Stevie was starting to get very, very frustrated with all of this. He spent days and nights awake, trying to explain the unexplainable. He paced around his bedroom, his living room, his kitchen and his restaurant, consoling himself by whispering softly to no one else, it’s not just you. It’s everyone. He let his cooks and his waiters pat his back and accepted their wry smiles of sympathy. He tried to tell himself everyone was okay, that it was just a supernatural phenomenon, and as there were other victims, it wasn’t only just himself being targeted. All of this should have comforted him, he knew, yet it didn’t. Despite all of his efforts, he could not be comforted.
Many in the village felt the same way; frustrated, that is to say. Other restaurant owners and chefs in neighbouring diners and eateries scratched their heads and searched their premises up and down for answers, solutions and resolutions, but found none. Despite the frustration, some laughed it off as one of those things. “Can’t be helped, can it?” they’d muse. They didn’t see the point in getting too wound up in the mystery because that’s what it was to them: a mystery. Stevie was of course that exception. Stevie got wound up in it and Stevie would not stop pondering the mystery.
Eventually, the pats on the backs and the wry smiles of sympathy turned into visible discomfort. Waiters would talk about Stevie in their little huddles, about his erratic behaviour and obsessive tendencies. His chefs would avoid him and try to tune him out – they didn’t want to risk hearing the mumbling, grumbling and cursing, so they stopped listening to the instructions and orders as well. Customers had never complained so much about the restaurant in all of Stevie’s career! Regulars became less regular, less and less new faces came through the doors as well. Stevie’s nerves, Stevie’s frustration, Stevie’s anger; these qualities were all starting to cost the restaurant and everyone in it their livelihood.
Waiter James was especially affected by Stevie’s behaviour, seeing as they lived together as father and son. James woke up and dressed, had breakfast with his chittering father, sat in the passenger seat as his dad jerkily bunny hopped the car to the restaurant, and helped open as Stevie presented theories to no one in particular. Stevie would hear mumblings, ask, “what was that, dad?” only to be answered by a snapping, “I wasn’t talking to you.”
Truth was, James was as curious about the whole enigma as his father was. The difference between the waiter and the owner was that James wouldn’t let the whole affair take over his life completely. Stevie now carried dark circles under his eyes and had visibly aged way more over the past month than he had over the past five years. Of course James was worried, but there was nothing to do about it, was there? He had accepted that he simply had to watch his father’s descent into madness from the front row.
It happened around once a week, just before dinner time. Stevie, seeing the restaurant get busier, would finally be distracted by his confusions and would be commanding his kitchen as the captain of a ship would. Chips in metallic bowls would be tossed in seasonings, chicken would be cooking in ovens and in frying pans, onions would be caramelising on gridles. The cooks and waiters would be screaming at each other, demanding orders and screaming directions back and forth. It was all very standard for a busy, bustling, popular restaurant; despite the fall in custom, most of the tables were still filled every night. Everyone would be in motion, fast and efficient, and then –
Everything would stop.
Just for a second, just for a blink, everyone would feel a pause that they didn’t talk about. The pause stopped nothing, it did not deter anyone in their actions and duties. That is, until they looked up from whatever they were doing, and found that the food they had been carrying to a table or preparing would be gone.
Gone. Vanished into thin air. Not dropped, as there was not a single crumb to be seen on the floor, and not eaten, because customers witnessed each other receive empty plates. Waiters scratched their heads and chefs roared in their confusion. It has to be said that the roars of the bewildered cooks could not and did not rival the fury that Stevie would unleash once he’d learned that it had happened again.
“Where. Is. That. Fucking. FOOOOOOOOOOOD!?” He’d scream, taking his anger out on nearby plates and cups and pots and pans. Not only did customers at the front of the restaurant hear him, but passer-by, outside, considering coming in for a meal would say to each other, “did you hear that? What was that?”
Every time it was the same. Stevie would thrash around the kitchen and the office, demanding to know what has happened and why, and every time, no one would know why, and have no answers for Stevie, and that would make him worse.
It had been happening for weeks, and the crew found that this totally unexplainable riddle had become quite a predictable event. After half past five on the Wednesday evening, the blink always happened and the food was gone, and then Stevie was wailing.
Wednesday, 18th of July – Jams and his co-workers were anticipating the weekly blink, waiting for the food they were cooking to be swept right from their hands and cooking utensils. At 5:42pm, they all felt it – the sudden stiffness, just for a second, the little freeze.
Everyone but James did, anyway.
James stood, frozen in his spot. He looked right in front of him, at the restaurant before him as he entered the sitting room, as he couldn’t even roll his eyeballs to look left, right, up or down. He could see just about the whole restaurant in front of him, and so observed every patron and other waiter standing completely still. Rodney the barman was at the corner of his eye, with a bottle of house red tipped in his hand; the stream of wine falling into the glass was utterly motionless. The bottle stayed in Rodney’s hand, sloped, and not one drop of wine had sloshed into the bottom of the glass yet.
