Tessa was about to make her third mistake of the day. A big, steaming, multi-headed mistake, bristling in anoraks and coats, between the condensation on the peeling door and the fake-wood counter.

About two feet from the spot where they should have been greeted, the family was waiting for a signal to release them from the confines of the cool, cream corridor into the warmth of the restaurant. The man had checked his watch several times and taken care to make just enough eye contact with Tessa to elicit a response.  But Tessa could not and would not respond, no matter how much he stared at her.

It had been seven minutes since the family had crossed the threshold and collectively inhaled the sweet traceries of Louis’s Sunday roast.

Tessa’s attention traveled a precise and involved route around the intricacies of lace-work on her apron. After a third trip round, the uniform stubbornly refused to offer anything that could realistically be considered to be of interest – and she realised she would have to look up. If she could just make it through the next few minutes, Sarah, the senior waitress, would be back from table 3. She would greet them properly. Tessa lacked confidence.

The man coughed.  Eight minutes.  Tessa could almost feel his impatience growing under those thick, black fatherly eyebrows. Her face felt hot and dirty. She looked at her watch, willing the time on, watching the second hand crawl around its circuit. Sarah had told her to wait, but the man was looking at her. She was the waitress. She was there in black and white and it didn’t make sense for her to ignore them. The boy would get restless soon. Tessa’s hand searched blindly for the pad that hung at her side and stopped its gentle swinging. She could go over to them and confess that she did not know what she was doing, but she had already lost two customers that morning by doing that. She tried a smile.

Download a pdf of the whole sorry tale here

Minestrone was originally published in Fash N Riot (2001), edited by Flora McLean and Anne Hardy.

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