Sandwich Making for Dummies

by Iain Wear

Dear Fiona,

I know it seems strange for me to be writing to you now, so soon after you've gone, especially after it all ended so badly. But the truth is, and this surprises even me, that I miss you. More than I ever expected to. I know it won't make it right between us, because nothing could ever make things right between us after what happened, but I wanted you to know how I feel and this seemed like the easiest way to do that.

You know, despite all the years we were together, I never forgot that first time we met. Do you still remember? It was a Friday night in the Duke of York, a place I rarely went to before then, but it was my friends' night to choose the venue. I turned away from the bar and there you were across the other side of the room, dancing madly to something indie I couldn't identify. You were blonde and gorgeous with the kind of figure that drives men wild. And, judging by the crowd around you watching you dance, it was doing exactly that. It wasn't quite love at first sight, but I knew straight away that I had to get to know you better.

Surrounded by so many men, I didn't expect you to even see me, much less notice me when I had to pass by you to get to the toilets a little later. But you did both and reached through the crowd on my way back and pulled me close for a kiss, which was greeted with huge appreciation from the watching men, who perhaps all thought this meant they might be next. Their luck wouldn't be in that night and that kiss was to be the only one we shared, but when my friends finally came looking for me, as I was the one driving, you did accept my offer of a lift home.

It would have seemed so obvious, driving the long way around the suburbs of the city making sure we would be alone by the time you managed to direct me to your address. But you were oblivious to this, winding up my friends by turning the radio up ever louder and singing along at the top of your voice. I was never to see the inside of your flat that night and I never would, but my heart leapt when you took my number and said we should see each other again.

My mind replayed the events of that night over and over during the next few weeks as I got more and more depressed waiting for your call. What a sight we must have made, both of us blonde, you almost platinum, and me with a washed out shade closer to brown. Both of us with smudged eyeliner, mine from amateurish applications, yours from partying. It occurred to me over this time that what I felt for you wasn't love exactly, but more a combination of infatuation and awe. You were like Austin Powers in reverse; men wanted to be with you and I wanted to be you. You were gorgeous, confident and fun and everything I ever wanted to be. Even your accent was a step up from mine, with a touch of English combined with the more usual Belfast accent which made you sound somehow posh but wild at the same time. Like most other people, I just sounded like one of those harridans the national news seemed to delight in interviewing whenever there was something of note happening. Which was most days, very little of it good news.

I didn't see you for ages, but I was constantly thinking about you. I even went back to the Duke of York voluntarily, in the hope you would be there. Clearly, some of your fan club from that night had done the same, as several people asked me where you were. I was as frustrated as them, but at the same time overjoyed. I had never been the centre of so much attention and it was all down to you. I knew my life could only get better if you were a part of it and I became more desperate to find you.

Then, one day, my prayers were answered. I hadn't even realised you were at the university, but there you were, standing in front of me in the library, with what would become your familiar greeting - "Hey, Dotes" - on your lips. Chatting to you that day, as we did long into the night over vodka at my flat, I discovered that we had more in common than I had first thought, but it was still our differences that attracted me to you. We were both in our last year at university, you planning to become a teacher and me studying English with no vague plans. Despite being a party animal, you were so focussed on your aims and I was just drifting amiably, hoping to be a writer, but never really having an idea what I would write. Every little thing made me jealous but even keener to have you around.

We grew close and started spending more time together. I'd like to think that we learned a little from each other, me being a steadying influence on you and helping you make it to lectures on time and urging you to study for. For your part, you influence on my life was everything I ever dreamed it would be, with you introducing me to so many wild games and new people. I began a love affair with Absolut Citron that still burns as bright as the first night you made me drink it and I discovered places that I had never known existed in my bookish world, Irene and Nan's, the Apartment, Morrison's, Tatu, Zinc Wherever we were, I was subject to more men wanting to be with me than ever before. OK, so I never quite shook the feeling that most of them were only with me so they could be closer to you and be next in line when you dumped whoever you were with and your habit of sleeping with my boyfriends after you'd just dumped yours did get a little tiring after a while, but I was suddenly popular; the one thing I had wanted all my life to be. It was only reflected glory, but I had never had so much of it.

