an Assistant Dishwasher
by GJ Caulkins
The restaurant provided a health insurance plan in
same way as it provided a 401k. It
didn’t. Doc was right. I needed stitches. I needed a healer.
We finished the last of the chafing pans and racks
drained our sinks. Doc walked me back to
the kitchen. The Kitchen was Done. Done with a capital D. They were still on the clock, getting paid and
smoking cigarettes, but dinner was over. The kitchen was broken down and as clean as it was going to
get tonight. Cleanup Crew would have to contend with whatever was left tomorrow.
”Julio, I need my bag.”
“Sure thing, Doc.”
Julio straightened up and walked to the pantry
looking at me
out of the corner of his eye. The
Sous Chef lit a cigarette, puffed twice and passed it to Doc while the rest of the Kitchen pretended
not to notice me.
Julio returned with a nylon gym
bag; bright green with a white Puma logo on the side.
I smirked. “I think he meant his doctor’s bag,
going to sew me up, not hit the treadmill.”
“I’ll hit you, jotro. Then doc can
sew that up too.”
“Then I’ll sew both your mouths shut. Give me the
Julio.” Doc spoke quietly, but firmly; like a
He took a long drag on the cigarette and grasped the
white nylon straps. He set it gently
on the stainless steel prep table, and unzipped it. Kitchen Crew gathered around to watch, while keeping
a respectable distance.
“You morbid fuckers like this,
don’t you,” the dessert chef lisped rhetorically.
Another cook sounded off. Tomas, I think. “Show him what you are going to sew him up
him the thread, Doc.”
The small roll of oily, off white “thread” that Doc
extracted from the bag was recognizable to anyone
who has worked in a kitchen or a butcher shop.
to get bird flu, or mad cow disease from this stuff. Your body won’t reject it.”
“Sure, I’m sure, paleface. This is 100%, USDA
white man tendon. I collected it myself.”
A collective “Wooooooo!” rose from the Kitchen Crew.
shouted “Don’t fuck with the
Medicine Man.” High fives were exchanged all around. For the next half an hour, Doc and I provided
the Kitchen with the best after dinner show in town.
Doc slit the thread lengthwise, then slit it again until it was as thin as sewing thread. He produced
a tiny hook-shaped needle and sewed me up in two rows. The first line pulled the tissue together deep
inside the wound. The second row sewed the skin closed on top of it. His thick callused fingers were
deft and sure, but they moved very slowly.
Cross-eyed with pain, I wrapped my non-sutured hand
another rapidly emptying tumbler of
Scotch. It tasted like smoke and earth… like dirt. Really good dirt.
The restaurant was empty except for me, Doc and
sat the bar. They talked. I contemplated
dirt. Shitfaced. I figured I was destined to fall into the dirt on the way home, so it was a good thing I liked
the taste. The thought made me chuff out a single syllable laugh. I had to pee, but that would have meant
getting up off the barstool, and it was much easier just to sit, think drunk thoughts and listen to them talk.
“Julio, I know you don’t deal.”
“But if I asked you, as a favor
to me, you could get me something, right?”
“I know some people.”
“I know some people too. But
could you get me opium?”
“You mean like heroin?”
“That’s what heroin is.”
“No, that’s what they refine into
heroin. If I wanted raw, unrefined opium, do you know a guy
who could set me up?”
“I dunno about that. I could try…”
“Acid, Special K, any of those synthetic laboratory poisons the white girls like?”
“I know a bunch of people who do that stuff.”
“I bet you even know people, or know people who know
who could set me up with
heroin, or crack, or PCP.”
“My uncle is doing time. You
know that. I’m sure he knows someone…”
“But not opium.”
Julio paused. I pictured him shaking his head.
just that I’ve never known anybody who’s
somebody getting in trouble with opium? Have you ever even seen a news story about the police busting
an opium ring? No. You haven’t.”
“So what is your point, Doc?”
“My point is that it’s not
normal for this time and in this place.”
“Doc. I’m not following you here.”
favor to me, I want you to purchase some. Ask around. Say you want something new. Say you’re out of pot.”
“I don’t smoke pot.”
“I didn’t ask if you did. Stay with me, Julio. I
opium. Just keep my name out of it.
Can you do that for me?”
“I can try.”
Not long afterwards, I fell down on in the alley
restaurant. It was one of those boneless
drunk falls where your body parts descend in the wrong order and you end up in an impossible position
on the ground. I got a cigarette butt stuck to my hair, and oily dirt in my mouth. It tasted nothing like scotch.
I listened to Doc from my
“You have gotten high, so you have been to the
You probably did not wander too
far into it. You smoked a joint and just sort of poked your head into the spirit world but you did not
notice. You were busy playing Super Mario Brothers.
But you noticed when you had a bad trip. You have
had a bad
trip right? Paranoid? Afraid?
