Summer 2015 — THE POTOMAC

This Is the Girl

  Jennifer Juneau

Pain blistered across my shoulders. Having worn a black wife-beater at the beach my fair skin had been a feast for the sun. I moved my lobster arms off the table as Maggie placed my plate before me. I attempted to pick up toast with my big red claws.

"Good God," Maggie said, "what happened?"

"Beach," I said. The salt air made me ravenous and I didn't lift my head from my dish as I broke into a poached egg yolk. Chitchat cascaded in the surrounding booths at The Corner Diner. The atmosphere was deep-fried and glazed with Danish. Maggie reached into her pocket and pulled out sunscreen, SPF 100, and placed it on the table next to my dish. "For next time," she said and poured me a cup of grainy coffee. Aloe gel wasn't on the menu at The Corner Diner and that was too bad because I refused to spend money at The Corner Drugstore where the prices were jacked up.

"Honestly, Maggie," I said, "I don't think it makes—"

"Whoa," she said, "check it out."

The chitchat died down when the door swung open. Two breaths of fresh air blew in. One of them was so hot I thought he was a hit song. The other was mediocre. They weren't run-of-the-mill middle-class men and I wondered what they were doing in a place like this. They were hip, young, seemingly rich. They collected an order at the register. While Maggie rang it up the mediocre one looked around, as if he were surveying a dump. He checked out the patrons and when his eyes settled they settled on me. He nudged the hot one, who handed Maggie cash in exchange for two take-out bags of food inside a box. When he saw me he pocketed his change fast. They headed my way and I didn't realize who they were until one of them spoke.

"Greta?" the hot one said. It was cameraman Jim. My heart flip-flopped.

"Hey," I said, "cameraman Jim. I didn't recognize you without your camera." He had a wily glint in his eye. Rebel without a cause. Someone I needed to light a post-coital cigarette next to.

"Don't refer to us as 'cameraman' in front of our faces," Mike said. Mike resembled a haphazard pencil sketch. Rough edges. Sidekick.

Jim and Mike inched into the booth and sat facing me. In the studio, they didn't socialize with the contestants, they bantered with the show's judges Chef Crank, Joe Slick and Gram. From the jukebox Paul Anka belted out Put Your Head On My Shoulder, Maggie spied on us from behind the counter, and the "in-crowd" resumed their chitchat.

I sopped up the last bit of yolk with my toast but my appetite was as remote as a bathroom mirror. I wanted desperately to know how my hair looked. Then I remembered my burnt face.

Mike wore an expression that made me wish I had searched for my lost sunscreen. But no, I had to answer a stupid question on the set today from Chef Crank like, Where were you? just because I had been a couple of hours late to film our challenge.

"It would take years for me to get that red. That face could not have been from today," Mike said.

"It'll turn bronze tomorrow," I said. My face burned against the burn. Reddened against the red.

"That face could not have been from today."

"Okay this face was not from today, happy?"

"Why aren't you at McDonald's?" Jim said, checking out the dismal, well- lighted place. "Don't contestants get a discount there? These people."

"Like the Zombie flick we shot," Mike said. His hands went all spastic knocking over my coffee cup and that contorted face, which shed light on why he was behind a camera and not in front of one.

"I could give you names of cool places to eat," Jim said, handing me napkins from the dispenser.

"I don't know. The toast's good here and after a tough day on the set I have Maggie to cheer me up." Maggie refilled my cup and with a pained expression, clutched her back and groaned. "So," I wiped my hands on a napkin, "what do you guys think of the judges?" I took a sip of my fresh hot. "How about the judge Joe Slick? I mean, does anybody like him?"

"Slick?" Jim said, chewing on a toothpick.

"Wasn't he mugged in the parking lot once?" Mike said.

"No. The green room." Jim held my gaze. I wanted to go home with him in the worst way, but what would I do? Sit in a corner and tell him to pretend I'm not there? Role reversal? No. I'd sleep with him, of course. I sucked at relationships but I was good at one night stands. Besides, I'd have an advantage over the other contestants. That I knew someone on the film crew, even if only in the biblical sense. I was dying for the biblical sense. I connected my fling to winning ÜberChef. Jim, like the popular guy at school I never had, made me feel homesick for Spring and everything vivid rushed in. Balmy breezes. The scent of wet grass mingled with earth. Let's go get ice cream. Maybe we'd hook up forever. I had no time for telepathic bullshit.

"Slick's been handed his walking papers," Mike said. "But you didn't hear it from me."

"Fired?" I said. "I heard his job was on the line, but."

"Soon he won't know the difference between Sunday, Monday, Tuesday," Mike said.

"He'll know Friday," Jim said, "when he'll hit the unemployment line."

"But why?"

"He got owned by a pastry chef. Crank and Gram were cheating on him with his replacement, like, we'd shoot scenes without him, and get this, the new judge is a girl. She's supposed to inspire young girls to become pastry chefs."