Once we'd both graduated, it was more or less inevitable that we would end up living together. After all, so much of our time was spent in each other's company. It really didn't change anything; although it did make it a little easier for me to borrow your clothes and with your help I became an expert at looking my best. But still, there was the underlying frustration of losing my own identity. More and more I became "Fiona's friend", rather than being a person in my own right. Some days this annoyed me more than others, but as it was mostly what I'd wanted to be with you for, it was more of a blessing than a curse. And if we had never lived together, I would never have seen your greatest creation.

For most of us a sandwich is a snack. Something to be made quickly and eaten the same way. But with you, a sandwich was an adventure, like so much else. Like watching you dance, the way you moved around the kitchen was poetry for the eyes. You sandwich that was ever in your hands was made. It was a work or art, like a sculpture, lovingly created, before dying between your lips in a way that would have made thousands of men jealous. Calorifically speaking, your sandwiches were a nightmare, being cheese, meat and mayonnaise on white bread, but the way they were brought to life took my breath away every time. It seemed that you caressed the slices of bread away from the loaf, never merely cutting and every layer was lovingly put together with the softest of touches that made me ache whenever you licked stray mayonnaise for your finger tips. Remember how you laughed when I suggested you wrote a book on how to make the perfect sandwich, something like "The Sandwich as Art" and then said it should just be called "Sandwich Making for Dummies?" The hurt me more than you knew, as I always believed I was the dummy you were referring to and I never really came to terms with that, no matter how often you told me I wasn't. It didn't help that I always felt like a dummy watching you create that way. Watching you dance was always an orgasmic experience, total lust in motion, but when the two of us were in the kitchen and you were at the sandwich board, it always felt like true love.

Perhaps it was then that the cracks in our relationship started showing. I had found true perfection in my life that first time I stood behind you and the only way was down. The way you used to come home from school excited about your day and boasting about beating a bunch of six year olds at Connect Four lost its thrall. It no longer seemed like you were excited about your day, but boasting about how your life as a pillar of the community was far more important than mine, working a series of dead end temping jobs just to make the rent and to pay my share on our nights out. Even the way you frequently "paid" for drinks, by kissing me in full view of everyone around to excite them into parting with their wallets began to feel less of the excitement it had on the night we met and more like an intrusion.

The way you constantly corrected my grammar and told me off whenever I said "literally" or "actually" started to get on my nerves as well. It had seemed cute the way you corrected the grammar in the chat up lines we were still regularly the recipients of, but not it just seemed childish and embarrassing. The way you played your music too loud started to feel overbearing instead of quirky and I cried the day you took my Westlife CD from the stereo and scratched it with your car keys to ruin it. But you just laughed, telling me that you wouldn't have that crap in your house. But it was our house, not yours! It was bad enough losing my identity to everyone else, but for you to mark me down as merely being an adjunct to yourself was humiliating and upsetting.

You seemed to resent my every attempt to be more like you. Whenever I tried to dance like you did, you called me embarrassing and told me I was making a spectacle of myself. When I switched from glasses to contact lenses, you told me they didn't suit me, even though you looked far better in glasses than I ever did. But when I complained when you would wear higher heels so that your 5 foot 6 could be taller than my normal 5 foot 8, you told me I was over reacting and should grow up. But I was trying to grow up, Fiona, I was trying to grow up into you, and you wouldn't let me!

What about the tattoos? You thought it would be cool to have one done, knowing that I had long been trying to pluck up to courage to have a Chinese symbol, the one for "soul", tattooed just under my left collarbone. Remember how we decided we would go together, as you wanted a shamrock on your back? But then, having set the date, you went out on your own and had the symbol I wanted put exactly where I wanted it. You told me I could still have mine done, so we could have a matching pair, but it wouldn't have been the same. Then, when I had a dragon tattooed on my back, you told me it was too big and I looked like a "Prisoner Cell Block H" character and then made me feel worse because I didn't know it was Ollpeist, who had been chased out of Ireland by St Patrick and who had made the Shannon Valley with a flash of his tail.

