‘The Tip’ may be a short story but it has an opening line worthy of any great novel:
“The hatred the waitress had for me was as deep and succulent as the finest beefsteak.”
And the rest of the language is just as juicy, a beautifully erudite style that complements the caustic tone, with a very visceral edge, shown as the narrator recounts his disappointing meal in a Moscow restaurant, how he “chiselled, chipped and scraped at the pathetic bones as if performing an autopsy.”
This transitions rather effectively into a cold, snow-bound eeriness, the tension drawn out as our narrator pursues the aforementioned waitress across Moscow at night in a row over his tip, eventually ending up in the city’s noted Novodevichy cemetery. The playfully caustic wit remains, including an imagined parliament of the icons of Russian culture buried in the graveyard, bickering even after death.
A climax on a frozen lake turns this tale into a snow-filled, surrealist fever dream: characters and images from throughout the story thrown about to jumble together like a mad swirl of snowflakes, culminating not in the expected violent crescendo, but an ending so quietly ambiguous it leaves a lingering unease. Was any of it real? Or not? Either way, the consequences of not leaving a tip have never been so strange.
The Tip has been produced as a numbered limited edition chapbook by TSS Publishing, London, to mark its choice of Matthew G. Rees as one of its Selected Writers 2017-2018. Their website for further information about this title and others by TSS: www.theshortstory.co.uk
Carolyn Percy has a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Newport University and a master’s degree in Creative Writing from Swansea University. She contributes regular reviews and articles to Wales Arts Review.