The restaurant had lice. I first noticed this when one fell onto my arm and skittered across my arm hair, small, heavy footsteps on my skin. I flicked it off. More were already on my plate, crawling across the baked chicken and sautéed cabbage, drowning in the cream gravy around the edges.
I raised my arm to signal the waiter, a man I had liked immediately for his easy manner, but as I looked for him around the crowded restaurant, I could only see the rising panic. Patrons were brushing at their skin, at their suit coats and chiffon frocks, pushing their plates back in disgust, squeaking the feet of their chairs against the floor, swatting at the table linens. Their voices rose to hollers, shrieks, uneasy sounds resonating from the mirrored walls and chandeliers. Waiters rushed from table to table, dabbing at plates, righting crystal, collecting tainted napkins, but soon they began to swat at their own clothes, their faces curling up at the swarming infestation.
And still more lice came. They danced in under the doors, though the air vents, riding the currents and landing roughly in hair and eyelashes, biting. They came down the walls, entering through unseen apertures. The lice arriving were large, and they ran in flocks across the polished wooden floors, springing up onto the patrons, who dashed out into the street, their hats and bags and sunglasses abandoned. The wait staff stripped off their red satin vests, white shirts, pressed pants, and ran off naked and howling, slapping at their bare, welted skin. Larger lice, lice the size of my hand, my arm, wrestled their way into the seats around the tables, plunging their faces into pearl onions, shredding scraps of discarded London broil, forsaken shrimp mornay smeared on their pincers.
It was strange.
Larger still, more lice arrived, some the size of dogs, the size of children. They pushed through the front doors and demanded tables. Other lice, some the size of me, some larger, having donned the smart uniforms deserted by the wait staff, guided them to seats, brought them menus, brought them water, brought them broth, brought them wine, brought them entrees, and then checks, which they paid, leaving generous tips.
As for me, I asked for my own check, but was ignored, and eventually left without bothering to pay because I had an appointment across town that could not wait.
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Jared Silvia is the host of the Functionally Literate reading series in Orlando, FL. His fiction has appeared in Sierra Nevada Review, decomP, Monkeybicycle, Rabble Lit, Bridge Eight, and other journals. He was the winner of the 2017 Brian Turner Literary Arts Prize in Fiction, and was a resident at the 2017 DISQUIET writing residency in Ponta Delgada, Azores. He received his MFA from The University of Tampa in 2014. You can find links to his work at jaredsilvia.com.
Photo: Lisheng Chang