Another waiter had been frozen in the process of placing a plate down in front of a customer. A couple were clinking their glasses of white wine together; the young girl that made one half of the couple beamed to her man with plump red lips, luckily captured at a point in time in which she looked very beautiful. A nearby diner was mid sneeze.
For a long while, James was completely stationery, unable to move even an inch. One of his legs was in the air, taking a step, but he couldn’t feel it ache from being held up for so long. He didn’t feel anything. He was only baffled. He couldn’t even ask everyone else in the restaurant, “hey, what’s happening?”
James couldn’t even tell how long he stood in place for, as the clock’s hands on the wall in front of him wouldn’t budge. The long, skinny finger that timed how many seconds had passed told him nothing; it stayed in place around the 35 second mark on the clock. For what felt like a long, long time, James could do nothing, but study every little detail before him.
That’s when Jenny Morgan walked through the doors.
An athletic girl James knew from his days in high school and still sometimes saw around time, Jenny barely ever spoke to him in the classroom or otherwise. They were perfect strangers. All they knew of each other were their names. Their names, and that Jenny, who played netball and ran races and climbed rocks had always, always been on a strict diet as a teen. James had heard that it was down to her dad, who was also an athlete. He fed his daughter healthy meals with high protein and she only ever touched cake on her birthday. James remembered this, as what he saw her do made perfect sense when coupled with that information.
Jenny Morgan approached the waiter closest to her and raised her hand to the bowl full of Cajun-spiced fries. She took a handful of the fries and lifted them to her mouth, gaping and waiting, and stuffed. She ate the whole bowl of fries quickly, and hiccupping and burping, made her way to a nearby table. She attacked a steak, soaked with garlic butter, and then took massive bites of an untouched chicken burger. After the steak and burger were gone, she attacked the wedges left on the plates. She continued assaulting other tables and waiters, eating everything she fancied, then made her way to James. She plucked a fork from the closest table next to them and started to stab into all the bits of penne pasta coated in chilli sauce and bacon and ate. She groaned with pleasure, stopped, sprinkled some parmesan onto the pasta and continued, humming happily with every bite.
James couldn’t believe his eyes and soon didn’t have to as Jenny disappeared behind him and into the kitchen; he assumed she was continuing in her raid. He was aware that the bowl of pasta in his right hand was now empty, but as the world around him was still frozen in place, he didn’t feel that it was any lighter.
Of course, he had no concept of how long she had been in the kitchen for, and he couldn’t tell how long she was out in the open world for either. He remained in place as she left the kitchen and walked past him, not looking back at him even for a second. She burst through the doors of James’ dad’s restaurant and turned right, where he knew there were other eateries and takeaways. He envisioned his mind as being full of question marks – he was speechless in the sense that he was frozen and unable to speak, but also in that he had no clue what to say. No idea at all. This was the weirdest thing he had ever seen.
After what was perhaps a lifetime of being frozen, he took the step he had started taking forever ago, and stopped in his tracks immediately; now he was voluntarily frozen and still speechless.
Confused silence rung through the dining room for a solid moment before – there it was: his father’s anguish.
“ARE YOU FUCKING KIIIIDDDDIIIINGGG MEEEEE?!” he screamed, his voice hoarse and desperate. It proceeded the clashing and banging of pots and pans hitting against walls and clanging unceremoniously to the ground.
Around James, the hands of diners started to rise, no doubt wanting to question what had happened to their food. James didn’t know who to go to first, so he checked the plate in his hand and – yes, it was indeed clean of any pasta. He let out all the breath he had been holding in for the entire pause and, back in the kitchen, dumped the bowl into the sink. “Un-fucking-believable,” he cursed.
That night, James stared at the empty message box on Facebook under the name, Jenny Morgan. Her profile picture was an action shot of her racing in full running gear and her hair pulled back tight. There was no message history to observe, they had never sent each other a single word in the four years they had been Facebook friends. In a different circumstance, James might have pondered the societal implications of being part of someone’s online life but not speaking a single word to them, but tonight he couldn’t think of society or anything like that. He could only think of what he saw.
“Hey, so can you freeze time?” he typed out, then deleted.
“Hi. This is weird but do you have time related super powers?” Deleted.
“Hi, so, what the fuck?” Deleted.
He sat at the desk in front of his laptop for hours; the sun set outside his window and then the only light in his little room was the laptop’s monitor. He didn’t know how to phrase his question because he had no clue whatsoever as to what actually happened that day. He didn’t understand it at all – he didn’t know where to start asking.
This was, without a doubt, the weirdest thing to ever happen to James.
So, eventually, after hours of watching the little line in the text box blink at him, waiting to receive a message, words to send, he closed the message box with Jenny. It would remain completely empty for another night – maybe for the rest of eternity. He had no idea what to say and decided not to sleep on it, but rather, just to sleep.
James went to bed and fell asleep to the sound of his father cursing and pacing in his own bedroom. He fell asleep and hoped to wake up to the fact that Jenny Morgan, freezing time and eating everything in her sights, was a dream. He fell asleep confused and perhaps even a little scared; he was curled up in a little ball, hugging his knees to his chest. He fell asleep.