“There aren’t any sandwiches here worth eating,” you say kind of angrily, and there may not be, I’m not arguing. I’m not saying there are or there aren’t; I’m not saying anything. I’m not saying anything here, not saying anything now, for a lot of reasons.
I am tired, is one. It is early and I do not sleep anymore, neither of us do. We haven’t for I don’t know how long, so this really can’t be a reason, I don’t think.
I don’t care is another, I think to myself, not about the sandwiches. I don’t care about them, I can’t, not here and not now, I am thinking, but then I start thinking about them. Even though I don’t want to, even though I shouldn’t, I do. About the sandwiches, about what you just said. I think about sandwiches worth eating. About what that means.
What is the criteria, I wonder but not really.
Who is the judge, the sandwich judge, I think, but not really. I think this in a line, I think this in a room, I think this with you now.
I remember watching an episode of Sandwich Judge earlier this morning before we came to the hospital today, and that is a lie, and that is a joke, but not really.
I think a sandwich in a robe.
I think a bread head, I think olive eyes sitting on top of toothpicks.
I think big, white gloved cartoony hands and it’s fun and it’s not, not really. It’s not really a joke, it’s a thing, I tell myself, a thing you do, I guess, even though it may not be, I don’t know.
We are standing in line, you and I are, in a line for sandwiches. There are breakfast sandwiches and regular sandwiches. Individually wrapped in plastic. You are upset at all of them. You are picking them up. You are holding them up, examining them, sandwich-judging them. There are complaints lodged, tiny but insistent. There are small snuffs and grunts of displeasure from the jury. Sandwich Judge pounds a gavel made of jerky and demands order, order in the court. He will clear this courtroom if he has to, is what he is saying and these are things you tell yourself, I tell myself. These are mechanisms, these are we-do-this-to-avoid-that’s. You are looking at different sandwiches, grabbing them, inspecting them, wrinkling your nose at them, frowning and complaining. Tuts and tssks and ewws. This is how you react to things you aren’t supposed to have reactions to, I think. This is what we are doing and this is what is happening and I think about telling you this, but you are yelling about lettuce now and I am thinking about before.
Before we are standing in a line, we are in a room. A doctor is pointing to an X-Ray. You and I are in there with him, looking at a screen.
This was then.
Then, there is black background and white and shading. There is a pattern. It is a tiny head, it is a brain. The doctor is pointing to something in the head, in the brain. He is pointing to a line. He is tracing it, showing flow, showing direction.
“This is water,” he is saying and he is tracing. He is pointing. I hear the words indicating a flow, I think, but could be wrong. He is saying ventricles and spinal fluid and this tiny line, this right here, this is why your son is falling down. This is fluid, this is water. This is why he is throwing up, why he cries and cries because of headaches. There is water, there is fluid, and it is not flowing like it should be flowing. He stopped talking then and looked at us. We looked at him and then we looked at the thin line on the screen, just a tiny, tiny line, really, and then he said, I’m sorry. This is what he said then and we didn’t say anything, you and I didn’t, because there was nothing to say.
You aren’t supposed to have a reaction to this, to water, to ventricles, to heads. To tiny tubes and falling down. None of this is supposed to make sense, I tell myself. I look at you, at the tiny brain, at the thin line of water, the thin trickle, the ventricle. This is what makes all of this, I think to myself, I think to make sense of this. This is here or in a line, this was now or then, I can’t remember. It is hard to hear over the gavel pounding, over the sons crying, over the tssking and ewwing of lettuce. There are no responses, nothing to say, so everything sounds like Sandwich Judges and yelling about lettuce. You yell about lettuce so you can’t see your son falling down again. You get mad at sandwiches because you think maybe that will make a difference even though it doesn’t, even though it can’t. When your parents die, you are an orphan. That is what you are. There is a word for this, for that, but there are no words for what you are about to be, what you and I are about to become, and I want to tell you this, but I can’t. I can’t think about that, so I think about Sandwich Judge, but only for a second, and not really.
Back in the line, you say I think we can all agree that lettuce is pretty much bullshit, right? Nobody likes lettuce, you are saying. Like if they took it away, it was suddenly gone, no more lettuce on sandwiches? Nobody would care, would they, you say, and I wonder if this is a real question you are asking me, even though I know it isn’t, not really. I see what you are doing and it is sad. You are laughing, you are sneering. This is how you are reacting. This is in the midst of, this is in an ocean of tiny water and lettuce heads. I wonder how I should react, what I should be doing now. I wonder who I am supposed to be now that I have no name. Sandwich Judge’s verdict is not forthcoming I think, but only for a second. I have no idea what I am supposed to do, where I am, or what any of this is. I don’t know if there is such a thing as lettuce, as sandwiches, as other people. They don’t exist, none of them do, not to us and not anymore. Now there is nothing but our son’s head, our baby’s head. The whole world is in there. That tiny head is full of everything. All the lettuce, all the sandwiches, all the water. It is all in my son’s head, I think. I am in there, too. You are in there too and we are drowning. You can drown in an inch of water, I think, it doesn’t matter, and I think I am right, and I am going to cry, to start crying so I say something.
This is what I say.
I say Lettuce is like 95% water. I am trying to be like you. I am trying to be smug and indifferent. That could be who we are. We could be Smug and Indifferent. We could plead our case before the court.
This is what I say, that lettuce is like 95% water, and I immediately regret it. It makes no sense what I am saying, what I have just said. I look at you. You are right there. Your face sinks, sinks and sours. Your eyes widen and start to fill and you look at me like why. You look at me like what are you saying, and I don’t know, and how could I, and I am falling. I cannot see, I am gone, I am sinking, I am drowning in the water that is filling our eyes.
© Ben Slotky
[This piece was selected by Sara Crowley. Read Ben’s interview]