The Astrophysics of the Sandwich
by Raychelle Heath
While the night sky is full of heavenly bodies that have led many dreamy eyed night owls into moments of great bliss and great sadness, the sandwich is something of a small matter that most of us don’t think about. As I sit at my table, I can hardly say that I contemplate the pita bread as I cut it in half and peel it open. Why would I? There is nothing of the magnitude of the sun or a planet hidden inside my cheese, just bits of jalapeño that remind me of places I used to lived. Places where sandwiches wore different dressings and perhaps hid an exotic vegetable or two, but still served the lonely purpose of being digested and spread throughout my body to give energy. It seems funny that I would remember any sandwiches that I’ve eaten at all, much less think of them on days like this when I sit at my table alone staring at the palms sway and listening to the neighborhood kids scream in the street.
There is actually a sandwich named for me in a little café in Mexico. The owner, a Spaniard who starts taking his wine as early as the sun starts taking to the sky, pronounced one day that I would be charged with designing the only vegetarian sandwich on the menu. As a vegetarian who had suffered far too many cheese sandwiches in a place where fish was considered a vegetable, I jumped at the chance to create my dream sandwich. After a day or two I brought the Spaniard my list of sandwich demands, and with a nod he took it to the cook. And this sandwich was called Panini Ray. And it was good.
No matter the day or hour I went to the café to order my sandwich, they always made it wrong. Which just seemed absurd to me, since if anyone was going to notice if a Panini Ray was made wrong, it was going to be Ray! Sometimes they’d forget the pesto, often they forgot the olives, and much to my dismay, they always forgot the sundried tomatoes. I rarely complained about these things, as the cook was heavy-handed with the queso de cabra and my coffee cup was rarely low on the dark brew that filled the busy downtown street with its rich earthy aroma. The Spaniard told me on more than one occasion that I should treat the café like my living room. His moist blue eyes almost implored it. Daily, on return from his morning dip, he would fold his 6 foot 3 frame into one of the plush orange pleather chairs along the front of the café and fish for people. But he didn’t fish me out of the sea of tanned bodies that paraded the downtown streets, I came to the café on my own. I was drawn by the Buddha that greeted me at the door, and the plethora of comfy couches.
Eventually, I knew the staff by name, and they always tried to keep the slightly off-center table in the farthest corner of the café open for me and my internet skulkings. When they didn’t see me for a few days, the barista, who was also my neighbor, would come by my place and ask how things were.
The day I left Mexico, I had one last Panini Ray, my suitcase propped up against my table in the back. I didn’t bother to mention that even on my last day there, my sandwich was incorrect. I simply ate it down to the crumbs, paid my bill, and schlepped my bag to the dock. On that day, the Spaniard raised a sweaty glass of white wine to me, and wished me un buen viaje, y que regreses muy pronto. There is no queso de cabra on the sandwich I am making now, but there is a handful of black olives brimming to the edge and enough sundried tomatoes to stain the inside of the bread a deep red. I will eat this sandwich, like I’ve eaten many before it, without thinking of much of anything. Not that the sun has already set on the café. Not that the stars are like a smattering of lights that were once used to navigate to places unknown. And certainly not of the Spaniard, leaning back in his favorite chair with his head to the sky and a glass of merlot swirling in his hand like a planet creating its own orbit.
|Raychelle Heath is a writer and English teacher who splits her time between the US and Mexico. She has an MFA in Poetry from the University of South Carolina. When she is not writing, she practices yoga, paints, and makes jewelry. Photo by eKirk Photography.|