Saturday 6 June 2020

'White, Wholemeal or Gluten Free?' by Keely O'Shaughnessy

The poster had read, “Welcome to Dreamtime.” A large purple and green eye sat in front of a monochrome swirl. Sal hadn’t waited for an answer as she breezed out from behind the counter saying she’d booked tickets for Saturday’s show after our shift. 

I sigh as dry ice is pumped onto the stage. We are two rows from the front: well within the audience participation danger zone.

“Embrace the kitsch,” Sal says.

Sal had started working at Pete’s Deli six months ago and unlike the others she didn’t edge away when I talked about the importance of filling to bread ratio. The weight of seven years service hangs heavy: I make subs in my sleep.

At the interval, Sal asks, “It’s fun though, right?”

We’ve just seen a guy, named Stu, stuff a cuddly toy in his hoodie and hop around like a kangaroo. He seemed into it, I’ll grant him that. He was wild and his leg muscles had tensed when he jumped and, in him, I recognised a level of desperation and despair, or it could have been hope. I wasn’t sure, but knew that this probably said more about me than Stu. As someone who makes over a hundred sandwiches a day, I often struggle to find the fun.

“Sure,” I say.

More people are pulled from the audience and Hypnotist Dan instructs them to sleep. One is transformed in a pharmacist. She mimes making up a prescription and then talks to the empty space in front of the foot lights.

“Take one, three times a day, before food,” she commands. “And I have to ask, have to ever had piles before?”

Laughter erupts.

The succession speeds up and we watch as people sleep and then wake and I begin to marvel at how easily these strangers inhabit another body.

The next person becomes a clown, the winner of Miss World and then the runner up. A teenage boy follows a heart surgeon and Michael Collins watches the moon landing from his command module.

Dan tells a young girl, “Sweetie, you are a superhero.”

“I know,” she says, standing mid-stage hands on hips.

This girl is Captain Marvel. She is Wonder Woman. She is Xena: Warrior Princess.

“Has she won you round?” Sal asks.

“Shut up,” I say, but I know my mouth hung open a little. 

Finally, the spotlight dances its way to us. This is it. I squeeze Sal’s hand and say, “See you on the other side.”

She laughs and I’m happy in the knowledge that, even if just for two minutes, I get to be someone else, and if I’m lucky it’ll be someone who doesn’t know how to make a California club with chipotle mayo, on rye.

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