One Star for a Change

Submitted into Contest #141 in response to: Start your story with someone receiving a one-star review.... view prompt

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Fiction Happy Inspirational

Salvador sat at his desk and stared at the open newspaper in front of him. He sat there quietly in the small cluttered office at the back of the restaurant. With his arms in his lap, hands folded together, he tried to comprehend the article in front of him. ‘How was this possible?’ he asked himself. ‘Where did this come from? Who did this?’ were his last thoughts as he looked up from the review and gazed at the pictures adorning the yellowing wallpaper that surrounded him as if looking for some guidance. 

Looking down from their posts were two generations of his family. Uncles and aunts, cousins and nephews and nieces, all representative of a legacy that contributed with sweat and sacrifice to keep this family restaurant open for so long. Some of the frames were so old they were cracked from age. Pictures that were so ancient, the backgrounds were turning blue and yellow, obscuring scenic scenes of bougainvillea and palm trees. Yet, the smiles and closeness of the families were evident in the smiles and the hugs they were sharing. 

Salvador picked up the phone and dialed a number he knew by heart. A young voice responded on the second ring and Salvador’s only response was to say “Get here.” He then hung up the phone and stared at the closed wooden door in front of him. Deep inside he was feeling the anger build, it was becoming a rage and he knew it was starting to consume him. Rising from behind the desk, he walked around the side of the desk, turning sideways to navigate between the desk and the wall, and flung open the door, the handle striking the wall on the other side with a large bang. 

Before him was his kingdom, a fully stocked kitchen with a staff of six preparing the lunch menu. They froze to look at him as he stood in the doorway; a small diminutive, round man of sixty five with a bald pate and thinly sheared hair along his ears. In his anger his face was beginning to shrink, the features grouping into one large scowl under the two blackened retinas of his eyes. For a few seconds they stood there looking at each other; the cheetah before the gazelles. 

Eliot, who had been there the longest at thirteen years, knew the look and loosened up enough such that he was able to edge towards the back door that led to the alley. The others who had only been there less than a year weren’t sure how to act, and looked to each other for some guidance, wide eyed and nervous. Around them, there was only the sound of bubbling water and meat sizzling on the grill. 

“One star!!!” Salvador bellowed. “We are now a one star restaurant!!” he finished the thought in the context of a threat. “This was a three star for years!!! Generations!!!” he screamed. “And now, we have fallen to a one star establishment that no one will ever visit!!” There was a pause in the drama. He glared at each and everyone one of them. “My father and his father before him and father before him built this restaurant from nothing. Coming to this country with only a box of salt and a list of recipes, this was his dream! And today.” he said as he now pointed to each one of them. “today that dream is dying, fading away because of what is going on in this kitchen.” he pointed down at the floor as if to validate the existence of the room he was referring to or the possible internments underneath. “They are in their graves, shaking their heads with disappointment!” he continued with less volume and more perspiration as sweat began to appear on his freckled forehead and along the back of his neck. 

“You all need to work harder!” he exclaimed. “I need you to be better!!” as he closed his hands into fists bracing them in front of chest like Richard III at Bosworth looking for his horse. “If this continues, all of you will be gone! There will be nothing left, and the dream will have died! Is that clear!!” 

Hesitantly everyone nodded, but he wasn’t there to see it as he turned and entered his office, slamming the door with as much violence as when he opened it. 

With the exit of the owner, Eliot was able to sneak into the alley, pull out a cigarette and light it with shaking hands. Pulling on it for a long draught, he saw Emirl, Salvador’s son entering the alley and walking up to him. He was a young man, early thirties with thick, black fashioned hair and elegant streaks of gray along the sides as a trophy for working in the family business his whole adult life. He was wearing a pressed white shirt with a sharp collar, beige sport coat and business slacks. Seeing Eliot he smiled, Eliot just shook his head.

“Got the call. How bad is it?” Emirl asked. 

“Bad, really pissed off about the review.” Eliot responded in a gravelly voice.

“Did he already take it out on everyone?”

Eliot squinted. "We got the salt box rant.”

“Eeee.” Emirl rescinded with a grimace. “Alright, maybe I can talk to him.” he offered.

“He’s already in his office, I’d go in right away now that he has yelled. I’m sure he needs to catch his breath.” Eliot said before taking another pull on the cigarette. Emirl grabbed the door handle and had pulled the door halfway open when Eliot grabbed his elbow.

“Those ideas you had.” Eliot mentioned. “Now’s the time.”

Emirl just smiled, gave a quick nod and entered the kitchen. 

The staff had returned to work, still shell shocked and working at half speed. Seeing Emirl they smiled and perked up as they knew he could contain the wrath and absorb any more of his fathers anger. 

Emirl said nothing. Instead he patted as many people on the back and smiled as he made his way over the office. Just his presence was relaxing and he knew it. He had hired all of these people and today he was going to begin to use them. 

