“O glorious day! O bounteous Fortune, who now with gilded hath turned her wheel to let Light again touch this poor wretch ‘pon the brow and bless this vessel with sacred sensation! O Lights of Heaven, which this day pour o’er the Earth in rivers of well-met regard, as each precious ray illuminates once hidden but now heroic meaning! I see with new and enchanted eyes, which make more beautiful each once-dull object upon which I gaze! I feel with the very depthless depths of feeling, as I have not felt since I was a child, when the world was new and mysterious to mine touch and I discovered each new sweet thrill of mine being without prejudice of past bitterness! And what taste I with these new soft lips and this red tongue, which in each spoken word reflects the new animating passion of mine heart, now open to kiss each spoken utterance as if love of meaning itself were their natural mate? I have tasted, and now will ever taste as ambrosia in my memory, the sandwich of the—“
I stared at my silent alarm clock with disbelieving eyes as dark as thunderheads.
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“Oh slap me on the ass and call me Susan!” I shouted, which was something my father used to shout whenever he was both truly angry, truly drunk, and truly surprised. I was all three. “What the hell, Cheyenne? It’s 3am in the goddamn morning!”
My whole bed shook as Cheyenne jumped to sit next to me and excitedly stroked the hair out of my eyes with one slick finger that felt like it had been smeared in bacon grease. She wore a spaghetti-strap top, and if I was not mistaken a trashy pair of sweatpants that read “Juicy” across the back. She was the image of her mother, a trash girl with trash tastes, and sooner or later fentanyl would put her in the cemetery too.
“Prithee nuncle mine, for it is not redundant to name thee twice mine, as in saying thou art mine I make thee mine again by mine mindful intent as well as by mine blood, and in being mine and I being thine we find one another ennobled not only by by filial bonds but bonds made crowns of shimmering silver starlight lit by the fusion of mutual affection, so be not enraged—“
“Enraged? I’m furious as hell, Cheyenne! I just got off a double shift at the hospital two goddamn hours ago cleaning up all kinds of goddamn puke and diarrhea! That psycho bitch on floor two hurled in my goddamn hair again when I was in the parking lot, Doc Canter said I should just be grateful I don’t have a sense of smell and that he wasn’t going to sign off on replacing my clothes, and all I wanted to do was come home, take a shower, and go to goddamn sleep not get woken up by your meth-using ass!”
I pushed Cheyenne off my bed and onto the floor so hard it shook the whole trailer.
“Zounds, nuncle! Such hot temperament and cruel judgement as to make one regard Lucifer on his infernal throne as couth, cool, and kind! Think thee nuncle that I speak to thee now in the throes of delirium? That I have come upon thee as one mad, and craven having fled into fanciful dreams, so lost as to turn away from our Lord’s perfect creation, for which he ransomed His one and only son? Perish the thought, nuncle! Perish the very notion that I speak to thee with a mind comprised of else but cold and clear sanity, like the mountain ice of some distant and unknown peak yet to be conquered, kissed but once by the sun and made a glass so fine as to be mistaken for spirit! And it is with the clarity of such refined spirit that I forgive thee, nuncle, for thy coarse vulgarity! For I see thee not only as thou art but as thou might become. Thou hast yet to feast upon the revelation and certain knowledge of thy Lord’s bounteous love, the #7 Subway Style Sandwich with Bacon and Ranch at Gloria’s Gallons & Gallons o’ Gas-Station & Subway Sandwich Shop.”
I blinked. God that girl could make an awful lot of words, and not even hardly breathe between any of them. When I finally understood what she meant, I snorted.
“A goddamn sandwich? You woke me up over a goddamn sandwich?”
“I woke thee for the truth and integrity of thine soul, nuncle. I woke thee for destiny, for fate and for the thousand minute perfections and realizations a soul might make on this Earth to find itself worthy of Heaven at the end of its journey. I woke thee for love of mind to mind, nuncle. Yes, on this day, in this place, where truth oft dons a strange form and an absurd manner, I woke thee for a God blessed sandwich.”
I laughed deliriously.
“That good, huh?”
“Oh nuncle, tis both good and goodness itself. It is the earl of sandwiches, a title to which the Earl of Sandwich could not have dared aspire when he played his cards and dreamed. Tis mana from heaven, nuncle. Tis Christ’s flesh made bread. Tis a new Eucharist.”
“Number seven, you say?”
