Those bones piled on the chairs at table twelve weren’t always bones. They were three people, once, hungry for salads and eager to experience the rest of their lives. They had a movie at 10. Some new picture at the old theater up the street. It wasn’t the best theater, but it was close enough to their house for them to walk.
David doesn’t like to talk about it, but he let them starve to death. It’s not entirely his fault. He was new. The bones never spoke up. Sometimes customers blend with the art on the walls. Plus, the bartender working that busy night had given him some poor advice.
“If they won’t complain, they’re at the bottom of the chain.”
That was Francis. He was a dick and was fired the next week for skimming from the register. He tried to burn the restaurant down the week after that with all of us inside, but he couldn’t do anything right.
Technically, the bones’ check is still open. When the staff wants a little more than just a meal for their break—like a dessert, which aren’t covered—they’ll put it on the “skeleton tab.” It must be up to a few thousand dollars by now.
Right before closing, David will put three garden salads at the table and sit with the bones. He adjusts the skulls on the table so that they appear to be speaking with him. Some nights, a cloying wind will rush through the kitchen when David sits with them and the bones will reassemble. They pick their bare skulls up from the table and connect them to their spines. It makes a sound. Like a dead stick when you knock it against a tree. I think this whole thing happens when the moon is a certain way, but I’m not sure exactly what way because I was late the morning David and his mystic friend went over it. I’m dealing with my mom at home. I have to leave for college, but she wants me to stay. You know how it goes.
David eats with the bones on those nights. Their conversations are lively. David tells them about the latest movies until he inevitably breaks down into apologizing for what happened to them. But the bones must be forgiving, because they all hug him together, in the only lit corner of the dim restaurant. Then they collapse into bones again. David piles them on their chairs, with the skulls on the table.
He made a joke to me on my first night closing that he was working up the courage to starve himself to death in the fourth seat. I laughed hard. He laughed harder.
But he’s manager now, so I shouldn’t say much.
Nick Perilli is a writer and librarian living in Philadelphia with loved ones who have yet to watch Gremlins 2 with him. More work of his can be found in Breadcrumbs Magazine, Bending Genres, X-R-A-Y Lit Mage, Short Edition dispensers worldwide, and elsewhere. He tweets @nicoloperilli and spared no expense on his cheap website: nickperilli.com.
Top Photo: Mathew Schwartz