Breakfast for Dinner (*fiction)
By Morgan Dick
It wasn't such a big ask. Gail would miss out on dinner and dancing. So what? She’d been to a zillion weddings in her life. They all melted together, a soup of flower arrangements and drunk uncles and Bruno Mars songs, no evening better than the others.
Nodding to herself, Gail scooped the pop gun off its handle and poured herself a Diet Coke. Bartend a wedding on twelve hours notice? For a dear, sweet friend? No, it wasn’t a big ask at all. Besides—it wasn’t just any friend who’d asked. It was Belle.
Belle. She glided into the banquet hall, veil slung back over her shoulders, train puddling at her feet. The pallid teenager across the room stopped unloading chairs from a dolly and gaped. Gail didn’t blame him.
“Thank you sooooooo much for being here.” Belle strode up to the bar. God, that smile. She sparkled. She shimmered. She was light itself. “I really appreciate you.”
Gail set her Diet Coke on the counter, slightly woozy. Belle appreciated her! “Mhmmm.”
A small wrinkle appeared between Belle’s eyebrows. “What are you doing back there?”
“Familiarizing myself with the bar.” Familiarize. Gail winced. She was such a dweeb.
“But why?” Belle asked.
“So I’m ready when people get here.”
A wisp of blonde hair grazed Belle’s cheekbone. How easy it would be to reach out and tuck it behind her ear.
“But you won’t be bartending,” Belle said.
Gail bit her lip. She’d done something wrong. Worn the wrong thing, probably. This dress! Why had she worn this dress? Shapeless, floor-length, brown polka-dots. She looked like a fucking mushroom. “You said… you asked me to tend bar.”
“Oh my God, did I? Did I say that?” Belle’s laughter crackled in Gail’s ears and made her shiver. “No, I need you to cook.”
“Cook… cook what?” Gail asked.
“Dinner, silly.” She turned and stepped away. “Come on. I’ll show you the kitchen.”
“But—okay?” Gail trotted to catch up.
They descended a yellow stairwell and cut through the classroom in the basement. Papers rustled on bulletin boards—sloppily-filled colouring pages of olive branches and Olympic torches. A date was written on the chalkboard in Greek, strokes twisting this way and that like flames. Belle had chosen the Hellenic Community Centre for its reasonable price, Gail knew. Because Belle was a reasonable person.
This would be a prank. That was the depth of their friendship; they could play silly, elaborate, admittedly weird pranks on each other. Any minute now, Belle would turn around and shout, “Gotcha!” They would laugh and laugh, just like old times in that fifth-floor walk-up with the crusty carpets. And the sooty balcony! Sangria in a big glass pitcher on summer afternoons. Cuddling under a blanket when the sun finally set. Though a decade had passed since they’d last shared that apartment, Gail returned to the memories constantly.
“It’s not too far,” Belle said, without looking back over her shoulder.
Two swinging doors led to the kitchen, which was ten degrees warmer than the hallway and, it seemed, made entirely of stainless steel: grills, ovens, sinks, hood fans, vents, a dishwasher, a meat slicer, counters stacked with cardboard boxes.
Belle peeled back a flap and stood on her toes to peer inside. “It’s ‘breakfast for dinner’. There should be eggs and pancake mix, and um”—she let go of the flap, glancing left and right—“sausages, somewhere. Check the fridges.”
“Where’s the caterer?” Gail asked.
Belle gave a flick of her wrist. “Too expensive.”
“Are you serious?”
“Who needs caterers when you’ve got friends?”
“You are. You’re serious.” Gail pinched the bridge of her nose. Why was she surprised? Belle couldn’t plan a thing. She needed Gail’s help to buy concert tickets, to make restaurant reservations, to pack for vacations. She even needed Gail’s help to clean her car.
Belle laid a hand on Gail’s bicep. “What’s wrong?”
“You want me to make dinner. For eighty people.”
“And?” Belle said.
“I don’t know how to cook.” This was precisely true. Gail made salads half the time, ordered Skip the Dishes the other half.
“Don’t be so modest.” Belle dropped her hand and fussed with the skirt of her dress. “Besides—it’s breakfast-dinner. It’s easy.”
Gail stared at the place on her arm where Belle’s fingers had been. “This is an industrial kitchen.”
“You’ll have lots of space.”
“I could start a fire.”
“I’m starting to think you don’t want to do this.”
“Of course, I don’t want to do this,” Gail snapped.
That was all it took. Belle’s face split into an open-mouthed, scrunchy-eyed wail, the kind of wail toddlers produce when their crayons break or their ice cream cones hit the ground or their helium balloons float off into the ether.
“Oh—no—please, don’t cry.”
The crying became howling.
“Think of your makeup,” Gail said meekly.
Belle sucked the snot back up her nose. “There’ll be nothing to eat at my wedding.”
“It’ll be okay.”
“It won’t be okay. This is a disaster.”
“It’s not a disaster.” Gail wasn’t sure what else to say. It was a disaster.
"Dale's mom already hates me."
“I’m sure she doesn’t hate you,” Gail said.
“They all hate me. They don’t think I’m good enough for him.”
Gail wrung her hands. So, this was how it felt to fail Belle. Her precious, maddening, wonderous Belle. “I’m sorry. I… I really don’t think I can do this.”
Belle stood there sniffling for what felt like minutes. “If you can’t do it,” she said with a tiny, soul-crushing shrug, “you can’t do it.”
The tears had tinted her eyes a mossier shade of hazel. And that copper eyeshadow. She looked like a goddess, here in this place. She looked like a myth.
