Miss Dart, my old English teacher from secondary school, looked uncomfortable when she walked into the Italian restaurant where I work. Some guy was looped through her arm. I knew his type well; needs people to believe he has more money than he does. After taking off his own coat first, he removed hers. He grinned, sleazy. I wouldn’t smile if I had teeth like his.
“Table for two?” Maria, my manager, asked him.
“Booking under Hunterson. The table near the back of the room, with a clear view of the window,” the man held the coats out to Maria. “Find somewhere for these.”
Maria took the coats from Hunterson and showed them to their table.
“He wants our most expensive bottle of red,” Maria told me.
“I know her.”
“Her husband’s a wanker.”
“They aren’t married, I don’t think.”
I grabbed the wine and took it to their table.
“I want to taste it first.”
Hunterson had too much aftershave on.
I uncorked the bottle and he snatched it from me before I could pour it. He sloshed a little into his glass, speckling the white tablecloth with spilled droplets, and swirled the wine like a private cyclone. He snorted, pig-like, when he sniffed the wine, then took a sip. Grimaced. We weren’t that kind of restaurant; the expensive wine is cheap.
“You know your wines?”
“I know the ones we sell.”
“Do you know what’s wrong with this wine?”
“You tell me.”
He thrust his glass under my nose.
“I can’t drink while working.”
“It’s too damn cold!”
He flicked the glass at me, flecking my uniform with the remaining wine. I held the bottle; it was no colder or warmer than usual.
“Get me another bottle.”
Everyone was watching us, watching me.
“The same wine or a different one?”
“The same. It’s the most expensive and it’s what she deserves, you shit.”
I knew what Miss Dart deserved. I took the bottle and headed to the kitchen, Maria followed. The kitchen was alive with flavour, heat, and cursing. I poured a third of the bottle down the sink.
“What’s going on? What are you doing?”
I turn on the tap and let the water slip through my fingers until it was warm, then filled the bottle with water. “Pass us that cloth?”
“You’re not taking that back out to them.”
I wiped the bottle and left the kitchen. I pretended to uncork the watered-down wine while they were distracted by their food’s arrival.
Hunterson snatched the bottle from me. Again, he poured, sniffed, snorted, swirled, sipped. He hummed approval, before filling their glasses; his first.
“It’s the same bottle, watered-down. Enjoy your ten-quid wine.”
Miss Dart’s shrill laugh filled the restaurant the way I remembered it filling her classroom. Hunterson’s chair scraped across the floor and he stormed off. Still laughing, Miss Dart rummaged through her handbag.
“You don’t have to pay,” Maria said.
“Are you kidding? I’m paying for the show, not the meal.”