They did not like messy sandwiches.
“Why not,” I asked, mildly intrigued. It was quiet in the café: only the three of us sitting at adjoining tables, two of many set in an orderly, precise array along the faux plastic brick. Outside, the air glistened after a brief, intense shower. Mothers reprimanded their children, gleefully jumping in newly formed puddles. Old men, still wrapped in their sweaters and raincoats, sat stone-faced on benches like ancient idols. Pigeons swarmed at their feet, penitents in search of bread crumbs. The cars sliced across the wet asphalt, their wipers flicking aside the unexpected drop fallen from a still-sodden tree branch.
The question seemed to perplex them. They looked at each other in shocked amusement, as though the question itself was unfathomable. The woman, whose head was completely shaved, gently lifted her napkin and, eyes laughingly averted, daubed the corners of her lips. The nan, tall yet not lanky, merely smiled. “They’re just so… messy,” adding a look that emphasized the obviousness of it all. “No matter how you pick it up,” he continued, “it just collapses in your hands.”
“Then you have to resort to a knife and fork,” the woman continued. “Doesn’t that simply defeat the whole purpose?”
Outside, a young girl, five or six years old, laughingly chased a puppy. A ribbon, loosely tied to her hair, came loose and danced away in the light breeze.
The woman silently took a freshly filled salt shaker and positioned it on the table with Zen-like precision.
“And no matter what you do, no matter how careful you might be, a messy sandwich will wind up somewhere on your clothes,” the man said, a slight furrow on his brow.
The woman nodded. “Your shirt, your jacket… your pants.” She shook he head in mild revulsion.
“And in the most embarrassing places possible.”
“And no dry cleaner for… well, blocks.”
“You could just spot clean it,” I said. “A bit of club soda.”
She smiled and shook her head. “That usually just makes it worse.”
A flock of nuns, imperceptibly raising their skirts to avoid the wet sidewalk, chattered as they flew across the windows.
“So, to you then,” I continued, “what constitutes it? How does one create the perfect sandwich?”
The woman hesitated, as though about to reveal a long-held family secret. “It must be… consumable.”
“Well, of course,” I laughed.
“No, no, you don’t understand. It has to be consumed in a simple, elegant manner.” She raised a hand. “It should require no more than just this. Just this one hand.”
“Nothing so big as to make it unwieldy,” the man concurred.
“No. It must be simplicity itself to handle. The bread must be… pristine.”
The man nodded, repeating, “Pristine.”
“Strong, solid, muscular… yet pliable. It should bend to your wishes. Not crumbly, of course, but not doughy either.”
The man’s hand glided through the air. “Just… smooth.”
Somewhere down the street, a woman’s braying laugh echoed across the buildings. Panicking, the pigeons flew off. The stone idols ignored their flight.
“The meat is of course the centre of attention, the divine purpose of the sandwich,” the woman went on, “It should be chewable — and yet not tearable.”
“You don’t want something you have to rip apart to enjoy,” the man added.
“Exactly. It must have a certain smooth density, such that it dissolves with only the slightest nibble.”
“Bologna, for example. Perhaps sausage. Cheese, perhaps, although of course that doesn’t really qualify as a meat,” the man said with a light grin.
“Mmmm…” the woman nodded.
“Mustard?” I asked. “Mayo?”
“A slight glaze, if you must have it at all.”
Outside, the sky was darkening again. Mothers called in their children and bundled them away to safety. The stone idols stood, raised their collars, and rolled silently away.
“Any other condiments? Lettuce? Tomato?”
The woman paused thoughtfully. “No. No, you do not want to add anything more, because then you simply heighten the risk.”
“Of messiness,” I said with a small smile.
“Exactly! You understand! He understands!” she repeated gaily as her companion, sage-like, nodded. The rain fell anew, spattering now empty sidewalks and park benches. The woman looked outside with quiet elation. “I adore the rain.”