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Pastrami on Rye with Mustard
Camille Booker (University of Wollongong, Australia)



I was born on the Lower East Side. I wasn’t actually born, more like made. Just your typical deli sandwich: two slices of bread with layers of pastrami filling and mustard. And I don’t mean white bread, which is so unsturdy it should be illegal. It sure as hell won’t hold up to a pile of meat; rye bread is the true complement to a traditional deli sandwich. Look, I know everyone is a foodie now and an expert, but Katz’s Deli has been around for over a hundred years, so they know a thing or two about how to make the perfect sandwich, which is pastrami on rye with mustard.

There I was, a typical pastrami on rye, waiting to be passed over the counter so whichever tourist who bought me could snap their photo, upload it and the ‘likes’ could start rolling in. Because after all, it’s the dream of any novelty food to be immortalised on social media, and it’s the tourists you got your best bet with.

Except in walks a schmuck from UberEats. He picks me up, walks me outside, tosses me into the front basket of his bike and starts pedalling all the way Downtown. Probably to some Wall Street yuppie, too lazy to get up from his desk and come eat me off of a plate.

Oh hell no, I say to myself. Not this pastrami on rye. I make a break for it and launch myself into a pile of leaves lying in a crumpled heap on the gritty sidewalk. That schmuck barely notices and pedals on.

For a while I lay there, taking in the city scene. The street is doused in golden hues of yellow and brown. A jogger runs past. Each step lands in rhythm to the inaudible tunes playing from white headphones plugging her ears. She’s completely oblivious to the shades of cinnamon coloured foliage reflected in the windshields of the shiny yellow cabs that flood the avenues.

Yellow. A controversial colour. Katz’s make their own mustard, you see. And it’s not yellow, like those shiny cabs. It’s spicy, deli-brown mustard. When someone asks for yellow mustard they tell them to go look in their Crayola box. That’s because real mustard isn’t supposed to be yellow. It’s supposed to be brown. So, no yellow mustard with your pastrami, please.

You won’t believe me when I tell you what happens next. I kid you not, a rat the size of a box of Chinese take-out picks me up and carries me down the subway stairs. Whiskers the size of chopsticks. Now, I’m a modest sandwich, and I never asked for the notoriety of the Pizza Rat, but while this giant vermin is dragging me by my paper wrapping, I’m thinking I may have a chance of going viral if someone notices me now. This rat’s hands are so huge, it opens my wrapping and starts chewing at my insides. I felt the nibble against my pastrami filling, followed by an excruciating pain that shoots through the spread of my mustard. Firmly attached to my bread are a pair of needle sharp, inch-long teeth. The more I struggle, the deeper its teeth sink into me. Now I panic. I scream out for help but nobody’s taking notice. Nobody looks up from their damn phones. Not one person.

By this point, I’m almost black with subway grit, I’ve lost all but one layer of meat and my last shred of hope is as thin as the toothpick that’s holding me together. I figure, what’s the point? Let the son-of-a-bitch rip my insides out. Who’s going to ‘like’ a picture of a beaten-up sandwich anyway?

As the train approaches the platform, a gentle gust of subway wind blows away my last two slices of remaining bread. I accept my fate: after all, I am just a deli sandwich.



Camille is an award-winning author and creative writing teacher. Her debut novel was published by Hawkeye Publishing in 2021. In 2022 she completed the Curtis Brown Creative 6 Month Novel Writing Course, during which she wrote her second historical fiction novel, The Woman in the Waves, which will be released with Hawkeye next year. She is currently undertaking a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Wollongong.

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