The new dishwasher arrived. His name was Jean-Gaspar Violet. Good Lord, he was thin. Scarred. Unhappy. His tattoos might have been roses, mandalas, memorial busts. They were so black on black, so scumbled and bruisy; they were not mistakes. He wanted to work behind bars, and yet even at this late stage of his failing prison-to-work transition, he was still no more than stumbling mud here in Newark. His heart had hardened, but I am here to move that stone.
“How art thee?” I said as he crossed the lintel.
He slowed, paused, stared.
“Art thee ready to work?”
He judged, and he saw only me, not the God in my mouth, not the God radiating at my temple, my breast, my two clavicles, the whole cross of me.
“Yeah, I just got my papers to show up. What am I doing?”
“Tell me first: How shall I call thee? what is thine name?”
He pronounced it: “John.”
“Jean, welcome. I am thy servant. Loading and unloading dishes as the night proceeds will be the bulk of thine shift. Thissen, until then, the sauce pans must needs thine attention. Grab an apron, a scrub brush, and follow me.”
Jean-Gaspar Violet hung his coat on a locker nail, grabbed the things, and made his way through the crowded storage space. We juked a gauntlet of boxes, a cardboard canyon of kitchen supplies and pantry stock waiting unpacking, then threaded a path beside pastry platers, flirting waiters, broiler and saute chefs all busily preparing for the first seating.
“Ah,” I greeted the Executive Sous Chef, “Michel, this is Jean, our new plongeur.”
Michel bowed, in that learned way of a Spaniard in a French restaurant.“May thine hours here be pleasant,” Michel said as he clicked his heels and continued, “and all your days divine.”
A scintilla of uncertainty overtook Jean. He swallowed a bit drily as he nodded to show he’d heard.
“Come then, Jean. Your place is ready.”
Jean continued to follow, and then saw his station on the rubber mat at the well, piled high with saucepans and broiler trays from the afternoon preps. He tucked his wings back carefully as he knotted his apron. He willed; my words embered.
A.E. Weisgerber teaches literature and composition, and is Fiction Editor at Indianola Review. She has work forthcoming in Tahoma Literary Review and The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. She tweets @AEWeisgerber, and thanks Kathy Fish for prompting this story.