Chicken Parmesan

Submitted into Contest #162 in response to: Start your story with someone looking at a restaurant menu.... view prompt

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Coming of Age Teens & Young Adult Fiction

Our tender chicken breasts are coated with grated Parmesan, the menu reads. 

“Sam? Do you know what you’re getting?”

And Italian breadcrumbs. And– 

“Sam?”

I look up at the familiar brown eyes which hold an unfamiliar expression. My mother’s lips jut forward.

“What are you ordering?” 

My focus is all over the place, and I haven’t been able to read past one item. “The um..” 

Baked in our marinara sauce, topped with three Italian cheeses and– God this description kind of goes on forever. 

“Chicken,” I finally say. 

“Are you sure?” Now her eyes focus on the other end of the menu. The expensive side. “You can get whatever you want,” she promises. 

I look back down. Accompanied by pasta with tomato sauce, topped–

“But, goodness, I really am getting quite starved so you should decide soon.”

With shaved parmesan. 

“Yes,” I say, closing the menu. “I want the chicken. Parmesan chicken.”

“Well, thank God!” She hoots. “Now where’d our cute little waiter head off to?” 

My mother searches for our server, and I take in a gulp of freezing water. It doesn’t help. I’ve been thirsty for days; nothing helps. 

As I stare through the condensation of my water glass, I somehow see my bedroom window. It was frosty, freckled with teardrops in much of the same way. I could have broken that glass. Jumped through that window. I should have followed him, but he was already gone. He was miles away from me, now. 

“And for you, miss?” A delicate voice prompts.

My mother titters. “She’ll take the Caprese Salad, thank you so much. Oh and young man,” she says, grabbing his arm with red-tipped fingers. “I want my Chardonnay to be nice and chilled, ok? I’ll know if it’s not the right temperature. These things matter, you know.” She winks. 

“Yes, m’am,” says the boy, and rushes off. 

SAVE ROOM FOR DESSERT! Pleads a vibrant photo of chocolate lava cake. The rich, black sauce seeps from the sponge, painting the ivory sundae in tempting flavor. 

“... take over for a few hours of driving?” 

“Huh?” I ask. 

“Sam, you really must pay attention, good heavens. We have been on the road for nearly 12 hours. I need you to take over driving for a couple of hours so that mommy can rest.” 

“I’m fourteen,” I state. 

“Oh, it’ll be fine. You’re highly mature for your age. You use words like, ‘exacerbate.’” She whips her hand backwards. Had a fly been within her radius, she would have sent it straight to hell with the strength of her backhand. 

“Here you are, miss,” the young waiter says, placing the pale yellow liquid on the table. The wine glass weeps in the same way our waters do, the same way the window did. They must have all gotten the same message: Change is compulsory. Immanent. Only, I knew that my transformation would go in the opposite direction. From warmth and safety, now to cold uncertainty. This woman in front of me would make certain of that. 

“Darling, please stay with me here,” my mother says in exasperation. “Have you always been so easily distracted?” 

“I don’t know,” I mumble.

 Me, distracted? I do pay attention as she looks around the restaurant like a crazy bird. Her curious eyes never cease their roving for insight into the business of strangers. 

Right now she’s focused on a large party to my right. Five children. 

“Disgusting,” she says. “What megalomaniac would ever bring so many children into this terrible world? Honestly, there comes a moment when offspring turns to parasite.”

“Is that what you think I am?” I ask, searching her face. “A parasite?”

“Well no, of course. Not you, my dear! You are my pride and joy, my most treasured prize.” She smiles at me, but her lips somehow turn down. That’s the wrong way, I’d like to tell her. You haven’t practiced enough; your deceit is showing. 

But instead I smile, and her eyes gleam back  at me with victory. She thinks I found love in what she says, and all I can think of is how obtuse she is. 

A prize to be won. That fits me perfectly, doesn’t it? This woman went through everything to steal me from my only home. She cheated to win me. Stole possessions that weren't hers, lied through her teeth. 