Scared you were never coming back?”
Indeed, I had a few bad trips
under my belt.
“You were definitely in the spirit world. You
little too far away from your self and
got scared. Did you panic and worry that you were going to be high forever? You weren’t too far
from wrong. You got lost out there. It can be scary.
“There are scary things that
live there. They can eat you.
“That’s what is happening to
Joel. Are you going to throw up again?”
I might. I looked up at the
toilet and considered it.
“Stay with me. Every time Joel goes to the spirit
another little piece of him gets devoured.
That opium he smokes opens the door, and there is something that expects him on the other side.
“It knows he’s coming, because it puts the opium in his hands. It orders its dinner to be delivered.”
I made vague promises to myself to stop drinking,
like I was following doc’s story
through red haze of my hangover.
“Spirits can walk in our world, just as we walk in
are half whispers and almost seen.
Give them a second glance and they are not there. But there are some spirits are very strong and proud.
They take a physical form and move among us. They can be touched and seen. They hide in plain sight,
as real as you and me. Just as we can travel the spirit world while our physical body stays here, they
travel in ours, in a physical body.”
“Doc, you say maybe five words to me when we work
But once I’m hung over,
you don’t shut up.”
Doc smiled and I felt a little
more human. “Drink this tea, and go back to sleep.”
“What? And miss the rest of your
“Drink the tea.”
“What is it?”
“It’s mint tea. Not everything is an exotic medicine
potion. Get some sleep. When you
wake up, I want you to go get Joel and bring him to the restaurant. Use this if you have to.
Doc set down a marble sized ball of aluminum foil on
edge of the sink. I didn’t have to
ask to know there was opium inside.
“Sleep now. It is going to be a
It turned out that I didn’t even need to tempt Joel
opium. I walked right in to his
apartment and told him that we were going to the restaurant. He nodded once then shuffled out
the door after me. He was fully clothed, but it looked like he hadn’t changed in days. Or eaten.
Or done anything for that matter. When I walked in, he was sitting on the couch in silence.
His apartment was spookily neat.
My Seiko told me that it was almost three in the
we shuffled in the back door
of the restaurant. But it couldn’t have been right. The Kitchen was in full swing. Dishes were done
and stacked, but the pots and pans were still on the stoves. Meat was grilling. Sauces were
simmering. Kitchen Crew moved with quiet determination - a grim pantomime of the dinner rush,
and Doc stood right in the middle, directing it.
There were no customers, no waiters, no bussers.
Just us. It
was all kinds of wrong. I rolled
the ball of opium around in my pocket and tried to get my head around what I was seeing.
Chef is the undisputed War God of Kitchen Crew. His
Chef is second in command.
Nobody, not managers, not the owners, nobody could make them bend to their will. They could
be fired, true. But not managed. I knew Doc commanded an unusual level of respect, but there was
Chef, working the grill and taking quiet direction from a dishwasher. And a whole kitchen full of guys
working fast without complaining, joking or mouthing off. All under the eye of Doc.
Doc calmly walked over to us.
His face was serene, but his eyes blazed.
“Sit down Joel.”
A single chair and a two-topper was pulled into the far end of the kitchen. It was set for one.
Joel sat down heavily. He delicately placed his
napkin on his lap and looked up
at Doc with
“Joel,” Doc began, “the man who sells you opium, is
spirit that you meet when you go
into the spirit world. They are two pieces of the same being. This being has nearly devoured you.”
“Joel, there is almost nothing
left of you. You need to eat.”
And with that, Julio put down the first course. It
meaty soup with potatoes and
vegetables. It smelled delicious.
Joel started at Julio, then turned his gaze to Doc.
Joel ate mechanically. Consuming without tasting. Just doing what he was told. But the more he
consumed, the more passionately he dug it. Soon he was attacking his food. Savagely. He ate like a
starving man who has stumbled into a banquet. And I suppose he was. He dropped his spoon and drank
the last of his soup right from the bowl. He devoured racks of ribs. He abandoned all pretence of manners,
grasping a whole roast in his hands and biting into it furiously, joyfully.
Joel ate an impossible amount of food, and with every course he seemed healthier, stronger and
more… more there.
And as he shoveled it in, Doc spoke to him.
“Joel. I will not say his name, but you know of whom
speak. He was a waiter here in this restaurant.
He sold you opium in this world, and he fed on you in the spirit world. And now you feed on him. The
strength you feel, is your strength. It is what he took from you, and now you take it back as you eat his
“He will not trouble you again as long as you remain
plane. But you must never return to the
spirit world. You must avoid the doors to his world – drugs, spirit walks. You must remain here.
“I will not rescue you again. I am done being a
a dishwasher, Joel. And now, I have one
Hell of a mess to clean up.”