Falafel Sandwich

Isaiah Newman


We passed a 24-hour falafel place on our way out of our first concert since moving in together. You jerked your head toward the door and asked if I wanted anything, then smiled because you knew the answer was yes. In the beat it took me to respond, you stood like a tall, wind-knocked scarecrow: shoulders at an angle, one arm pointing toward the door and the other dangling limp at your side. While we waited for our food, we sat across from each other and every time your foot brushed mine it felt like drumsticks tapping to begin a song. Your prematurely-graying black hair was the longest I’d ever seen it, almost shoulder length, but I liked it that way and had told you so. I hadn’t told you yet that my father had learned earlier that day that the insurance company wouldn’t cover his treatment. I hadn’t told you about his cancer, at all; I didn’t want to frighten you. On the bus home, we sat in a corner at the back because we liked the feeling of almost-privacy, and our thighs whispered to each other every time we went over a bump in the road. I turned and rested my shoulder blade against your sternum, then asked for my food. I knew it was bad etiquette to eat on public transit, but I was too hungry to wait. You said, I’ll give it to you on one condition. I said, But I paid for it. You said, Yeah but I was the one that talked to the cashier, and I’m the one holding it. I said, Fine, what is it? And you said, taking out my falafel sandwich with tahini and hot sauce, I’ll give this to you if you promise to marry me. I wanted to swing between the hanging straps like a cartoon monkey but instead I said, Of course I’ll marry you, you don’t need to hold my food hostage. When we got home, and I’d finished eating, you got out the same deck of UNO cards you’d brought to our first date, and you dealt me a fan of seven. I said, grinning, I can’t believe you still have that. We played until we could no longer keep our chests apart, then carried each other to bed.


I left my dad’s hospital room for the night and cried in the hallway because all day he’d been in too much pain to talk. When I got home, I laid on the floor of the kitchen and listened to Frightened Rabbit (your favorite band), my phone’s speaker next to my ear. I pictured your thin tree of a body waving back and forth with the rhythm, your hair cut short again for the winter. I felt a buzz and saw a text from you: How’s it going? You should have been able to come up with something better, but I called you anyway because we hadn’t spoken in a month and I knew this was your peace offering. When you picked up, I heard your dad watching a movie in the background, and I wanted to ask how he was but I didn’t because I knew his wedding was that weekend and I was jealous that you had a father who could still dance. Hey, I sighed. You said, I made a mistake. You said, I mean, I really fucked up. I said, Oh? You said, I should have been there, at the hospital. I said nothing. I wanted you to have to fill the silence. You said, I didn’t think you’d want me there. You said, I know that was dumb. You said, And after, when we were talking, I shouldn’t have said what I did. I said, Talking? You said, Fine, fighting, arguing, whatever. But the point is I didn’t mean it. You said, I still want to marry you, but we don’t have to rush it. You offered to order me dinner if I’d listen to you, and I didn’t want to say yes but I knew I couldn’t face another day in the hospital on an empty stomach. Nothing you said made me want to forgive you, but I still let you talk until the buzzer went off.


It was the second day of sitting shiva for my dad, and all of the food people had brought was terrible. The bagels were store-bought and stone-dry (unlike the ones you used to make) and the only cream cheese was garden vegetable (our mutual most-hated flavor). Halfway through the afternoon, you were in the doorway, crinkling a white paper bag in your fist. It was the first time I’d ever seen you in a suit, even though we’d been together for three years, and I thought you’d been watching too many romcoms. You wore it like metal, dragging your shoulders down below the base of your neck. I wondered if you’d worn the same one when your dad got married three weeks earlier. We went into my childhood bedroom and sat on opposite sides of the bottom bunk. You hunched in order to fit, and I wanted to tell you not to put your shoes on the bed but you were already cross-legged. You passed me the paper bag and said, I thought you’d want this. I opened it and saw a falafel sandwich inside. You said, I’m so sorry. I said, It’s not like you put it in his throat. You said, That’s not what I meant. You said, Remember when I came to a seder for the first time and he convinced me it was Jewish tradition for guests to get coffee for everyone the morning after? We both laughed. I said, In third grade I had to do an essay about what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said I wanted to be a comedian because my dad was funny. I sobbed, and you slid close enough to hold my hand, and then I grabbed yours and it was so warm I thought I would pop like a corn kernel. You said, I know this is weird timing, but I have something else for you. And you got off the bed and got down on one knee and pulled out an actual fucking Ring Pop, and if you’d done that three months earlier, I would have cackled. You said, Well? I didn’t say, What’s wrong with you? I didn’t say, I miss you. I didn’t say, Why would you think I’d want this? I didn’t say, I love you. Instead I sat there, staring at the candy in your hand, and wondered what would happen if I licked it.

about the author