TYRANT #4: Retreat

Artwork by Camilla Eustance

THERE’S A LARGE room in an undisclosed location where men in wool lapels stand still or side step to a table against the far wall to pick at dried figs and pickled peaches. There’s a fireplace in the room, a large painting. There’s a table in the room with a centerpiece of a scarred-skin pig, a red apple shoved in its mouth. Surrounding it are plates of pineapple slices and prosciutto. A carafe of sparkling water.

And then there’s you. You in the room. You with a serving tray of seven small plates. You offering the men samples of tuna tartare with sesame seeds.

There’s you and the others in their serving outfits. There’s you and the others and the men.

You try to blend in with the other workers, walking from the kitchen, down the hall, into the room. Each time you enter the room, your nose hairs tickle with the scent of cloves, of burnt oak. The men are used to the smells, the burning sensations. They rub at their gums. They lick at their lips.

And there’s you, watching the men drink. You watch them huddle in groups of threes and fours, preoccupied with laughter. You watch their eyes, their mouths. You hear them speak.

At one point in the evening, when the men are good and drunk, you find a moment to lean against the windowsill outside the room the men occupy. You can sense things are winding down. Eyes are heavy. Soon, the men will make their way to their sleeping quarters, lead their little secrets there by the hand. The sun will not be the first to greet the morning on fire.

Some men wake early for their eggs and potatoes. Other men call for their drivers and sleep behind the tint of windows. Those are the men who make decisions that yield the largest profits. Those are the men with the taste of leather still in their mouths.

You wash the dishes and the linens. You’re happy you haven’t come across any blood this time around. You dust the mantels. Windex the glass. Outside, the hose is on. Another worker is scouring the lawn for cigarette butts.

And there’s you again. You are in the room alone. You can tell it is nearing noon by the way the sun paints windows of light thin and wide on the floor. You step slowly and carefully, but it’s just you now. There are no more eyes to count by the pair. No more waiting for the room to blink.