Tessellation: the careful juxtaposition of shapes in a set pattern.
The Customer (Greg Parksinson)
“I enjoy eating here on a regular basis.”
Jeb had tessellated the cheese on thirty or so sandwiches by twelve that morning. At this rate he was sure to be promoted from Sandwich Technician to Sandwich Artist by the end of the month. Old boy often prayed to the Lord about this out loud, but Jeb was a man of understanding and oft continued with his tessellation unperturbed.
Landlords got to pay rent too says Jeb sometimes. Jeb says things like this because Jeb is a patient man. No, not much get’s under Jeb’s skin. He enjoys the constant tessellation of cheese. Jeb always says the tessellation of cheese is beautiful.
Got to make sure the customer gets cheese covering the majority of the sandwich’s inner plane else the customer gets real cross plus it just looks good, just feels good says Jeb. Often times after explaining such things, Jeb will wipe his face on his sleeve, so as to make sure talking didn’t get his bristly mustache too wet. Jeb does this because he doesn’t like to be insanitary. Says it makes the customer real cross. I notice these things cause I don’t got much else to notice these days. Sometimes I think I spent my whole life doin the things I did, lovin the people I loved God bless you Martha, and learnin the things I learned to notice things like how Jeb wipes his mustache. I don’t know. I’d like to think there might be somethin in it. There ain’t much in the crosswords that’s for damn sure.
Jeb works in JoJo’s Sandwiches and Potatoes Sandwich Shop and has for the majority of his forty or so years of life or so he says, course it hasn’t always gone by that name. Paul Bunyan’s I think Jeb said they used to call it. Not sure, my mind is not what it used to be. Don’t matter I guess, just made Jeb smile to talk about the old names of things. You couldn’t see his mouth too good but knew when he cracked one cause that thick ol mustache just turned upside down looking like a warm crescent roll. Don’t see those smiles from Jeb much anymore.
Bossman Reynolds doesn’t mind havin Jeb around all the time. Bossman Reynolds is big too. Scary, robust man with thick limbs and broad face. Couple chins too, but I bet they was solid if I could touch em not that I want to or nothin. Bossman Reynolds isn’t the kind to mess around much. Must fire a high school student ev’ry week now. They don’t work hard and is too gangly he says. Says good things about Jeb though. Says Jeb’s a quiet man, sanitary, and darn good at tessellating cheese. I couldn’t agree more. Lord will get him that promotion. He’ll get it and make more money to take care of more people. Maybe get his mother that compac disc player Jeb say she been swindling about. I didn’t fight in two wars for men like him not to, though I do wish he would get a haircut. Shoulder length just isn’t a gentleman’s length. Won’t ever marry with hair like that.
“Never did get that waverunner.”
Came back from the meeting round noon. Jeb was still setting there makin sure the cheese was in good order therefore makin Greg happy too. Really proud of Jeb’s sandwiches Greg was. Yut, corporate had me drive two goddam hours to the city just to let me know my shop was getting shut down. Well shit. How to tell Jeb. Poor boy had worked here longern me. Wasn’t even called JoJo’s Sandwiches and Potatoes Sandwich Shop back then.
I still remember marchin in here back in eighty-five I think, not sure, been a while. Had my degree in hand, belt on the lowest notch. The lowest notch. Went straight from community college to tellin a man had twenty years on me how to make good sandwiches. Old boy already knew how but I told him anyway. I made it good I did. Yut. Not sure if Jeb ever went to college. Old boy doesn’t speak of things like this. Mustn’t mind being told how to live, being told how. Why I went to college. Tired of being told.
We used to have a whole damn platoon of vets comin in eat my sandwiches on a daily basis. Six years runnin and Mister Parkinsons the only one left. Still comes into speak his mind with Jeb and do crossword puzzles and talk bout how war never changes only what we fight for does. Wish all them vets wasn’t dead yet. Might still have a solid sandwich business goin.
