Short story: The Ham Sandwich.

The dog sat in the safety of her bed, shivering slightly, watching the man. Usually she knew exactly what to expect, but not this time. She could feel that he was best left alone, best avoided even. She knew that there was a ham sandwich on the kitchen table. She wasn’t quite tall enough to see it, but she knew that it was there. She had watched the woman making it, putting every bit of it together with care. The bread roll had been cut with the long knife, the margarine and mayonnaise had been spread over it and the ham had been taken from the fridge and placed on top of the bread. She had watched the small pile of ham being saved for her while the best bits went into the bread roll. She had concentrated on this process carefully, never taking her eyes off that pile of ham, until she had been given her share. She knew that there would be more for her. All that the man had to do was notice that the sandwich was there. As soon as he had picked it up and eaten it by the window he would give her the last mouthful. He didn’t always make sure that there was still a bit of ham in it the way that the woman did but it was still worth waiting for. The bread would be nice and soft and the margarine would stick to her chops, ready to lick off. There might be cheese.  After that had happened she would have a sleep. He should have eaten the sandwich already; it was what he did, but not this time. She didn’t know why. He paced up and down, seeming to see nothing. The dog stared hard at his straight stiff back, willing him to turn and look at the sandwich, even move towards it.

Footsteps came down the stairs. The dog flicked her eyes towards the door, and her tail trembled warily. The woman might make him notice the food. The woman walked in and the reassuring eye contact which the dog was waiting for wasn’t there. Her ears went back. The woman looked straight at the sandwich and then towards the man. The dogs tail trembled faster.
“I made you a sandwich.”
“I saw it.”
“Don’t you want it?”
The man grabbed at the sandwich and frowned at the woman.
“Give it here. I’ll eat the bloody thing.”
The dog drew back a little, sinking into her bed. The man’s voice was hard and brittle, the same voice that he used when she went into the stagnant water in the ditch behind the hedge. She didn’t know why he was sounding like that now. The woman was talking at him, in a soft, whining, cajoling voice. The man wasn’t looking at her. The dog laid her nose on the edge of the bed and watched him as he stuffed a piece of the ham sandwich into his mouth angrily, wondering if he might forget her and eat it all. She wanted some. The woman was still talking.
“I don’t know why you’re angry with me. I haven’t done anything.”
“Well maybe you should think about that.”
“Never mind.”
“Well tell me.”
“I shouldn’t have to.”
“What have I done?”
“Look, just leave it will you. I’m eating my sandwich. I could do with a bit of peace.”
“I just want to know what’s wrong.”
“Leave it will you!”
The dog recognised the two words ‘leave it’. Both the man and the woman said it to her regularly. Sometimes the people outside with other dogs said it as well, when they walked past and came too close. It was never meant kindly. It meant stay very still and don’t touch whatever it was you were going to go near, or something bad might happen to you. She concentrated very hard on the ham sandwich in the man’s hand. There was still some left. Still the woman talked.
“I just want to know what’s wrong.”
The man was glaring hard now. He was going to shout. He might hit out. The dog wondered why the woman didn’t run away. She kept talking.
“I’ve done nothing wrong. You just get like this and I’ve no idea why.”
The words went on and on. This was bad. If you did that to the man you didn’t get anything. The dog knew that. Why didn’t the woman know? If you wanted him to do something you had to pick the right time, then he would pat you, or even give you a treat. You waited until his face looked right. His face didn’t look right just now. The dog stiffened as he turned on the woman. Finally the woman did what the dog knew she should do. She stopped talking and became very still. The man made a lot of noise.
“Will you get yourself out of this sodding kitchen and give me some peace!”
What was left of the ham sandwich rocketed across the kitchen and hit the floor near the door. The dog shot across the kitchen, grabbed it and thundered up the stairs to the landing to eat it. There was a lot more than usual.


2 comments on “Short story: The Ham Sandwich.

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Wonderful, Pat. A very incisive piece of characterisation…you have a real talent for observing people (and dogs!)

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