I may have inadvertently fed one of my colleagues some American Gods. This morning, I put a box of book-infested salmon cakes in the fridge. By lunchtime, they were gone. Last time my lunch was stolen, I wasn't too concerned. There were big scraps of paper sticking out everywhere. Unless the thief was blind and tongueless, he'd have realized something was wrong. But this time, the paper was puréed right into the potatoes. The thief would never notice a thing, unless he smashed each cake open and dug through its filling before eating it. (Which he wouldn't do. Why would he? He'd have no reason to suspect my salmon cakes.)
I looked in on Jim before I left, just in case. He looked okay. If he had eaten the papercakes, he wasn't suffering any adverse effects. I sounded out Shirley, the first floor receptionist, as well (keeping it discreet, of course).
"Anyone else out with that stomach bug today?"
"Stomach bug?" She looked wary.
"Yeah. I heard there was a bug going around."
"Not that I know of. Who has it? God, that's the last thing we need."
"I don't know. Maybe it was someone across the street. Sorry, Shirl."
"No problem. I'll let you know if anyone calls in. God, a stomach bug?" She looked around testily, as though daring any lurking bug to jump out at her.
I felt a little better, knowing my lunch probably hadn't made anyone sick. My mind was more at ease, at least. My stomach wasn't so happy. It was growling up a storm.
Back home, I tucked into a peppered mackerel fry-up on toast, with fishgreased paper folded into each bite. "Coronary food," my father would have said. I justified it to myself on the grounds that I'd eaten a light breakfast (blueberries, cream, sugar, book), and no lunch at all.
I think I've pinned down that memory, too. Bleach and paper: that would be the laundry room in the Virginia house. There was a recessed nook between the sink and the dryer. I used to read in there, in the winters. It was warm and private, and it smelled just like the taste of American Gods. I hadn't thought of the Virginia house in years. It's been at least forty years since it was sold.
I am feeling more like a man on a secret mission with each passing day.