No Dead Bodies in the Dining Room by Kathryn LeMon


Introduction by Guest Judge AIMEE BENDER:

Last year I was so taken by Elisa Gabbert’s close reading of Auden’s poem “Musee des Beaux Arts” and how she considered the ways that dailiness and tragedy live in the same moment in both the poem and the painting. I’ve thought of it many times since, and again in reading “No Dead Bodies in the Dining Room,” which— through its movement-driven phrasing— splices the heightened intensity of waiting tables with the horrific shootings we have all grown grossly used to. In the story, the two exist side by side, and yet one does not seem to truly impact the other, or both seem to just coexist; in our lives, this is true and not true— we read the news, and each of us is affected however we are, but most of us go on with our day just like in the poem/painting and in its way, the story. The surrealism gives us the restaurant and the nightmare mashed up together and with the speed of the sentences it all feels like the same moment. Each time I read it, I am both buoyed and afraid.

I’m already in the weeds when the first body drops: 32 needs wine service, 34 wants more ketchup, and a family of four just sat down at 14 because the host has no goddamn sympathy for servers working their second double of the week with aching feet sweating in one-hundred dollar anti-slip clogs, but I snatch the bottle of white from the ice bucket and keep moving (always keep moving, always keep smiling); all the while, an old man at 11 erupts into an impressive and lengthy coughing fit, landing face down in a bowl of spaghetti nero, prawns and octopus flying across the dining room, and thank god it’s not my section because I don’t have time for this and the man is not small (it takes two servers to haul him into the back room while General Manager Benjamin apologizes to the family and comps the pasta), and I think the cough might be contagious, but I can’t worry about that right now because the man at 32 has the audacity to shake his shiny bald head and order a different white wine, so I circle back to the bar and exchange the sauv blanc for the albarino, smiling meaningfully at 34 (No, I haven’t forgotten you) and pivoting so severely once I have the new bottle in hand that my third grade tap instructor ought to put me in the front row retroactively, and 32 likes this new wine, thank god, and I’m filling their glasses when the shooting starts and it continues the whole time I’m greeting 14 so that I have to shout the drink specials (though, of course, they only order four waters and a cherry coke), but the bartenders are too busy dealing with the blood-splatter-slumped-body carnage to make my cherry coke (dead men don’t tip: make room for the living), so I make the cherry coke myself and bring the cherry coke and the waters to 14—more coughing, another man down, not my section—33 needs to be cleared which is perfect because I can grab the ketchup for 34 on my way back from the dish pit, and I’m starting to get into a groove now, I’ve even got time to run some food for new-girl Heather on the way back to my section, and I’ve got the ketchup in hand (and a smile on my face) when another shot rings out, this time a crime of passion at 36—the woman who’s holding the gun is crying—and goddammit, that’s my section, so I shove the ketchup in my apron pocket and catch the man before he can bleed all over the carpet while General Manager Benjamin consoles the young woman and convinces her to pay her bill before leaving, and I’ve got the man in the back room and am turning to leave when the man says, “Please,” and I say, “May I help you?” and the man says, “I don’t want to die alone,” so I stay by his side and hold his hand until it goes slack and I can leave to attend to those guests who are still among the living.

KATHRYN LEMON — Kathryn earned her BA in creative writing from Kenyon College and is presently an MFA candidate at the Ohio State University. You can find her flash fiction in Gigantic Sequins: A Literary Arts Journal.

Art by DAEGAN LUNSFORD — Daegan is a multidisciplinary artist living in Canada. He currently works in gouache and egg tempera, as well as many other unconventional mediums. His artwork focuses on delight, nostalgia and Americana.