he gunslinger's eyes, sharp but with a sadness of miles traveled and friends lost, glimpsed the mustard at the back of the refrigerator. Quick as a serpent's strike his hand, his left hand, the full one, shoots out and grabs the brownish condiment. Pulling his hand back he feels the temperature change as he removes the mustard from the artificially cool container. An old bowl of what might have once been spaghetti tumbled out of the refrigerator and onto the floor. A container of ketchup, at least he hoped it was ketchup, followed and was joined by a jar full of brine, sans the olives that the label indicated the grimy glass jar once held. Subtlety was never his forte; Alain was always the one able to finesse his way around problems. It was his bullheadedness that has kept the gunslinger alive while so many died around him. It was what kept him where he was as he was while the whole world moved on around him. But it did not make for neatness.
The old man, once a young boy bent on vengeance, was now empty of such thoughts. This man, who once traveled the lands where only muties and those who subsisted on devil grass and insects roamed, was empty to the pit of his stomach. He stood in the kitchen, feet apart, the cool air of the refrigerator cutting off as the door glided shut under it's own weight. The hot air of the kitchen immediately reasserts itself and he already feels the first bead of sweat under his chambray shirt.
Like a man possessed he begins his work. First the bread, soft and white, so different from the hard black bread he was forced to feed on for so many years. With a serrated blade not unlike one that once belonged to his trainer, Cort, the gunslinger slices two thick pieces of bread. The freshly baked grain cuts easily and as he turns to get his next ingredient, the broken bread bleeds its steam into the already sweltering room.
The turkey is next, thin and sliced, peppered with some spices and glazed in honey. He unfurls the plastic wrapper and pulls loose four slices of turkey, layers them onto the cooling bread. Taking a fifth piece he places it in his mouth, savoring the taste.
"There are more sensations then a man can feel in this world, boy. Don't waste your time trying to try them all." The voice of his old mentor, the man he nearly crippled when he himself was just a boy, rang through Roland's head.
The cheeses -- there were two types -- were next. The "American" cheese, the cheese that Eddie introduced him to, did not appeal to the gunslinger. The color was too bright, too vibrant to be real. The taste, although pleasant at first, had a stingy aftertaste that he did not enjoy. Instead he piled on three slices of what Eddie had also introduced to him, something called "Swiss" cheese. Roland had laughed at that, Swiss sounding much like schwish, which, in a dialect that Roland learned as a child, meant something far less appetizing then the cheese, actually was.
The gunslinger, then just a boy, had picked up the slang in parts of Gilead that his mother would never have had allowed him to go. This father, Steven, had forbidden his young offspring from entering the area. Steven knew that Roland, his adventurous friend Cuthbert and the unwilling Alain, often frequented the area and while he disapproved, he allowed it. Letting the boys be boys. Perhaps they would find trouble, perhaps even danger, but more likely, if anything did go wrong, they would leave scared, not scarred, and with a valuable lesson.
It was not long after his childhood visits to that forbidden zone that Roland had his first experience with a woman. After burying his hawk David, after besting Cort in the trail of manhood, after choosing his first set of training guns from the ancient armory.
Coloring the sandwich with mustard, covering almost every inch of the dead meat, Roland knew that he was ruining an otherwise perfectly good sandwich. The sweet taste of the turkey, the smooth texture of the "Swiss" (Roland smirks) cheese and the warm softness of the bread would all be lost under the slow heat of the mustard he slathered with the same serrated knife he used to cut the bread.
Carefully he uses the knife to scrape a good portion of the mustard off the top. It seemed an awful waste to let all that mustard wind up spiraling down the sink, but cautious enough in his old age Roland did not want to cut himself, especially his tongue. Rejecting his initial instinct to simply lick the knife clean Roland instead takes a slice of turkey and of cheese and runs the knife between them, pressing the slices against the sharp, cool metal. Rolling the slices into a cigar shape, he eats them. The taste is sublime, the subtler tastes of the cold cuts lost to the mustards bite, but he enjoys the heat, closing his eyes against visual stimuli that threatened to take attention away from this experience.
The shape of the roll reminds him of when he and his ka-tet had crossed through the world of "Captain Tripps"; a world they only walked in for a few days on their way to the Emerald Palace, on their way to the Tower, to victory and defeat. Leaf rolled meat on an open fire was not nearly as tasty as this, but the shape was the same and the heat of the mustard was just as hot as the meat inside the leaf rolls had been, though it was not the same kind of hot.
