Tuesdays With Tuna by Mike Hickman
Ever since What Happened ™, I’ve been coming here for lunch on a Tuesday. It’s the wipe-clean Formica, I think. And the tomato sauce in squeezy tomato-shaped bottles. It helps that the woman behind the counter – I think her name’s Jackie – looks through me more than at me. Not unkindly. This isn’t impatience or disdain. She’s just resolutely not impressed by anyone trying to pull rank on her. She’s there to make your sandwich, and she does it well.
Tuna roll, usually, thank you for asking. You’re the only one who has, and that’s how it is now, with me in my corner, with my book. I’m still on the same paragraph I was when I first came here, but No-One Cares in this sort of down-at-heel chain place. The Jackies of this world will let you read your book, will get your refill, will not judge you for counting out the small change.
God bless Jackie, is what I say.
But this is all by-the-by. You wanted to know about Besuited Well-To-Do, didn’t you?
I shouldn’t have been taking notice, but sometimes, you know, I watch them as they come through the door, setting the little bell ringing, bringing Jackie through from the back, wiping her hands on the towel that I hope is just patterned that way. I can’t help it, giving them labels like “Office” and “Administrator” and “Recently Promoted Executive”. It helps pass the time. Tuesdays are difficult. I came here that first one, after the hearing up the road, and ever since… Look, it’s like I held on to the best bit of that day, made it a habit, told myself that that’s what that day was: the day I started coming to the wipe-clean not-quite-a-chain-venue for my tuna roll.
Anyway. Yeah. Besuited Well-To-Do. It was most likely the third time he did it that I noticed what he was up to. What Jackie was up to, too. Maybe the crunch of the salad in my roll was somewhat lacking that day. Maybe that’s why I listened.
“The usual,” said Besuited Well-To-Do. And, oh, wouldn’t I love to have a “usual”. Maybe that’s another reason I’ve been coming here all these months. I’m looking forward to the moment I get to ask for the same thing.
Jackie was still wiping her hands on her towel. There wasn’t a flicker. “The usual,” she said, “right you are.” And the sandwich making magic proceeded in its usual way. She didn’t ask him if he wanted olives or even the salt and pepper, because it was all programmed in. It genuinely was a “usual”. She knew every ingredient.
Was there something in the way she leaned on the counter when it was done? Some slight arch to her brow as she told him, “That’ll be £3.99”? Sorry to say, I don’t know her well enough for that. She told him how much and he reached into the inside pocket of his really very nice suit jacket. “Damn,” he said, “left the wallet in the office.”
Jackie, that time – and the four times afterwards, in case you were wondering – moved the sandwich a smidge closer to her.
“Oh dear,” she said. “You’re just round the corner, though, aren’t you? Tell you what – I’ll keep the sandwich back and you can go fetch the money.”
It was as stilted and seemingly scripted as that. Besuited Well-To-Do did his thankful and relieved thing and he left, the door bell tinkling behind him.
You see this four, five, six times over, you’re going to wonder, aren’t you? Particularly when he never comes back. You might even – if it’s still a strange town to you, and if you’re thinking that you could do with getting to know it a bit better – go for a bit of a wander, just surreptitiously, like, to see where he actually goes. Every Tuesday. For all I knew, every other day, too.
You might see him, once you caught up with the suit, going into a café half a street away. You might follow him in.
“Oh dear,” says the assistant in there, “you’re just round the corner, though, aren’t you? Tell you what – I’ll keep it back and you can go fetch the cash.”
I don’t need to tell you what happened in all the other cafés, do I?
You might be so intrigued that you follow him back to the office. Because, yes, he does go there. Eventually. You might watch him go through the revolving door. Go round it. Walk back off in the opposite direction.
You might realise that a tuna roll on a Tuesday amongst the wipe-clean Formica and the squeezy tomatoes is not the worst way of coping with what’s happened in your world.
Mike Hickman (@MikeHicWriter) is a writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including 2018's "Not So Funny Now" about Groucho Marx and Erin Fleming. He has recently been published in EllipsisZine, Dwelling Literary, Bandit Fiction, Nymphs, the Daily Drunk, and Red Fez.