UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION

PAUL CHESSER

THE DARK, INACCESSIBLE MENU OF BISTRO VERDI

         BISTRO VERDI
         4179 Chisholm Ave., next to Shayton’s Billiards
         Hours of Operation: Mon. – Fri.: 8 - 10, Sat.: 6 - 6, Closed Sundays


APPETIZERS


New England Clam Chowder. . . Succulent chunks of clam and new potato marinated in butter- cream and chive every morning. Warms the belly and the soul, no matter the weather, with a rich flavor of New England. In the morning.
. . . cup 1.25 . . . bowl 2.75

Mile-High Onion Rings. . . Golden Brown, fried white onion with our signature wheat beer batter. Perfect if you were beaten as a child and don’t mind making mistakes.
. . . 4.95

Better Cheddar Fries. . . First, we probably wash the plate, or at least wipe it on our jeans. Then we go from there, with the fries and the cheese and the whatnot.
. . . 4.95

Mandarin Spring Rolls. . . I haven’t been home back East in years. Not since Samantha went her own way. The old lies are sodden and drizzled with the dark fingers of dirty blood. Served with duck sauce or parsley spread.
. . . 5.15

No Worry, The Old Dog Knows His Way Home, I Promise. . . Your option of fajita beef, fajita chicken, the fever dream of an alcoholic. This just in: guacamole is an invention of the media.
. . . 7.10

Instant Karma. . . Your choice, a sampler. You set the price. Please allow at least twenty-four hours to prepare.
. . . ?.99

GARDEN FRESH SALADS


Cobb Salad. . . The garden is rife with aphids. There is always soil on our knees and it stains our palms.
. . . 7.10

Ahi Tuna Pepper Salad. . . After four months, Samantha stopped calling. I don’t understand it. We broke bread and our sex was like an animal that can’t decide which way it is facing. She still has most of my better board games; maybe I will go buy more, but I am afraid.
. . . 8.65

Apples and Oranges, The Comparison Salad. . . We have been known to call the police. It isn’t melodramatic, we just like the uniforms and the attention. Guns scare people enough to make them moralize. I will never go back to jail.
. . . 7.10

Chef Salad. . . Tender egg and strips of ham. Pigs are capable of sunburn. My mother has skin cancer. Her worship of the beach, looking out over the wide water at other places. Maybe she was imagining dancing in Pamplona or the Ivory Coast. Her skin grafts and ridges; visiting her in the clinic is like the slow death of pets.
. . . 6.95

Saturdays at Gedger Music Hall. . . I still have Samantha’s key to the place. I go in the back door and practice piano on the dark stage. It’s not a waste because maybe I am getting better. Still, I feel I haven’t found an instrument that speaks to me. Topped with black olives and house ranch.
. . . 8.65

Caesar Salad. . . Romaine, croutons, crushed pepper, caesar dressing. Order it on March 15th and I will stab you forty-seven times. No one will write a play about us. Sometimes I’ll let you have fajita chicken, but I don’t believe in parmesan.
. . . One Tired, Old Dollar

BURGERS & SANDWICHES


Big Beef Classic. . . Nothing better than the first love, the original. All our burgers are served on a multi-grain bun. Then again, all of everybody’s are. Eight ounces of beef, but size doesn’t matter. A wise man once told me, “Son, a woman doesn’t have sex with a penis, she has sex with a man.” He was so wise that he never learned to swim, and on January 8th, 1981, he drowned in a hotel swimming pool, fifty yards from the ocean. Served with an uninspired foreplay of french fries or onion rings.
. . . 6.65

Beelzeburger. . . Sometimes called the “Revenge Burger,” a creative doppelganger of the Big Beef Classic. Fat green flies with red eyes, human waste, grilled to putre-fection. Sometimes you find yourself “working out differences” with an enemy over lunch; they go to the restroom and tell you to order for them. You were friends once. Perfect for the cuckold and a worthy consideration for the self-loathing. Best served cold.
. . . Free of Charge

Turkey Club. . . A baseball bat is my personal favorite, but any blunt implement would probably do. A tire iron, a wrench, a toaster. Be creative. The dodo was driven to extinction because they knew no fear of man. They would walk right up to the settlers as they arrived on the beaches. History does not remember the names of the murderers. Do not request mustard––the very smell makes me think of children with thick glasses wiping snot on their sleeves in long snail-trails.
. . . 5.95

The Catch on Rye. . . Broiled flounder with tartar sauce or lemon gravy on rye bread. Chapman and Salinger will forever argue which way is better, but you always have your own free will. Even angels envy us. I recommend a slice of American just to piss them off. Eat it upside down and laugh when people get confused.
. . . Market Price

Reuben. . . Reuben Colter, the point of all this. We grew up together. There was an abandoned house at the end of our street and we assumed it was haunted. The chipped green shutters, the dust-fogged windows, the wrought-iron fence and railing like fused spears. We would dare closer and closer with each summer. He is still MIA, so this dish is yet unavailable. I will find him and I will let you know.
. . . Not in Stock

ENTREES


New York Strip. . . A favorite since the day we opened. But it gets tiresome after a while. You sit in an upholstered chair and women with media-perfect bodies move like snakes. The clothes come off and maybe they get closer to God. You are not allowed to touch them. Somehow you are more hungry after the last bite, but the meal passes the time. I’ll say it is served with your choice of two sides, but it is a tired lie I use without even thinking about it anymore.
. . . 30.00

