In the Garden Of Persephone (Part 8)

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Xan discovers her music teacher's affair with Dana

 

Xan finished covering the powders and mixes used to flavour the chicken. It was getting late but she had to wait for the fat fryers to cool before her boss could begin cleaning them. If she cleaned the floors before he cleaned the fryers, chances were high the floors would just get messed up again. So she put everything in the fridge and went to check to see how her boss was getting along.

Just as she was about to start clearing out the cooling ovens, she heard the bell to the front door ring again. She would have to wait to see if the customer required fresh chicken and if s/he did, she would have to cook it fresh as the chicken in the warming ovens had exceeded its sell by time. For a few minutes, Xan lingered, waiting for the order and when it didn’t come, she went to the door to see what was going on. Through the crack in the door, she could just about make out the shape of Mr Graham who was very content to check out the beautiful backside of Dana who seemed to be giving him a great view indeed. Xan drew in a sharp intake of breath. She was used to everyone looking at Dana’s shapely butt (even Xan had a hard time looking away) but what she wasn’t used to was the way in which his eyes took in the sight of Dana’s butt: he wasn’t just admiring her glorious backside but was leisurely appreciating it. It was as if he didn’t care who saw him because although he had a wife and family, he seemed to be confident that he could stare at Dana’s ass as long as he wished. It was almost like he was looking at a prized possession. And that’s when it hit Xan. She carefully closed the door and slipped away without notice.

Oh my God, she thought to herself, they’re having an affair. It was somehow okay for Dana, in her innocence, to be sleeping with Xan’s music teacher but it seemed entirely wrong that the teacher was sleeping with Dana. He had a family, Xan knew. Dana was single but surely she would not stop searching for the right man with Mr Graham. There was something completely asymmetrical about their relationship. Xan needed to think about it and her thoughts turned to her boss who was just about the only other male she knew to be married.

            Gary wasn’t as old as he looked. Lack of sun and a permanent layer of grease on his skin gave him a greyish tinge and a flabby layer of surface fat (from too much fried food) disguised his youthful physique. Yuk, thought Xan, I bet he has a really flabby ass.

Xan grabbed a stool and pulled it up so she sat across the desk from him as he did the day’s totals. She tried to imagine Gary was her husband. Without looking up, Gary stabbed another receipt onto the nail that held them into place. Xan lit a cigarette. She had once suffered an attack of earthquake fever and had fallen backwards. The left hand of her pin-wheeling arms had found the point of the nail and it had gone straight through her hand. Xan still had the scar and thought there must be a better way of storing receipts every time she saw it. Were memories such as these what made a strong marriage?

            “Shoot me one of those, would you?” he asked, nodding with his head towards the pack of cigarettes on the desk. The cigarettes were his but Xan liked the way he didn’t mind when she helped herself. Perhaps sharing and not feeling resentful was the key in a marriage.

            Xan took one last puff of the one in her hand, gave it to Gary then took another one for herself and lit it.

            “You eat?” she asked him. If she were married, she would have to remember her husband needed to eat too.

            “Not yet.”

            “Shall I do the honours?”

            “Okay. I’m nearly done here.”

            Working in a restaurant had its advantages. One of them was a free meal. The food wasn’t all that great and by the time someone had worked in a restaurant with as limited a menu as the Chicken Hut for as long as Xan and Gary, one could be forgiven for being a little creative with the food.

            “You want gravy on your coleslaw?” A good wife had to be prepared to offer anything her husband craved.

            “Yep.”

            For Gary, Xan placed two large breasts (strategically positioned) on a plate, a large spoonful of mashed potatoes between the breasts, a spoonful of coleslaw spread over the whole thing and then covered she the whole plate with gravy.

            For herself (if she were a wife, she would have to get used to serving herself second), she split a cold biscuit, added four chicken nuggets, covered it with baked beans, sprinkled some sweet corn on top and shoved in into the microwave alongside Gary’s meal.

            With the ‘ping’ of the microwave signalled their meal was finished, Xan first brought Gary’s plate to him as he was just putting papers away. He thanked her with a grunt and began to eat.

Xan took her own dinner out of the microwave and sat at the desk with Gary. They never said much to each other though they had worked together for nearly three years. Gary had asked no questions of Xan when she applied for the job and Gary paid her in cash, no questions. In return, Xan never complained about the hours, the conditions or Gary’s foul moods. He seemed to take no interest in her life and she took none in his. They worked well together though and Xan came to know as much about the food side of the business as he did.

            They finished their meal and Gary took their plates to the sink and washed them while Xan sorted out the dining area, grateful she didn’t have to cook and wash dishes. With the dishes washed, Gary began draining the grease from the fat fryers while Xan wiped down the tables and emptied trash cans. With those jobs finished, they swapped places and Gary cleaned the window glass and mopped the floors in the dining area and Xan got to work on the floors in the kitchen.

            Xan secretly enjoyed cleaning the floors. First, there was the fun bit of hosing the whole kitchen down. Xan stood in the middle of the floor, hose in hand and turned in a slow circle, ensuring everything was soaking wet. She then took a large bottle of detergent and squirted that everywhere. Then she took a soft broom and scrubbed every surface from the top down. It was satisfying work to restore a greasy mess into its intended sparkle. Finally, she rinsed. By the time she was finished, she was soaked to the skin.

