Laura S Hammond

Laura S Hammond is a writer currently living in London. This is the first chapter of her novel, The Restaurant De La Mar, it is her second novel written alongside a series of stand alone short stories. 


laurasshammond (


Chapter One

In a city half crumbling to the ground, where the humid air of the summer is just beginning its descent upon the warren of streets and the crowded populace, the restaurant De La Mar stands. Close enough to hear the sea but not see it, she sits on a broken street between what once was a building, but is now a broken shell of timbers and rubble held together by winding vines and four stories of cracked cement and boarded windows, home to a dozen families. The street is two rows of faded colonial masterpieces, each at least four stories high they crowd over the dusty road, their brightly coloured fronts turned grey and black with dirt and smog. Flecked pillars hold up rusted balconies, only used now for hanging out washing. De La Mar’s entrance is gone. Her front is a gaping hole that shows off her beautiful foyer, marbled floor and grand sweeping staircase. The chandelier still hangs at the centre even if it no longer shines, and the slogan on the wall, ‘viva la…’ has faded.

Barru guards De La Mar’s open gates, right now he has slunk backwards into the restaurants cool interior, but he will remerge when the sun goes down to stand all night under the chandelier and greet guests with his guttural, ‘bienvenido.’ He keeps out the rabble, staring down the lurking shadows from his unnatural height, blocking the light with his girth, his rich brown skin dramatically beautiful against his crisp white suit. High above Barru’s station on a tiny balcony held up by wires and rope, that has even lost its intricate iron fence the restaurant’s unofficial guardian sits at her perch. Here Marie Eduarda watches from the restaurant’s shadow, only the burning glow of her final cigarette shows, lighting the blackened space between her fingers, her wizened eyes trail after its heavy smoke with pensive sadness, she isn’t yet sure where she will find her next packet. She works in the restaurant, though nobody is sure of her exact role and anyone idiotic enough to ask is rewarded with a sharp tap from her cane.

Today the street is quiet, Marie Eduarda is curled onto an uncomfortable stool, she considers going inside and stealing a swig of rum from behind the bar to ease the aches of her aged body. But a gnawing at her gut tells her she should stay, for a little longer at least. Marie Eduarda has learnt to listen to her gut. The life below is nothing out of the ordinary. Dogs are lying, panting in the shade, small groups of men hover like flies, other women draw washing from lines strung across the street, some children are entertaining themselves, screeching and howling while they play with a broken horse cart, an older girl watches them with thinly disguised jealousy as she half-heartedly sweeps her front steps, jumping when her mother throws a bucket of water down the flight behind her. A young couple garbed head to toe in stylish white, their dark hair gleaming and glossy stride through, their Latino music from a speaker breaking the quiet of the street. They are the only things with purpose Marie Eduarda sees, but such is the way of The City. She gratefully inhales the last of the cigarettes toxins from the air, sucking in the smell of the cities sticky sweat and lingering foulness at the same time.

Alongside the sounds of a slow life the constant buzz of heavy, muscled engines drones from the end of the street. Between flashes of the brightly coloured cars a young man wanders around the corner. Marie Eduarda looks up as he enters her domain, leaning forward to get a better look her body creaks and groans from the movement. She squints from the sudden entrance to sunlight that highlights her wrinkled brown face and the dark crescents beneath her eyes, but she sees him. He’s a young man, a little on the short side, dark hair slicked back on his head, a black shirt and jeans creased from travelling. He stares at his surroundings, looking at the walls like he’s searching for a road sign- new to the City then, if there ever were signs they’ve long since vanished. Marie Eduarda frowns as she observes, his shoes are wrong, a pair of faded white trainers, clownishly big on his feet. He has only a small plastic bag and a large black hat in his hands. Wide brimmed and well used, the kind country men wear for farm work. Marie Eduarda smiles, showing off her remaining thirteen teeth. It’s been a while since The Restaurant De La Mar had a country boy, time for some fresh blood.

Bartolmé shuffles across the road, avoiding the endless pot holes, sleeping dogs and piles of shit. He is sticky and fresh sweat keeps rolling down his spine adding another layer of grime, the City has an oppressive heat unlike the open country air he is used to. Even the sea provides no relieving breeze here. He has been walking for hours down streets that to him all look the same and before that more hours of many buses. His shoes are the wrong size and have pinched his skin raw. He swapped them for his leather boots that had the comfort of many years of wear, but for which he traded the trainers and a wedge money enough to bring him to the City. His plans to find work are feeling very small and hopeless, so his dazed sleep walk into this street is nothing more than coincidence. Everything he’s seen here so far is chaos and noise, and the glazed eyes of those the City has already chewed up and spat out follow him everywhere, it is too different from the soft slowness of his valley, he is choking and he wants to go home.

