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BREAKFAST

Breakfast was served in silence. There were whispers from the ruins of the kitchen, wild giggling, then silence. Eunice would gravely deliver a slice of toast – then disappear. Then another trip, with butter this time – then a third, with a tin of jam. Eventually a fried egg in a bowl appeared and finally a spoon. Any attempt at conversation was met with silence, warm smiles with downcast eyes – Eunice was impervious to charm. The two Frenchmen were there as well, waving their good mornings from the other table. Dog mumbled something in French but it was way too early to be foreign so he shrugged and turned away to eat his breakfast. There was no sign of the other guests but, as he was digging his spoon into the egg, he heard an unfamiliar voice.

‘You get up, you lazy bastard, this is my holiday and you’re fuckin’ well going to have it with me! Now get up!’

Her voice became quieter and Dog could only hear scattered sentences.

‘Slept through it all!’ he heard, and ‘You left me all alone through that! You bastard. I don’t know why I married you!’

A short, dumpy woman hurtled out of the door of the bungalow. She slammed it behind her, then, as she became aware that her behavior was being observed, changed her demeanor entirely and strode over to the breakfast table.

‘Mind if I sit down?’ she said sweetly and, without waiting for a reply, pulled out a chair from the table and breathlessly sat directly opposite.

‘I’m Irma,’ she said, reaching out for a piece of Dogster’s toast, ‘I’m married to that lunkhead Ralph, God help me. You going on the tour?

It was the first Dogster had heard of a tour but he knew immediately that he wouldn’t be on it. The thought of all day with Irma was too scary.

‘No,’ he said brightly.

‘I told him, you’re coming on the tour; I don’t care if there was a bloody earthquake. If we’ve paid for it then we want it. You the Australian?

Dog started to reply but she was nattering again. He stopped listening and concentrated instead on the crumbs of toast she was spraying on the table as she talked. Her fingers were weighed down with rings; vulgar, cheap things piled one on top of another. She was heavily made up and Dog knew she was wearing a wig. Too horrible at breakfast.

‘The lunkhead said there’s some Aussie dude here, been up on the volcano last night. You that guy?’

A stray crumb escaped her lizard tongue, hung there, undecided, at the corner of her lips. Eventually it, too, had to get away from Irma and hurled itself mutely to the floor.

‘Is there any more of this?’ she asked, her mouth still full, ‘who’s in charge here?’

Eunice appeared on cue, silently carrying a tray with eggs in bowls to the startled Frenchmen. Chris saw them look at each other and blankly pick up their spoons.

‘Gimme some more toast, darling, will ya?’

Eunice looked over to the table. She blinked but showed no sign of comprehension. Irma leant over to Chris.

‘Does she understand what I’m saying?’

‘I’m not sure,’ said Chris and waved the empty toast plate at the retreating girl.

‘They’re waving the crockery at me, Mary,’ said Eunice when she was safely in the kitchen, ‘the guriaman waved his plate at me…’

The Irish manager was away and the local staff had been left alone for last night’s guria, doggedly carrying out their allotted tasks regardless of changing circumstance, cooking the dinner while the kitchen fell down. They were not equipped to re-evaluate things in the light of changing situations so, since the earthquake, had lived in a kind of perpetual confusion. Everything was different, but the habit patterns remained the same.

‘Make him another egg,’ Mary said.

There was a crash and the restaurant door was pushed ajar. The earthquake had jammed all the doors in their doorframes so exits or entrances were hazardous, noisy affairs. After more shoving the door opened all the way and in trotted Stuart and Shirley, surprisingly brisk for two people who had been as drunk as they were last night.

‘Mornin’ all,’ said Stuart in a relentlessly cheerful voice, ‘how’s it hangin’?’

He was heading for Dog’s table. The mutt contented himself with the fact that breakfast was nearly over and he could get out fast. If only the coffee would come.

‘G’mornin’,’ said Shirley chirpily and followed her husband over to the table.

‘How are you this morning?’ she said to Irma. ‘Feeling better, are we?’

Stuart dragged his chair noisily forward and bumped the table. A ketchup bottle balanced precariously but didn’t fall.

‘Pretty shook up last night, eh?’ and he began laughing. ‘Shook up. Geddit? Shook up?’

‘Shut up, Stuart.’ said his wife. ‘It was very scary.’

‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘did the earth move for you, too, darling?’ and snickered. She snorted and turned away from him.

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’

Much had changed since last night.

‘And how are you?’ Shirley said to Dogster, ‘I don’t think we’ve met.’

Mr. Dogster hesitated. Will I tell her? Some vestigial remnant of manners came to the fore and instead he smiled politely.

‘How do you do. Dogster. Mr. Dogster.’

‘Are y’all coming on the tour, today?’

Irma’s bright little eyes darted across the table.

He’s not.’ she said, indicating Dog.

‘Sure am,’ Stuart and Shirley answered in unison, ‘gotta do it, while we’re here.’

‘We’ll never be here again, you know,’ added his wife.

‘Sure thing,’ said Irma and looked around for the toast. ‘I suppose those French guys are coming too,’ she muttered absently. Her eyes scoured the kitchen for signs of life.

‘Hello? Hellooo?’

Eunice had recovered her emotions by the time she heard Irma’s voice. She froze.

‘Go out there, Eunice. Eunice, go out there!’ Mary broke away from the stove and pushed her sister towards the restaurant. ‘Here, give them this,’ she said and thrust a plate at her. So Eunice gravely delivered one empty plate to Irma. Silence descended on the table. Irma looked at the plate, the plate looked at Irma. She opened her mouth to speak but thought better of it.

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