by Kyle Yadlowsky
So there’s this guy who comes to the Japanese restaurant where I work. Every day at seven he sits, always at the same table, dressed in a drab brown suit. He’s bald, except for a hair-curtain that rings from his ears to the back of his skull. Sunken eyes over thin lips and a big nose. He only orders one thing–“Squid. Alive.”
The wait staff whispers about him. Everyone gathers in a corner just inside the kitchen, watching while I bring him his squid. Its tentacles wrap the edge of the plate. Slimy, wet, disgusting. I think I see it blink.
No one knows a thing about the guy. Maybe he doesn’t have a job. Maybe he lives out of his car. Maybe he begs for just enough money every day to order this squid.
I set the plate in front of him. His eyes stare fire into the creature. It’s like I don’t exist, like the only things on earth are him and that squid–
Then, the show starts.
He roars long and loud like a karate master, chopping with the side of his hand into the squid’s midsection. He sweeps the plate out, shatters it against the wall. Our restaurant isn’t a very popular place, but the few patrons we have turn and watch.
The squid wraps over his knuckles, hugging onto him for dear life. He stands, shouting. He whips his arm that the squid flops onto the carpet. The man lifts his dirty black shoe over the creature, and he stomps that shit down. He roars as his foot pounds, and the squid wiggles and writhes, tentacles slapping, guts staining the carpet.
I feel a hand tug the arm of my shirt. A woman waves her glass at me. “Excuse me,” she says. “Can I get more tea?” She’s a regular. Doesn’t bat an eye at the man murdering the squid just behind me.
I nod. “Sure. Yeah.” I take a last glance at the red-faced man attacking his meal before passing the corner into the kitchen.
At the drink station, everyone’s whispering and giggling, watching the table. I fill a glass of tea. Back in the dining room, the man sits stiff in his chair. Hands folded, mouth a straight line.
I set the tea on the woman’s table and walk to the man.
“Hello, sir,” I say. “Is that all I can get you? Would you like your check?”
The man’s neck twists to face me, hard eyes glaring. A white tendril slips from between his lips and slaps at his face. It wraps around his nose.
He opens his mouth, and I see the gooey creature stuffed inside.
“DO I LOOK FUCKING DONE TO YOU?”
He hocks and spits the squid back onto the table. He slams his hand flat over it, clamping the creature down, and he grips its tentacles. He grunts, gritting his teeth, straining. The tentacles wrap his knuckles as he pulls. A wet stretching sound precedes a snap like breaking rubber bands. The tentacles tear in a spray of clear fluid. The man raises his knuckles to his mouth and rips the squid-meat from his hand with his teeth. He chews, staring dead forward. From looking at him, you feel nothing but his pure hatred. And you have no idea where it comes from.
My stomach revolts. I have to look away to stop the vomit crawling half-up my throat.
The woman across the aisle points at her glass. It’s already empty. I nod to her, turn back to the angry man’s table–
And he’s gone.
A stack of dollars and quarters sits on the table, just enough to pay for the meal and the plate. I take it and walk to the register.
He never tips.