.  And here was my punishment

I opened the menu.

There were two entries, hand written in neat script.

Lemon sole with garlic butter
Brussels sprouts with cranberries
Almond rice

Chocolate cake

 ~

Sirloin steak

Garlic mashed potatoes

Green beans with bacon

Apple pie

 

My mouth watered: I hadn’t seen food like this in years.

The waiter returned.  “Have you decided sir?”

“Not yet.”

He scowled.

My brother, always a gambler, had devised this punishment for me. One of the meals would contain enough poison to kill me with the very first bite.  The other meal would be completely safe to eat.

If I chose the right meal, my brother would eat the poisoned one.  And I would be the next leader of the village.

I’d promised my mother: As the next leader, I would get the electricity back on.  I would bring the food back to the villagers.  I would help save my people.

I snapped the menu shut. “What would you recommend?”

He smiled. “The choice is not mine to make.”

“Do you know?”

He cast his eyes to the floor. “I do not.”

I considered a moment longer.  “The steak.” I hated steak.  My brother knew that.  Or had he forgotten?

The waiter smiled.  “An excellent choice, sir.”  And he gave a slight bow from the waist. 

I didn’t have time to consider the meaning behind the waiter’s words; didn’t have time to wonder if he was for or against me: Almost immediately, a silver cart was wheeled to the table.  “Here we are.”  The waiter set the plate before me and again, my mouth started to water. “And your dessert of course.” He placed a second plate to the left of my fork and shook out my napkin. He handed me a shiny steak knife and smiled.  “Enjoy your meal, sir.”  And then he disappeared, rolling the silver cart before him.

I sat and watched the steam rise from my plate.  I looked around for the cameras I knew to be hidden in the restaurant.  I thought about my brother; how he’d always been so kind; so generous. Every night my brother brought my mother food from the forest.  Every night, he made repairs to the houses damaged in the earthquake.
 
And the villagers noticed. They said my brother was strong; responsible; hard working.

They looked at me; said I was nothing. They did not know that I was a healer; preparing medicines for the many ailments that my people suffered from.  I’d wished to remain anonymous. I do not like fame.

But my brother thrived upon it.  His smile grew wider; his back straighter; his speech more polished and clear.  And the day the electricity stopped, they made him their leader.

He thanked them by betraying them.  By stealing from them; by taxing them; by hiding the aid that came to us from the other villages.

“Is everything to your satisfaction, sir?”  The waiter stood before me. 
 
“Yes.”  No.  While my brother grew fat and wealthy; while he made plans to sneak out of the village in the middle of the night, his neighbors suffered. 

He’d asked our mother to join him.

She’d refused. 

“May I bring you salt?”

I laughed. “There is no salt.” 

The waiter smiled. “We have salt in abundance.” He went away and returned with a small crystal shaker. “I really must insist that you commence. Your brother is tired of waiting.” 

That’s when I knew I’d made the wrong choice. I sprinkled a generous amount of salt over the steak; drew the knife across. I lifted a piece to my nose and sniffed.

“You must eat it, sir.”

I knew the punishment if I refused to eat. Death not only to myself, but to my mother as well.
 
I put the steak in my mouth; began to chew. I waited for the effects of the poison to take hold.

My brother appeared.  Sat across from me.  The waiter set a second plate before him.  “You have chosen well, my brother.” He picked up single grain of rice and put it in his mouth. “Take good care of the village.” 

“Do not try to revive him,” the waiter said, after my brother had collapsed on the table.  “He does not wish it.” He went to the door of the restaurant; threw it open.  “Look at what he has done to your leader. Look at how he eats.”

The villagers streamed in. “While you starve,” the waiter continued, “he eats the finest cut of meat. While you sit in darkness, he listens to music.”

I grabbed my brother’s plate; tried to shield it from the villagers.

“Look at his greed,” the waiter said. “Not one plate, but two.”

And while half the villagers fought over steak and green beans; the others fought over rice and fish and died instantly.

The villagers turned on me with angry fists. 

The waiter untied his apron and disappeared into the night.



For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Christine gave me this prompt: You have (or your character has) five minutes to make an important decision.. I gave SAM this prompt: Today, I love the sky.

Labels: ,

Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: Five Minutes

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Five Minutes

I entered the restaurant. A spotlight shone on the single table. Music played in the background. Opera of some sort. I wondered where my brother had found the recording. 

The table was covered with a white cloth.  There was a red rose in a gold vase.  A sweating glass of ice water tempted me to drink. I reached for the glass then withdrew my hand. “Drink nothing,” my mother had said. “Your brother is conniving.”

I pulled out the chair and sat. 

A man appeared suddenly.  A waiter.  I did not recognize him, but then again, my brother had stopped hiring people from the village. The man wore a white shirt, neatly ironed and tucked into black silk pants. There was a thin black necktie around his waist. A black apron encircled his waist. His hair was arranged in the old way, when fashion had been important. “Good evening, sir. I will be your waiter this evening.” 

My brother. Master of artifice. Leader of my village.

The waiter handed me a menu.

I hesitated to open it.

“Do hurry, sir,” the waiter said, as he walked away from the table.  “You have five minutes.” 

I had made a mistake: I had exposed my brother. I had accused him publicly of keeping the electricity off; of using the taxes for himself; of purchasing fine fruits—fresh apples and grapes and oranges—while the rest of the villagers had to content themselves with foraging. 

