She knew what they called her when she wasn’t there: Steak Diane. They were calling her that right now, as Diane imagined they had done countless times before. The barmaid began in a low whisper directly into the bartender’s ear, as if to a lover in a shared bed. “Steak Diaaaaaane.” Suddenly called to duty, the bartender tied a mottled bar rag around his head and began to limp theatrically around the bar. As if she actually looked like that, thought Diane, as she readjusted the knot of her scarf, which rested—tight as a noose—at the base of her chin.
Diane watched the bartender prod a half eaten filet on a plate. Rubbery and cold. Using the tips of his beefy fingers, he brought the remnants of the once abandoned dinner to his mouth, chomping and slobbering with the vim of a cartoon wolf. With a delighted squeal, the barmaid whacked it out of his hands, sending the meat flying onto the floor to join discarded peanut husks and the ghosts of well drinks long ago spilled. They sent delighted yawps echoing through the virtually empty bar. Empty, that is, notwithstanding Diane, who continued to escape their notice.
They looked ridiculous, thought Diane. Like two cavemen plopped into a Manhattan dive bar. But the subject of their charade was as primordial as they come. A woman. An old woman. A Steak Diane. Past her prime. No longer “Grade A.” Decidedly “Grade D.” The subject of mockery since the dawn of time.
Had cavemen mocked cavewomen? wondered Diane. Did they somehow find a way, with the primitive grunts and gestures they called language, to raise their fingers at those prehistoric females, baring their teeth to them like monkeys in heat? When the first women roamed the earth, those titanesses who walked alongside woolly mammoths, did they too decide to retreat to their caves once their breasts began to sag? Were they also ridiculed? Or worse, forgotten altogether?
As she sat on a well worn stool at the far end of the bar, it was hard for Diane not to take it personally, that which was so personal. At once forgotten and at the center of their derision. The barmaid’s laughter seemed particularly cruel. One day Diane would be in the dirt, and who did the barmaid think would be sitting in Diane’s place? What’s-her-name barmaid. Her bartender buddy having long forgotten about her; the time they had laughed so cruelly at the lonely old lady who came by for dinner steaks but a distant memory.
Could Diane really blame them? At one point, Diane had probably been considered a beauty. But she had shed her vanity like she had her once lustrous hair—all at once, without fanfare. Now, when she looked at herself in the mirror, she sometimes surprised herself at how dowdy she had become. The sagginess around her jaw, more aptly described as “jowls.” Not infrequently, Diane compared them to those of her two English bulldogs, Ollie and Abby, as droopy as they were ugly. Abby had one sanguine eye that Diane found particularly hideous to look at and had thought on more than one occasion to fashion a makeshift eye patch for the pitiful pup.
The sound of a hard thwack snapped Diane out of her reverie. She looked up again at the barmaid who was now slapping the bartender over the abs with her hand towel, giggles pealing out of her mouth as if from a fountain. Her skin was so supple and taut. Diane imagined a cross section of her own flesh to be no longer pink and marbled with fat, but dull and brown and dense—like meat that seized up and had been twice fried in old grease. Her stomach rumbled at the thought.
Diane slammed her fists down onto the bar with such force that the top shelf liquors tinkled delicately against each other. She took small pleasure in the shock that registered on the bartender and barmaid’s faces when they, at last, saw Diane materialized on the barstool. Funny, how two people who could be so brazen in their ribaldry look so embarrassed when faced with the subject of their torment.
Diane stared them down, watching them closely, as they ringed up her usual order. The bartender retrieved a sizzling steak from the kitchen and slid it into a white styrofoam box. It left a trail of slick grease on the plate from which it came. Her eyes remained on it even when the bartender clicked the box shut and trussed the meal up in a nondescript plastic bag. Once inside, steam and condensation bloomed against its edges. Diane snatched it from his hands.
She counted out the cash and left it on the counter, refusing to make eye contact with either of them. In her mind, it was the one thing she had left. They would not have the privilege of a farewell from Steak Diane. Off she went with the styrofoam vessel in hand, warm like a beating heart. She braced herself against the winter chill that slapped her face as she exited the bar. She tried to shield her meal from the icy air and perfume of car exhaust that so defined the city in late January.
Diane knew her next few steps well. 16 to get out from the bar. 128 until she was past the grocer who sold icebox flowers and stale sticks of chewing gum. 44 more to get up the four flights of stairs to her studio apartment. One to open the door.
She was greeted by three black eyes and one blood red one as she pushed Ollie and Abby away from the entrance. She could tell by the way they were slobbering that they had caught the scent of the meat. And she could tell by the way they chomped as if horses on a bit that she had forgotten to put out their breakfast that morning. Diane grabbed a newspaper—rolled so many times and used so often that it had retained its cudgel-like shape—and raised it up high. Ollie and Abby both cowered, letting out high pitched whines. They knew well who their master was. Diane shoved them onto the fire escape and slammed the window shut behind her, keeping the cold at bay.
As she unwrapped herself from her enormous fur coat, she seemed to shrink by almost half. Dropping the pelt onto the linoleum floor, she suddenly caught the scent of her prize, the rib eye, wafting up from its sterile prison. Instantly, she felt the icy cold that had wrapped itself around her flaccid cheeks and turkey neck and both of her floppy breasts slowly easing its grip. Winter in the city really was so cruel. Finding her kitchen table by the dim light of a brown formica lamp, she pulled out the chair and settled into her seat.
Her meal finally before her, Diane pried open the container. Seizing the still warm steak with both hands, she sank her teeth into its tender flesh, warm and red and full of fat. Her hunger was quick and ferocious, both carnal and primal. Grunting and gnashing in big heaving gulps, Diane ripped sinew from bone—letting the juice run from her chin to her forearms to the ends of her knobby elbows—leaving none for the dogs, who had begun to howl like wolves under the gaze of a bright and lidless moon.
Stephanie Yu is an attorney and writer. She lives in Los Angeles, California with her partner Nate and her collection of paper mache foodstuffs. Her work has previously appeared in Eclectica Magazine. On Twitter @stfu_stephanie.