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Chef's Last Words by Eric H. Janzen

First, let me warn you: be careful. Not everything you are about to read is true. Seriously, look into my eyes. They are blue—not brown. In a sentence or two, he’ll try to convince you I have only three physical traits (because that’s all your imagination needs). It’ll be typical too: tall, dark hair, brown eyes—move on. In truth, I am short, bald, and have blue eyes. On top of that, I have a scar on my forehead caused by a large rock dropped on my head when I was a child. I also have a great tattoo on my left forearm of the New York skyline. I’ve never been to New York—but who cares?

Oh… okay, here we go.

He exited the yellow taxi and entered the restaurant through the back door.

Groan. He calls that a first sentence? If I could dislodge a few of these letters, I would throw them at his eyes. Wait… okay… he's scratching that out. Can you believe he still writes things by hand with a pen?

It began with tarragon, butter, lemon, and salt. The gunshot came later.

Gunshot? I don’t like the sound of that but at least it’s a little more interesting as an opener. You’ll notice he’s using italics. He will tell you it is to help you—the reader—distinguish between this and that element. Really, though, he just likes the way it looks.

He arrived at work slightly late as usual. He expected the prep work to have been completed. He threw the back door of the kitchen open, buttoned up his chef’s coat tight, and ran a hand through his brown hair. He was taller than the rest of the kitchen crew and surveyed them briefly with his keen, brown eyes.

Arghh. I told you! Tall, dark hair, brown eyes. You may not even get a name here.

“Let’s get to work,” he shouted. The menu for the evening featured lemon butter tarragon roasted chicken. He set about prepping the birds while barking orders at his underlings.

Man, I sound a little rude. I actually never raise my voice.

Service was about an hour away when the Chef spotted a tray of three chickens sitting on the counter. They never made it into the oven with the rest.

He stopped. He stared. He set down his long, sharp knife and clenched his hands into fists until the knuckles turned white.

“Who?” he whispered. “Who?” his voice rose slightly. “Who?” he screamed.

He grabbed an empty, metal bowl and slammed it on the counter. The sound reverberated around the kitchen drawing gasps and causing eyes to widen. He pointed at the three chickens, hand trembling slightly. One of the sous chefs, a short man with black hair, removed his hat and twisted it in his hands.

“I’m sorry, Chef. I… I lost track of them,” he said.

“Lost track? What the f—”

Whoa. You don’t want to read this. Typical—cliché—gratuitous swearing. He thinks chefs and line cooks all talk like that. Like he knows! ‘Write what you know’. Isn’t that what they say? This guy never worked a day in a restaurant. He just watches too many cooking shows on TV.

Let me check… okay, that’s all done but he has cast me in a terrible light.

“Get out,” the Chef said. “You are fired.” He pointed at the door.

“But, Chef,” a young woman said. “It's Thanksgiving.”

Oh, come on! Don’t do this to me. You all see what he’s doing right? He’s “Scrooging” me.

“I don’t care,” the Chef said. He turned his back, picked up his knife, and began dicing onions to add to his gravy now reducing on the stove.

The fired sous chef stepped outside into the cold of the early evening. Snow fell like glittering ash through the light cast by a nearby street light. He walked to his car. The left headlight was cracked as was the windshield. His feet were cold. His shoes were a year old but his wife needed new clothes more than he needed new shoes. She was still looking for a job. What would he tell her? Why was he home early? His thoughts drifted with the snow falling across his vision. Like a film playing in his mind, the past year replayed for him. Chef yelling. Chef swearing. Chef throwing potatoes and pots at him. He endured more insults in the last year than in all the previous 29 years of his life put together. And now? Fired. Just like that.

Later, he would calmly explain that he forgot himself, and became a shell he could only observe from outside of his body.

Crap. You know when he writes from a future point like this that there is no avoiding what is about to happen because he’s using time like a tool. The future is set in stone. Can he do that? Isn’t that impossible? The future should be fluid, always changing depending on choices made or not made. Dear reader, save me. Remember the foreshadowing?

The gunshot came later.

Stop reading now. If you do, I will live. I’ll be something enduring in your imagination’s memory. I won’t take up much space. You won’t even know I’m there. I promise. Go roast a chicken. Lemon, tarragon, butter, salt—it is all you need. It will be delicious. Forget this story. It is the only way. I implore you.

He entered slowly, deliberately. He could hear Chef yelling about overcooked carrots. When he saw Chef, he didn’t hesitate. He raised the revolver and fired once. Once was all it took.

Why didn’t you stop reading?

As Chef lay on the floor, his life ebbing away, the kitchen crew gathered around him. His last words, uttered through fast, shallow breaths mystified them all. “Why… didn’t… you stop… reading?”

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Dec 05, 2022

That was awesome Eric!


That was excellent.

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