Taking his sandwich and a newly opened beer, Roland settled down at the table. Remnants of an earlier meal, imperceptible to most people, were obvious to Roland. A bit of egg, a crumb of toast, the missed spot of spilt coffee, hide in plain view on the tablecloth. Jake was a good boy and growing to a fine man, though not the most neatest of ones.
The first bite was always the best. Afterwards the bread sometimes slipped and mustard -- which he must admit there was still too much of, though not nearly as much as before -- sometimes fell off onto the plate. If one was not careful they could place their sandwich on a wide spot of mustard or mayonnaise and have to suffer with the stain on the outer part of the bread, making the act of holding the thing that much more difficult. Roland did not have to worry. The bread stayed in place, the mustard did not fall, and the meat held together under his firm but practiced grasp.
The crisp edges of the bread felt good against his teeth as he chewed, chewed, chewed and eventually swallowed. Too many meals had been wolfed down; too many times it was not about enjoyment but survival, something that had to be done, not something that he wanted to do. The next mouthful was bigger and the next was an impressive mouthful. As he chewed he realized he was rushing the meal. Stuffing his face in a desperate attempt to get it down before something happened. Eating as he did so many times in the past as if there might not be another bite to eat for days or weeks...
Chewing in large chomping bites, Roland forced himself to slow down, to let the mixture of flavors meld with his saliva, to let it slide down this throat, to appreciate the sensation. There might be too many in the world for him to ever experience them all -- but this one -- this one he could experience and he could enjoy.
The next bite was smaller. He considered the sandwich before he removed a piece off with his teeth, still sharp and strong, though by no means pretty. Not that he cared for such things. Pretty and pleasant looks were not his concern and had not been for years, not since the greatest beauty he knew was destroyed by ignorance and fear, in other words, evil.
The cries of Susan, never far from his mind, echoed in his head and he attacked them, flooded them away with a too long swig of beer. He belched pleasantly, letting the foul thoughts float away on the foul air. What was left was a pleasant sense of fullness. Another sip, just a sip, of beer and he regarded the sandwich. The bread had slid a bit and some of the remaining turkey hung over one side of the sandwich. There was a small spot of mustard on his chambray shirt. Susannah would scold him. "I bough' you that shirt with good hard earned money. I bough' it special for you since I know you like them ole ugly things. So why you have to go ruin it? Praise God! I won'er how you men ever get so far in life. I swear you worse than lil' Henry." She would then moisten a towel, or a napkin or a corner of her own shirt and dab, not wipe, the spot away. She would, that was, if she were still alive.
But she was still alive, in a way. When Eddie bought him this shirt, it was Susannah. Whenever Jake took the time to wipe down the table, to clean him a place; these efforts, however cursory, were conscious efforts do what he ordinarily would not. There was Susannah. It was Susannah who they thought of when they acted as she would have wanted. Cleaning what might otherwise have been left, apologizing for what might otherwise have lead to a fight. It was Susannah who was watching over them, mayhap with Tak by her side or The Jesus Man. Regardless of which of the gods dealt them their fate, it was Susannah who they looked to, thought of and whose spirit they sought to please.
Roland looked down at his sandwich and saw that despite the large bites he had taken only a little less than half was gone. He was not full, but he no longer felt hungry. Standing from the table he gathered up his plate with the remains of the sandwich, he would never have left so much food untouched in the past but things were no longer thin and he was in no mood to eat. He did finish his beer. In one full gulp he downed it.
His eyes, pale and showing the film of age, were still keen and he saw the small scrap of meat that must have fallen from this plate or his mouth, there on the floor by his booted foot. He half expected Oy to come scampering into the room and, finding the errant piece of cold cut, lap it up and munch it down. Oy would then peck around the floor, finding miniscule particles of bread and cheese and meat with which to sate his perpetual hunger. But Oy was no longer hungry; he was satisfied, full to bursting in his spot in the sun at the other side of the clearing.