Emirl approached the door, knocked twice, hesitated, then knocked twice again, the family code to let his father know he was here. Hearing a grunt in response, Emirl opened the door and walked in. 

His father was behind the desk again pretending to go through a stack of invoices with an open ledger in front of him. In the corner of the office was a small folding chair with a bent leg and stuffing coming out of the seams. Emirl pulled it forward and sat down in front of his father. Salvador stopped what he was doing and leaned back in his chair, the buttonholes stretching and barely holding the shirt together over his enormous stomach, like the spars of a ship holding the sails together in a storm. 

“Did you see this?” Salvador asked, pointing at the newspaper.

“Yep” Emirl said, keeping his lips tight and leaning forward on the desk. 

“What are we going to do about this?” he asked. 

“There’s no ‘we’ dad. It’s you. You have told everyone including all the family that this is your restaurant. The building has our name, but it is you all the way. So what are you going to do?”

In the past, Salvador railed against all comers in regards to how he ran things, but this time there was silence. Emirl could see it now in his dad. His weight was out of control, bags under his eyes from lack of sleep, his skin pale from all the time in the restaurant. He was tired, and hopefully at this point, listening.

“Look dad,” Emirl began, he had rehearsed this speech over and over again in his head, but he was still trying to be cautious. Trying not to turn the moment. “You’ve been doing this your whole life, and you’ve been great at it. You know why I know? It’s still here. But maybe now it’s time for a change. Maybe this review should encourage you to look around a little. The world has changed, the neighborhood has changed. Tastes have changed.” 

Emirl paused to allow his father to respond, but Salvador was still quiet. “The way I see it,” Emirl continued. “This is a sign, a moment when we can actually see what is working and what isn’t and change what we need to.” Emirl reached into his sport coat and pulled out a folded single sheet of paper. He opened it up,and placed it on the open ledger. Salvador watched Emirl, staring at him as his son leaned back into his seat and waited. 

After a few moments, Salvador reached forward and picked up the sheet of paper, scanning it casually. “Is this what I think it is?” he asked.

“If you think it is a new menu, yes, it is what you think it is.” Emirl replied. 

Salvador looked up from the paper and for the first time, Emirl could see a little bit of helplessness in his eyes. “I don’t even know what some of this stuff is. Are these real things?”

Emirl smiled. “Yes, of course these are real things. Just new items we can make, new foods that fit the neighborhood and our new menu.”

Salvador looked at the menu again only now more intently. “What’s Saffron?” 

“It’s a spice dad.”

“Where are we going to get that?”

“I got a guy.” Emerl responded with confidence.

“What else do you want to change?” Salvador asked derisively as he tossed the menu on the desk.

“Nothing else. Earlier this year you let me hire the cooks, so these are my people. You let me hire the waitresses, so they know they can work with me. Your impatience with everyone has allowed me to put in place some things that needed to be changed. Most importantly, I don’t want to change you. I would like you to come into this office like you always do, inspect the staff and how they are keeping the kitchen, and most importantly, I need you to see what is coming back out of the dining room.”

In closing Emirl leaned forward, placing his hands on the edge of the desk and smiled. “This isn’t a coup father. It’s a partnership.”

Salvador looked around at the pictures once more and in his mind followed the lineage from one generation to the next. He ended up looking squarely at his son. Salvador smiled for the first time as he noticed the familiarity of his son’s features with the pictures. The shallowness of the bridge of the nose and the double chin was being  carried through. He now eased into the realization that his son was the future. He could see it in the young man in front of him and the past he had inherited.

Blinking a few times, Salvador slowly stood up, smiling and holding out an open hand as he reached across the desk. 

April 15, 2022 17:11

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3 comments

Andrea Doig
16:08 Apr 22, 2022

Hello Gregory. Thank you for sharing your story, which I enjoyed reading. To me it was hinted at that the son had planted or planned that review to take over the business… but if that is the case … I’m sure it was to help his dad overall. I did pick up some grammar errors and also a few times where you used the same word too many times (eg desk) but its a nice (such a boring word - sorry!) story. I am new here too! And enjoying it very much. Good luck and enjoy the ride.

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Gregory Wright
13:47 Apr 21, 2022

Thank you so much for the feedback. I am always looking for new ways to improve and I am very open to comments (i.e. criticism). I am planning to continue to 'drop' in every once in a while to work on my skills. You'll be seeing me soon. Greg

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Lavonne H.
23:02 Apr 20, 2022

Oh, ho! What a twist! Very clever to have a son manoeuvre around an intractable father who is in control of the entire business. Well done. Did the son 'plant' the review, btw? The play on words for the title was a subtle hint to the content. My favourite line was: "the buttonholes stretching and barely holding the shirt together over his enormous stomach, like the spars of a ship holding the sails together in a storm." Yep, a trait of those who love to cook!!! I see this is your first submission so, as was done when I began in February, WE...

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