It was Ruby’s first day working in her aunt’s crossroads restaurant, but it wasn’t her first time seeing someone drop dead in front of her after she gave them something to eat.
There was something strangely nostalgic about it, when the heads banged on the hard wood of table two as the guests collapsed. The kind of nostalgia one might feel remembering their school bullies. Ruby stood, holding the jug of water she was ready to put on their table. Slowly, she turned and walked back behind the bar. When was the first time you witnessed Death take a soul?
Her first time was Billy. That fat, freckled kid, who would not leave her alone at school, and when she went home crying, her aunt, Katherine, comforted her and offered her wise advice.
Kill them with kindness, my dear.
Of course, Ruby didn’t think Billy deserved any kindness from her after sticking his disgusting chewing gum in her hair, throwing her pencils out of the window and stealing her chocolate bars, but after some coaxing, she baked a batch of peanut butter cookies to give the boy the next day. To make peace. He loved cookies, so it seemed like a good idea, and though they didn’t become best friends, it still fixed the problem: he really did not bully her ever again.
He was allergic to peanuts, you understand.
Since that day, Ruby was only allowed to bake for herself. She might have the touch, her aunt said. That theory was confirmed when she tried to share the sandwich she made with a poor stray dog. It wasn’t intentional, Ruby didn’t understand it back then.
Aunt Katherine glanced at the table and sighed.
‘Did you mix up the bread baskets, my dear? Table two is always gluten free.’ She shook her head with stoic disinterest, sipping a glass of wine as Kyle pulled out a black screen to separate table two, and Jimmy carried the limp bodies hauled over his broad shoulders behind the kitchen door.
‘Could you get Kylie to collect the plates from table five?’ Katherine asked, picking dirt from underneath her fake nails.
This was not what Ruby expected from her first day at work when she put on her new uniform, pinned her name badge onto her white shirt with pride, and gathered her dark hair into a neat ponytail. I’m ready, she thought as she checked herself over in the full frame mirror, admiring that timeless, chic penguin look of waiters so many fell in love with. That was the first step towards her future: Aunt Katherine said one day the restaurant would be hers. She promised her that, when she had to transfer to another school, and moved into Aunt Katherine’s house after the incident with the peanut butter cookies. She was looking forward to her first day there ever since, despite the fact it was the worst rated crossroads restaurant. You will forgive her for thinking she could fix that, won’t you? Ruby was set on running a five star place.
At first glance, The Last Meal was just like any small pub, with its six, constantly sticky tables, mismatched old chairs, ugly chandeliers providing weak warm light illuminating pretentious wallpaper. It was run by Katherine and her small team consisting of Jimmy, the cook who wore a location tag around his ankle, a skinny boy called Kyle, the waiter, and…
‘Where is Kylie?’ Aunt Katherine asked when she was introducing them to Ruby.
‘Changing in the staff room, I’ll go get her.’ Kyle offered and disappeared behind the kitchen door. In about five minutes, a girl appeared.
‘Kylie, finally. This is my niece, Ruby.’
‘Nice to meet you.’ Kylie said with a smile behind her rashly applied makeup.
‘Yes…’ Ruby stared at her asymmetrical eyeliner. She was the same frame as Kyle, only slightly taller in her high heels. Ruby squinted. Is this a prank?
‘Are you and Kyle related?’ She asked carefully. Kylie laughed, throwing her long, purple hair behind her shoulder and over the candle by her side. Ruby noticed how a strand melted into a lump, smelling like burnt plastic. Nice wig Kyle… ie.
‘No, why’d you think that?’
Because you look like the same person, she thought, but she wasn’t quite sure because of the makeup. She glanced at her aunt and then Jimmy but they didn’t seem to be holding back laughter. Was she the only one to see, this was the same person? They employed them twice?
‘Kyle, could you get the plates from table five?’
‘That’s Kylie’s table.’ He smiled, unaware of how he forgot to change the name tags on his shirt. His lips were still red from scrubbing off Kylie’s lipstick.
Ruby resisted rolling her eyes.
‘Could you get Kylie to get the plates, please?’
‘Sure!’ He darted off in the direction of the staff room, and in fifteen minutes, Kylie was back in her stilettos, purple wig and quickly slapped on makeup. Wearing the correct name badge and balancing a tower of dirty plates. Ruby held the kitchen door for her.
‘Where’s the dishwasher?’ she asked, as Kylie put the plates down one by one.
‘I don’t know.’ she said, and scraped back the leftovers into the pans over the heat. Jimmy started to plate up onto the filthy plates.