Place is boardin up in November. Right afore Thanksgivin. Means there’ll be plenty of food to go round so Jeb won’t be caught up in any situation leaves him hungry, having no job and money aside -mmhmm - Worse comes worse he’s got his mama and her food stamps. She’s too sore and old to work no more. Jeb does all the heavy lifting. Good old boy Jeb is. Breaks his back for a woman who already broke hers. Jeb does these things. Breaks his back for people. Yut. Don’t get the sense he wants to do much else. Hell, I ain’t even broke my back yet and here he is, makin sandwiches jus the way I imagined ‘fore I lost my hair. Wonder how he might make his own. Might jus have to check up on him few months after closing jus to see if he tries.
“This is my favorite chair.”
He never really had much goin for him. Often time he comes home and don’t even eat any of his mama’s dinner much less look at her. No he go right to bed even if I make corn flakes and get up some buttered toast. He says no mama I already made myself a sandwich today you know Bossman Reynolds start letting me do that once a day now. Charity? That’s what I say and I say it loud. This damn family won’t suffer by such a damned thing! Jesus! We worked hard when we was young and don’t take no godd- Oh shoot did I leave the oven on?
Jeb stocks the icebox with his sandwiches. They about overflowin’ now, no room for butter left. Thinks I might eat the things. Hell I don’t know where the meat come from much less have the gums to eat meat no more ‘sides reachin up there ain’t no good for my back. Hell reachin up anyplace these days ain’t much good. I believe I left the oven on.
His daddy didn’t help raise Jeb too good. Holy ghos’ blessis soul but Gerald was too soft those last few years. Took the boy swimming at the lake once he learned good enough how to do so aged seventeen I think. They was lookin at fish underwater with goggles just lookin for lookin’s sake I guess. Never brought one home for me to cook ‘spite hard times or lent. Jeb kept goin down to the lake long after Gerald passed Godblessissoul. Started growin his hair long lookin like a damn heathen. I says Jebadiah you get a hair cut start lookin’ like a civilized man you ever want a good job or pretty wife and he says something of the fallen’s tounge like this to me once and only once. Says something like my long hair feels good flowing behind me underwater. Like a man has nothing down there cept the fish himself and his hair trailin behind where he used to be and where he is going or something this nature. He says this and I slap him cross the face and tell him Principal Ashworth says you ain’t been at school much and that his devlish language reflects his actions. Boy dropped out of school not long after and been livin here ever since. He don’t talk about the lake no more but goddam the way the talks about cheesin’ his sandwiches makes me think he is.
Jesus it smell like the oven is on.
The Bus Driver (Lucas DeWitt)
Saw the man every weeknight now. Must’ve got out of working weekends. Wish I could get out of working weekends. He was always the only one at the bus stop this late. Always standing there in the dark under the stop looking sorry. Not for himself, but just feeling sorry for the sake of feeling so I guess. Old boy had started bringing me sandwiches, like it granted him permission to start talking ‘bout how he wanted to become a sandwich artist and how if he did he’d get a new hat and make twenty more cents to the hour. Wish I got a new hat and made twenty, hell, ten more cents to the hour. Guess those sandwiches and his company were payment enough. Jeb, I think his name was, used to brag in a modest way ‘bout his sandwiches. Said he had the best cheese trenslation in the whole city and that not trenslating the cheese made the customer cross. I’m not sure what in God’s name he meant, it showed in the tuna melts he brought. Cheese covered the majority of the area inside the sandwich, how I like it, how it ought to be. Almost felt like giving him a free ride here and there.
Used to tell me about his high school too. Turns out we both went to the same place, different time of course, but little moments of shared experience like that warms a man’s heart here and there. Jeb said he was head of the culinary club. Used to bake all kinds of things he said, but he said a lot and all I recall is the word doughnut and remembering I had a solid hankering for doughnuts at the time. Such distractions are an inconvenience. A bus driver can’t be distracted. Must be on time. Must be on top of things.
Used to be a poet myself. Member of the poetry club in high school. Read things by Walt Whitman when I needed a trip and things by Billy Collins when I was feeling solitary. Times weren’t allowing for poets or cooks, at least around this place. Midsize town barely large enough to support a Wal-Mart don’t allow for poets or cooks. It only allows for sandwich technicians, Wal-Mart employees, and bus drivers much like myself who are stricken with the duty of transporting these folk from each to the other’s place. Cause all sandwich technicians need a lightbulb or box of corn flakes from Wal-Mart and all Wal-Mart employees are just old vets appetizing for a good sandwich now and then. Only way out is through college. Then at least you might open up shop in Wal-Mart for glasses or run a sandwich place of your own someday.
