“What you’re doing to that poor sandwich.”
I’d opened a little can of sliced mushrooms and was arranging them on the bottom half of a long torpedo roll.
“That’s how it’s made,” I explained.
“That’s not how anything is made. That’s how something is ruined. Mushrooms don’t go with mayonnaise.”
“That’s not mayonnaise.”
“God, you’re right. What is that?”
“It’s what makes it good.”
“Please tell me you’re not putting cream cheese on a sandwich.”
“Ham and pastrami and Swiss with cream cheese and mushrooms.” I layered the cold cuts on top of the mushrooms and put on the cheese and the top of the roll.
“You’re going to eat that.”
“I’m going to toast it first. Do we have any chips?”
“I thought the pimento cheese thing was weird. But at least that had mayonnaise, you know, something that a normal person would put on a sandwich.”
I opened the door of the toaster oven. The sandwich would just fit. I set the dial for what I thought was two minutes. “I know it’s unusual, but this is a real thing. The sandwich place where I grew up had this—they called it the blackjack.”
“You would voluntarily order a sandwich that had cream cheese on it? Where did you grow up, anyway?”
“First of all, you know where I grew up; we were just there over Christmas. Second, if you went to the bagel place, they would make you a salmon sandwich with cream cheese if you asked for it. It’s not that uncommon.”
“You can put cream cheese on a bagel. That’s not the same thing.”
“They’re all carbohydrates. You never answered me about the chips.”
“Look on top of the paper towels in the pantry. There should be half a thing of those barbecue popped chips.”
I rooted around and found the chips, and grabbed a bottle of Shiner Bock from the case on the floor of the pantry. I put the warm beer in the fridge and got out a cold bottle, and transferred the chips and the beer to the table. When the alarm on the toaster oven dinged, I got the sandwich out and put it on a paper plate.
“Can you hand me a knife?” I asked.
“Sure.” She got a steak knife out of the drawer and handed it to me, hilt end first, the way you’re supposed to, and then went back to the microwave to get her soup.
I halved the sandwich, taking care not to cut the paper plate underneath. The cheese had just started to melt. A rogue mushroom slice had escaped off the back end, so I ate it while I waited for the sandwich to cool.
She walked over to the table, holding her soup bowl by the edges. “You are going to eat that, right? I understand if you don’t want it, but I’d hate to see you waste food.”
I took a bite because I didn’t want to answer her. The sandwich was still a little hot and I would have burned the top of my mouth if I hadn’t taken a quick swig of beer.
“At least it’s hot,” she said.
“Will you quit giving me grief about the sandwich?”
She looked contrite, but just a little.
“How is it, then?”
“It’s not wonderful?”
“It’s a sandwich.”
“It’s the sandwich that you made, that you wanted, that you picked out over every other sandwich in the world. If you’re going to make a sandwich and put that much effort into it, it needs to be the best sandwich there is.”
“Which that one is not, because it has cream cheese and canned mushrooms on it.”
“You want to know what the deal is?”
“I’m okay changing the subject at this point.”
“Here’s the thing. I haven’t had one of these in ten years, since I left Arlington. Living up here, if I want it, I have to make it. And it’s never as good. Whatever it is, whether it’s barbecue or Mexican food or you name it.”
“You moved up here, as I recall. Nobody made you.”
“It’s not that. I’m not complaining about moving. We live here now and that’s fine. Pizza’s better here, for one thing.”
“And the Chinese food.”
“Whatever. Here’s the thing. I don’t know that this is an actual blackjack sandwich.”
“I don’t get it.”
“I think I know how to make this. But it doesn’t taste right. It doesn’t taste the way it should, and I don’t know why. I know the cream cheese, and the mushrooms, and the ham, but I don’t remember if it was corned beef or pastrami. I don’t know if this is the right kind of bread. I never paid attention to how long they put it in the toaster, or anything. I just walked in the door and ordered a number twenty-one and that was all I had to do.”
“Oh, that explains it.”
“Number twenty-one. Blackjack.”
“I never realized that.”
“Well, then. You learned something.”
“That just goes to show. I should have been paying more attention. I should have thought about what I was ordering so I could make it later if I needed to. I should have thought more about what I was doing.”
She ate a spoonful of soup. “It’s just a sandwich. It’s not that big of a deal. So it’s not the way you remember. Just enjoy it for what it is.”
“That’s not what bothers me.”
“So what bothers you?”
“What am I not paying enough attention to today that’s going to affect my life ten years from now?”
I looked up, and she was smiling that smile, the smile I had fallen in love with, the smile I hadn’t seen in weeks.
“You’re right,” I said.
“Of course I’m right. Finish your sandwich.”