the buffet, the blood –
Noosa. Abandoned to hope, lost to influence and old money, overbuilt and overcome. Noosa, poisoned with wealth. Noosa, the shadow home of the Kabis, stripped of its forests.
The Noosa Sheraton boasts of an evening buffet that has no end, tables over-weighed with food, every succulent and every fish, all the meats and cheeses, fruits from every earthly corner – the room dimly lit, chefs and their assistants ready to comply with any demand. Asian, Indian, South American, Australian, American – and throughout the dining rooms is the subdued clink of bottles and the clatter of expensive cutlery.
Ben is here tonight, with his lady friend.
Ben is a roofer from the Northern Rivers, a big man with an uproarious laugh. Born and raised in Goonengerry. Worked all over this wide old land. He has a snake-bite scar on his left cheek that festers up every anniversary of the attack. Not tonight though, tonight is the night that Ben gets lucky.
Well, that is the plan.
Some men view a buffet with modesty and subdued appetite, they sample this and that, and they deny their base appetites and leave a little hungry. Others succumb to confusion when they see the vista of choice, the unending food stream. Fat men bump their way through the lines, fat children load and run and come back. They run amok. Women poke at the best cuts and watch what others take.
Ben is none of these. Ben is an Eater. He takes bulk delivery.
First up –
Ben selects two good slices of smoked salmon, a handful of capers, three oysters and four large eggs – he takes this to the omelette chef and asks that it be done.
Second up –
Ben chooses a large plate and loads a half lobster, two bugs, a dozen oysters, six prawns. Two small freshwater yabbies. A selection of sashimi. Two sushi rolls. Futomaki.
Third up –
Ben takes a whole crab and pierces his finger on a shell edge as he strips it away from the flesh. This is unfortunate as Ben suffers from mild haemophilia, nevertheless he takes a linen napkin to the wound and winds it about the leaking digit, continues eating. There is much to do.
Fourth up –
The T-bone and its surrounds, beans, peas, carrots, roast potatoes, spinach, pumpkin – Ben is a healthy eater – sprouts, sweet potatoes. Mustard, horse radish, tomato sauce. This particular load requires that our man make use of two large plates and as he approaches his table he sees the waitress clearing his previous course (number 3) fall over onto the floor.
No cries, no screams, just a total and quiet eclipse of awareness, a collapse, silent save for the smashing of an armload of crockery.
The room is instantly hushed, even the fat children cease their noisy slobbering. Ben, always calm (he’s a roofer) wanders over and sees that the poor girl has fainted dead away. He turns to put his new course (number 4) onto the table and notices in passing that the white tablecloth that was previously hidden by the previous course (number 3) is a rich red in places. A rich blood coloured red. Still wet in fact, and thick.
Mystery solved. The little lady has just had a vasovagal episode. Blood, eeerk, swoon, crash.
Help arrives. Ben re-binds his finger in yet another linen serviette and resumes his meal. They carry her away. They replace the bloodied table linen.
Fifth up –
Ben is considering the choices; gateau, strawberry sponge, bombe alsaka, pavlova, cheesecake, mud cake, chocolate pudding, fruit salad, fruit compote, apple pie – when the manager touches him on the shoulder and suggests that he consider taking his (still leaking) finger to the local infirmary. He points to the myriad blood spots that freckle the entire length of the three table buffet. He almost insists. Almost.
The buffet runs to two sittings. 5.30 to 7.30 (pm) and 7.30 to 9.30 (pm). It is now 7.05 (pm).
Ben considers the strength of an appeal. The manager considers the size of Bens’ hands and the gouges on his face. The manager is a suave little man with nothing in common with the big roofer from Goonengerry and his bloodied hand. He too is not relaxed about spilt blood. Ben considers recompense for being denied the final half-hour of the first sitting.
The negotiation is swift.
Ben retires to his ute and applies a yard of gaffer tape to his finger before being ‘invited’ to re-position himself at the dessert table. He has then 25 minutes to choose his sweets (number 5) and hopefully return for coffee and cake, brandy and cheeses (number 6).
– and that, so help me, is how it was told.