‘Get me the ketchup, love.’ he grunted. Ruby opened a fridge and one of the dead bodies fell on top of her.
‘No, that fridge is for meat, for god’s sake.’ Jimmy said as he pulled the corpse off her and shoved it back in the fridge, hitting it hard five times with the door before the bones broke in just the right places and he was able to bang it shut.
Ruby got onto her feet, the room spinning around her like a nightmarish carousel. This was not how she wanted her future restaurant to operate.
‘Which fridge is the ketchup in..?’
Kylie pointed at a leaking red bottle on the table with dead flies sticking to it.
‘R-right.’ Ruby picked up the revolting item with a teatowel. Jimmy squeezed it over the plates, over all the appetisers, mains and desserts alike. A few dead flies also went in, along with the sweat dripping off his nose.
Ruby felt her stomach do a backflip as she watched, but still helped Kylie serve up the atrocities to table one, watching as her wig dipped into a bowl of soup when she put it down.
Ruby excused herself — but can you judge her? — and went to take orders from table three.
‘Good evening, have you all decided?’ She asked, picking up the information leaflets on end of life assistance and the liability weavers, all signed and dated from the guests. ‘What can I bring you for your last meal?’ she asked with a pleasant smile, notepad in hand.
‘I’ll have a steak–’
‘Can I suggest something vegetarian?’
‘No… No, thank you, I really would like to have a steak, just like my mother used to make.’ The guest asked with a warm smile. Ruby jotted it down, feeling sorry for them, and turned to the other guest.
‘The same for me, to remind me of my first day with the love of my life.’ the other said. Ruby shrugged, trying to rid herself from the awful feeling of not delivering perfection. She thought they should get something nice, something worth dying for, not just dying after. Something like those peanut butter cookies she once baked. But she knew already they were not going to get anything half decent, no matter what, not from that kitchen, so it didn’t really matter. They were not going to be back to complain either.
She asked Jimmy for the steaks, and watched as he chopped an arm off one of the fresh corpses, and began to dice it. When he tried to bang the fridge door shut again, it broke from the hinge and the corpses tumbled out onto the kitchen floor. Ruby threw up into a pot of soup and ran out of the kitchen before she could see it put on a plate.
‘Dear, you look ill.’ Her aunt raised an eyebrow, and put her wineglass down.
‘I’m fine, Aunt Katherine.’ She wiped her mouth with her apron. ‘But… I just think… I don’t want to inherit the lowest rated crossroads restaurant. We should put in some more effort… shouldn’t we? Other restaurants do. They do twentyfour carat gold sprinkles over desserts, gold shimmer in champagne and… It is their last meal, after all, and they pay well. It should be really good. I want them to leave happy. I’m sure Billy also felt like his life was complete after trying my peanut butter cookies. I want a Michelin star. Or at the very least, food safety compliance. According to Reaper’s Net, we have the worst ratings on the planet.’ She let out a deep, frustrated sigh.
‘Bless you, Ruby.’ Aunt Katherine chuckled, already drunk. ‘It’s alright, dear, not like our guests would return or would have the time for food poisoning symptoms to develop.’ she laughed. ‘Have you seen Kylie?’
‘No…’ Ruby said as she watched Kyle take orders, with the obvious remains of heavy makeup on his face and still wearing Kylie’s stilettos. She wondered if her aunt was secretly blind.
‘What a day.. They decided they don’t want a last meal just yet!’ Kyle said as he picked up a jug of water, Kylie’s fake eyelashes hanging on by the holy spirit unglued completely from his eyelid and fell into the water. Ruby wondered if Kyle-ie, had a true self. To her, both of the personas looked equally fake and lazy. And yet, they will get double the pay for less than half the work, at the end of the day.
Kyle served water to the customers who changed their minds, and opted out of dying. On their way out, they dropped dead anyway. He mixed up the waters. Ruby cursed under her breath.
‘Auntie, whe should really make some changes.’ She said, watching Kyle fall over in the high heels as he pulled out the black screen.
‘It is my rules, my dear, as long as I live. But don’t worry, you and your magic touch will surely improve this place, there won’t be all this troublesome mix up with the poisons anymore. You will just touch the food, and ta-dah! Job done. From tomorrow? Trust me, it’s going to be marvellous!’
‘Yes, Aunt Katherine.’ Ruby sighed as she carefully dipped her finger into her auntie’s wine when she wasn’t looking.
‘As long as you live.’