All Day. Every Day. Forever.
This extract from the novel All Day. Every Day. Forever, illustrates Peter Wahowitz’s interest in food rituals as substitutes for emotional honesty and the difference between the appearance of everyday reality (food, dining, interiors) and its representation in the media.
Waiters entered the stuffy, airless space with choreographed precision to the sound of Elgar’s “March of Pomp and Circumstance”. They wore elegant, made-to-measure jackets in ivory with silk lapels and black roll collars over white shirts. Black tailored pants fell to highly polished black patent Senator shoes. Their uniforms were finished off with slim black ties and matt silver cufflinks. They glided across the floor in upright, elegant strides carrying silver platters in a proud show of training and dexterity.
From the table in front of him, Mike took the nearest of three diagonally arranged wine glasses, and raised it upwards to toast the waiters’ artful entrance. Although his long-stemmed glass was filled with water, Mike imagined sipping a chilled aromatic Alsatian Gewürztraminer. He licked his top lip hoping to appreciate some of the liquid’s sweet bouquet. Instead of a smooth lychee note, he tasted a plain tasteless one, which wetted his tongue and delivered another dose of fluoride to his teeth.
The waiters moved into place; one by one they stood behind each player’s left shoulder, ready to present them with their special meal requests. Mike had asked for a recreation of the dinner, which he believed to be his and Martha’s last together. He remembered boneless buffalo chicken wings, artichoke and sweet potato croquettes, tortillas topped with chili, shredded Wisconsin cheddar and jalapenos with sour cream and salsa. He recalled crispy crab and tilapia fillet cakes, spring greens with drizzled Guinness dijon and pina colada sauce, fresh mussels steamed in ale with garlic and lemon zest in a light cream sauce, fresh bread, fried silver-dollar potatoes topped with Blarney Shrooms. Finally, he remembered the candied vegetable bread and butter pudding they had for dessert.
The loud tapping of a serving fork and spoon interrupted Mike’s imagination, returning him resolutely to the table at which he was sitting. He was hungry. Behind him, his waiter had begun to manipulate silverware like a pincer. Quickly, but meticulously he transferred each dish from the silver platter onto Mike’s plate. His stylish and considered arrangement was masterfully presented for the roving cameras; perfect for TV. In real life however, the meal was mediocre at best; ingredients were of poor quality and each dish was tellingly different from Mike’s request. Soggy white boned chicken wings were sodden with budget BBQ sauce. As Mike stuck his fork into the chicken, its hard skin cracked open, sending up scorching wafts of steam that scalded Mike’s nose. The meat slid off the bone. Potato nuggets were made from dried-out russets. The tortillas were topped with drippy chili from a tin. They looked like potted meat and smelled of bastardized spaghetti sauce, and were topped with poor man’s cheese and vinegary jalapenos, cream soured over time and watery salsa. Tuna croquettes were disguised as crab cakes. Withered spring greens were smothered with a blob of lumpy, salty mayonnaise dressing. Although Mike had requested them, mussels were not on the menu: despite propagation efforts, they had become functionally extinct. Mike pushed the remnants of his food around his plate. Dessert followed in the form of a stale dried-out bread pudding with crispy sugar and raisin overkill. The entire meal smelled of contraband and illegal enhancement. It lacked Martha’s sensitive touch, her care and attention to detail. To Mike, this entire Last Supper affair seemed like a cheap shot, hurtful and inconsiderate, given its circumstances. Still, it looked good for camera, and that was all that mattered.
Occasionally, the meal did manage to remind Mike of former times. But these brief moments were constantly interrupted by the TV crews, which sailed back and forth along their dolly rails, creating close-ups and long shots, waiting for unexpected money-shots. Mike provided them with none of these. He merely ate his meal, drank his drinks and then sat back silently; he didn’t want to be portrayed as ungrateful. Eventually, the waiters returned to clear the tables. One dipped in elegantly from the right and while he removed the empty plates and glassware. Mike tried to remember Martha tidying the table. He breathed in deeply to recall her smell, but was confronted with scents from the over-perfumed waiter. First came the dry, astringent, scent of rosemary and dried lavender. Then came incense and tarry notes as the waiter leant in a second time to take Mike’s silverware. As he leant in a third time, an oddly-mechanical aroma reminded Mike of dusty old machines and sour fumes of burning electronics on asphalt. As the waiter left the table, a delicate smell of powdery saffron lingered like Martha’s ghost next to Mike. Supper was over.
Peter Wahowitz writes narrative fiction though an art lens. Sometimes this is set in a parallel present or near future and sometimes takes historical facts as lynchpins for new fictional narratives. "All Day, Everyday, Forever" (2016) is his first novel.