“Yes, nuncle! Largest of the single primes, the number of luck, whose value is found face to face on every well-cast die, and this day a sandwich for which not only to die but to live!”
Cheyenne crawled back over to the bed and cupped my hands in her own, entreating me to look in her eyes. I couldn’t stand to look in those eyes. As much as I hated her, as much as I resented the way she clung to me like a parasite when I could barely afford to feed myself, enough dignity remained that I could at least hate what her pathetic existence implied. Girl would be dead in a year. Two tops. Meanwhile, I had a job to think of and a trailer to repair. I turned over and buried my head back in my pillow.
“What the hell ever, Cheyenne. I know what happens behind that goddamn gas station. If you’re old enough to get hopped up on meth, you’re old enough to get out of my goddamn house and get a job. If I find out it was cousin Ronnie giving you meth again, when I told him I would only allow that on your birthday and Christmas—“
Cheyenne put her finger over my lips, which was so goddamn gross, because yes I could definitely feel it was covered with grease which meant she hadn’t washed her hand after eating a whole lot of bacon and probably also not for a long while before that. Also because she’d had to reach over my head to do it and her wet armpit had smeared all over my ear. I found myself thankful for the car accident and head injury that had taken my sense of smell and taste, which I usually only felt on really bad clean-up days.
“Soft thee now, nuncle! End thine soliloquy of solemn doubt! I came to lead thee to new life in a new Jerusalem and I find thee already dead to the idea of wonder! Dost thou think me enchanted, nuncle? A witch—“
“— to ensorcel and tempt you—“
“Wait a finger-licking goddamn minute!” I threw myself up from my bed, face turning red. “You’re talking like one of them fat Wicca bitches! Did they trick you into one of those weird polysexual deals? Well, nuh-uh, I don’t care if they all think their knights and kings and shit, but you’re sixteen and that means I’m in my rights to shoot their asses.”
I’d been looking for someone that needed killing since I’d used my Christmas bonus for buy an M1911 and this was my chance! This was the kind of thing you wanted to ask twice about so I grabbed hold of her and figured I’d force her to look me in the eye and spell it out so that way I could tell the cops I’d double-checked—
I met my niece’s eyes and my words faltered and stopped. I put one hand on my good particle board nightstand to steady myself. She looked at me like my sister had looked at me in my earliest memories. As she had looked at me in our childhood, back when the factories had still thrived in the town. Back when our parents had both worked and we’d all gone to church every Sunday. Back in a world I could barely remember as ever being real, before every third person was addicted to drugs, legal or illegal. Before most of my life was the television shows I watched, or the things I chose to buy, or struggling to find two pennies to rub together to live in squalor. Her eyes were clear, clean, and caring. Her face was human of a style I had almost forgotten could exist. They looked at me not only with love but as if I were worthy of their love. As if in knowing me, instead of being repelled, they could love me better. I found it suddenly difficult to breathe. Instinctively, I recoiled to the other side of the bed.
“Cheyenne, is that you?” I whispered, holding my hand over my heart.
“Tis me, nuncle! Dost thou now see the miracle of revelation? Come with me, now! Cast off thine solemn doubts! Stand not on ceremony, or false pride, or the empty vanity of robes, for by the Sandwich true pride will return to thee and thine garments will find thee then! By the faith that teaches us that a single second of thine life is worth the blood of gods let us not tarry! Thou was not ransomed by the Redeemer to haltingly stumble toward absolution! Deliverance awaits thee, nuncle! It awaits us all if we but spread the message and clip the coupons! Let us set forth to Gloria’s Gallons & Gallons o’ Gas-Station & Subway Sandwich Shop! I came to thee at once, nuncle, for not a second more of thine life must be spent in ignorance.”
She took my hand and pulled me out into the night.
Stumbling, in a t-shirt and a pair of dirty underwear, I followed.
Our cousin, Ronnie McMullin, was picking up the god-awful mess in his yard. Some of it was garbage he’d inherited from his mother with grass all grown through it. His drug-dealing rival, Snake Harris, was helping him collect refuse into garbage sacks. They were not alone in their activity. Old Miss Jasper and a half dozen of her neighbors were in the process of erecting a garden at the entrance to the trailer park. Carlos Aguilar, who could fix anything for forty dollars, seemed to be in the middle of planning a grand cathedral and was drawing diagrams in the dirt. A crowed gathered around him, murmuring plans to gather materials.
“Well what in the Sam Hill has gotten into them?” I asked.
