This was live. The camera was rolling. The lights of Camera 2 were on. He spoke.
“Look at it. See how it likes you. We will make this together.”
She watched this from the wings. She liked him, but the real him, the one no one knew. His on-air persona, his public self, this was not him. She was the only one he showed his real self to. Some told her that she saw a fake version just for her, for why had no one else seen it? But she insisted that she actually allowed him to be himself, and that was why he liked her.
“Take the bread out of the oven and let it cool for thirty minutes. We have one that has been cooling for some time right here. We shall slice it, but not with a bread knife, no. We shall use the mandoline!”
He looked down as he sliced the bread, but she was sure he cast her a sideways glance. She smiled at this, as though validated. Those women at home thought he looked right at them, but this was an illusion. He looked at a cold unfeeling camera. That was all. She knew.
“That is slicing quite nicely, yes? Now we take the roast from the dutch oven, and the ham and turkey from the oven. We have already cooked the bacon, remember? Yes, of course you do. We shall slice the roast on the mandoline also.”
He started slicing before looking down, and he sliced his finger. But he was a professional. It was a show, and he knew the bottom was not in the picture, and the segment was nearly finished. He hated editing, so he was determined. He bled quite a bit on the meat, she noticed. Quite a lot, in fact.
“Now, we slice the ham and turkey. It is now time for creation! Place the bread slice thusly, then the hummus like this, then the sriracha here. Ham, turkey, roast beef, swiss, parmesan, feta, olive oil, romaine, onions, pepper and salt, and then the other slice, already coated with avocado pesto. Now we slice in half, and voila!”
He put a lot of himself into everything he made. She didn’t mind the blood, or that he was French, or that he was much older. She didn’t mind that he never wore pants while on the set, or that he wore a mime costume when he was off set. She knew they were meant to be together.
“It looks fantastic, no? We take a bite – delicious! Thank you for joining me, my friends! Until next time.”
He didn’t look well, though he kept chewing. It made him feel better, apparently. She walked up to the mock kitchen counter. He looked down at her. He had stopped bleeding.
“That was a good segment, no? Did you like this one?”
She simply nodded and took the cut finger in her mouth, staring him right in the eye, and then kissed his other fingers one by one.
“I may have the other half. It looks delicious.”
“Ah, you must make a sandwich for yourself. I will be farting soon, and this wine will accompany me to the room of computers in my house where I am living!”
“I would like just one bite. Just one.”
“I must refuse, though I will make you another if you insist.”
“That one, please.”
“No, lady. It is not to be.”
She was hurt by his refusal. Puzzled, also. She could taste his blood, but not his sandwich. This made no sense. The sandwich wanted her. He said so. It liked her. It complimented her draperies, politely pulled out her chair at dinner, opened the car door and seated her before driving, baked her cookies on cold winter mornings, and smelled like a fantasy chalkboard. She wanted it right back.
He was called away. He thought to take the sandwich, but was physically pulled away by one of the producers for a television interview. Now was her chance. The whole setup was there. Stove, oven, sink, refrigerator, everything she could want. But she didn’t want to add anything. It was perfect. This shard of the sandwich king of England was about to be thrust into her belly, never to be pulled out. Except for one thing. One puzzling thing about his show. About him. He cooked up to the end, but never pulled something out of a pot or oven. Always assembly. Always time to cool. The arrangement, the assembly, never an ensemble.
She turned on the stove, set a pan in the flames, and threw some butter in it. When it sizzled, she set the sandwich in the pan. It too sizzled, becoming crisp and brown before she turned it over. It was like a pie crust filled with heated animal carcasses, slathered in solid cow juice and bacteria and coated with more cow juice and squished vegetable matter. And it smelled great.
She took it out of the pan and turned off the stove. On the plate she let it cool. The anticipation was killing her. Risking burning her mouth, she bit into it.
It was a starfield of heavenly magic covered with glitter and bacon.
Two of the staff members came in. He had just suddenly died. As they described it, he stopped talking and developed a rash on one side of his body, then the other side, and then his finger started bleeding before he ultimately collapsed.
He put a lot of himself into everything he made.