This piece of flash fiction was written for Writer’s Digest’s 2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge Day 2. Two hours were spent on this piece; this is the fourth draft of the story. The prompt: “Write something usual doing something unusual.”
“Is there anything else I can get you, sir?”
“No, thank you,” I said, smiling up at the waitress. The calligraphy on the nametag said her name was Stephenie. I gestured to my table. “I have everything I need.”
She nodded before strolling away with my salad plate balanced on her tray.
I turned my attention to the second half of my meal. Soft violin music playing from hidden speakers mixed with the low din of two dozen other patrons scattered throughout the establishment. The air was warm and it hung heavy with the smell of roasted beef and smoke.
I sipped my sweet red wine and closed my eyes, taking a precious moment to enjoy the ambience of the steakhouse. I only ever came here on special occasions, occasions that were often years apart. Living through seventy decades of life was one such occasion.
I opened my eyes, glanced at my plate, and studied my steak—a thick, juicy New York cooked to the perfect shade of brown with subtle black grill lines. My mouth watered.
Reaching over to the condiments, I grabbed a bright red bottle and upended some of its contents onto a corner of my plate. I cut the first piece off the steak: a small, moist, red cube with a wisp of steam rising from it. I moved the piece of beef towards the—
“Fool, I know you aren’t about to dip a piece of me into no damn ketchup!”
I pulled back sharply, nearly dropping my fork. Frowning, I scanned the surrounding tables, looking for the rude person who sought to interrupt my meal. My table was in an out of the way corner in a part of the steakhouse not yet filled to capacity. The only nearby table with patrons was occupied by two young men—in their early thirties, if I had to guess—and even the blind could tell they only had eyes for each other.
So who could have . . .
“Down here, you piece of overcooked sirloin.”
I glanced under the table. Was it a malfunctioning speaker?
“Not down there. Down here. Right in front of you.”
Pulling back, I glanced at my plate.
“There you go, fool.” The voice, masculine and deep and indignant, came from the large piece of steak at the center of the place.
I leaned down. “This is—”
“Impossible?” the steak asked.
I reared back, my eyes wide and my hand gripping the fork like a vice.
“No. What’s impossible is that you seek to defile such a fine cut and expertly, nay lovingly prepared piece of meat such as myself with ketchup.”
I shook my head before glancing at my wineglass. Only half the wine was gone. Was it not the wine I ordered? What wine could be potent enough to have me hearing—
“You gonna say anything or just stare down at me like some baffled bovine?”
I looked around. The steak’s voice was loud and demanding. But no one was paying my table any mind. Could they not hear it?
“You’re not really talking,” I said, looking back at the steak. I can’t believe I actually replied to this drunken delusion.
“Believe me, I wish I weren’t. I wish you’d have tried to devour me like a cultured man that understands how to eat a well-prepared steak such as I. Instead, you attempted to sully me with that vile sugary concoction they for some unknown reason deem a legitimate sauce.”
“That’s how I like my steak: a little bit of ketchup to—”
“To what? You better not say to compliment the flavors or enhance the meat. I’ll slap you across the face with a T-bone!”
I must have looked like a fish, my mouth opening and closing. My steak, a literal piece of dead meat, was food shaming me. What the hell was in that wine?
I twisted sharply.
Stephenie stood next to me and peered down on me with concerned blue eyes. “Are you okay?” Her eyes drifted between mine and the fork I still held in a white-knuckled death grip.
“Oh, um,” I grumbled. I shifted in my seat, sitting up straighter. “I just . . . uh, I-I keep hearing a voice . . .”
Christ, she must think I’m an insane old codger. “Voice of my brother, uh, scolding me for eating a well-prepared steak such as this with ketchup. Has me all flustered for some reason.”
“Not some reason, fool,” the steak said. Stephenie didn’t react. Maybe I was going insane. “Trying to dip me into ketchup. Have enough class to at least to dip me into horseradish if you must, but not damn ketchup.”
“Ah,” Stephenie said, nodding her head and looking as if everything made sense. It really, really didn’t. She continued, “I see. Sir, I assure you, all of our chefs want you to enjoy your meal any way you wish.”
“The hell you talking, girl?” the steak asked.
“I promised, none of the chefs will feel insulted if you dip your steak in ketchup.”
“What!” the steak said. “Have they no respect? No pride? I’ve been smoked and marinated and seasoned to perfection. There is no need to dip me into anything.”
I glanced between the waitress and the steak. Finally, I asked, “You’re sure?”
Stephenie smiled. “Yes, sir. Please, enjoy your meal.” She patted me gently on the shoulder before walking away.
“Fool, you better not listen to that girl. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. There are rules, nay laws that must be followed when eating a steak such as I. And you will follow them!”
I took a deep breath. I brought the bit of steak still skewered on the fork to the blob of ketchup at the corner of my plate.
“Don’t you dare!”
I dipped the corner of the meat into the red sauce.
“Toss that defiled peace of meat away!”
I brought the meat to my lips.
“Stop it, you damn fool!”
The meat went into my mouth.
It was indeed well prepared; smoked, marinated, and seasoned to perfection as the steak said it was. The ketchup added the last bit of flavor I desired.
The steak was absolutely delicious, damn what anyone else thought of how I ate it.