Winner of the 2019 OWT Short Fiction Prize
Valentine’s Day was always busy at Piece of My Heart. The couple waited in the doorway until I had a chance to dash over and greet them.
“Can I take your name please?” I asked.
“Jackson,” the man replied. “We have a booking.”
They were an odd couple. She was so thin she looked like she might snap. Her big blue eyes darted as if looking for danger. He watched his footing as I showed them to their table. I slowed down to accommodate his limp.
When I reached for the woman’s coat, she recoiled. As Jackson helped her out of it, I noted the three stumps on his left hand. I draped the coat over my weaker left arm, which immediately started to ache.
“Can I get you some drinks?”
House red. I offloaded the heavy fur in the cloakroom and headed to the bar. My arm throbbed. The surgeon who removed the muscle was a butcher. He left me with nerve damage: a persistent tingling in the fingers of my left hand. When I showed Rita, she called me a stupid girl. She was right. It was an amateur job, not the kind of thing you’d get here at Piece. There was a reason we received the best restaurant reviews in town; our gifting rooms were spotless, our surgeons highly trained, their knives sharp.
When I returned with the drinks, the woman was fanning herself with the menu. Sweat glistened on her forehead. After I poured the wine, I topped up her water glass.
“Would you like to hear today’s specials?”
“Please.” Jackson placed his right hand, which was missing only the little finger, on top of the left.
“Today we have pomegranate syrup with toasted walnuts, served on a bed of wild rice.”
“That sounds delicious.” He was probably no older than forty, although he moved like a much older man.
“We also have pasta with a spicy tomato sauce, garnished with smoked chillies.” I directed this at the woman. She seemed the squeamish sort, the type to drown a precious gift with unsophisticated flavours.
“I’ll have the pomegranate.” Jackson said. He reached across the table and took hold of his date’s hand. “Karen?”