Bartolomé fingers the brim of his hat, something about the soft leather, the smell of horses and mud, its familiarity holds him to the ground. He could have traded that in too but it wasn’t really worth much he told himself. While picking his way through the street, wondering where he might find something to eat and dying for a beer he stumbles over the uneven ground, Bartolomé finds his feet again but a sudden gust of sea air sweeps over the tops of the buildings and throws his hat out of his fumbling fingers onto the ground where it rolls tumbleweed across the street and into the grand entrance of The Restaurant De La Mar.

Maceo’s head hurts. He can’t remember how much rum he drank last night but judging from the hazy pain behind his eyes it was more than even he was used to. He curses Mariana’s persistence, making him let her have the after party at the restaurant. Now he’s stuck blindly pulling his protesting body up the spiral staircase that has obscenely large stairs, his hair is a mess, he stinks of last night’s cigarettes and alcohol, and he has to set the tables for the restaurant that opens in an hour. At the top of the stairs a whining yelp nearly send him flying to the bottom of them again, he trod on a dog’s tail,

‘¡Ay!’ he yells at it, giving it a kick to send it on its useless way. Stumbling to the bar he leans over the counter and pulls out a bottle of open rum taking a swig, letting the slow burn clear away some of his hangover. No one else is up yet so he chances the customer bathroom to wash his face and his armpits. The fashionably rust speckled mirror confirms his suspicions about the night before, still, he’s looked worse.

The restaurant’s labyrinth of rooms and corridors feel deserted at this time of day, it’s when Maceo likes it best. Before the tourists light up the high ceilings with their camera flashes and the street below is jammed with giant, convertible taxis scrapping to take the young girls for a ride. There’s no real list of the inhabitants of De La Mar, it might be up to fifty right now, enough that he shouldn’t be working on his own now anyway, so, where are they? He walks towards to front entrance, maybe Barru is up and about and Maceo can moan to him about everyone else’s incompetence. The hag will be about somewhere but she still gives him the creeps. He should go to his room at the back of the restaurant and change into his sleek black uniform, but he wants some air and he needs a cigarette, and the sun on his face just for a few minutes couldn’t hurt, his golden complexion is becoming decidedly grim and grey lately- too much time lurking in the back rooms.

He quickens his pace along the high walk, past the photos hanging on the walls of the rich and famous eating, drinking and smoking cigars on the De La Mar’s famous balconies. The staircase sits as it always does, half in and half out shadow. He lightly jogs down it, comfortably, with the ease of habit. Then pauses at the bottom where a hat just rolled to a stop at the foot of the stairs. Maceo bends down and picks it up, it is tatty and it smells like shit and sweat, his delicate features wrinkle with disgust. Then the hat is followed by a man. He comes in with the sunshine off the street and for a moment, to Maceo he looks like an angel. He is beautiful, his skin glows, his natural brown colouring deepened by a life working in the sun, his eyes wide in surprise are a rare blue, totally at odds with his black hair, shaved at the sides and slicked back.

Maceo is suddenly even more aware of his appearance than usual, and he takes an instant dislike to this man for making him feel so…average.

‘Um, that’s mine,’ the man says gesturing to the hat. Maceo looks down, he had forgotten he was holding the hat. He stops gripping its edge immediately, noting with irritation how soft the leather is. Then holds it out between two fingers like a dirty tissue,

‘We’ve no jobs free,’ Maceo says, raising a perfectly shaped eyebrow at the man’s limp plastic bag.

‘Oh, I wasn’t,’ begins the stranger,

‘Sure, you didn’t know this was The Restaurant De La Mar.’ Maceo’s overdoing the sarcasm, but his mood has turned from grumpy to foul.

‘The what?’ and from the blank look that accompanies the question Maceo actually believes him this time.

‘The Restaurant De La Mar,’ he rolls his eyes, ‘which coincidently opens soon and we don’t allow stragglers.’

‘Oh, okay…’ says the man but he doesn’t move, just stands there holding his ridiculous cowboy hat between slightly shaking hands. Maceo flicks his fingers at him,

‘Off you go,’ and the beautiful man turns to leave, he wasn’t much more than a boy really, probably better for him this way Maceo convinces himself.

‘Maceo!’ his name echoes like a booming croak, down the staircase behind him and out into the street, they both turn in surprised towards the speaker.

