The Ham Sandwich Theorem

by Meghan Rose Allen
(Calgary, AB)

On Saturday night Angie gives Matt her list of demands. Impossible, arbitrary, nonsensical demands. But Matt's reaction comes unexpected. He flips open his notebook and starts to write.

"No worries," he tells her. "It'll be just like a topology problem." He frowns as he scans the list again. "Maybe combinatorics."

Marie-Flore is a combinatorist. Combinatorialist? Angie is an engineer. She doesn't know. "Well, why don't you get Marie-Flore to help you then?"

"Maybe." Matt's distracted tone means he hasn't heard what she's said to him, but Angie, ready for a fight, pounces anyway, not even sure what she's screaming about anymore. When done, she stomps to the bedroom, slams the door behind her. There's no lock and tonight is Matt's night. She pushes a low nightstand into the path between the door and Matt's side of the bed. Just in case he tries to come in.


On Sunday morning, their, her, the new owner's house has chicken pox. Angie doesn't remember having ever bought stickers like this, red circles that remind her of attendance charts in kindergarten and Sunday school. Matt must have taken them from work or bought them at the dollar store. How long has he been planning for this? Angie forces herself not to think about it. They've both known Marie-Flore since they were undergrads.

She goes back to bed until after noon, then she gets up and goes back downstairs to a house bereft of anyone else. She has until three. At three, Leila will drive over with her brother, and her brother's cube van, to pack up Angie's share of the house.

Angie has still not found a place to live. Her mother offered that she could move back with her, way south in the old part of Barrhaven. The hassle of transferring her health card and driver's license back to Ontario. The hassle of taking the bus to work, a tedious ride on the 95, a transfer at Lebreton Flats. The hassle of being thirty-eight and living in the same room she lived in as a teenager.

No more hipster slumming on the other side of the river, in their red-roofed house that she can see from the window of her government office. No more smiling vapidly as her neighbours yell at her, replying in French like she's got marbles between her teeth. No more walking to work, waving at Matt as he walks across the footbridge towards the market, towards the university.

Not that Matt's been walking the return trip. Other women find lipstick and phone numbers on serviettes. Angie finds half-used sheets of transit tickets. Matt staying late with Marie-Flore and taking the bus home so as to arrive at the same time as walking.

She avoids the contagion of red stickers in the living room. She will make chai and sit at the table and read the newspaper as if nothing is happening. As if Matt is away. Matt away at some conference in Pittsburgh or Montreal. But Matt has ensured that even the soothing motions of constructing tea are denied her. At the first step, getting a spoon, foiled.

The red stickers mar half the cutlery. Angie now owns three of the place settings for six. Salad, dessert, main course, fish. Matt has even denoted three of the baffling forks, tines so small as to render the utensils unusable, as belonging to her.

She grabs a handful and chucks them into the rented rubber moving containers, listens to the wobble as they hit the side and slide down. The forks, all the cutlery, an engagement present, and she's defying etiquette. She needs to give the presents back. But they'd gotten engaged while Matt studied for his Masters, and his grad student friends had thrown them a party, sneaking them into the Maths building after hours, clearing a classroom of desks, black plastic trays of dewy cheese and Nanaimo bars from Superstore balanced on chairs. But that was fourteen years ago. She hasn't spoken to any of those people since Matt graduated. They're not even friends on facebook. She throws another handful of cutlery down.

Pathetic to be engaged for fourteen years. Years of graduate school, post-doc purgatory, a futile tenure-track attempt at a rural college in the Prairies, her jobs, traveling, buying the house in Hull, other bits of life came first.

No one has said a word to her, but she knows. She knows that Matt and Marie-Flore will be married before the snow melts. They've synchronized their sabbaticals. A sure sign of what's to come.


After chai, Angie tackles the living room. The kitchen was easy, a clear split, six of one, a half dozen the other. But the living room with books and CDs and videocassettes, even though they've long since thrown out the VCR, merits investigation. The list she drew up, the one given to Matt the previous evening, she can't remember what she wrote was hers. A list made up in spite, her wants unattainable. Though, clearly not, the dots tell her otherwise. She scans the shelves to find out to whom the dots belong, Matt or her. The Brave Little Toaster could be either one. Spivak's Calculus not. Dots belong to her. More of her life heaves into the rubber containers.


Leila, asked to help because of the cube van connection, arrives at four minutes past three. Leila's hair is twisted round into spheres with pink ribbons run through, Sailor Moon style. And she wears a dress. Who wears a dress on a slushy day in March to help someone move?

Angie see her life as a spectacle beheld by casual acquaintances. The woman whose fourteen-year engagement ended with naught. The woman whose life is a parody of all rom-com movies ever made.


By 5:39, the house is cleansed and vaccinated, the cube van one-third filled. Angie negotiates a storage unit with Leila's brother. He owns a block of them, heat included. Out of politeness, Leila suggests Angie crash at her place awhile. Angie accepts for reasons she can't articulate. They barely know each other. Coworkers, no more no less. They'll drive to work together Monday morning. Angie will lock her office door and search for apartments rather than work. No one will notice. Most Mondays she gets nothing done anyway.

"Are you sure this is all?" Leila asks her. Fluid, one motion, she pulls the reticulated door down on the van. "Are you sure you don't want to take more with you?"

Mornings, when Angie woke and went downstairs, Matt slept on the couch, his legs too long for the cushions, his body too wide for the seat, an arm dangling towards the floor. He breathed loud breaths, not snoring, but not quiet either, breaths that made Angie crazy and kept her awake. She remembers a red dot like a bhindi on his forehead one morning, not centered but hanging haphazardly on the left, stuck and forgotten about.

Red dots are hers, Angie knows now. Red dots are what belong solely to her.

"No," Angie replies. "There's nothing else."

Comments for The Ham Sandwich Theorem

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Feb 08, 2011
by: Anonymous

Absolutely fabulous Meghan.

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