Called my own father a murderer. Ordered his arrest, and took me from him. All so she could have me to herself. A prize, indeed.

I look down to hide my true thoughts, but the red of the tablecloth burns my eyes. I close them to escape from the vibrancy of this place, and new colors arise. Like the red and blue from last night’s cop cars. Nothing has ever been so bright, yet so blurry, and so deeply unwelcome. 

“I need to pee,” I say, pushing back my chair. 

I make a beeline for our server, who is staring at the computer screen with sweat beading down his neck. 

“Hi,” I say, causing him to jump. Now that I’m looking at him from eye level, he looks like he can’t be much older than me. “I actually don’t want the Caprese Salad. Chicken Parmesan. Please.”

“Oh? Ok, that’s fine,” he says, pulling out his notebook. He scrambles through the tiny pages, and taps the POS screen with shaking fingers.

“Sorry about that,” is all I can think to say. As if that would do any good. “Um. Thanks.”

I sit back down, and for twenty minutes my mother finishes the Chardonnay, orders another, and manages to criticize every wall, chair, floor tile, and patron in the building. With every passing second, I hate her more. 

But where else could I go? My father is gone because of her. He’ll never get out of prison, at this rate. She made sure of that. For something he never even did, too. Or at least… I’m pretty sure he never did. 

Truthfully, I don’t care what he’s done. I love him, and my loathing for this woman is only growing. Least of all because she also stole my goddamn phone. 

“We must get to know each other,” she’d said, turning off my Iphone and placing it neatly in her purse. “Really know each other. That horrible man kept you from me for how many years? And now we have so much to catch up on, we’ll never get there if you’re stuck looking at this screen all day!”

Maybe I could leave a note with the hostess. “Help me. I’ve been abducted,” it would say. But who would believe me? I am the spitting image of this woman. Our necks are the same– slim and long. Our eyebrows are too close together, eyes equally offset, noses small and pointy. We have the same cupid’s bow on our lips, even similar beauty marks. 

And I look at my mother now, ordering a third glass of wine before the food has even come out. I’ll definitely have to drive us after we leave here. 

My stomach turns at the very thought of how similar we appear, and how awful she is. I must be awful, too. I’d come by it honestly. 

Our waiter walks by to help another table, but she won’t let him go by without catching his jacket sleeve. 

“Sweetness,” she says to him, and pouts. “Where ever is our food? We ordered hours ago.”

The wine has made her more flirtatious. She even winks as she rubs her thumb against his forearm. 

“Mom, it hasn’t been–” 

“It’s coming, m’am,” he says. “I saw them plating it just a second ago– Oh! Here you go.” 

As he speaks, a food runner arrives with the food and sets our dishes in front of us.

And before he can open his mouth to ask if everything looks all right, my mother is jumping down his throat. 

“This is not what my daughter ordered!”

“Mom, it’s ok,” I say. “This is what I wanted.”

But she doesn’t even look at me. Her eyes are on the poor, sweet waiter, whose face is staring at me in confusion.

“I ordered this, mom, I went over to him and changed it to this.”

Am I still back home, trapped behind that windowpane? It’s like she doesn’t even hear me. 

Her bony hand reaches for my plate, and thrusts it into his chest. Tomato sauce splatters the delicate white of his apron, and the red dribbles down to his belt buckle. 

“I will not be disrespected.” Her voice is an octave lower. All feigning of flirtation, gone. “Go back, and do it right.”  She downs her newest glass of wine, and gives that to him as well. 

“And get me another, please. My daughter and I are celebrating a happy occasion tonight.” Her body snaps toward me, hands grip mine with eagerness. “My daughter and I have been reunited.” 

This time when she smiles, the corners of her lips do as they should. They move up happily, and her teeth glisten. 

Still, I don’t buy it. It’s fake. All of this is. 

“Congratulations,” the waiter breathes.

September 08, 2022 23:51

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