At the top of the stairs is the oldest woman Bartolomé has ever seen, she is leaning on a thick mottled stick of wood, her back curled over so she looks almost comically like an old crone from a fairy tale. Her long black hair is tied back with bits of coloured cloth so her face; wide, brown and wrinkled can be seen clearly. Right now, from where she stands she looks very pissed off. The furrows of her brow are deep crevices, her tiny black eyes squinting at the pair of them. Bartolomé begins to back away slowly, his reception so far was far from friendly and this woman doesn’t look like she will be any better than the haughty young man who was already kicking him out for picking up his hat.

‘¿Qué pasa mi amor?’ the man, Maceo was it? drawls in his slick city accent, the old woman says nothing only begins a slow, crawling descent down the stairs using her cane like a many legged insect, all the while glaring at them both. Bartolomé should up and run but he’s mesmerized by this woman, who is nothing like the old women in the valley, they had none of this rash anger and energy.

Reaching the bottom of the stairs the woman pauses, painfully slowly turning her neck to look at Maceo who has now drawn out a cigarette and is purposefully ignoring her, then so fast Bartolomé almost misses it, she whacks him over the back of the head with her cane, the resounding ‘Crack,’ rebounds around the room so Bartolomé flinches.

‘¡Ay! Marie Eduarda, what the hell?’ cries Maceo, both hands leaping to his head, his eyes streaming with pain. Marie Eduarda smiles, an unnerving sight.

‘That will teach you to respect your elders, mi amor.’ She raps her cane on the marble slab, ‘cigarette!’ more a command than a request. Maceo retreats to sit on the steps nursing his head so Marie Eduarda turns to Bartolomé.

‘Cigarette?’ she asks him,

‘Uh,’ he stammers then remembers himself and nods frantically, rustling in his little plastic bag for the packet. When he pulls it out she snatches it with frightening speed out of his hands, and puts the whole pack up to her nose inhaling deeply.

‘Hmm,’ she murmurs, ‘smells of the valleys’ she says, so quietly so only Bartolomé can hear, but he’s too surprised and confused by this entire encounter to really respond.

‘Maceo, lighter,’ she calls over her shoulder and Maceo throws one at her.

This time Bartolomé catches it automatically, his hand plucking it out of the air and passing it to her. Marie Eduarda smiles again, wider this time so he can see all the gaps between her few teeth and the wet pink of her gums, he wishes she would stop smiling at him.

‘Good reflexes,’ she says, ‘pot boy?’,

‘No, Marie Eduarda,’ says Maceo firmly standing up, but Marie Eduarda hisses at him through her teeth,

‘No!’ Maceo repeats, his cigarette is in danger of going out as he flaps it at her, ‘we don’t need anybody.’ But Marie Eduarda catches his eyes with her own, and she has far more experience at staring people down. Eventually Maceo sighs and shrugs, ‘fine- on your head not mine.’ He says and flicks his now dead cigarette towards the street where it joins a small pile of butt ends in the corner. Marie Eduarda spits on the floor beside Bartolomé in a sort of triumphant fanfare then turns and shuffles away into the darkness behind the staircase. Bartolomé stands fiddling with his hat, he might have just got a job, but he isn’t sure.

‘What’s your name?’ Maceo asks, it’s actually rare for Marie Eduarda to pull rank like that so she must know something about this boy that Maceo doesn’t.

‘Bartol…’ he begins but Maceo stops him with his hand,

‘Think about it, this is a new start place, most change their names when they move here.’ The he cocks his head at Bartolomé expectantly. After a pause,

‘Bart,’ smiles The Restaurant De La Mar’s new pot boy.

‘Really? You’re sticking with that?’ says Maceo who changed his name the second he could be rid of the one his idiot mother stuck him with. Bart shrugs,

‘It’s my name, does it matter?’ he says. Maceo studies his face again, it’s wide with innocence, the blue eyes making him look even more childish like a dark skinned cherub, there’s a hole in his ear lobe, Maceo realises, where an earring used to sit.

‘Fine- Bart. Welcome to the De La Mar.’ Then he turns and walks up the stairs, annoyed once more that he didn’t get to have his cigarette or his moment in the sunshine and that he will now have this boy tagging along after him like a countryside puppy pulled from its mother teat.

In the dark, cobweb ridden depths beneath the staircase, Marie Eduarda sits on an upturned crate and chuckles to herself over her brand-new pack of cigarettes, the brand is one she hasn’t had in many years, not since she was young and blooming herself. As she takes a long drag she remembers searing summers that felt like they would last forever in the valleys, naked swimming in lakes and forbidden loves. Yes, she thinks, Bartolomé is exactly what The Restaurant De La Mar needs.