ETERNAL HAM SANDWICH
I was just about to hang myself when I heard the doorbell.
“Who is it?” I shouted, perched on my stepladder.
“I have something very special for you,” a man said, “if you'll only open the door.”
“Sir. This is the type of offer that you cannot just refuse without seeing it. I assure you.”
“Yeah, all right.” I hopped down and stomped toward the door, yanking it open. “Listen. I don't want whatever shit you're selling. Get out of here.”
A man was grinning at me. I could see him bobbing his head up and down through my screen, as if he heard a song that no one else could hear. “But sir, if you'll let me in for just a moment, I have something very special for you.”
“May I come in and show you?” He was carrying a box.
“No, I'll come out.” I opened the screen door and walked out. “Well?”
He was still grinning. “Oh yes. Let's see here.” He pulled a box cutter off of his belt and began cutting through the package's edges. He was whistling. He was tone deaf.
“I don't have all day.”
He finished opening the box and turned, holding it to me like a platter of hors d'oeuvres. “Well? What do you think?”
“Is that a ham sandwich?”
“Well, yes sir it is. It is a ham sandwich that will never go bad. It was shipped here from Wisconsin, see? Look at the stamp here.” It said Milwaukee, Wisconsin on it.
“We can now produce sandwiches that never go bad, sir. You could leave this sandwich sitting on your counter for a year and it would not rot even one bit.”
“That's interesting, I guess. Have a good day.” I turned to walk back inside.
“Would you like to taste it, sir?”
I stopped. “Not particularly.”
“Here, we can share it. I haven't had lunch yet today. Do you mind if I come in?”
I turned. “Jesus Christ. Fine, one second.” I shut the door, ran to the center of the room, pulled down the noose and threw it into the hallway closet, then walked back to the front door. “Take off your shoes.”
We sat at the kitchen table. The man cut the sandwich in half, diagonally. He took a bite and made an almost sexual sound. I felt a slight sensation in my groin, but ignored it. I picked up my half and looked at it before pulling the slice of bread off the top, revealing some dark brown mustard, lettuce and tomato, and a pile of thinly-sliced ham. I sniffed it.
“When was this sandwich made?”
“Oh, about six months ago.”
“Jesus. How long have they been making these things?”
“This one is the first.”
I looked at it again. “Why me first?”
“Well, you were the first person on my route. We decided on this neighborhood to test the product. Statistically, this town is as close to being average as any in the country. Your average income is near the country's median, and ethnically you're as diverse as the country is as a whole. Now eat up, will you?”
I examined the sandwich again and took a bite. “My God. This is delicious.” I took a bigger bite. My mouth was full of food when I said, “This might be the best sandwich I've ever had in my life.”
“Yes, they are designed to create the perfect flavor profile. To hit all of the right spots on the tongue.”
“And this mustard. Who makes this mustard?”
“Well, we do.”
I crossed my legs and leaned back in my chair. I took smaller bites and chewed each bit. “Who do you work for?” I let my saliva soak up the flavor and pool below my tongue, holding it in my mouth for as long as possible before swallowing.
“We're called Everlasting Sandwiches. Not the most creative name, I'll admit. We haven't been properly introduced, though, have we? My name is John.” He held out his hand.
I put down my sandwich. “I'm Frank.” I popped the last bite into my mouth and held it on my tongue for a while before chewing.
“What do you do for a living, Frank?”
“I'm a freelance librarian. I work weekends and stuff, or when the regular people are on vacations.”
“Ah, okay. Is this your place?”
“Well, Frank, would you like to order a box of Everlasting Ham Sandwiches?”
“How much are they?”
“One dollar per sandwich.”
“Jesus Christ, really?”
“Yes, but you have to order at least 100 to get them at that rate. Otherwise they are five dollars per sandwich.”
“Shit. Can't afford any now. Do you have a card or something?”
“Sure.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card. It said, “John P. Arthur, Everlasting Ham Sandwich Liaison,” on it, along with a picture of him smiling and holding a sandwich next to his head. “Well, I guess I'll be going, I need to make it down to Douglas Avenue by five, or I won't make my quota.”
I watched him leave, but just after I heard the door shut gently behind him, I ran, ripped it back open, and shouted, “John?”
“You have more of them in your car?”
“Yes, but they are samples. One per potential customer.”
“But I only ate half of one.”
“True. And I am supposed to have one full sandwich for my lunch break, and I only had half as well.”
“You can come back if you want.”
“Sure, why not? I still have some time.” He put the pile of individually wrapped sandwiches back into his car and kept one to bring back up to my porch.
“We could sit outside. It's pretty nice out today,” I said.
“Sure, let's do that. I'll open the box— “
“I'll grab a knife and get some plates.”
L.M. Alder's work has appeared or is forthcoming in theNewerYork, decomP, Asimov's, Corium, and elsewhere.