The Dishwasher – Craig Calhoun

THE DISHWASHER

The dishwasher comes home at half past one in the morning and pries off a pair of grease-stained tennis shoes with his toes before stepping through the living room-part of his studio apartment. Once in the bedroom-part of the apartment, the dishwasher places the box of diapers that he carries in the crook of his left arm on top of the pile of half a dozen similar boxes that are being stored, for the moment, inside of the second-hand crib that stands next to his bed.

Now in the kitchen-part of the apartment, the dishwasher opens the door of his empty refrigerator and places inside of it the Styrofoam to-go container that he carries in his right hand. Embossed on the lid of the container is the logo of the restaurant that employs him. The dishwasher’s stomach growls as he takes a cup of instant ramen noodles from the cupboard and then places a pot of water on a hotplate to boil.

Back in the bedroom-third, the dishwasher undresses, pulling off a damp pair of jeans, a damp t-shirt, a damp pair of underwear. His stomach continues to growl as he changes into something clean.

The water comes to a boil. The dishwasher removes the cellophane from the Styrofoam cup, peels off the top, and fishes out the flavour packet. Instead of opening the packet, he throws it away. He fills the Styrofoam cup with water and sits down to his dinner at a folding table in the corner, beneath a painted-shut window that looks out on the walls of the neighbouring tenements.

Six months before, on the night that was the one night per paycheque that the dishwasher and his wife treated themselves to a meal out at a restaurant, she had chosen the ramen shop down the street. They were seated in one of the cramped booths of the crowded dining room, two bowls of tonkotsu steaming beneath them, when she’d told him that she was pregnant. That he was going to be a father.
At the folding table, the dishwasher closes his eyes, remembering the aroma of the pork broth, breathing in deeply.
In the booth, the dishwasher’s wife had asked him if he was afraid. He’d taken her hand and told her that he’d never been happier in his life. They’d make it, he reassured her. Somehow.

At the folding table, the dishwasher slurps noodles, licking the memory of salt and fat from his lips. He finishes his meal and throws the cup away.
Half an hour later, the front door opens and the dishwasher’s wife comes home, the circumference of her pregnancy barely contained by the green and white uniform of the nursing home that employs her. He kisses her.

“You must be hungry?” he says.
“Starving,” she says, too tired to smile.

He brings her the to-go container. Inside is a small steak and a side salad, the one meal the restaurant gives its employees per shift, as a perk. She eats it cold, anxious to get to bed.

“Did you eat?” she asks.
“At the restaurant,” he answers.

He watches her chew, wanting to ask her for a carrot, but saying nothing.

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