“Their certain knowledge of themselves and the one who made them, nuncle! Their pride to be His pride. Come, we must get thee to the Sandwich!”
As if everyone heard, smiling strangers turned to acknowledge me. Not only Ronnie McMullin or Snake Harris, but people who I had seen a thousand times without once ever knowing their names despite the fact we all lived within a few dozen feet of one another. Only old people knew their neighbors, but now they looked at me not only as if I was a person they should know, but as if I was a person they wished to know. As if I were more interesting than anything they might want to watch on television. As if the simple sight of me was more satiating than any microwaveable meal they might wish to eat or electronic doo-dad they could order online. I was a part of them, those eyes said. Whether or not I denied their community, they would always regard me with worth.
I coughed and looked at my feet as the voices called out in greeting, embarrassed to be out in my skivvies.
“May the recipe be written upon the walls of every kitchen! May it be sung in sepulchers evermore! May it be shouted upon the lands of worlds yet unknown!” One shouted.
“May the ingredients be kept in the hearts of all men! May the Sandwich enter the mouth and become the flesh of the lowest as well as the highest! May we carry it forth to the stars!” Another called.
“By the griddle may the bacon been prepared! By the blender has the ranch been unified! By the bag may the bread be bought forth!” Another sang.
The gas station was only a block away. For all my life it had been a good place to score drugs. Other than that, it was a desolate hell-hole. Now it was an ant hive of activity. Tandy LaBelle had a small chainsaw out and appeared to be carving a statue of the Virgin Mary out of an old log that had previously helped demarcate the parking lot. It was nowhere near done, but already a pair of eyes seemed to watch me as I approached. They were my mother’s eyes, but more than that they were the eyes of every mother who would ever live, and they forgave me for everything I had ever done.
I remembered that in our youth Tandy had always been best in our art classes before she’d found drugs. I remembered her joy at finally earning high marks. Remembered the way she’d seemed so at peace with herself in those moments. I’d been giving Tandy twenty-dollars a paycheck for a half-hearted handjob in the backseat of my van as my reward to myself every second Friday since sophomore year.
Tandy carved with a passion. I saw brilliance emerge from wood. I saw the beauty of the soul made tangible. It was not the work of any human being I had ever known, surely, and certainly not the work of someone I had bought as cheaply as I had bought Tandy. I felt small and found myself afraid to approach further. I would have stopped and turned back, fled in fear, had not Cheyenne’s gentle hand pushed me forward.
“Tis true, nuncle. Thou wilt see thyself as He sees thee, and thou wilt feel the full and honest pangs of thy shames. There is much to be forgiven, but do not too quickly put thine thumb on the scale of thy villainy. The stars He strung in heaven died to give thee flesh. There is more potential in thee than thou hast ever dreamt. Thou art worth more than the stuff of star-light, whatever thou hast done. He was not a fool to cast Lucifer from Heaven for refusing to bow to thee. Upon thine first bite thou wilt know His wisdom in the making of us.”
A choir began to sing. I could not understand the words but it seemed as though they sang the sound creation made when it began. When song itself had been new, this song had filled all of creation. They sang a world, fresh and unstained by sin or disappointment and when I knew that world for our own I wept unashamed.
“I don’t deserve this,” I whispered.
“Yet thou was chosen. Fear not, nuncle. No man may deserve the grace which was given to him at his birth. No matter how long thou has lived as one lost in the dark, know still His fire yet burns in thee. It is only for thee to accept His precious gift.”
Gloria Ramirez emerged from the gas station holding a small red plastic basket overheard. Checkered wax paper had been folded in the shape of a dove and there, placed reverently on a bed of French fries, was the #7 Subway Style Sandwich with Bacon and Ranch.
I fell to my knees.
I wanted to believe. I had never let myself acknowledge that before. I wanted to believe in something so badly. I was so weary, so very tired, so incredibly alone and yet as Gloria approached I sensed the possibility of a friend who would be with me always. Who would care for me always, even at the hour of my death.
Soon the Sandwich was in my hand and I could feel the warmth of the Holy Spirit.
“How?” I whispered.
“This morning, I decided to try my best,” said Gloria.
I was ready. I wanted to believe with my whole heart. I took my first bite. Then another. I ate in a frenzy.
I looked up into Cheyenne’s imploring eyes, thinking of a car accident that had sent me off to be a janitor, and could not keep the horror out of my voice.
“I can’t taste anything.”
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