By Louis Rive
The argon light hums in a back room. There are no windows so gradually the flickering cylinder illuminates the boxes stacked high on either side. I stare at the identical crates. They all hold different sizes of glasses. High balls to wine glasses, champagne flutes to slim jims. I don’t need to read the labels any longer. The subtle difference in weight tells me what is inside the crate. It is wine tonight.
Trestle tables line the room. With robotic precision I maneuver each rectangle to the centre of the room. This creates a perfect square within the already perfect square of the room. Before taking stock my training has kicked in and I am strangely unaware of all the tablecloths I am fitting on to the long tables. They obscure the false wood underneath and give the illusion of class. They are finished, folded perfectly.
There are 72 glasses per box. The standard trade napkin only covers 64 in each crate. The others are left expose to the dust in the cupboard. I cleaned them all last night but those 8 will have to be cleaned again. The event is for 260 people. This works out as four crates minus the 32 glasses to be re-washed. This leaves me 4 glasses short. I will need to make another trip to the cupboard if the set up is going to go on time. This equation has been the same for two years now. I have never once thought to do things any other way.
I stack the glasses in rows of 64 each as the symmetry is engrained into my brain. The four left over glasses I hide from view. I pour wine methodically starting from the centre and working my way out. The glasses have a line measure. 125ml. I no longer need the guideline to fill each glass to faultless capacity. 128 red, 128 white. The opposing colours face off across the square.
Then I have a break. My colleague has been doing the same thing in the next room and together we meet simultaneously in the utility cupboard. We do not talk. Just stare forward and wait until we are re programmed to start again.
Fifteen minutes before the allotted time we are roused and given canapés to take out. The boss says to memorize what they are but we already know. They never change. Cheese pills, quiche disc, beef and horseradish supplements, smoked salmon substitute, grilled prawn suppositories. The order is irrelevant.
The platter is slightly too hot for my hands as I choose my route around the small groups of humans. I never change my route and circulate through the room again and again.
“Canapé Madame? Monsieur? Would you like…”.
Nobody responds. Why can’t they hear me? Why don’t they respond to me when I ask them questions?
They just stare at me blankly then continue talking within their clique. They open their mouths in time with one another and communicate. I am a few feet away but I do not register what they are saying. It’s just like white noise.
A few mumble vague pleasantries as they consume the food from my platter and chew discreetly. As the wine goes down some even construct sentences enquiring into my existence.
“Where are you from? What else do you do?”
I respond in kind. I do this for a living. This always brings a look of pity and superiority in the eye of the listener. Then they run out of things to ask me. There follows a minute of silence in which the listener makes their excuse and returns to their congregation. It isn’t uncomfortable for me. It is just another minute.
The manager goes round the room in the guise of supervising but surreptitiously joins in the party. He is dressed like the guests so they will never know who he really is. Never ask the manager anything on shift. This reveals his identity to the guests and makes his night less fun.
Gradually they all leave. First the unhappy couples who have important things to do and important places to be. Then the unhappy couples that don’t. The lonely sycophants and self interested careerists come last with a few folk desperately eating on, trying to dodge dinner with reheated snacks.
They are all gone. The echo of their voices and smell of their combined musk still pervades the room. The manager is drunk. For him the party is over. He barks orders that we staff know by heart and the clear down is just the set up in reverse. I wash the glasses and place them in their boxes. I stack the crates back up one by one. On each I fold an industry standard napkin that covers 64 of the 72 glasses but I don’t think of tomorrow. I don’t think at all.
Louis Rive was born in London, England but raised in Edinburgh, Scotland. He infrequently attended George Watson’s College, Edinburgh before leaving early due to “irrevocable differences with the staff”. He studied Ancient History to MA level at the University of St. Andrew’s writing his final dissertation on the development of the toilet in the ancient world. Louis has been exposed to the working world since he left school aged 17 and has to this day worked a plethora of jobs.
Despite holding an MA from one of Europe’s top educational institutions, Louis has not gone down the road of many graduates in getting a “proper” job but instead continues to work many “dead end” jobs in an attempt to stave off the 9 to 5 lifestyle. From supermarkets to bookies, it is his experience within the lower reaches of employment that forms the basis of his writing.
An aspiring musician Louis is very interested in traditional music from Scotland and the wider Celtic world (aka Ireland). He is a fully trained cellist and also plays banjo and guitar to a good level. Currently residing in London, he plays in renowned Scottish music act, Deep Fried Fiddle. Alongside music, writing has provided Louis with an outlet to share his stories and vent his frustration at the often-ridiculous world of work.