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Fiction American Contemporary

The True-Slip Non-Stick Skillet was a hit.

Children screamed, amazed by Chef Benny’s culinary control over the pan. Housewives struggled to stay seated. The elderly cheered the loudest, the vigor of their voices ringing as in youth, subverting the smell of medicine on their breath.

“One more time,” said Chef Benny, oblivious to the TV cameras. He swept his arms, pointing at each audience member in turn, giving of himself as if the studio were his home, the audience his family. “What’s wrong with other non-stick pans?”

“They’re liars!” shouted the audience.

“That’s right,” said Chef Benny. “Dirty, filthy liars!”

He had four pans in a row, all on hot plates. Chef Benny cracked an egg into each pan one-handed, gesturing with the other to hurry them along.

“No oil,” he said. “No fat at all. But that should be okay, right?”

The crowd booed.

“Eggs would never stick to these ‘non-stick’ pans, right?”

The crowd hissed.

“Get this,” said Chef Benny, gesturing to the first pan. “The pitch for this one goes, ‘Three layers of non-stick!’”

The crowd laughed.

“Three! One of them has got to work, right? And it’s PFOA-free, whatever the heck that means. Hey, do you ever wonder? There was BPOA, and PVC, and HOA and FTIC and all the others, now there’s this ‘PFOA.’ Great, so what’s the next one? What’s in these three layers of non-stick that’s going to get us next?”

The crowd shouted their outrage.

Chef Benny harangued the pan with its own ad copy, “‘The PFOA-free nonstick coating covers the entire interior of the pan,’” he read, “‘rivets included, for easy cleaning.’”

He eyed the audience. “Great. Rivets. Got to take care of those rivets! But I wonder: What about the outside of the pan?”

Chef Benny pulled a jar of tomato sauce from his pocket, popped it open, and slashed it side-armed at the pans. Glops of sauce covered the counter, the hot plates, and yes, the outsides of the pans.

“Oops!” said Chef Benny, the audience roaring. “I hope that’s nonstick, too!”

Chef Benny dropped the jar and checked the eggs. “Look at this,” he said. “Look at these eggs.” He held up one sauce-splattered pan and titled it sideways, the red egg staying put. “Does that look non-stick to you?”

“No!” shouted the audience.

The second egg was burnt stiff. The third skidded off, but left a blackened skin. Chef Benny threw this pan across the set.

The fourth pan did a wonderful job. Chef Benny beamed at the audience, and asked, “Which pan is this?”

“The True-Slip Non-Stick Skillet!”

“Finally!” said Chef Benny. “A pan that can cook eggs perfectly with no oil. No tricks. No toxins. The perfect pan for perfect eggs.”

It was a World Series crowd that night.

“And best of all?” asked Chef Benny. He took the towel tucked into the back of his pants and wiped the tomato sauce from the outside of the pan. “The whole thing is honest-to-goodness non-stick.”

Standing ovation. Old men pumped their fists. Housewives alternated clapping and covering themselves, afraid they were too juicy to be in public. Children forgot all about Minecraft.

“And the secret?” asked Chef Benny. “Well, if I told you that, I’d have to kill you!”

The crowd laughed. Chef Benny laughed, too, until there was a lull, dead air as the room wound down. Chef Benny bounced the True-Slip Non-Stick Skillet in his hand, fighting the urge to scowl. He cleared his throat. The director of the infomercial checked the teleprompter—still good—but Chef Benny wasn’t talking. He had the look of someone spurned, thinking to speak their mind. Chef Benny knew he shouldn’t, but the seconds ticked by. The audience waited for the next revelation.

“Yes, the True-Slip Non…” said Chef Benny. He shook his head. “I know the secret.”

The audience held its breath. The director waved his arms at Chef Benny.

“I know the secret,” said Chef Benny, ignoring the teleprompter. “I could tell you, if you’re willing to pay the price.”

Some of the kids hadn’t sensed the shift in tone, and cheered like before. But the rest of the audience could only murmur, nodding.

Yes, they gestured. We want to know the secret, at any cost.

“Why shouldn’t I share?” asked Chef Benny. “Do you understand what it means if I tell you?”

Murmurs, dipping heads. Iron resolve.

“Work is simple,” said Chef Benny. “After a five minute explanation of a task, anybody can do work. Some do it better than others, and that’s talent. Eggs.” Benny picked up one of the bad pans, and tossed it back onto the hot plate. “There’s nothing to them. Honestly, any decent pan will work. Bad pans will work. Just use a little oil.” Some in the audience gasped. The director slapped his clipboard.

