I had got a new job, a pretty nice one, and I was excited. Things were going well. The head of the corporation sent me an email a few weeks in asking if I would like to come to dinner with him and his wife. I said yes. This couldn’t hurt my new career.
The weeks went by, then the evening of the dinner arrived. I put on my best shirt, I’d even ironed it. A sharp tie. Polished shoes. I took a sip of my coffee. I looked in the mirror: the business.
The guy on the door of the restaurant showed me to the table. There was the boss, his wife, and two others from high up in the company. What was this? What would I say? I approached the table and went through a round of awkward handshakes that turned to half kisses and all that nonsense. When did that come in?
This could be a chance for me. I needed to impress. No alcohol, might make a prat of myself. When the waiter asked, I said “double espresso.”
That had me flying. New ideas – I was pitching them left right and center. Vision? Yes sir! I couldn’t wait to speak, just had to wait until the others stopped talking. This was going well. Then came the time to order.
I had to continue making a good impression. What would I like? The burger and chips would be good. Classic. Or a fish and chips – it is Friday after all. But no. These are sophisticated people. I looked over the menu. The waiter and all the people at the table looked at me.
“Swordfish, please.” The waiter noted it, headed off. Everyone carried on with the discussion. Except me. They asked me questions, but I hardly heard them. I think I missed buying a round of drinks. I nodded in answer to some proposal by the boss. Going round and round in my head was ‘swordfish, please.’
Why had I ordered that? It comes with samphire, whatever that is, in a chicory sauce, whatever that is. It sounded impressive. I thought my new company would be impressed by my sophistication. But no one batted an eyelid.
The dishes were brought forth. Burgers, pies, fried halloumi… sausage and mash… and a whole swordfish, glassy eye looking at me, its scales gleaming.
“Enjoy, everyone!” My boss tucked into his Stilton and bacon burger, in a brioche bun with chilli wedges.
I chose one of the knives, and cut into it. It grated against thin bones. I extracted a tiny piece of white flesh, dipped it in the sauce, and tentatively placed it in my mouth. Fucking disgusting. Like licorice and salt and wire wool… “Eat up, Simon!”
I looked around and everyone had finished. They waited. I grabbed the fish, cut my hand on the sword, broke it off, which took it’s head with it. The eye hung out on a string, and I tore at the body with my mouth. I crunched down, then dragged the body from my mouth, hoping I would have eaten it all, like Top Cat or something.
Instead, a bone got lodged at the back of my throat. I coughed twice, hard, then was sick fluently across the table, across the notes left for the bill. I added my (Dear God!) £50 to the pile with as much dignity as I could muster and went to see where they had put my coat.
From the cloakroom, I heard them on their way out:
“A bit pretentious, don’t you think?”
“And hardly said a word during dinner – are we beneath him or something?”
“Didn’t get a round in…”
“Used the wrong knife on that horrid fish too.”
You really, really can’t take me anywhere.