Nobody Knows How to Say Goodbye

Submitted into Contest #185 in response to: Set all or part of your story in a jam-packed storage unit.... view prompt

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Fiction Drama Contemporary

Nobody Knows How to Say Goodbye

These walls have seen it all, from the beginning to the final call.

I was there when you had nothing. Barren and waiting to hold everything in my bosom, ready to feed your dreams, support your ambition, and sustain your ego. 

Day after day, I stood solid, never failing, steady in temperament, cooling you when you boiled over, giving you respite with my silence when the war became too much—patiently listening while you planned your attack—giving you space to breathe and work when you had nowhere else to go. 

I was there for you. 

Steady, strong, and unfailing. 

But you never thanked me once. You never acknowledged me when you pillaged my stores and pilfered my stock. My 'goodnight' was the cold, metallic click of a door latch, then ignored and left in the dark until you came to take more from me. 

And still, I was there for you even as I witnessed those you loved more, nurtured with your spirit and inspired by your vision, as they crowded my space and disrespected my floor. 

I watched and said nothing when you stumbled into me, the greasy hands of that young Spanish strumpet pawing at your neck and chest, her pouty, painted lips pressing against yours. 

I stood silent when you screamed and punched, flinging filthy words and rotten food at me, angry at the world outside that couldn't understand you the way I did. 

Did you think I didn't notice? That I couldn't see? I saw everything. I know everyone's secrets. I know everyone's lies. Even the ones who thought they were so clever in hiding their mistakes. I knew the truth. Behind your back and acting innocent, it was me that saw their tricks and knew their schemes. 

Did you think I didn't hear the names all of you called me? "Big Mouth. Big Betty. Julia the Coolia. Jill the Chill. Foxy Boxy. The Gorge." 

I loved all of those you brought to me. The fresh darlings, the seasoned and bitter, the passionate hopefuls. The young ones, the pretty ones, and even the ones that smelled awful. I loved them all the same and gave them the ingredients for success. 

Yes, you did much for them. You taught, disciplined, and made them better and stronger. You gave them everything. But without me, they would have had nothing, nowhere to start, and nowhere to go for what they needed. They may have looked to you as their father, but I was the mother, and I gave them the essentials.

But what did you do for me? Sure, you kept me clean and made sure I was organized and always ready. But not once did I hear you thank me, and they learned from you to never care for what I felt, what I might have wanted, asking what more I could have done. 

Nobody said "thank you," and nobody said "goodbye."

Did you ever think to watch me? To look inside and ask what secrets I knew? What stories did I keep contained and silent? 

Did you even have any idea about Claire and Marco? That's right, your precious little lamb and your neanderthal sidekick had an affair right before me. 

You were mistaken about her. She was no innocent child. Not with the way she hungrily disrobed him and then blindly leaned against me, letting him ravish her. Fortunately, both could cook as well as they could--burn off the stress.

What about your studious French girl, Natalie? Did you really believe she did everything you asked her, the way you told her to do things? No, darling. She was one of the worst, always forgetting to place things how they belonged, taking what she needed with no regard for what the others expected to be available for them. 

Natalie thought that her Parisian routes made her better and that she was entitled to do things her way. This was never "her" place, and she hated you because it never would be. She didn't look up to you. She called you a fat slob, a chauvinist, a pig. Yet, you paraded her around like she was a shiny jewel. She was a chunk of coal, not a diamond. 

And then there was Eric, the louse you pitied for his poverty and hardships. It wasn't enough for him that you paid him more than he was worth. He had no shame in asking for more, and when there was no more money, he stole what he wanted, thinking it was his to take for all the blood, sweat, and tears he gave you. 

I watched him take stock of what was left, and at the end of the night, he would come in thinking he was alone, stuff his pack full of steaks, bags of clams, and oysters. Like a greedy mouse, his little claws robbed entire blocks of cheese, bricks of patè, tins of caviar, and jars of white truffle. Wasn't it fortunate for him to be in charge of recording inventory? 

Why did you stick with him? He was passable as a cook, but his heart was dark and selfish. He was a thief and a scoundrel. You should have put a lock on the door. 

And my heart broke for Alexander. That beautiful boy who should have listened to his mother and gone to art school instead ended up in this dungeon of smoke and fire. And why? All because of a trip to Italy, where he was meant to study renaissance art but discovered authentic pasta instead. 

You thought you had another Molto Maria in a cocoon, needing only your guidance and protection to come out a butterfly. So you stuck him in the flames and steam, boiling his ambition and scorching his passion. He ran to me, huddled in the corner and quietly sobbing while chewing parsley stems to keep from screaming. He was swamped nearly every night, in the weeds and drowning, his nerves cooked, his esteem trampled. 

He didn't go to you with his strife; he came to me. He closed himself off and sobbed until his shoulders shook, and I listened to his pleadings and prayers. 

Do you know he felt he was a failure? Standing there hour after hour, night after night, fighting with all he had to keep up the horrendous pace of the pasta station, making a hundred dishes perfectly, only have you descend upon him with wrath for the two or three imperfect offerings.

He cried like a baby. Only wanting to please you and gain your approval. 

I listened to the kitchen helpers, those who hadn't ascended from the primordial ooze enough to be given a chef's jacket and seen as human, overwhelmed with happiness to be working in your kitchen. The ones you gave the terrible and ridiculous tasks, like cleaning the baby octopi, debeaking them, and removing the sperm sacs so that you could serve "Baby Octopus Salad." Who ever heard of such a grotesque creation? Or, how about your infatuation with creating a white-blueberry soup? How many hours did they sit at my side, tenderly, carefully peeling blueberries by hand, only to watch you macerate the tiny globes when you could've pressed them through a sieve and separated the pulp from the skin? 

But I watched them do it, listened to their tales from home, and felt the joy in their hearts as they sang the homeland songs. Never complaining, always grateful. 

They took the most care with me, but even they didn't know how to say goodbye.

We were good together, weren't we? Didn't we achieve everything you had hoped for? Then getting that first star, after all the backbreaking long hours, making no concessions to those wishing to bend your exacting standards. I remember that night when in the midst of the celebrations erupting with champagne in the kitchen, you quietly opened the door and shut it behind you, locking it with sharpening steel through the latch. Then, in a moment of human emotion, you leaned against me and let your tears come. 

A year after that came the second star, and unbelievably, the almost impossible and instantly legendary status with the third. 

You and I should have gone on forever, cementing your name in the annals of culinary accomplishment. We could have stayed on top forever. 

But, instead, it's over now. You don't come to see me anymore. I haven't felt the vibrations of your feet on the tile floor for weeks. Not even a glimpse of a shadow. 

There's no more laughter. No one smiles or looks up. Nobody comes to me as though it were me who did it. As if it was my fault, he hung himself from my rail! 

I did nothing but keep him. Unspoiled and still. 

You were the one that watched him spiral. You were the one who filled his glass with wine. It was you that should have known he would break. 

The lights are off, and the kitchen is silent. I don't even have the whirl of my fan to lull me into peace. My racks are empty; the floors are bare. Will I sit here in darkness and silence until they rip me apart, piece by piece? Will I be crushed into dust and carried away? 

Nobody will ever see me at my best, all the dreams I can hold, all the possibilities I can provide. All anyone will talk about is how I'm the cold storage unit from Dante's Inferno, where the cook hung himself. 

You've all left me, and nobody knew how to say goodbye. 

February 15, 2023 05:33

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1 comment

A Pattenden
21:26 Feb 21, 2023

Wow, this was great. I love a story with a hint of darkness! Well written with a wonderfully slow reveal. You had me hooked before I knew exactly what it was about.


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