Guess I just make sure all this takes place. Guess this makes me important. I make sure people become what they must be. Guess that does make me a poet, a creator of sorts, eh? I’ll never tell Jeb. Not worth it. I believe he already knows ‘sides he has enough to say about his sandwiches anyway. I don’t need any time to be talking.
Can’t let no stranger befriend you. Then a bus driver is no longer a bus driver, he is a friend of the passenger just giving his buddy a ride and though my duty might be to aid these folks it is not to bow to the needs of the individual. No sir, I bend towards the whole not the man. I bend to no individual man. Though I do wish the younger types would slow down a bit herenthere. They make up more of the whole everyday now and I just cannot do it I say I cannot. Old boy Jeb doesn’t mind he says. He says young folk make me wanna keep up even harder. They’re just different and these new technologies make more sense plus they just interesting he says always leaning up against the pole nearest my driver seat. He stays behind that white line though. I done yelled enough at him to let him know such things are a safety hazard and a bus driver can’t be responsible for the death of old and young folk alike, oh no. Only time I let him by, only time I let him by the white line is to hand me a sandwich if he so chooses to make one that day and he does most days so there’s that.
“May this business degree set my family free. That is a rhyme I made about my life. By me.”
We came into town when we heard Auntie Caroline came down with the cancer. She looked like crumpled up newspaper just lying there on the hospital bed. She keeps on whisperin to the attendant nurse something like I ain’t proud, I ain’t proud of nothing. I turn and I say to my boy you aren’t going to smoke cigarettes like Auntie Caroline are you and he says no papa and sets down in the chair next to the bed and grabs the remote and turns on the hospital television hangin from the ceiling. I think to myself that my boy is going to get good grades play football maybe quarterback and go to school and become a dentist like his daddy or maybe optometrist if that’s where the money is. I think this and all the sadness in the room and preoccupation with cancer and Auntie Caroline’s hospital bills peels away and I breathe deep and reach into my suit pocket grab my comb and slick back my hair.
My boy and I were just settin there at the bus stop waitin for route twelve to the airport up on the hill. He was lookin very serious thinkin about how good that ice cream I bought him was and was getting it all over his coat. Not sure he was thinkin about how it might be gone forever soon and that his ma would be real cross with him when she saw them stains. I, myself, was thinking about how long it had been since I been here and how much I didn’t miss it. I was thinkin about how goddam hard it was grownin up here poor as we were. Thinkin about how lucky I was to get out of this goddam town. Thinkin about that new FOR RENT sign I saw hangin in the window at Paul Bunyan’s. I was thinking this just starin at street nearest the curb where the little rivers form when it rains real hard. We used to make little boats out of milk cartons and maple leaves as the sails and we’d set em sail down these rivers and throw rocks at each other’s from far away seein who’s boat got farthest without sinkin too terrible. We each got an equal number of rocks so as to make it fair and I always seemed to win. Cousin Jeb always seemed to lose. Never cared much though even ‘spite his six years and two feet on me at the time. I was always crying if I happened to do bad but Jeb was just carryin on smiling just happy to play the game I guess. Always liked playin with Cousin Jeb. Made me feel good bout where I might be going.
Our bus came up smoking and smellin hard. Route twelve it was. We got on and I set at the window seat while my boy just kept workin on his ice cream next to me. I stare out the window at the man who set next to me awhile at that bus stop. I knew it was Jeb. He had started that kinda hippie hair growth in high school right afore he dropped out. Auntie Caroline was always hussin around about his hair. Couldn’t believe he was still at it. I should’ve said something, though I must’ve looked like a stranger to him with my haircut and new church clothes and another sixteen years of age. Didn’t matter. We were in different places now. Poor boy. He was just settin there lookin like Jeb, cept tired as hell, leanin on his forearms as they rest on his thighs, staring round the same place I had been. At the part of the street nearest the curb, next to where them little rivers used to form.