            “Gary,” she poked her head around the door to the dining room. “I’m going to take a shower.” The other advantage Xan had found working in a kitchen was being able to take a shower with a high powered hose: she could wash her work clothes at the same time. Just as she was about to strip, she remembered her non-work clothes had been drying in the cooling ovens and returned to where Gary was sitting to retrieve them.

            “I sincerely hope no customer can see that employees use the warming ovens to dry their clothes.”

            “Of course not,” said Xan. “That would be a breech of health and safety regulations.”

            “Why don’t you just go to a Laundromat?”

            “I would do if I could get an extra fiver out of my boss every week.” Putting the back of her hand to the clothes, she discovered they weren’t quite dry but she started to take them back to the kitchen anyway.

            “Xan,” Gary called just as she was about to disappear. His voice had just a slight air of hesitation to it as if he were about to say something he wasn’t sure about.

            Xan poked her head back into the dining room. “Yeah?” She expected him to ask if she could work on a school day.

            “My wife cleaned out her closet.” Gary rubbed his hand across his mouth and Xan was amused to see him so nervous. “She has some clothes you can have.”

Xan was taken aback. Had he been talking about her with Zach? “No thanks. I’ll bet your wife is either way shorter than me or way fatter.”

“She is not. They’re nice clothes. Expensive. I can bring them in tomorrow—I don’t want to take them to the Good Will. I’d rather I still get to see the stuff I paid so much money on every now and again.”

“I don’t know. If they’re too nice, it might ruin my reputation.”

“Chances are you’ll ruin the clothes’ reputations first.”

“I don’t need clothes, Gary. Honestly, I have all I need,” she patted the small pile before she realised she had just indicated the clothes were all she had.

“Well, if you don’t like them, you don’t have to have them, OK? Maybe Dana can do something with them.”

At the mention of her name, Dana poked her head around the door.

“You rang?” she asked.

“Actually I didn’t,” said Gary, irritated.

Xan shrugged and ducked back into the kitchen.

She was just about to take her clothes off when Dana came through the kitchen.

“I need a shower, too,” she said as she started to strip.

“Does Mr Graham detest the smell of chicken?” asked Xan as innocently as she could.

For a few moments, Dana tried to pretend she didn’t understand what Xan was getting at. “Mr Graham?” she asked. “What’s he to do with all of this?” There was fear in her voice and she began blushing deeply. Dana turned away from Xan, putting an apron to her face. It took Xan a few seconds to realise she was crying.

“Dana? I’m sorry.” She was about to say she was sorry she had gotten it all wrong. In the times to come, Xan often thought about the difference it would have made if Dana hadn’t so easily confessed.

“You can’t tell anyone!” she whispered urgently, confirming Xan had been right.

“Of course not! What do you take me for?” Xan led Dana to the place that was semi private where they could take a shower.

“I love him,” she whispered, as her mascara ran down her pretty face, leaving a black trail of dirt. Xan would never have known someone as beautiful as Dana could look so ugly.

In this one corner of the sparkling kitchen, they stripped, lathered up, rinsed and dried off in less than four minutes, even managing to give their teeth a quick scrub. They dressed and by the time Gary called Xan for a final coffee and cigarette before going home, Dana had quickly re-applied her make up and was back to her pretty self. She picked up her bag, gave Xan a conspirator’s smile and Xan watched as she slipped into Mr Graham’s car not so carefully hidden across the road.

Now that is stupid, Xan thought to herself. She made a mental note to tell Dana that Mr Graham’s pupils could identify his car anywhere.

“Ya coming for a coffee or what?” Gary called.

Xan turned from the window, feeling fresh and invigorated from the shower, even though Gary told her she still smelled like fried chicken. As Gary locked up, Xan did her “shopping” (as she liked to call it). In other words, she took as many of the things she needed as discreetly as possible: some garbage bags, a few left over biscuits, a chicken breast, some napkins in case she had to go outside because she couldn’t wait to get to school for a pee, some aluminium foil, a few slices of cheese and a couple of portions of butter and a plastic knife. Finally, she filled the largest cup with ice and added some diet coke.

“Come on Xan, what are you stealing now?”

“I’m just getting a little nibble for breakfast,”

            As Xan walked home, she sipped from her super-sized cup of diet coke, freshly gleaned from work and wondered about the clothes Gary’s wife would be giving her. What would it be like to wear designer clothes? She had never really thought too much about clothes other than their intended purpose: to keep a person warm. She thought all designer clothes were wasteful but still she was very curious about them. Would they fit better? Look better? Last longer? Would Zach love her more if she wore them? She couldn’t imagine why other women loved clothes.

            Back at her room, she spread out the garbage bags she had smuggled onto the bare wooden floorboards and pushed the mattress on top of it, then placed the other blankets on top. Too late she realised she had forgotten to store the winter blankets under the mattress and opted to cover these with a sheet and sleep on top of them. It would be more comfortable anyway if she couldn’t feel the springs and it might get cold enough to need them. When she was positioned in bed, she put her cup of diet coke in her little cooler and snuggled down.

            Xan was grateful she could drift off easily. She had heard of some people who could not just go to sleep but she was often so worn out from working such long hours that it was often more of a matter of being able to stay awake any longer.

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