Eyes in Your Salad
By abandoned station
Miranda stared at the Greek salad in front of her. She tried to make it a metaphor for her life but for the moment it just sat there being lettuce, dressing, feta cheese and assorted chopped vegetables. Willing her entire intellect upon the bowl did nothing. It told her nothing about herself. What went wrong, what went right, and where to go from here. Even though it cost eighteen dollars.
The money didn’t matter, really. She could forget that as soon as she left the restaurant. Maybe even write it up as a business expense.
She was eating healthy. Could always stomach rabbit food with a forced smile.
On top of this she was engaged in the activity alone, the only thing across from her being an empty chair. She was fine with this now. It took some getting used to, especially at restaurant with such expensive food, where gossip always ended up as a side dish.
She got over it. Stick and stones and all that. Miranda shrugged it off when it dropped in casual conversation – either by her own volition or a friend mentioning she heard about a recent solo dining experience – and did it with enough style and grace that it seemed a gesture of defiance, not desperation.
In fact, it was a little bit of both.
I don’t need anyone, her poise loudly brayed, isn’t that enticing?
And yes, it was safe to bet that at least once per meal she would be approached with a smatter of small talk from a man clearly in the business of serious ways and means.
She wasn’t looking for cracks in his seemingly perfect visage, but they flew at her uncontrollably. Small chinks of deficiency rapidly expanding in size as they leapt off the tongue, hands, or jangle of the pocket. Not that she was waiting for the perfect specimen, but whatever stood before her suddenly and uncontrollably became a vapid, depraved hooligan.
If there was a fresh piece of pan-seared haddock with scalloped potatoes or a bowl of alfredo pasta in front of her, it was easier. She had a ready, quickly cooling excuse to dismiss potential suitors with a faux-helpless shrug.
But this part of the meal would be torture. Piece after piece of vegetable and cheese crumbles being stuffed into her mouth, but it was no defense at all. Salad could always wait, never really got stale, cold, or inedible through the course of the meal. It would always be there, easily pushed aside, and everyone knew it.
But oh, if that was my sole problem at this very moment, she lamented in the quietly humming corridors of her mind while holding the appropriately named fork daintily in her right hand, the real quandary sitting on the end of it.
Hunger? Appetite? It was a hole that could never be filled.
Temporary solstice only. She would have to return tomorrow, and again, every day after that until her life as a whole was finally satiated.
Miranda usually got this way when it came to appetizers.
It was the beginning of the eternal recurrence. And that paradox also troubled her. Her she was yet again, going through the motions, inserting fuel into her body, which will convert it to energy so she can work and therefore afford to insert further fuel into her body.
Ad infinitum, but not really.
Just like her almost-luxury foreign sedan parked out front. Or wherever the valet stowed it while she dined. Her high-performance vehicle required the same things as her. Regular nourishment, constant cleaning and annual checkups to ensure everything was running smoothly. And both will one day – despite all efforts – wither and rust away into a skeletal husk taking up space.
I am a machine, sitting in a Zagat-rated gas station.
She saw a slice of cucumber hiding sheepishly under a leaf of lettuce. Absentmindedly she attacked, skewering the vegetable. She extracted it like an exhausted surgeon. The change in the setup caused the lettuce to fall. An olive rolled down, tempted by gravity. The leaf it strayed from changed its position as well, slippery with the dressing. Feta cheese shuddered and tumbled.
The composition was mutating and Miranda didn’t miss a thing, she watched her food kaleidoscope into something different. Another olive came to rest just so about two inches from the other, both openings facing upwards, like beady pupils. A well crumbled hunk of feta was between and below them, shaped like a knowing nose. The mouth – of course if there were eyes and a nose there would be a mouth – was a rind of a tomato, it’s flesh innards somewhere strewn about around and under the bed of lettuce. And although she couldn’t exactly feel the rush of conditioned air dance around her, the green leafs in her bowl gently shook in the somehow wind, the familiar features moving accordingly as well.
She stared transfixed at her edible and accidental Frankenstein.
The tiniest movement thunder in her head, but it didn’t sound like a small avalanche of leafy vegetables. It came out as words, human speech, clear as a bell.
Hello, Miranda, her salad said pleasantly with every trace of godmotherly patience, you shouldn’t worry too much about your skin, it’s going to be smooth and soft no matter what you put on it for years to come. What you sow into your career is exactly what you will reap. Kindness will be repaid with kindness plus interest.
“What-”, she whispered, and only a split second later realizing how glad she was that she somehow suppressed the urge to say such a word rather loudly.
As if responding, the left olive somehow moved ever so slightly with just the right light so it appeared that the whole face had just winked at her.