What can I say?  I grew weary of burdock root and purselaine. I grew angry at watching villagers die for want of medicine.

I had made a mistake.  And here was my punishment

I opened the menu.

There were two entries, hand written in neat script.

Lemon sole with garlic butter
Brussels sprouts with cranberries
Almond rice

Chocolate cake

 ~

Sirloin steak

Garlic mashed potatoes

Green beans with bacon

Apple pie

 

My mouth watered: I hadn’t seen food like this in years.

The waiter returned.  “Have you decided sir?”

“Not yet.”

He scowled.

My brother, always a gambler, had devised this punishment for me. One of the meals would contain enough poison to kill me with the very first bite.  The other meal would be completely safe to eat.

If I chose the right meal, my brother would eat the poisoned one.  And I would be the next leader of the village.

I’d promised my mother: As the next leader, I would get the electricity back on.  I would bring the food back to the villagers.  I would help save my people.

I snapped the menu shut. “What would you recommend?”

He smiled. “The choice is not mine to make.”

“Do you know?”

He cast his eyes to the floor. “I do not.”

I considered a moment longer.  “The steak.” I hated steak.  My brother knew that.  Or had he forgotten?

The waiter smiled.  “An excellent choice, sir.”  And he gave a slight bow from the waist. 

I didn’t have time to consider the meaning behind the waiter’s words; didn’t have time to wonder if he was for or against me: Almost immediately, a silver cart was wheeled to the table.  “Here we are.”  The waiter set the plate before me and again, my mouth started to water. “And your dessert of course.” He placed a second plate to the left of my fork and shook out my napkin. He handed me a shiny steak knife and smiled.  “Enjoy your meal, sir.”  And then he disappeared, rolling the silver cart before him.

I sat and watched the steam rise from my plate.  I looked around for the cameras I knew to be hidden in the restaurant.  I thought about my brother; how he’d always been so kind; so generous. Every night my brother brought my mother food from the forest.  Every night, he made repairs to the houses damaged in the earthquake.
 
And the villagers noticed. They said my brother was strong; responsible; hard working.

They looked at me; said I was nothing. They did not know that I was a healer; preparing medicines for the many ailments that my people suffered from.  I’d wished to remain anonymous. I do not like fame.

But my brother thrived upon it.  His smile grew wider; his back straighter; his speech more polished and clear.  And the day the electricity stopped, they made him their leader.

He thanked them by betraying them.  By stealing from them; by taxing them; by hiding the aid that came to us from the other villages.

“Is everything to your satisfaction, sir?”  The waiter stood before me. 
 
“Yes.”  No.  While my brother grew fat and wealthy; while he made plans to sneak out of the village in the middle of the night, his neighbors suffered. 

He’d asked our mother to join him.

She’d refused. 

“May I bring you salt?”

I laughed. “There is no salt.” 

The waiter smiled. “We have salt in abundance.” He went away and returned with a small crystal shaker. “I really must insist that you commence. Your brother is tired of waiting.” 

That’s when I knew I’d made the wrong choice. I sprinkled a generous amount of salt over the steak; drew the knife across. I lifted a piece to my nose and sniffed.

“You must eat it, sir.”

I knew the punishment if I refused to eat. Death not only to myself, but to my mother as well.
 
I put the steak in my mouth; began to chew. I waited for the effects of the poison to take hold.

My brother appeared.  Sat across from me.  The waiter set a second plate before him.  “You have chosen well, my brother.” He picked up single grain of rice and put it in his mouth. “Take good care of the village.” 

“Do not try to revive him,” the waiter said, after my brother had collapsed on the table.  “He does not wish it.” He went to the door of the restaurant; threw it open.  “Look at what he has done to your leader. Look at how he eats.”

The villagers streamed in. “While you starve,” the waiter continued, “he eats the finest cut of meat. While you sit in darkness, he listens to music.”

I grabbed my brother’s plate; tried to shield it from the villagers.

“Look at his greed,” the waiter said. “Not one plate, but two.”

And while half the villagers fought over steak and green beans; the others fought over rice and fish and died instantly.

The villagers turned on me with angry fists. 

The waiter untied his apron and disappeared into the night.



For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Christine gave me this prompt: You have (or your character has) five minutes to make an important decision.. I gave SAM this prompt: Today, I love the sky.

Labels: ,

5 Comments:

At September 26, 2012 at 2:29 PM , Anonymous debra elramey said...

How harsh... but good job with the story. It seemed like a parable almost.

http://debrasblogpureandsimple.blogspot.com

 
At September 26, 2012 at 3:00 PM , Anonymous Carrie said...

clever right up to the end...I wonder if the waiter will return to "save" the village from itself

 
At September 26, 2012 at 3:23 PM , Anonymous jaum said...

I wonder about the waiter also... Interesting plot, and read.

 
At September 26, 2012 at 3:59 PM , Anonymous Jessie Powell said...

Woah. I was captivated by this character. I wanted him to make the right choice, but I could tell there was no way to choose rightly. This character was no leader, and his brother was no good person. Too bad there wasn't a third sibling betwixt them.

 
At September 27, 2012 at 5:18 AM , Anonymous Meum said...

One can't help but wonder what happened to the village after both brothers died. Anarchy????

 

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