Her hands dart over phalanxes of sushi rolls. A dash more mayo here, a hint of wasabi there. Can’t be seen to be skimping on the salmon. Wouldn’t want to give that shrew Margot something else to complain about.
She sighs. Offers a prayer to the culinary gods that this batch of nori sheets holds firm. Once, back when she was starting out, she’d experimented with one of the cheaper brands. Never again. The rolls all split or dissolved between her kitchen and the venue. She’d opened the van to unload the platters and discovered outcrops of crabmeat and cucumber twigs awash in a tsunami of rice. She had to get back in the van and pay top dollar for every piece of sushi within a 10km radius. Better to swallow a loss on the job than lose the client forever.
Sometimes she wonders if she’d be better off losing Margot’s business. Office micro-manager to a major insurance firm, Margot has a bone to pick with every event from the smallest boardroom morning tea to the staff Christmas party. Pastries slightly crumbly? Splinter of shell in a curried egg sandwich? Whatever the menu, she can guarantee Margot will find fault and follow up with a post-event email cataloguing the “issues”. All excuses for Margot to haggle over the price for their next function, of course.
She dreamed about Margot recently. It was a caterer’s fantasy, the creation of a unique French stick of garlic bread. She saw herself deliberately not cutting the bread deep enough, lathering garlic butter into the shallow incisions, twisting the stick into a corkscrew and squeezing it carefully into a basket. Genius.
In the dream, Margot was wearing a cream gown. Unable to resist meddling in the kitchen, Margot protruded a tentacle to sample the garlic bread. When the slice wouldn’t come out easily, she tugged on it, just enough. The coiled bread sprung out like a serpent, leaving Margot swathed in grease and flecks of chive. The caterer had woken up smiling.
Now she stands alert in the kitchen, ready to unwrap desserts on Margot’s prompt. There are mini-Christmas puddings, rum-balls, pavlovas and trifles. She busies herself adjusting decorative sprigs of holly.
In the old days, she used to help the wait staff change the courses over but she soon learned Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties were best avoided. Staying busy in the kitchen meant missing the festive exuberance of lagered-up men who gaze down her shirt as they grope for hors d’oeuvres and more. And shrill women who become increasingly critical of her food, her appearance, her breeding, with every champagne flute.
She wanders across to the kitchen door and squints through the galley window. Margot normally works the room like a general, checking all the troops are sated and of sound morale. Today Margot is away in a dim corner, her hand on the forearm of the senior accountant, a man with thinning hair and a paunch. He’s shaking his head, sullen. Looking anywhere but in Margot’s eyes.
The caterer hopes they’re not discussing her invoice.
She heads back to the benches to fiddle with a fruit platter, killing time before Margot’s cue. As she does, the door swings behind her.
It’s Margot, stripped of her usual bluster and bustle. Margot, sobbing and wiping her knuckles across her eyes, her make-up smeared. Margot on the retreat.
The caterer waits, then utters a tentative, “Are you OK? Can I get you something?”
Margot barks back, “Serve the desserts. Do whatever you bloody like…” And then folds onto the bench top, her head in her arms.
The caterer considers the swathes of cling wrap in front of her, the job still to be done. It can all wait. She steps across to her client, putting her arm around Margot’s shaking shoulders.
“He told me he’d leave her,” Margot sniffles. “That this would be our first Christmas … together. Oh God. Why … did I believe him?”
The caterer knows there’s nothing that will garnish this moment, no chocolate coating. She whispers, “You know what? It’s only nine days until a new year begins.”