"Three Lunch Rooms" by V. Zenari


Refectory, Priory of St. Pancras Lewes


We cross the parquet floor to the two long rows of tables The hems of our robes hush the floor We sit humbled and muted We bow our heads and bare our tonsures to each other A wind outside the refectory sets the timbers above us to creaking In front of each monk lies a plate of white pottery one spoon one knife and one ale cup Our Lord Jesus Christ once ate in a room such as this with His disciples We are hungry but we must accept what our Lord grants us We await our darkrobed brethren to bring platters of trout from the ponds bread baked with flour ground roughly in the mill carrots and turnips boiled in iron pots above pink flames During that blessed meal of destiny in Jerusalem women had been present to wash hot desert feet On the way to the refectory we passed the woman who works in the damp garden near the alehouse Otherwise no women for us Amen Above us in the balcony Brother Stephen reads aloud from the Holy Book Climbing the narrow stairs must have pained his ancient knees Men come from the kitchen with food and serve Halleluia Brother Stephen delivers the word of God to our ears with great skill Most of us know Latin tolerably well and some few of us know French and Brother Francis claims it is his first language In truth many of us lack kinship with the written word We know best the oral texts of the English countryside the glossaries of food drink and work barnyard teasing with our sisters how we miss them and servants in those years before our parents consecrated us to the Lord While our brother above recites the letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians we read the Sussex vegetables that are spooned on our plates the fish baked in sorrel we touch with our tongues The echo of the voice of Brother Stephen enfolds us nonetheless In the tavern of our Lord we eat in good company He feeds us as He feeds the little birds clothes us as He clothes the little birds Soon we will amble in procession through the church and chant hymns and we will disperse throughout the grounds for our work We wonder if Brother Anthony will have more ink for us God grant Brother Anthony grace After Vespers one or two of us will speak a little to Brother Joseph about the needles May God have allowed Brother Joseph to remember to purchase sewing needles from the peddler who visits Wednesdays Brother Joseph has forgotten the needles for two weeks May the Holy Spirit reward us with patience for the enfeebled memory of Brother Joseph It may be that Brother Joseph has a small number of days left to him Death has taken so many Our absent brothers glory in the kingdom of Christ God willing yet oftentimes I imagine them in this room sharing bread with us I think of Brother Raphael teasing the kitchen cat with a string and feeding her fishheads from his plate Her rough pink tongue licked the grease from his fingertips his nails bitten to the halfmoon of his cuticles The shards of his remaining nails rasped my arm when he touched me I sweated in my cot at the touch In his memory I will slip the fishhead on my plate to the kitchen cat I will stroke her head in the places Raphael stroked her He walked in love and in purity I strive to emulate him though it is difficult Alone in my cell at night I think often of him Our meal ends now with the words of Our Father who is in Heaven hallowed is His name



Second floor lunch room, Texas School Book Depository


The day before he killed John F. Kennedy, Lee saw that no one sat in the second-floor lunchroom, and he slipped in to glance at the newspaper on one of the tables. No. He’d already read that one.


He brushed his index finger against the drink selection panels of the Coca-Cola vending machine. Each panel clicked at his touch. Below the drink selection panels, the selector dial, with its ridges, felt rough, as the mechanism of power should feel. The amount and direction of the dial's movements depended on Lee’s will.

He could apply a bit of force as though he intended to turn the dial, yet he could hold himself back and make that force evaporate without consequence. Once he was ready to choose, once he really wanted to, all he had to do was apply a little more pressure, then a little more, a little more, turn, do it.


Lee slid his dime into the coin slot of the vending machine and heard the clink of metal as the dime tumbled into the machine's innards and disappeared inside forever. The machine made a sharp thip!, a clunk, and the interior of the machine began its mysteriums, a rolling of gears, gliding of hatches, growling of chains, and all because of a trivial expenditure of his potential energy. From that minuscule effort, the momentum swung in his favour.


A bottle of soda thudded into the hollow aperture at the bottom of the vending machine. Lee reveled in the smoothness of the action. He folded the cold glass bottle into his palm. He pulled out a chair from the square table across from the vending machine. He sat on the chair's vinyl seat and held the bottle of Coke between his palms. He would drink sodas constantly if he could afford it. Four or five a day was his ideal. The amount he consumed in his fantasies depended on how much money he was making. Since he had a good job now, he didn't feel as guilty about indulgence.


Was his habit decadent? Maybe. But today he would allow himself the luxury. He had seen real decadence in New Orleans. Decadence rolled off the balconies and onto the streets, out of the streetcars and of the wallets owned by fat men in white suits, reflected from the police's shiny badges and polished buttons, breathed from the city hall's flower gardens and the stink of restaurant shrimp and the jangling pianos of the Negro jazz clubs. A pamphlet handed out here and there on a street corner to warn the ignorant of America's Cuban folly. One or two bottles of a soft drink were nothing by comparison.