"And the bill is?" they said.
"I don't know. I can't count that high," I replied.
"How do we pay, then?"
At the next table some people interjected: "What's wrong with the doll? Did she not listen at school?"
"I went to school!" I shouted.
"The question was," they continued, "did you pay attention?"
"Why would I pay attention?" I said. "The teachers were fools."
"How do you know?" called a group from the far side of the room. "Perhaps you were the fool, and you were looking in a mirror."
"There were no mirrors in our school," I retorted, "the only reflective surfaces were the taps. And I always knew when it was me being reflected – I could see my broken mind through the gaps in my face."
"It is through that same missing eye, and the crack extending across the back of your plastic cranium, that we can see your lack of education," exclaimed a table near the centre of the room.
"I can see into the kitchen through the same gaps," said table seven. Then added, "You look vacuous in there. And it's not pretty!"
I wavered on my feet, finding the breath to say, "Not pretty! I'm by far the best-looking person here! Okay, my hair needs combing, and my dress hasn't been cleaned in a decade, but other than that I'm the cutest thing in the room."
"Your lack of education has blurred your mind," said table fourteen.
Table nine, on the mezzanine, added, "You're right, it looks very murky from up here."
I'd had enough. I stamped my foot and yelled at the whole room: "I've been a waiter here for five years, and never have I been so insulted!"
The room fell silent. Then someone from the table by the window hesitantly suggested, "Maybe because you don't listen to us? You don't seem willing to engage."
"Because I never believed any of you are real. I took you all for stuffed toys."
"We are all real," came the weak voice of a giraffe from the table next to me, "we've been waiting five years to be served. We're all very hungry."
"Hungry for what?" I said, "This is a non-existent restaurant. I serve only words."
"Then give us your words!" a plastic hippo exclaimed, and a cacophony of affirming noises followed.
"I'm sorry," I said, "I didn't realise you felt this way. If you'd told me sooner perhaps I'd have spoken more."
"How could we tell you, when you wouldn't engage?"
"I've always dreaded to think you were real. There are implications, you see. I work in several restaurants, and do shift work at several bars, and in all these places I assumed the people weren't genuine. It's the only reason I take the work – it seemed so easy."
Every stuffed and plastic moulded head in the room began staring down at their empty plates, pretending to play with non existent food.
"What is it?" I demanded, "I've offended you?"
The giraffe, least able of all the toys to hide his eyes, said, "How could you? You've no substance or gravitas with which to affront us. You're superficial and we don't wish to engage with you. We can see what you're thinking. And it's not pretty."
"Not pretty!" I angrily commenced, but no one seemed interested.
Soren James' fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Black Scat Review #13, Urban Fantasist (Grievous Angel), Freeze Frame Fiction, Page & Spine, and Nanoism. His story, "This Is A Series of Words To Which You Are Condemned," appeared in Issue #60 of The Cafe Irreal.