I Have Kept All the Old Photos of You And I Still Look at Them Sometimes. . . A do-it- yourself dish, one of my personal guilty pleasures. It sounds difficult, but the recipe is easier to follow than it seems. Using the hand that you decide has committed the more heinous crimes, curl your fingers into a claw and reach into your body. Tear out one of your organs. These days most people prefer the heart, but the original tradition calls for the liver. Lightly basted, sear the meat briefly in a pan on low heat. Just enough to keep it warm. White bread goes well with it, because it has no nutritional value whatsoever and will not insult the romance of your sacrifice with any flavor. Feel good about yourself if you can. You will continue to pay long after the check is written, so you might as well learn to smile and serve others.
. . . A Grain of Salt/ A Pillar of Salt

Salmon Fillet. . . Samantha Salmon. I’ve seen these fish, leaping into breathless air, raging up and against the force of downward rivers. The breeding at the end of this war must seem exhausted and pointless. I must have been the poison salt of the sea for her to feel that this hell was worth her while to escape me. It only seems right to serve the fillet on a bed of white, white rice with pearl onions.
. . . 22.75

The Impossible Masochists and the Lessons They Will Never Learn. . . If something is inherently cold, you can never warm it; it is no longer the thing it was, like grilled ice. Just as the lover of pain will never run away from the sting of error. I go down to the banks of the lake at night and skip stones across the still surface. The stones do not return; only the music of their grave reaches me.
. . . A Drop of Blood

Eggplant Lasagna. . . I do not recommend it. The layers are distasteful and it seems to struggle against theme. Fire randomly into a crowd if you want to learn about consequence, if you want to be in strangers’ lives forever.
. . . 11.75

Veal Parmesan. . . It’s dead now and none of you can hurt it anymore. I hope you can live with yourselves. No, that’s not true. I hope it bleeds inside you and gives you slow, unrelenting cancer. I hope it rots your genitals, that your body digests your lineage before it can spread, that your name ends here, in the screaming liquefaction of disease.
. . . 21.75

Pork Medallions. . . Braised in sour cream and sherry. Reuben and Samantha, how they share an intimate knowledge of a specific geography, somewhere in the Southeast: that is the shape of everything I wear, it is the sound of the door closing behind me in every room I enter. I see familiar people huddled together in public, whisper-close and never kissing; it is what they amputate from their conversations as I walk in their direction.
. . . 18.65

The Strange Diet of Lobster and Shrimp Scampi. . . Bad news for the sadist: crustaceans feel no pain, even when flash-boiled. Maybe the garlic butter and steamed vegetables will ease your disappointment. In the end it is just a strange beast that murks around in the muddy depths, quietly murdering simpler creatures, and you are making it a part of your body. For aeons, the Earth has digested the bodies of our dead. Maybe it thinks it is becoming more human through the meal. Maybe it is.
. . . 30.00

DESSERTS


Homemade Red Velvet Cake. . . Cream cheese icing, warm spongy cake, like the scarlet viscera of sirloin. In a better year, Samantha would meet me here after hours. Chances are we had sex in the booth where you are seated. It is a practice I’ve continued since she left; I prey on the weaker or more emotionally fragile of the wait staff. On at least two occasions I have had to re-felt the pool table in the back underneath the print of the Monet. Maroon goes better with the decor anyway.
. . . 4.99

Mississippi Mud Pie. . . “You must consider the human population topographically, like the chaff of wheat in an illimitable field. Choose one, find one in some unspectacular location and that is yourself. The rest are all separate organisms; everyone drives toward the stars from the self-same soil, but all of you sway in your own way, in peculiar waves, making visible the specific and invisible body of each differing breeze.” I try. I will try my hardest. A small song.
. . . 75.00/hr.

Is It Gelato? Is It Sherbet? Each Time I am Pleased to Meet You. . . She is cool to the touch, I imagine, and smooth. She is not Samantha in any way and it is exciting. She comes in the front doors every few days, dragging on a cigarette under dark glasses. Every time her hair is different in color or shape; I ask her name and each day it is different: Amelia. Babbette. Cordelia. DeVille. Eve. Fey. Gabrielle. She is going alphabetically, but she does not need to do that to keep me fascinated. And I do wonder what will happen if we get to S. If we get to Z. I get down on my knees and actually pray she will not just be numbers after that. Yesterday she was Hera and she helps me so much to feel like time is moving again in its slow fire.
. . . 7.77

Confidence Malt. . . New and improved. I have rethought the recipe, built it from the ground up. It used to drown in brandy, a ski-bunny beverage. Confidence. I realized lately the etymology of the word. It means “with faith” at the basic level I believe. With faith. Spread your arms, fall backwards, don’t buckle your knees. That someone will catch you is the best confidence any of us could ever afford.
. . . Free of Charge, as Long as You Tell a Friend

(*NEW!*) Key Lime of Key Largo. . . It smelled of antifreeze and crushed dust underneath Reuben’s Skylark. I had my limbs tucked as far toward me as they could go; there was no way he would ever see me. I was a fish choking in open air. December, and especially cold for Florida, so I held my breath for as long as I could, then let it out in a fog, then held it again. 3:42 a.m., I swung my arm out stiff and hard––an awl used to punch tanned leather flashed like a blue comma in my fist––cleaved the gristle above his heel. A deep, snapping thrum of a muffled cello and his whole weight fell back to earth.
. . . 12/17/95







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