Taking the plate and empty glass into the kitchen, the last gunslinger to have passed the traditional test of manhood, the last gunslinger who was born and raised in Gilead, the last of the line of Eld, scraped his plate into the garbage and washed his dirty dishes. Placing the wet plate and glass on the drainer next to the sink he went to the mess he had made in removing the fixings for his meal earlier. Perhaps once upon a time the man Roland was would have left those things there. Once upon a time he would have had other things to worry about and not been concerned with dirtying up some kitchen somewhere. Once upon a time such things didn't matter, but once upon a time was not now. This man no longer wandered the deserts of Mid-world. That man was gone and in his place was the aging gunslinger with a smile more contented these days than ironic, with the vague vestiges of a belly starting to form under his freshly washed, pressed and newly stained chambray shirt. That careless Roland was no longer, he had moved on. Roland ran a towel under cold water and dabbed at his shirt with it. When he was satisfied that the stain was faded enough that it would come out in the next wash, he folded the towel and placed it next to the drying dishes.
Roland stood in the kitchen with the failing light of the dying day casting his shadow on the wall. His shadow fell long and lean across the room. Upstairs the rattle of a rattle signaled Roland that Henry was awake. With his stomach feeling just a bit better and an idea in his head, Roland dried his plate and glass. Taking a box from under the counter where the toaster was kept, he rinsed the knife he had used for the bread and mustard. After drying the knife he used it to cut a piece of the chocolate cake Eddie had bought for that nights dessert. The glass he filled to the brim with ice-cold milk. He carried his new repast up the steps, taking each one individually, careful not to spill or drop, or to drop a crumb.
Entering the nursery, which was also Eddie's room, Roland smiled back at the infant who was already standing up in his crib. Henry smiled back. There, as the electric lights that once were a wonder to him came on one by one, he sat with the child on his lap, a glass of milk on the nightstand at his side and the plate balanced effortlessly on his knee. They sat and ate and Henry, who could not yet speak, gurgled and cooed at each taste of the confection and each sip of the cold, smooth milk. Before long the boy would find his voice. Roland supposed, based on his lineage, that once he learned to speak, Henry would not be still long during his (I pray to thee Man Jesus, Susan, Susannah, Steven my father and what fates are left in this world) long and healthy life.
Roland took a piece of cake.
EXCERPTS FROM DARK TOWER 15: ROLAND HAS A SAUSAGE
The gunslinger walked across the field and The Boy followed. Though he had not been to a fairday in over twenty years, Roland's memories of fairdays in Gilead were clear in his mind. The smells of this "carnival" were similar in many ways. There was the sweet smell of sugar in the air, the general murmur of crowds interrupted frequently by the laughter of children and the occasional shout or squeal from adults who had forgotten themselves in the joys of the day.
Things were different though. The smells of animals, so common in his boyhood city, were hardly there. Horses and their droppings did not litter the street and the meats being cooked were not freshly slaughtered. Hides and husks of hares and birds did not hang from the fronts of vendor's booths. Instead pictures of the meats showed, not what you were eating, but a glorified and idealized version of what you were supposed to be eating. The actual article inevitably fell short of its picture.
Still, for each difference he found, there were two or more similarities. There was no riddle contest -- the closest he found here was a huckster shouting inane questions and then answering them himself. "What do you call a man with one leg, one arm, one eye, no nose and no wife?" "Lucky!"
Such nonsense would appeal to Eddie, perhaps even Henry, Roland was loath to admit, but not to him. He passed on, a young boy was playing Kill the King, but here, Eddie had explained, they called it Three Card Monty. The boy was doing well, winning at a game that, Roland knew from past experience, only had the appearance of fairness.
Another young man, older then the boy by far, but still younger by far than the gunslinger, was watching a wheel spin. He was guessing, and successfully, where the spinning wheel would land. It seemed the gods favored the foolish this night. In that vein Roland saddled up to a food vendor. Holding a small stack of money that Jake had given him, Roland addressed the vendor. "Give me one." He said.
"One what?" the man asked back in a voice to quick for Roland's liking.
"A sausage." He answered and pointed at the picture perfect example posted on one of the booths support posts. The vendor glanced at the picture, at Roland and at his hand, the right one which was absent two fingers. The vendor seemed to consider mentioning the deformity but thought better of it and turned to perpare the food. The Boy whined at his side and barked once. Roland understood.
"Two." Roland corrected. The Boy barked again, this time in thanks, wagged his tail and waited for his treat.
In the distance the carnival barker was asking how do you get to someplace called Carnegie Hall.