Inspired by blogger Andrea Drugay I decided to tackle a flash fiction challenge on a writing website, Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds. The assignment: write a story in 1000 words or less in which someone is making a sandwich. How could a food writer resist? My effort, The Avocado Debacle is below. You can read Andrea’s wonderful and highly original story here.
Suellen flicked the light at the top of the basement stairs to get Chuck’s attention. He was a little deaf and found her voice shrill when she tried to holler.
“Do you want a sandwich?”
“You don’t have to.”
That meant he did. Suellen went to the kitchen and wiped the immaculate countertop one more time before beginning her task. She didn’t mind making Chuck’s lunch. Her kitchen was the one place where she could lose herself, where she felt deft and confident. During Chuck’s long business trips she casted aimlessly around the house on her off days from the library, listlessly nibbling some melba toast and cottage cheese around 11:45 and again at 5:30.
She pulled some bacon out of the refrigerator. Why not? she thought. Give him something to remember when he was on the road. She pulled the tangy sourdough he liked from the breadbox. He assumed it came from the Kroeger but really it came from a tiny bakery near the library that had golden pine tables and a large vase of flowers near the cash register. Also a secret was that the bread cost almost a whole hour of Suellen’s wages at the library. She sometimes bought herself a small shortbread cookie laced with orange zest to eat very slowly with her mug of community coffee in the library lunch room but she had never tried the bread.
She cut thick slices of it and placed it in the toaster. She knew with pleasure that the smell of bacon would by now be making its way down to the wood-paneled basement that Chuck called his study. It was where he spent most of his time when he was home. Suellen sliced roma tomatoes: Chuck liked the romas because they could be sliced very thinly and also, Suellen suspected but never said, because they were cheap. He would only eat iceberg lettuce despite Suellen’s pleas that it was mostly water with no nutrients to speak of. Well, she hadn’t exactly said that, but she wished he would be willing to try some other type. The butter and the leaf and even the romaine looked so temptingly fresh and green. Suellen’s hand would always pass over them in the Kroeger as through she were feeling for heat, then pull back and place the inevitable iceberg into her cart.
She spread mayonnaise thickly on one side of the sandwich and Coleman’s spicy mustard on the other side of the bread. She placed a slice of asiago on the mustard side followed by some tomato slices. She pulled the bacon off the burner and cozied the slices on the waiting paper-towel lined plate. She dried them off the way she would have dried a child coming out of a bathtub, their little striped faces poking out of the white. She felt a flash of relief as she remembered that Chuck liked avocado now and that she had one. It was the darndest thing. He had come home from a trip a few weeks ago and demanded to know where the avocado was. She hadn’t even known he knew what an avocado was and suddenly, he was quite put out that there weren’t any there. Suellen, though somewhat startled at being accused of forgetting avocados she hadn’t bought in 20 years of marriage had taken it as a sign that perhaps Chuck was becoming, more flexible, adventurous even. There was quite a steep learning curve to those avocados though. They seemed most often to be either rock hard or marred with brown inside. On several occasions she had misjudged their ripeness and cut one open to reveal unyielding flesh that Chuck pointed out was the wrong shade of green and had refused to eat. It had sat in the fridge, accusingly turning brown but refusing to soften until Suellen had guiltily thrown it away. She had talked it over with Kitty at the library, this whole avocado debacle, and had learned to ripen them in a paper bag, including a banana for company if she wanted it to ripen faster. This avocado was perfect, oh yes; Chuck would not be able to gripe if he tried. She sliced it thickly, remembering to salt it and add a squeeze of lemon as Chuck had inexplicably requested. She laid bacon and lettuce over it and closed the sandwich up-it was impressively thick. She cut it into triangular quadrants. Chuck would not eat square quadrants, claiming them to be ‘clumsy and inelegant’.
Suellen heard a car start outside and looked at the clock on the stove. Goodness, he would miss his plane! She went to the top of the stairs to flick the light but it was already off. Suellen ventured downstairs. The study was empty. She went to the door leading out to the garage. His car was gone. But, his sandwich, she thought numbly. The bacon was getting cold. She would wrap it up and call him to come back. She would wait on the step with the sandwich. He could eat it at the airport. She sat on his side of the bed and picked up the phone to dial when she noticed that his night side drawer was open. And empty. On her night side table was a piece of paper. It read, “I’m not coming back. Chuck”. He had written it on some scrap paper, on the back of an old MapQuest. Next to the paper was a creamy ecru card reading Stan Monpf, Divorce Attorney. Through her shock Suellen felt an unfamiliar flash of irritation. He thinks he’s going to pick my divorce lawyer? After a moment Suellen wandered into the kitchen. She sat down on her step stool, placed Chuck’s plate on her lap and took a large bite of the sandwich. She was going to need her strength.