by Jim Stein
The sandwich perched on the imitation-wood counter top and glared at him with quiet malevolence. Doug understood the food’s silence, but he couldn’t imagine why it should be angry—let alone how it could display emotions. He’d ordered pizza for lunch, but when the bell rang found this surly sandwich waiting on his front stoop.
“Hello?” came a male voice laced with Latino accent.
Doug’s attention jerked back to the phone. “This is Doug on 31st St. I ordered a pepperoni pizza about an hour ago, but you guys delivered what looks like a stacked club. And there’s something wrong with it.”
“Hang on. Doug Golfner right? You’re in the computer, but we haven’t gotten any orders today. Did you maybe call the Freedom City store by accident?”
Sudden doubt washed over him. “I suppose it’s possible. Both numbers are on your flyer. But I still want my pizza and to get this goofy sandwich out of my house.”
“Sorry, nothing I can do from here. Give the other number a call. I’m sure they’ll straighten it out.”
“Okay, but tell me something…” Doug glanced up at the turkey and ham club on his kitchen table. Wisps of lettuce protruded from beneath its wheaty brow, the ends of two rolled ham slices forming the disturbing likeness of eyes that blazed with accusation. Hadn’t the thing been on the counter a second ago?
Doug edged away from the table, cupped a hand around the receiver, and spoke softly. “Yeah…um, do you guys do anything special to your sandwiches? I don’t know…something different?”
“Sir, we’ve got lots of special sandwiches, a different one for each day of the week.” Someone shouted in the background on the other end. “Take a look at the flyer. I’ve gotta get to the other line. Do you need the Freedom number?”
Doug let out the breath he’d been holding. “No thanks, I’ve got it here.”
Unfortunately, the Freedom City pizza shop didn’t have any better idea of how the sandwich had come to be on the front step.
“I’m not going crazy. I ordered from a guy that talked slow and heavy. He took my credit card number and everything.”
The sandwich looked on placidly without comment. Doug felt it should go into the fridge before bacteria began to grow, but he was loath to touch the thing for fear its malevolence would somehow contaminate him.
“Who sent you?”
He couldn’t think of anyone that would pull such a stupid prank. It’d been months since he parted ways with his last employer, Reliable Courier. He hadn’t clicked with anyone in the office enough to be the butt of one of their jokes. And so far, Sunshine Foods’ night shift proved ideal. It was the perfect arrangement with no one to bother him.
“Who sent you, Sandwichman?” Doug surprised himself by shouting the rhetorical question.
A low humming tickled his ears. Though nearly inaudible, it set his nerves on edge. What if the sandwich knew? An absurd thought, but Doug couldn’t think of any other reasonable explanation.
“Listen, it wasn’t anything personal. Things just get out of hand sometimes. Ya know?”
But the club sandwich didn’t know, or if it did it wasn’t tipping its hand. At some point they moved to the living room. Doug sat in a burnt orange chair opposite the ottoman that supported his antagonist. Two green olives had worked their way forward within the ham spirals, emphasizing the thing’s disapproval.
Doug felt compelled to explain. “Society’s to blame, Sandy.”
He bit back a high-pitched giggle. Society was a sham. People being oh so polite, saying “please” and “excuse me.” None of them really meant it. You could tell by the way everyone drove, how they talked about you behind your back. The sandwich could be as angry as it liked; it was definitely wrong on this one.
“At least you’ve got the guts to confront me face to face. Those other hypocrites wouldn’t dare. They just whisper behind your back, make the boss think you’re nuts or something.”
“Me? Crazy?” Doug giggled again. “They don’t say that anymore. I’ve been putting a stop to it.”
The discussion made the sandwich nervous. The olives retreated, and hollow ham rolls darted covert glances at the hand Doug slid down to his side. Such an uncharacteristic change in attitude.
“What?” Doug purred as his left hand stroke a wooden handle protruding from the seat cushion. “Oh this.” He drew the chef’s knife out and studied his reflection in the stainless steel. “Sometimes you’ve gotta take a stand, Sandy. If you don’t, they’ll walk all over you—even get you fired. I’ve almost stopped the lies. One last guest tonight.”
Doug sighed, his eyes following the thin trail of crumbs leading from the center of the ottoman to where wheat crust hung off the back edge, feeling for a surface that wasn’t there. The ham spirals held an entirely different expression. It could have been fear, but Doug liked to think of it as respect.
“I do appreciate your candor.” He looked up from the blade. “But I can’t accept your criticism. It’s nothing personal.”
The flashing knife wiped of the disapproving smirk from the club’s face. Again and again it fell, dicing the hapless entrée into tiny cubes. Doug scooped the chunks onto a paper plate and dumped them down the laundry chute. They tumbled a few feet and landed on a pile of refuse in a corner of the basement.
A jumble of stark white shapes shone in the dim light leaking through the tiny basement windows. The sandwich cubes rolled to rest among a pile of bones, bones that had been scraped clean and sprayed with bleach. If the remnants of the erstwhile lunch plate had possessed a rudimentary forensic knowledge, they might have concluded that the oldest remains had been here only a few weeks.
As it was, the sandwich could do no more than bemoan its predicament, which was at odds with a vague sense of rightness and reunion.
While the sandwich tried to sort out its jumbled feelings, the doorbell rang. Doug tucked the slashed ottoman into a closet and ushered in a blue-haired woman he’d had the misfortune of working with as a package courier. He set the older woman up with a drink and spoke from the kitchen as he prepared their meal.
“Meg, I hope you don’t mind homemade hoagies. Sunshine Foods gives me a great employee discount.”
“Fine with me.” Meg slurred, making him smile. “So, you’re…getting along all right at the new job?”
“Yes indeed! It’s the late shift, so no one to bother you. No games, just honest work. I make sure the machinery doesn’t get gummed up, keep the meat hoppers full, check a few gauges, and watch the deli meat roll out. It’s great.”
Meg let out a sigh of relief and downed another swallow. She’d complained as much as anyone about Doug’s strange habits and lost packages. At least he didn’t hold a grudge. She settled back in the oddly colored cushions and used her swizzle stick to chase an ice cube around her Flintstone’s glass. Her eyelids drooped as she listened to Doug hum in the other room. Hopefully she wouldn’t drift off while he made dinner. That would be inexcusably rude. She sat up and tried to concentrate as her host added words to the familiar melody. Doug’s knife slid through a head of lettuce, keeping rhythm as he sang in a beautiful tenor.
“My bologna has a first name …”