This was a writing exercise I did today. I read about a guy whose job it was to put these time-stamped stickers on sandwiches. He spent all day agonizing over the brutal and slow passage of time. His notion of time was stickers & sandwiches. Anyway, that’s how this piece came about. In fact, that’s how most of my fiction takes shape–just an image or scene or detail, expanded. Who knows if this particular piece will develop further.
His job was to put the sticker on the sandwich once the sandwich was finished and then hand the sandwich to the customer and ask the customer if they needed anything else.
“Do you need anything else?” he said.
“Does it have mayonnaise?”
“Did you ask for mayonnaise?”
“I said no mayonnaise. I made sure to say it. I always say it.”
“Then I’m sure there’s none.”
“You guys never listen. I always say no mayonnaise and then I go home and open up the sandwich and there’s mayonnaise dripping off the bread.”
“Then why do you keep coming back?”
“Why do you keep coming back,” he said. “If we keep messing it up?”
“Why do you keep messing it up?”
“I don’t know. I don’t make the sandwiches.”
“Are you new or something?”
He was not new at all. He had been there, in that exact position, putting stickers on sandwiches, peeling the stickers off of paper and sticking them onto a different kind of paper, staring at the orange stickers which had the date and time written on them, learning to feel the passage of time by staring at its progression from sticker to sticker, minute by minute, sandwich by sandwich. For him, Time was a sandwich. Hopelessness was an orange circular sticker. He dropped one of the stickers and bent to pick it up.
“I’m not new,” he said, while bent down.
Beneath his feet were two indentations made in the tile by his heels, which had stood in that exact spot long enough and often enough so to alter the ground. He picked up the sticker and rose to face the customer again.
“I was born in 1899 and I’ve been working here since this place was post office.” But the customer had left. He said the words to no one.
“Why you so weird, Waylon?” Ben Ben said. Ben Ben was plump. His full name was Ben Ben and he never bothered to change it, never occurred to him. He made the sandwiches that Waylon tagged with stickers.
“Why you keep putting mayonnaise on her sandwich?”
“You know who that is?”
“Her front right tooth is rotten,” Waylon said. “I don’t get how people let that happen. At what point do you decide to do something about it?”
“That’s Lila Brusco’s mom,” Ben Ben said.
“Good for her.”
“Do you know who Lila Brusco is?”
“Lila Brusco’s the girl I’ve been seeing. The one I’m telling you about.”
“No shit,” Waylon said. “The girl who goes with other girls?”
Ben Ben had told the same story multiple times and in several variations. The gist of it was that Lila Brusco allowed Ben Ben to watch her and another woman do things to each other in Saddle Peak creek, in the actual creek itself.
“She’s told me stories of personal hell between her and that woman with a rotten tooth, and I can tell you that her tooth ain’t all that’s rotten in her.” Ben Ben leaned his head over so that his chin nearly rested on Waylon’s shoulder. As he spoke he still made sandwiches without once looking down. He whispered, “Lila told me that when her mom gets mad she gets a real violent streak going. When Lila was smaller she used to grab her by the hair and drag her around the house, and no matter how hard Lila kicked or how much she cried her mom would just drag her around, banging her into furniture, burning her skin against the carpet. She used to pull Lila by the hair until Lila’s hair came out. Well, now Lila’s bigger and so her mom can’t do that no more. So now she sort of sizes Lila up and then hits her with batteries and extension cords and I don’t know what else. She hits her in private places. But I’ve seen those places and I’ve seen those bruises. I told Lila I’d kill her mom if she asked me to. And she said it’s alright because she likes the color of the bruises, she thinks they’re pretty. She calls it sunset pain.”
Written at 12:32 at night, in my office, in Agoura Hills CA, while reaching that point of tiredness when the world becomes dreamy and peaceful.