hooked by daniel knowlton

When I lean into the front desk, and you, dear waiter, ask for my reservation, I let your question hang unanswered above our heads.  I want you, dear waiter, to make your other tables wait as you think about just how much you want to make me happy.  Take my smile as a gift, a talisman to ward off the complaints of tonight’s patrons.  When the woman with the stutter demands that you take back her filet of salmon and make it “less fishy,” I want you, heart-warmed waiter, to turn the sweetness of my voice over in your mouth and remember that I am patiently awaiting my glass of cabernet, and I want you, handsome waiter, to feel that as long as I am here, sitting cross-legged, cream-colored calf against smooth knee in the corner table by the window, that the warm feeling in your belly will not be shaken.

“Yes, I have a reservation,” I say.

And yes, it’s a table for one.  Do you think that’s odd, dear waiter?  Do you think it strange that a kept woman would also want to keep herself?  Even if some brave diner mistakes my table as an invitation, no matter how sweet the question or how perfect the questioner, the chair across from mine must stay empty.  I will not bring a book.  All I want to read are the words in the menu and the flavors on the plate you’ll put before me.  My phone must stay silent.  And always, always, I will have dessert.

“How about a drink?” you say.  “Something to keep you warm?”

Oh my, dear waiter, with your dark curls of hair, do I have my hooks in you already?

Could you know that my hooks of choice are sharp, cool steel?  When I place my hand to my chest, dear waiter, it’s not because I’m coy.  I press through my black silk scarf until I feel the bottomless bass hum of pain reverberate through me, from where – could you imagine? – I allowed two hooks to slip into the pink of my skin.  Could you know what it was like to lean back against the taut hooks and wire?  The suck and stretch of my skin as it pulls away from my bones?  The pain, brave waiter, it’s a sea made for swimming.  Salty like your sweat, but warm, calm, and endless.  There are things about me that you cannot know, dear waiter, but that’s how we make this work.

“And how would you like that cooked?” you ask.

“Bloody rare, ” I say, like it’s a dirty phrase, because I want you to feel that you are sharing in something risky, something dangerous.  Leave it as red and as tender as your blush, dear waiter.  I want it to be your hand that delivers the blackened meat with the raw, cool center.  Present it like a proposition, dear waiter, like a gift for my hands and for my mouth.

“How’s everything?” you ask.  It tastes best, sweet waiter, when I eat it alone.  No idle talk to bother my tongue from finding all it needs.  No second body to hold my gaze away from my plate and the candle’s twisting, beckoning finger.  This is a pleasure I give from me to only me.  Before I speak, I close my eyes and bring my fork to my mouth.  I let you watch, hungry waiter, hooked in place.

“It’s divine,” I say.

I must arrive starving like you, famished waiter.  Before I begin these nights, I let the day slowly hollow out a cave of want within me.  I feel the hunger creep through my blood and into my limbs until it has taken me as willing hostage.  I work slowly through my meal, cutting each individual bite and switching fork from left to right.  It’s best, dear waiter, when you let in the pleasure of hunger’s gradual ebb and flow, a slow withdraw from its hold.  Pain, dear waiter, is clear and wise if only you let it speak.

“And for dessert?” you ask.  “I recommend the cheesecake.”

“I trust you,” I say.

But we are nearing the end of my meal, eager waiter, and will you be so quick to leave me the bill?  Will you, desperate waiter, leave a penned message below my tax and tip?  Your name, perhaps, or maybe your number?  Something sweet, and simple?  Please come again.  Or something more urgent, helpless waiter?  Dinner is on me, and I get off at ten.

But then how could you know, dear waiter, that I never look at my check?  I will place a large bill under the edge of the candle and cover it with my lip-stained napkin.  Whatever remains after the cost of my meal is for you, sad waiter, to hold in your spindly, trembling fingers.  Tonight, you will refuse to seat anyone else in the fading warmth of my chair.  Your patrons will fill the lobby and claim your every moment until you clear the last, sauce-stained plate and uncork the final bottle of wine.  When you leave for the night, you will search for me, lost waiter, amongst the crowd of faces half-hidden by wet umbrellas.  You will picture my smile as you slip into sleep and struggle to remember me upon waking.  Here, by the phone, you will eagerly answer each and every call, hoping to pencil in another table for one.

In a month, perhaps, you will go one full day without wondering about my name.  Let the wanting hollow you out, dear waiter.  Pain ages well when it isn’t rushed.  You will slowly remove my hooks from your skin inch by inch, and if you’ve learned anything from me, dear waiter, the relief will be but a dull finish to a full course meal, well savored.

Daniel Knowlton lives in Washington, DC and writes at Maryland University in the Master of Fine Arts program in fiction where he also curates the Mock Turtle reading series. His stories have appeared on Abroad View, his non-fiction has been nominated for the Intro Journals project, and his playwriting has been performed by The Wandering Souls.