"What about young boys who want to be pastry chefs? What happens to them?"

"Beats us."

"And what scenes?"

Mike and Jim looked at each other. "Scenes where the judges relay cooking tips to the contestants? The scene will be spliced into the season finale where the new judge will pop out of a cake."

"Frankenbite we call it," Mike said. "The editors rearrange the film by splicing all your fuck-ups into a single clip. You should see how loud you are."

"If they're teaching the contestants how to cook, why aren't we there to listen?"

"Beats us."

"ÜberChef USA is one long ad for McDonalds, Fick, Peedo, Skuzz, Klootz, Christian Louboutin, Nikon, Weber Summit, and so on, no matter who wins," Jim said.

"Matters to me."

"Don't take it seriously, Greta. If you win you'll get the cash, the money comes from all that advertising, but then everyone will forget you."

"Matters to me."

"Shax network will take all that money back whenever your name is dropped or from your cookbook sales," Mike said. "Capitalizing off you and buying your silence is their forte."

"They'll sue you if you don't comply and you'll be worse off than before you started."

"Whatever. Hey, can you do me a favor?" I said to Jim.

"Anything for you," Jim said.

Slap Mike in the face and take me with you. "This might sound weird, but, look at Mike, refer to me and say, 'This is the girl.'"

"This is the girl?" he said.


"How'd you like that."

"Okay, ready?"

Jim turned to Mike with an intense expression. Mike looked at Jim as if to say, 'What the fuck?'

"This is the girl," Jim said.

"Jane's the girl," Mike said.

"Looks like this new judge is the girl," Maggie said, having eavesdropped on our conversation. She loaded dirty dishes from the table behind us into her bus tray.

"Don't worry about Jane, she'll be all right," I said. "Missing people are always found. Even if found dead."

The detective drama that was filmed on the soundstage next to ours, which wasn't soundproof, blew ÜberChef USA out of the pond. We became hooked on the series and would listen through the wall while they taped. We'd watch a drama from a place where we couldn't see it.

"As if," Jim said.

"What makes you think you're so smart at cops and robbers, Greta?" Mike said.

"What makes you think living under a rock with a busted hip is all right?" Mike said, said and said.

"We don't know Jane's hip is busted." I ripped my paper napkin to shreds.

"So, you get thrown out of a five story window and you won't bust a hip?" Now Mike was pointing his cigarette at me, punctuating his POV on TV characters while Jim stared at me and chewed that toothpick.

"She won't stand a chance when John's evil robot twin finds her. He's got an advantage, being an evil robot and all."

"Can't be sure there's a robot, I mean," I shook my head, "this is based on your opinion. We can't see anything, right? It's like, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it-did it fall?"

"That's not the way it goes."

"The Lucy storyline is good," I said.

"Our visions are lucid."

"If nobody is around to hear, did it make a sound? Is what you meant," Jim said.

"We're cameramen," Mike said. "We see everything."

"Drina Sanchez is a spoiled wench," Jim said.

"Who cares about the Drina Sanchez storyline," Mike said. "Your wrong Greta."

"'Your'? No, 'you're' wrong. It's a contraction. 'You are' are two words," I said.

"How do you know I misspelled a word when you couldn't see it?"

"If a tree falls," I said.

"The Jane and John mystery segment keeps me up at night," Jim said.

"I heard Jane was hot, am I right? Are you finished?" Maggie said. She cleared my plate off the table before I answered.

"Let's split," Mike said to Jim and my heart split. I wondered what plans they had. I longed to be part of L.A. nightlife. I dreamed of making the scene with them only to stand in front of those three cretin judges tomorrow morning with my secret. "Katrina and Karina are waiting and our steaks are getting cold." No, no, no. Please don't go, I telepathically begged-wait-who was Katrina and Karina? My heart died right there and my face must have said so because Jim said, "Are you all right?" In which case I wasn't. Mike already rose from the booth and was leaving.

"Yeah, I'll see you tomorrow on the set," I said, as Maggie scribbled my check.

Jim winked at me and squeezed my hand. "Have a good night."

I hated girls whose names began with a "K."

"Who were they?" Maggie said. Her eyes trailed Mike and Jim out the door.

"The cameramen from the set," I said.

"Aren't you going with them? Some snazzy nightclub? A pool party in the hills?" As if I had a choice. "You're pretty, you're smart. I bet you like animals. Maybe you'd like to work with children one day." I hated Maggie more than life and just shut up.

"They have girlfriends," I said. I held my arms up while she sprayed my table with Fick and didn't want to imagine if they didn't have girlfriends. So I didn't.

After Maggie left my table, I reached into my backpack and left her something between a tip and a fuck–you.

Another wayward character between here and there, I stepped out alone into the balmy night.

(This story is an excerpt from "Juneau's novel, ÜberChef USA)

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