Your sleeping patterns used to disturb me as well. I'd never lived with a sleepwalker before, so it was kind of endearing at first, but you always seemed to do it more often when I had an early start in the morning and you always used to fall over more things and make more noise coming in drunk when the schools were out but I still had to work than we ever did coming in together in the early hours of a Sunday morning. And you only ever seemed to wake up screaming from a nightmare or talk in your sleep when you dozed off in front of the TV when my favourite programmes were on, never in your own bed and never during the adverts. More and more, I was sure you were doing it deliberately. Were you trying to break my spirit to pay me back for wanting to be more like you?

The most annoying thing was when I'd asked you to pick me up from the hospital because I'd had an operation on my knee after a car accident. You knew exactly when I'd be coming out of hospital and you still managed not to be there, choosing instead to sit home and watch "Bagpuss". Then, when I called to remind you I was waiting, you managed to get distracted by a shoe sale. You weren't even all that apologetic when I'd hobbled into town on crutches and found you in the mall, happily window shopping as if I didn't even exist. You blamed it on being blonde, but I was as blonde as you by then and I remembered! That was really the pattern; everything you forgot was because you were blonde and therefore it was forgivable and everything I forgot was because I was disorganised and no-one's fault but my own, even though your life was by far more chaotic and untidy than mine.

But as is the way with these things, it was the smallest things that set it all off. I didn't like the way you treated me, but I'd come to terms with it all because I was getting plenty back from you, even if you didn't realise it some of the time. You knew how I felt about Dan Brown's books, being sure that they were never original ideas and bringing disrepute to our supposed religion, not that either of us really followed it. You knew I wouldn't want his name even mentioned in the house, but you still borrowed a copy from a colleague and you stubbornly refused to stop reading it, no matter how I asked, pleaded and begged. I threw myself at your mercy, promising anything as long as you'd get that dreadful book out of our home, but all your did was smile indulgently and tell me to chill out and go read a copy of "Sandwich Making for Dummies" instead of worrying about what you were reading.

Well, that's what I did. I had watched and I had learned and this dummy knew exactly what to do. The bread knife was always sharp, as you cared for your tools better than you ever cared for me. It didn't take too much effort, even though bread knives were never meant to cut through bone. But that was where the electric carving knife my mum bought me came in handy. Remember how you laughed as my one attempt at cooking a joint had gone hopelessly wrong? Well, I might not have carved a joint with it, but lack of use had kept it sharp and, unlike the meat it was cutting, it didn't let me know when I needed it to.

Bread, meat, cheese and mayonnaise. You always said it was the tastiest thing you ever ate and I'm now starting to see your point of view. Although I didn't cook the meat well enough the first couple of times and like all those nights staying up until dawn and drinking vodka, you made me sick. Worse, I could almost hear you laughing at me as I threw you all back up in the toilet on those nights. But once I got it right, you started tasting very good indeed and there is still plenty of you left

Soon I'll be ready to face the town centre without you and this time it will just be me. I won't be "Fiona's hanger on", I will be me and I will be everything I wanted to be and everything you ever taught me. Because dummies can learn you know, and this dummy did. I tell you how I've learned from you and thank you for how much you've helped me to grow, but your icy stare from the freezer draw scares me as much now as it ever did when you turned it on me in life, so I don't tell you my secrets any more.

But there are some nights I do still wish you were here. Mostly because I don't know how to get all of your blood out of the seat cushions and I know you would have been able to tell me. But things couldn't have gone on the way they were, with you undermining what little confidence I had.

If there is an afterlife and one day we meet again, please don't think too badly of me. I just couldn't live with you and I couldn't live without you. I think that in the end, I found the best compromise. Parts of you will always be inside of me.

Even now, even despite what happened, I still love you,

Elizabeth. xxx

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