Short Story Tuesday: Melted Cheese


Avery reflected on the wispy string of mozzarella emanating from the edge of the darkly crisped panini while her mother continued to talk.  It had been a good sandwich, for the first few bites, before her mother had asked her how she could eat at such a moment.  She had been eating because it was good, she had wanted to say, and because it had cost her eight dollars and fifty cents, plus tax.  She had been looking forward to the sandwich a lot more than she had been looking forward to talking to her mother, but Avery hadn’t really expected to get what she wanted.

She never did, where her mother was involved.  Even now, as she idly toyed with the strangely hardened, cooled spur of cheese, half-listening to Shelly detailing the reasons why she had separated from Mark – was it Mark?  No, this time it was Jeffrey, probably – all she wanted to do was shove her mother’s untouched pesto flatbread into her mouth and tell her to shut up so she could have lunch in peace.

But of course, the sandwich was ruined now.  Mozzarella never melted the same way twice.  She could take it home, she guessed, nodding and making a sympathetic noise where required, and put it on the George Foreman grill she had gotten at a yard sale last year.  That was as close to owning a panini press as she had ever gotten.  Asking her mother for kitchen appliances had always upset her, even if it was for a birthday.  Who are you going to cook for? It’s just you, she would say, accusatory and disappointed.  You’ll never use it.

It was probably true, Avery had to admit, abandoning the mozzarella thread and turning her attention to rolling the edge of her napkin between her fingernails.  After gorging for the first week on grilled cheese, pressed wraps, and burritos she didn’t need to be eating, the stupid thing would go into a cabinet and never emerge again.  They were hard to clean.

Mark had bought her a blender, in an attempt to secure the good will of his on-again, off-again paramour by getting her daughter on his side.  Avery had accepted the appliance with enthusiasm, but it hadn’t paid off the way Mark expected.  She cared about him just as much as she cared about her mother dabbing the thick foundation away from her cheeks as she pretended to cry over Jeffrey, peeking over the tissue to see if Avery was showing the proper level of concern.

She wasn’t.  She was hungry, and she wanted more than watered down Diet Coke and watered down sentiment from her mother, who thought being alone was worse than crying over flakey dates and lackluster romances.  Her mother had a bright blue Kitchen Aid stand mixer from her first marriage.  Avery had coveted it since the day her father filed the divorce papers and the house went up for sale, but Shelly had stubbornly held onto it, like she held on to everything else from her long-spent youth.

Avery took a bite from her cold sandwich anyway, grimacing at the tough prosciutto and the soggy bread where the tomatoes had lingered for too long, ignoring Shelly’s frown.  She was on a budget, and she would be damned if she let good food go to waste.  She had paid for the pesto flatbread, too, as a special mark of generosity in her mother’s time of distress, but it lay limply on its plate, untouched, as her mother scolded her for disregarding her feelings.  Six seventy-five, and the sodas had cost extra.  Shelly had gotten potato salad, too.

The George Foreman would have to be good enough for the leftovers.  It had been good enough so far.  She would be able to leave in a few minutes, when her mother got around to realizing that she wasn’t going to get much more sympathy out of Avery that day.  Maybe she would have time to run home and put it in the fridge before she had to be back at the store.  Maybe she would give Jeffrey a call the next day, and he would take her out to lunch to hear what Shelly had said about him.  Jeffrey liked seafood.  Jeffrey didn’t mind if she stuffed her face.

Avery made her escape when Shelly slunk off to the ladies’ room to replenish her mask of makeup, a kiss on the cheek and an extra squeeze to her obligatory hug making up for her desultory attention as far as Shelly was concerned.  As the waitress came round with a Styrofoam container, Avery glanced quickly at the bathroom door before reaching across the table.  She plunked her mother’s uneaten sandwich on top of her own, dumped in the potato salad, and took a final swig of soda before she bolted gratefully from the bare table.