And so, after a far longer hiatus than ever intended, I return. Life got in the way as it so often does, but I found the time to write something small. I’m using it as a sort of refresher and so I have not spent all that much time on it, but here it is.
The prompt was:
Martin had finally finished his careful arrangement of the perfect sandwich when the explosion rocked the house. He startled and knocked the soft white base of his masterpiece, sending the succulent chicken slices toppling off the side and down on to the wooden breadboard.
This would normally have been cause for much muttered cursing and gnashing of teeth, as Martin was very particular about the way he arranged his food. This was especially true of sandwiches, the construction of which often took him a great deal of time. They had to be perfect.
“You’ve got to put them together like a puzzle,” he always thought to himself as he tucked little wedges of chicken right up the corners of the perfectly square bread. “It requires thought and care. Throw the slices on at random, with no preparation and no thought, and you’re left with a lumpy mess. Too much filling in some parts, far too little in others. But if you take the time to make it all perfect, you can enjoy the whole thing from crust to crust.”
Marie teased him for it, but Martin didn’t mind. The first time she laughed and teased him, he became self-conscious and upset. But then she told him that it was actually one of the most adorable things he did, and she loved the care he took over them. And so he continued to perfect his craft.
Today, however, the explosion took precedence. Shattered glass flung itself against Martin’s back and tangled itself in his greying hair as the window behind him burst inwards. He spun around quickly to face the driveway, knocking the breadboard from the granite counter and sending it clattering down to the kitchen floor along with a pile of perfectly prepared sandwiches.
His view through the window was almost entirely blocked by thick black smoke that billowed up into the summer sky and slowly edged its way into the kitchen. Martin’s mouth dropped open. He gasped and smoke tickled his throat. He tried to call out, but he found he had no voice. He was sure that his heart had stopped.
He snapped from his daze and bolted through the kitchen door to the hallway, leaving a squashed sandwich imprinted with the sole of his shoe in his wake. He reached the front door and grabbed madly at the handle, his re-activated heart beating wildly as he failed to control his shaking hands.
Finally the handle turned downwards and Martin threw the door open, then stumbled over the threshold and down the front steps to what was once beautifully manicured garden. Now, instead of flowers, twisted hunks of charred metal poked out of the flower beds, turning their mangled heads to the bright light of the sun. The striped pattern of perfectly mown grass was now marred by muddy scars where the ground had been gouged away and piled up against the white picket fence. Shards of glass winked at him in the sunlight from where they lay mixed with the daisies and buttercups that dotted the lawn.
He was still standing there in that garden of destruction when the police found him. “What is your name, sir?” they asked. “Are you hurt, sir?” they pressed. “Talk to us!” they demanded. But they got no response. Martin just stood there, staring down at the ground, where one recognisable object lay in pieces in a field of nightmarish debris.
The bright pink ham lay scattered randomly. No more order, no more perfection. The bread was stained by fire and smoke; two squares of foul blackness set upon a canvass of lush green grass. Two perfect squares of horror, except for the tiny bite marks that ate into one side of each of them.
“Daddy, I don’t like this ham” she had declared. Of course he would replace it. He never got to take his little girl to ballet, now that the firm made him work every Saturday. Normally he would leave just after her and Marie, but this Saturday was special. He had taken the spontaneous risk of calling in sick just to make it so. This day was special, and it had to be perfect.
Marie had told him not to worry, smiling at him from the passenger seat of his car, with her beautiful hair glinting like liquid gold in the morning sun. She had that twinkle in her eye, picturing my painstaking, artful arrangement of meat on bread in her mind’s eye. She said that we should just buy something on the way. But no. It had to be perfect.
Martin focused back to the present. In the corner of his eye, he caught the words “Bomb Disposal Unit” written on the back of a thick black jacket. The wearer held a twisted hunk of scrap in his hand. It was unrecognisable, a thing that had the potential to be anything once but was now reduced to nothing but a mangled mess.
“Do you know anyone who would want to hurt you?” they asked. “Did you see anyone suspicious?” they pressed. “Talk to us, damnit!” they demanded. But Martin just started at those tiny, delicate bite marks in silence.
He felt strong hands on his shoulders. They tried to move him away, turn his eyes from the nightmare, but he twisted against them. He ducked away from their grip and walked back down the path to the front door. They began to follow, so Martin picked up his pace. He stepped through the door and gently closed it behind him. Walking through to the kitchen he heard someone pounding on the door and shouting for him, but he ignored them.
He bent down, ageing joints creaking, and picked the abandoned food up from the floor. He gently placed the breadboard down on the worktop, placed one slice of bread on top of it, and began to remake the sandwich.
The bread was grey from the smoke that drifted aimlessly around the kitchen. The chicken was speckled with glass. But Martin placed it just as carefully as before, reconstructing his prior perfection. The people outside still hadn’t managed to enter his house, although they were attempting to get in the kitchen window. Glass tinkled as they knocked the fragments left in the frame onto the floor. He ignored them.
Finally, Martin placed the second slice of grey bread on top of the meat. Carefully taking a knife from the knifeblock, he sliced the sandwich perfectly down the middle. Corner to corner, never cutting the edges, just as she liked it.
He stared down at his creation. The chicken was perfectly contained by the bread – not even a centimetre poked out – and when he pressed down on the sandwich he felt it was perfectly flat beneath his shaking hands. He stared down at it, and felt nothing.
The people outside were shouting his name – they must have spoken to the neighbours. Sirens assaulted his ears, smoke tickled his nose and throat. His eyes stung, and began to water.
Martin blinked to clear his eyes, extended one hand, and slowly pushed the sandwich towards the edge of the worktop. His foot pressed the pedal down, and the bin devoured the sandwich in one greedy gulp. Martin watched the perfectly-constructed sandwich disappear out of sight into the inky blackness. The lid fell down and closed with a thud of finality.
Gone. It was all gone.