It's not about buildings though. It's about bacon. It was inspired by a very bad serving of bacon I had with my french toast last week.
The perfect BLT and a very desperate man ahead.
Peter lowered the slice of toast with steady hands, balancing it with his thumbs and squinting in concentration. He took a deep breath and nodded when it finally sat squarely on top of the sandwich.
The perfect sandwich.
No crazy ingredients, no sprouts or baby greens, no specialty mustards or infused mayo, no ciabatta bread or sprouted wheat. Just bacon, iceberg lettuce, tomato, a thin spread of mayo and two perfectly toasted slices of white bread.
He sat on the stool and admired it. The lettuce was the perfect white-green shade that just looked crisp. The curve of the tomato slice was glossy and smooth from this angle. He could forget all the bad spots he’d had to bore out of it to get enough for the sandwich. The toast had regular, even, light brown lines across it.
He rubbed his hands together, smiling until he realized they were slick with bacon grease and drew them apart with a frown. He pushed a frustrated hand through his hair without thinking and made a disgusted face. He looked almost frantically around and saw the clear on clear bottle of hand sanitizer he’d liberated from the stockroom. He pumped it until a puddle of the stuff sat in his palm and coated both hands with it. He put his nose and mouth close to his hands as he rubbed them together. The sharp disinfectant smell cut the other smell coming from the neck of his sweater. He continued to rub even after his hands were dry. They felt softer but still slightly greasy. He leaned on the counter with a sigh, rubbing both hands through his hair this time imagining what it must look like, half-matted and half-spiked with grease and dirt. His pinkie snagged on a matted clump at the back of his head and he lowered his hands again, pressing them flat to the gleaming metal counter.
He almost looked down at his reflection. Instead he reached for a piece of bacon. He chewed it absently, feeling bloated with all the bacon he had eaten, greasy with it from his hands to his mouth and down into his stomach. He’d cooked four pounds of it to get the eight perfect slices for the sandwich. Standing at the grill just staring at it all, turning the pieces methodically, eating them before the little bubbles of grease had stopped sizzling and popping, his tongue raw at the tip and his lips stinging. There was still a huge pile of it left, but it was nowhere near four pounds.
He pushed the pan of bacon away and stood up, eyes on his sandwich. He walked around the table, seeing it from every angle, imagining that the spot it sat in was a little brighter than the rest of the sunlit room. He reached the far side of the table and turned to the cooler. It was only a few feet from the counter but he glanced over his shoulder again and again to see the sandwich. He only turned resolutely away when he was at the cooler door. He jerked the handle and dashed inside. The cooling system hummed but he shut the door quickly behind him, afraid it would stop working at any moment, that the pristine refrigerated space would fail before he could get what he needed. There were more packs of bacon back here. Hams too, and even some steaks. Milk and juice and syrups were on the right. He didn’t even look at the milk. He wanted it. Had almost cried when he saw it and had cursed and yelled when he saw the expiration date. He walked to the very back and smirked. The beer was just where he had set it and when he reached out and touched it it was real and cold. His fingers left a greasy smear on the bottle and he wiped it carefully on his new sweater, the scratchy blue wool only spreading the grease around in abstract lines and swirls. Peter gripped the bottle in one hand and took the handle of the six-pack in the other. He might as well do the thing right.
He walked back through the cooler with his prize and tugged on the handle. The door didn’t open. He tugged harder, ramming his shoulder into the door. He felt his breath seizing in his chest. He pulled the handle as hard as he could and felt a section of it shift under his grip. He looked down and saw the center of the handle had come apart, twisted away from the rest. He straightened it with shaking fingers and tried the door again.
The light in the kitchen made him squint and he stopped for a moment, still in the cooler, the cold air at his back, warm at his front, the sandwich sitting in a shaft of sunlight. He swallowed hard to clear the lump in his throat and closed the door behind him without turning away from the sandwich.
He brought his beer to the table. It was some local microbrew he’d never heard of and when he got the cap off it smelled slightly sharp. He drank half of it in one long swallow, beer fizzing over his dirty cheeks, and down his neck. He wiped hastily at it with his free hand, stopping the cold liquid from touching his sweater. He looked down to make sure none of it had soaked into the material and caught another whiff of disinfectant, dirt and sweat. He made a disgusted face and leaned forward, away from himself, sniffing hard at the top of the bottle before he took another drink.
