The diner rang with noise; clinking and tinny smashes of knives and forks, the scraping of chairs on a red and white checked floor, the background murmur of an old snowy TV set mounted high on the wall in the back corner, the occasional bark of laughter from the watching patrons. A single waitress, tall with an old-fashioned apron and a book of sticky notes was flitting around the tables, taking orders and serving food as it was slid from the kitchen onto the counter with a shout from the cook.
“Look at you,” said Adrian. He fixed Philip with an unimpressed look, leaned back in his chair, and folded his arms across his chest. “What’s that on there that you’re eating? It looks like some mix between spam and roadkill.”
“It’s a sandwich,” said Philip. He leaned over the white plate that sat on the waxy diner table and sunk his teeth into the grainy bread. “You don’t like sandwiches?”
“No, and that’s not what I asked.”
“But they’re versatile,” Philip said. He placed his sandwich on the plate and peeled the top, soggy slice of bread from his meal, holding it up before Adrian for inspection. “Look; you can put anything you want between these two slices and it’ll taste good. I heard someone say once that a sandwich is the best type of food because you can do anything you want with it.” He put the slice back, carefully lining it up with the other layers. “People eat sandwiches all the time.”
“Bread’s too dry for me,” replied Adrian. He unfolded his arms and leaned heavily over to the next table, swiping a laminating menu. He slumped back and began scanning it.
“Bread isn’t dry if you choose the right sandwich ingredients.”
“A-ha!” Adrian leaned forward, abandoning his menu. “I thought you said that you could put anything on it. Now you have to choose the right ingredients?”
Philip frowned. “I don’t think I said that. I said that the bread won’t be as dry if you put the right ingredients for a moister sandwich on it.”
“Whatever,” Adrian said, leaning back again. “I think the whole thing of a sandwich is ridiculous anyway. And you still haven’t told me what I wanted to know; what the hell is on that sandwich? Is that what qualifies as food in this place? Now I’m not sure I want to order anything at all.”
“It’s devon. Luncheon. It’s supposed to look like this.”
Adrian wrinkled his nose. “People eat that?”
Philip put his sandwich on the plate again and re-peeled the layer of bread, this time following up with a cold slab of meat. He waved it in Adrian’s direction. “Here, try some if you want. It’s delicious.”
Adrian accepted the devon as if he were handling radioactive material. He curled his lip as he sniffed it tentatively. “It’s cold.”
“It’s meant to be cold. It’s devon. Now can I eat?”
Adrian tossed the limp sliver of meat back across the table. It landed on the side of the plate and flopped over the side. Philip sighed and rearranged his sandwich again.
“That’s gross, just saying,” said Adrian simply. He took up his menu, and began running his finger down it, muttering the selections to himself under his breath, before grunting, “Devon, eugh.”
Philip rolled his eyes, and unfolded a newspaper, very consciously propping it up so that it hid him from sight.
A few minutes passed in relative silence as Adrian contemplated to himself. Across the other side of the diner, there was another round of laughter and cheers from the TV-watchers, and Adrian shot them an irritated look. Suddenly, he threw the menu haphazardly on the table and stabbed the countertop with a finger.
“See, I don’t get that.”
“Cold meat.”
The newspaper crackled as Philip turned a page, and his voice acquired a new weary quality to it. “What’s wrong with cold meat?”
“It’s feral, that’s what’s wrong with it. I don’t get how people can eat meat when it’s not heated up. Meat, it’s – it’s meant to be hot.” Adrian gestured jerkily with his hands. “That’s what separates the humans from the animals. We heat our food, they eat it cold. It’s like…people, or whatever, they go out to some place like KFC, and then the next morning they take the leftovers of their super mega huge family dinner bucket to work, like it’s lunch or something, and they’ll just eat it. It’s revolting, all cold and chewy and – and not normal. And then they smile at you and ask if you want some!”
“So?” Philip closed his paper and looked at Adrian blankly. “Maybe they’re just being nice. I’ve done that. I’ve had co-workers do it. Everybody does it. What’s wrong with that?”
“Well, if we’re just eating meat cold straight out of the tinfoil, we may as well just eat straight out of the freaking rubbish bin for all the difference it’d make.”
“There’s a big difference between tinfoil and the rubbish bin,” stated Philip. He finished off his sandwich and Adrian stared at him as he chewed.
“What?” asked Philip.
“You’re making me feel ill.”
“What, because I ate some devon?”
“Yes, because you ate some devon.”
Philip placed his fingers on his temples and began to rub, his eyes closing. “Let me get this straight. If you were trapped on an island and all you had to eat was a tinfoil-wrapped piece of KFC, you wouldn’t eat it?”
“Of course I would, don’t be ridiculous,” said Adrian. “Doesn’t mean I’d enjoy it.”
“If you had any idea how ridiculous you sounded, you’d slap yourself.” Philip pushed his plate away from him and cast his gaze around the diner. Suddenly he lifted his arm, flicking his wrist to call the waitress.
“What are you doing?” asked Adrian.
“A survey.”
The waitress pulled a stubbed pencil from behind her ear as she approached, order pad at the ready, but Philip waved her down.
“No, no, I’m not getting anything. I just wanted to ask you a question.”
The waitress glanced at the sulking Adrian and a lipstick-laden grin flashed up. She was chewing gum. “Yeah?”
“If you had leftover KFC in the fridge, would you bring it to work and eat it for lunch?”
She nodded twice. “Oh, yeah.”
“Yeah. Anything else?”
Philip smirked. “That’s all I wanted to know. Thanks.”
She winked. “No probs, sweetheart.” The waitress sauntered back across the diner, replacing her pencil behind her ear. Philip turned to Adrian, a satisfied smile plastered on his face.
“Cold meat.”
“What is wrong with people?” demanded Adrian. He looked like he was about to call the asylum.
Philip leaned forward and picked up a few speckles of crumbs from his plate. “Why can’t you just deal with it? It’s pretty standard. Cold meat’s all over the place.”
“Well, I don’t like it,” grumbled Adrian. He began to scan his menu again, before sitting back in disgust. “You know what, forget it, I don’t feel like eating anything.”
Philip sighed and picked up his paper again. “What a surprise…”