“A little oil isn’t going to kill you,” said Chef Benny. “Eggs. If there’s a talent for cooking them, it means not tripping over yourself. The skill of not screwing up. Once you have that you can get into the craft of eggs. Your attitude about the eggs becomes relevant. You understand the eggs, and can do things to eggs that no one taught you. You understand the heat, and the time, and the seasoning and technique. You control the eggs. But a bigger opinion about the eggs? An emotion, or ‘higher purpose’ expressed with the eggs? Not yet. Someone orders eggs, and you make eggs. Maybe you make suggestions, maybe you attempt to steer the customer this way or that for whatever reason, but in the end, the customer decides.”

Chef Benny paced, frowning at the floor, in his own world. He remembered himself, flashed that TV grin at the audience, and said, “This is essential for the secret of the True-Slip Non-Stick Skillet.” He planted his feet. “Only an egg-artist can make decisions. They have that power. Their product is an attempt to use a specialized skill to express an opinion, emotion, or ‘higher purpose.’ Their work is initially without value, since no one has requested it. But, through criticism and status acquisition, the artist’s product gains more value than the cut and dry transaction of a craftsman or laborer.

“A laborer, a craftsman, and an artist,” continued Chef Benny. “A laborer, a craftsman, and an artist.” The audience repeated it with him, “A laborer, a craftsman, and an artist.” Chef Benny beamed, the secret already out. “Do you get it?”

Murmurs. An old man pushed the glasses up his nose. A child wondered when he could eat the eggs.

“The secret of the True-Slip Non-Stick Skillet,” said Chef Benny, “is that it’s laborer, craftsman, and artist, all in one.”

Chef Benny’s hands smacked into his thighs. He chuckled.

“Was it worth it?” he asked.

The audience didn’t reply.

Chef Benny went to the knife block. He pulled a paring knife, slid it back, pulled a serrated bread knife, then a four inch chef’s knife, and said, “Jeez! Where do they keep the big ones?”

Chef Benny ripped on a drawer, the things therein clattering. He removed a butcher's knife.

“Here it is!” said Chef Benny. “Who’s first?”

“What?” asked a housewife.

Chef Benny spoke as if he were correcting a professor. “I told you the secret of the pan, and I said I’d have to kill you, so…”

“I get that,” said the housewife. “But that was a very stupid secret.”

“Yeah,” agreed another housewife. “If I’m going to die for a secret, then it should at least make sense. How can a pan be an artist? Or any of those things?” The crowd was with her, and she added, “I was expecting some sort of scientific secret.”

“Scientific?” asked Chef Benny. 

“Why’s it do that?” asked a child. “With the eggs? How’s it do that?”

“Because it knows its craft—” said Chef Benny, but he was shouted down.

“It doesn’t know shit,” said an old man.

“I’m sorry,” said Chef Benny, raising his voice. “But a deal’s a deal. It’s metaphorical, but that’s the secret of the True-Slip Non-Stick Skillet. Now line up!” He gestured to the counter with his knife. “Plop your heads on there and I’ll whack them off.”

“No!” shouted the audience. Many booed. Someone shouted “liar,” and stabs of the word “science” cut through until the entire crowd chanted it.

Chef Benny gestured for the director, and the two had a powwow, an island of quiet before the roiling audience. The director shook his head, Chef Benny shook his knife, back and forth until the director turned to the audience and said, “If I can have your attention, please! Thank you. I’ve spoken with Chef Benny, and we came to an agreement.”

Chef Benny stood over the director’s shoulder, pleased with himself.

“You’re all free to go,” said the director. Everyone, Chef Benny included, was outraged. A housewife threw her handbag, children cried, an old woman said, “but I want to die,” and Chef Benny himself was in the director’s face, screaming, waving his butcher’s knife, but the director was unphased, arms crossed, hugging his clipboard. With the crowd screaming, stomping, throwing everything they had until some were naked, Chef Benny wound back his butcher’s knife and slashed the director across the neck.

The blood splatter mixed with tomato sauce, and pans, and eggs. The director collapsed, his head hinged to his body like a Pez dispenser.

“We’re going to find us a scientist,” Chef Benny shouted over the crowd. “And we’re going to learn the complete secret of the True-Slip Non-Stick Skillet!”

The crowd—naked now, their discarded clothes like flowers in a graveyard—stormed the stage, swinging their arms as if each had a butcher’s knife. A child crouched over the director and tasted his blood.

“And once we know the rest of the secret,” said Chef Benny, “I’m going to kill each and every one of you.”

The crowd lost its fucking mind.

July 08, 2021 20:22

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1 comment

Alex Sultan
20:36 Jul 08, 2021

I really like the last line. I think this concept is great and the tone you write it with is perfect. I laughed a couple times with the dialogue too. This story is very well done.

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