He’d found the clothes he needed in one of the few shops that hadn’t been burned out. All he’d come looking for here was a little water. But there was no water, no running water, no water cooler for the employees, not even a bottle of Perrier. So instead of a refill for the canteens and a bath he had this.
“Could be worse,” he said, smirking again, eyes on his sandwich.
The howling in the distance was still so faint it didn’t even make him reach for his shotgun.
He opened another beer and saluted the sandwich with it. He took a long swallow and pulled the plate toward him. He wiped both hands against his stiff new jeans, rolled his eyes at himself and wiped them again. Better to get the pants dirty, he didn’t want his hands to smell like sanitizer for this. With both hands he lifted the sandwich to his mouth, putting pressure at the back so nothing would slide out. He opened wide and bit down, the toast rasping against the bottom of his mouth and the tomato and bacon sliding across his tongue, the first clear flavors. He chewed slowly, trying to identify everything before he swallowed: the cold snap of lettuce, the sweetness of the tomato, the cool mayo, the yeasty, rough bread and the salty crunch of bacon. He swallowed and swished the beer around in his mouth until it foamed so he could experience every flavor again.
He was down to his last four bites and his last beer when a howl sounded so close it rattled the windows.
Still holding the last of the sandwich in both hands, Peter looked up. There were gray shapes moving past the dirt frosted glass. It had gotten darker, he had no idea how long he’d been there, cooking, eating, and drinking. Long enough for the smell of bacon to sift down into the places where they usually hid during the day.
He looked at his sandwich, at the jaunty red edge of tomato had pressed forward past the bread, and then at his shotgun on the chair beside him. He took another bite. He tasted tomato first and bacon last as he crunched it against his molars. He was looking thoughtfully at his beer, trying to gauge how much he had left for each bite when they howled again. He flinched but didn’t lose his grip. He took a measured sip; just enough to rinse his mouth and then took another bite. The lettuce was first this time and it crunched in a different way than the bacon that followed it.
He could hear deep snuffling breaths outside the windows and knew what he’d see pressed to them if he looked. He didn’t look. The glass had wire reinforcing it. They would have to find the front entrance to get in.
His smirk was stiff as he swirled another sip of beer around in his mouth. They weren’t stupid. They knew what doors were. They knew how food was cooked even if they couldn’t cook it themselves. He could have drawn them just making the toast. The bacon was like a beacon.
Peter sighed, frowning at the puff of sour air that came up from the neck of his sweater. He took another bite, leaving only one more, held delicately between his fingers. There was just a sliver of tomato, but a good chunk of bacon and a thick cross-section of lettuce leaf. He didn’t look at his shotgun.
He chewed methodically and swallowed. He drank the rest of the beer, wanting the sandwich to be the last taste in his mouth.
The crash of the front door coming down seemed to rock the whole kitchen. It swayed in front of his eyes and he had to grip the counter to stay on his stool. He barely caught the last bite as it slid through is fingers. He cupped it in his palm, two corners of bread and the lettuce and bacon lying splayed in his hand. He brought the whole thing to his mouth and opened wide, catching his palm with the edges of his teeth as he scraped the last bite into his mouth. He chewed slowly, ignoring the taste of disinfectant and concentrating on the bacon.
He swallowed and laughed shakily, clapping a filthy hand over his mouth. He could hear them moving out in the dining area, the thumps of overturned chairs and the scrape of tables pushed aside.
He only had fifty shells and the swinging kitchen doors were too flimsy to hold them off. He looked at the pan of bacon on the counter. He could just see them leaving him on the floor and fighting over it. Real cooked meat. They were probably drooling over it now, leaving wet trails on the floors as they crept toward him. Him. The only thing between them and the last bacon. Maybe the last cooked bacon in the world.
Peter tucked the pan under his arm, swung his backpack over his shoulder and picked up the shotgun. He turned a full circle in the center of the room trying to see where he could hide it. The cooler door gleamed across the kitchen.
The door closed behind him with a satisfyingly solid sound. He jerked the loose section of the handle up as hard as he could. He put the bacon on a shelf and leaned heavily into the door, but it didn’t budge.
He dragged a bucket of shortening over and sat beside the shelf. He checked the shotgun and set a box of shells in easy reach. He balanced the shotgun across his knees. “All mine,” he said, and reached for another piece of bacon.