Now she stared at her food in stunned silence. Trying to remember each and every word, replaying it in her head in the voice she’s attempting in vain to remember note-perfectly. She waits for something else, anything else, a waiter to come by to inadvertently offer some sense back into her life.
I’m overanalyzing this, I worry too much, I need to take a vacation or something, there’s too much stress in my life-
Then the first thing to do is calm down-
Miranda draws a quick ragged breath in as the clear and unmistakable voice returns.
-and have something to eat.
And then is gone again in a flash.
No fluke, but that means it’s real – whatever that entails – or she’s crazy. Neither option was particularly appealing at the moment. Either she’s having a breakdown and needs a series of pills and forced bed rest, or she just witnessed a gift from the gods in the most insignificant fashion. A message she was expected to consume immediately. A secret with disappearing evidence. Holy words and ways revealing itself in the mundane. This message will self destruct.
Miranda’s eyes dart across the restaurant, trying to lock onto someone else’s, who is obviously staring her down because they were the author, the orchestrator of this bizarre hoax, carefully studying her reactions to this experiment slash leg-pulling.
No takers. Everyone around her seemed boringly involved in their own plates or persons of supposed interest across from them.
Was she cracking up? Seeing everything she wanted in a bowl of nothing but a costly appetizer?
Chance is the way of the heavens.
It was her responsibility to accept or reject the message. She alone held the power to believe or disbelieve.
She was even free to forget it ever happened.
Could she live with that? The suppression of what some might call a miracle? Would it dog her like a shadow, always there to remind her?
“You’re not listening”, she whispers to herself, not sure where such a thought came from, that it was instantaneous, immediately fired from the deep recesses of her brain to her tongue so she couldn’t ignore it. And she was right. The salad or whatever it was told her to calm down and have something to eat. Everything else will fall into place. Just pick up your fork and get on with your life.
It just so happened that there was food in front of her.
Of course, that set up another issue.
Of all things in the world to shovel wantonly into your mouth, the last thing you’d consider doing this to was the item that just recently gave you impossible but reassuring advice.
This was something one should frame and place on a coffee table or wall. Or at least request a doggie bag for.
Suddenly she wished that she wasn’t sitting here alone. That there was a friend or prospective partner sitting across from her, just so they too could bear witness and therefore confirm once and for all that yes this is happening. If they were both seeing things, so be it. In the current situation, she wasn’t sure if it was the salad or her. And it would always be up in the air, unless she catches the waiter as he passes and begs him to stand beside her and scrutinize for clear and present movements in the bowl.
Miranda realizes she would take crazy together over sane alone.
And as if the ever-changing epiphany in front of her could read her mind, she swears the eyes – no wait, the olives – are slowly tilting backwards to roll themselves away over her hesitance.
Once again locked in a trance, she hears a voice but this time it’s not strictly in her head. No, this one definitely came via the ears and so she snaps her head up and finds the waiter looking at her pensively, wondering if there’s something the matter, and naturally Miranda goes on the denial and defense and asks why he would imagine such a thing and he simply responds that he’s noticed she looks particularly lost in thought, having not touched her salad in what seems like ages compared to her usual routine.
I have routines, Miranda reflects, which is all she really took from the exchange. I’ve been coming here often enough that the random waiters apparently know how I typically eat my salad.
Something has to change.
She tells him that no, there’s no problem at all, there’s just a lot on her mind, and, with a winning smile, that seemed to be enough for him and he walks off to give a bill to another nearby couple.
Or maybe he knows.
And so the ultimate paranoia creeps in and she imagines that all of this is orchestrated, everyone in the restaurant is playing a role in a massive stage play and Miranda is the only one not in on it, is making up the lines and stage directions as she goes along, the mouse being helplessly toyed with by an everywhere cat.
And the salad offers clearly parting words, that neither confirm nor deny this final suspicion.
I don’t care if you eat me. It’s part of the plan, you see…
Regardless of anything else, she was a diner, and it was a salad. There were roles to play.
One must die so the other can live.
She had held onto the fork since the first signs that the salad may be made with more than just rote kitchen care. Now she lets it dances between her fingers to remind her of the feeling of cool steel before grasping it tightly and stabbing the tomato smile in front of her.
She pops it into her own mouth without a fuss. It was drizzled with balsamic and particularly fresh. In a second she had rendered it mute.
Rather than take the cheese nose in one go, she flattens it with her fork so it crumbles and migrates across the many leaves of lettuce. Where a generous helping pools, she digs her utensil under the lettuce and brings it all between her lips.
Miranda gazes out at the dining room in front of her, filled with tables and entrees and people getting on with their little lives all jumbled up in a massive container. Consuming her benefactor, she found it a sobering realization.
And it’s still watching me, she thought, as she impaled an olive with her fork, listening for the tiniest of screams.
|sometimes the only thing required to look presentable is pants|