“I mean, I guess… I guess maybe I could…” Gail could try, couldn’t she? Why couldn’t she try?
The ceiling lights flickered, impatient.
“I’ll figure it out,” Gail said.
The smile—there it was again. There was nothing else to want in the whole world except to make Belle smile.
“You are such a good friend, you know that? I’m so lucky to have you in my life. Oh my God.” Belle wiped her bottom eyelids with the pad of her finger. “Dinner’s meant to go out at six-thirty. The server’s name is Christos.” She cocked her head at the chafing dishes arranged at the far end of the counter. “He’ll carry those things up.” She clicked her tongue. “I think that’s everything. Text me if you need anything. Except maybe don’t. I might not check my phone.”
She slipped through the swinging doors.
Gail examined the boxes. Boxes full of food. Food she was supposed to cook. Cook here, in this kitchen. Now. By herself.
A voice in the back of her head—her mother’s, probably—told Gail to wash her hands. She shuffled over to a sink in the corner and watched her skin redden under a piping stream, afraid to turn off the tap. Once she turned off the tap, she would have to begin.
But no. This was fine. Gail had an hour. An hour was lots. She’d never cooked dinner—breakfast-dinner, whatever—for eighty people before, but she couldn’t imagine it taking longer than an hour. She would do one thing, then another, then another. That was how people survived.
There were no paper towels, so she dried her hands on her dress.
The first box held a plastic sac of pancake mix. The next box held the eggs, a hundred or so in all. Gail found the sausage links on plastic-wrapped Styrofoam trays in a refrigerated storage room. And even though a very real part of her wanted to curl up in there—to rest her head on a pork rump and wait for death—she didn’t. She swept the sausages into her arms, the cold meat kissing firm against her chest, and she carried on.
There, Gail thought, once she’d lain everything on the counter. Here was what she needed to make breakfast-dinner—the raw materials. Pancakes, sausages, eggs.
There were no instructions on the pancake box—only the address for a company in New Jersey—so Gail dug a spaghetti pot out of a drawer, spooned in some powder, and added water. Bingo: silty brown pancake batter. Now all she needed was an apparatus on which to cook it.
Beside the meat slicer was a griddle. Gail turned one of the knobs and brought her hand near the smooth metal surface, testing her hypothesis that it would get hot. Which it did! She pumped her fist in the air. She was a fucking genius!
The jug of vegetable oil was so big Gail needed two hands to carry it. A few glugs onto the griddle, and she was ready to work. Pancakes on the left, sausages on the right. Despite her best attempts to keep things tidy, batter and grease spewed up into the air and congealed in her bangs. She didn’t care. This was happening. She was doing it. More than that, she was doing it well. Thank God. Thank Zeus!
Her pancakes were golden, fluffy. Her sausages were glossy, crisp. She eyed the chafers proudly as they filled. It was a breakfast-dinner worthy of the occasion. Worthy of Belle, her best and truest friend. Pancakes, sausages—eggs! Shit! She’d forgotten the eggs.
A youth (acne; Airpods) plucked a sausage link from the chafer and popped it in his mouth. He wore a short-sleeved collar shirt, a bowtie, and corduroy pants, all slightly different shades of navy blue.
“You must be…” Gail couldn’t remember his name.
“Christos.” He gestured to the chafers. “These ready to go?”
Gail started cracking eggs. Each hit the griddle with a slop and a hiss. “Not quite yet.”
“Kay.” He scrolled through something on his phone.
“I could really use a hand,” Gail said.
Christos did not move. “I don’t get paid to do that.”
Heat swept up Gail’s spine and into her throat.
The eggs went up at quarter-past—not bad, considering. Gail took a metal spatula and scraped the detritus of burnt stuff off the griddle. When this was done, she soaked the pot. Wiped down the counters. Found a mop.
Gail clawed the hair out her face. A bald man in a tuxedo hovered in the doorway with a plate of her breakfast-dinner.
“Yes?” she said, leaning on the handle of her mop. She’d done three-quarters of the floor. Only one quarter left to go.
“I’m Martin, the father of the bride. And, well”—he wrinkled his nose the direction of the plate—“these eggs are clearly undercooked.”
Gail suppressed a laugh. Oh, Martin. Belle had told her all about his nit-picking, his nay-saying. Now she shared the pain. What a privilege. “I’m Gail.” She pasted a gracious smile to her face. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”
“Who?” he asked.
“I’m Gail, Belle’s friend.”
Gail saw doubt in his eyes. “We’re, like, best friends.”
“I wasn’t supposed to be cooking today. She got in a jam, so I stepped in.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just that… she’s never mentioned anyone by that name.”
A cord behind Gail’s ribs tautened, tautened, snapped.
“Get out,” she said.
Martin looked taken aback. “That’s very ru—”
“Get out of my kitchen,” Gail shouted, flinging the mop at him. He ducked out of the way just in time, and the mop clattered to the floor.
Then Gail was alone.
Her toes ached suddenly. She glanced down to find grey effluent pouring into the cracks between the floor tiles. The mop bucket lay on its side. She must’ve kicked it.
But why? She’s. There was nothing to be angry about. Never. In fact, this was a victory. Mentioned. Gail had saved the day. Anyone. The people upstairs were fed and happy and starting to dance. By. The ceiling thrummed with drunken footfalls and heavy bass. That. Belle would be up there at this very moment, rocking her hips to the beat. Name.
Gail held the jug of vegetable oil upside down over the griddle. She tapped the sides, shook out every last drop, turned the knob.
And she waited for the smoke to rise.