Jeff Phillips: Italo Calvino Eats a Sandwich

One of the greatest benefits to having a writing group is that we find inspiration in each other’s work. A writer will come up with a piece that kick-starts a theme as each group member in turn comes up with their own take on the same concept. One of our favorite themes has been “Author Eating a Sandwich.” Check out our past pieces and come to our live show on Aug. 26th for the opportunity to purchase our compilation zine!

A big egg – the size of a tiger’s head – broke through the ocean’s surface, after Italo Calvino had long been imploring Qfwfq to make him one of those sandwiches he used to make him before he was born. Seasoned, juicy slabs of cosmic meat. Cold cuts that resembled the icy smoothness of space, that seemed to suck in his soul’s tongue; a quick slurp as it slipped into the vacuum. Thick slices of muenster that gravitated against the backs of his top front teeth, where the bridge of his gums could feel their moonlike density.

Italo hadn’t tasted anything like it in his 60 years on earth, and in his final year – though he didn’t yet know it – he was on the verge of a breakdown. He couldn’t keep the cravings at bay. He called on his old friend Qfwfq to come out from hiding in the Milky Way clouds. If Italo had only waited a year, he could have his pick from an inventory of such sandwiches, abandoned and preserved, orbiting as a sort of asteroid belt deep in the Andromeda galaxy.

“I don’t make sandwiches anymore,” Qfwfq finally replied after Italo released a series of guttural, catlike cries into the night. The stomach pangs, commingled with an eruption of nostalgia, were more than Italo could bear.

“How come?”

“I’ve been on a pasta kick for quite a few decades.”

“That’s baloney. You’re hurting me. I’m falling apart. My brain is going haywire. Biting into one of your deli masterpieces would stabilize me. Please, please, for all times sake.”

“Let me think about it.”

“Okay.”

Qfwfq was silent.

“Have you thought about it?”

“Give me more time than that.”

“How long do you need?”

“I don’t know. I’m busy.”

“What have you been working on?”

“The Universe’s biggest neon sign.”

“That’s neat. What’s it going to say?”

“Gone fishing.”

“You’re going fishing?”

“No, but I want people to think I am, so they stop asking me to make them food.”

So Italo gave Qfwfq the space he needed. As Italo waited, he took a walk in a small patch of forest, and found a good tree for climbing. Italo climbed the tree, and tucked himself away from view in a thicket of leaves. He didn’t want any distractions. He wanted to focus his thoughts on the sandwich. Saliva started to flood his mouth, He feared if it dripped down from the branches, it would be a dead giveaway on a sunny afternoon. He didn’t want anyone to find him and interfere. He wanted to direct all of his will power to attract the sandwich into existence, that maybe he could summon a miracle sooner than Qfwfq could make up his mind.

But Italo soon heard his name, gurgling from the nearby beach, spoken by Qfwfq’s booming voice.

Italo scrambled down and sprinted to the shore, and out a fair distance, he saw the egg bursting up from the deep blue, like the buoyant thing had been released from far below and had gathered speed as it rushed up.

“Go to it,” Qfwfq whispered with the sea breeze. “You’ll have to swim if you really want it.”

So Italo swam to it. The ocean was frigid, but that didn’t phase him; it reminded him of the freeze of space, when he was just a forming primordial presence, and so the sea felt somewhat homey. When he reached the bobbing egg, he wrapped his arms around it to give himself rest.

“Where is it?”

“You must get inside of it.”

“How?”

“You must figure that out.”

Italo thought long and hard, but it was difficult. His blood sugar was low; his mind felt murky. The thing felt like a terrible puzzle. His stomach grumbled and a spray of saltwater on his lips made him angry the meat wasn’t in his mouth yet. Italo’s grip slipped and he fell back into the sea. Frustrated, he punched the shell, his fist plunged through the crack, and there, he felt something familiar. The toasted crispness of the baguette pressed against his knuckles. He opened his palm and spread his fingers around it. His middle finger felt the cool smoothness of the black forest ham, bologna, and hard salami. Some shredded lettuce, tomato, and black olives tumbled out through the slice in the bread.

Italo pulled himself back on top of the egg and straddled it. He punched down a few times to open up the top of the shell. He pulled the sandwich up, but noticed a slice of cheese that fell onto his thigh. Etched on the surface, with black pepper as ink dots, was an image of the Death Tarot card. Italo looked at it for a moment, then placed the tattooed cheese slice in his mouth. It was buttery and had a smoky kick. The Death card often just indicated a time of great change, so he bit into the sandwich, hoping it only symbolized that a deli near his home would soon learn to replicate what he was happy to be devouring, that the change would be an abundance of sandwiches. Some oil drizzled down his forearm, cutting through the wetness that lingered from his swim. A lone banana pepper rubbed up against a cut on his knuckle. But the sting was drowned out by his brain’s rejoicing. The flavor was all he could pay attention to, until Italo noticed thousands of red amphibious lizards poke their heads up from the sea and surround him. Their tongues whipped out from behind their thin lips and licked at the air.

Qfwfq spoke. “When your time on Earth is done, I will put you in charge of making it rain sandwiches for my scaly friends. I owe them much. And you owe me for this delicious feat. Study it well, you will recreate it exactly.”

In the coming months, when the Moon swung close for an orbit that nearly grazed the Earth, Italo expired at the age of 61. His soul drifted up, and right away took to grating the hard Moon-milk of the lunar surface, to gather a sort of Parmesan in copper cups, so that he may sprinkle and coat all galactic deli meat with an extra special touch of his own. Some fishermen claim to sometimes see squalls of bread and salami, but they can’t watch it for long, lest a banana pepper gets in their eye.

italo calvino eats

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