Recommended sanderwich: I wrote this story for the NYC Midnight short story challenge. It is round 1, heat 6, and my prompts were genre: rom com, character: food critic, situation: moving in. The recommended sanderwich is steak and grilled cheese!
Synopsis: Miriam, a food critic, invites her lover Alex to move in after only a couple of weeks. They discover that they have quite different attitudes to food, which begins to cause tensions in their relationship.
As morning light filtered through the blinds, Miriam and Alex giggled as they shifted around in her bed. This was the game they played as they woke up – the first one to stir would reach out for the other, trying to snuggle or spoon. They’d both move through a series of positions pretending as if they were trying to get more comfortable but actually the positions would become ever more awkward. Finally, Miriam was lying across Alex with one leg tucked under his thigh, and one of his hands under her back, and they were both laughing hysterically.
“I should get to work,” Alex said. Miriam pulled the covers over their heads and Alex kissed her. “Stay for breakfast?” she asked, running a hand down his chest.
“I don’t have time, sorry. Is it okay if I jump in the shower?”
“Of course. The blue towel on the back of the door is the one you used last time.”
Alex got out of bed and Miriam watched him; he had such a great butt, like two thick slices of rump steak. She let herself drift off again, warm and contented, and didn’t even hear him leaving her apartment.
Miriam sat alone in a restaurant as waiters brought her dish after dish. One enthusiastic member of staff had wheeled over the caviar trolley, so she wearily piled Iranian Beluga onto a small baked potato. The restaurant had a new chef and a revamp and they were trying to get press attention, hence Miriam was there with her notebook, ready to write about every nuance of every dish she tasted for the luxury travel magazine that she worked for. Her stomach rumbled and she imagined a huge steak and grilled cheese sandwich.
She waved at one of the overly attentive waiters and ordered a glass of Californian red. She thought about Alex and the first time they’d met a couple of weeks ago at a mutual friend’s birthday drinks. They’d been the last two there, still drinking red wine, when even the birthday girl herself had gone home. It was a Wednesday, after all, and people in their thirties didn’t stay out past about 10.30 on week night. Flouting mid-week etiquette, Miriam and Alex had ended up back at her place that night, kissing hungrily with red wine lips.
Since then they’d seen each other every other night. They hadn’t meant to, but one text led to another, and they’d always found a way to meet in a bar. Once they went on a proper date, to see a film, but they ended up fooling around on the back row like a pair of teenagers, and Miriam couldn’t remember what the film was about. To be honest, she couldn’t even remember the title. She could, however, remember the usher’s disapproving look with diamond cut clarity, and their consequent ejection from the cinema.
Chomping her way through a plate of grilled bone with parmesan and parsley salt, Miriam looked down at her phone as it flashed with another message from Alex. They were in the middle of a discussion about card games ‘I’d love to play contract whist with you’ the text message read, then quickly after another one flashed up, ‘that’s not a euphemism’. She was surprised that the next one read ‘Shit. Landlord is kicking us out.’ Without thinking about it she typed back ‘So come and stay at mine.’ Her phone started to ring, and she answered it.
“Are you asking me to move in?” he asked. She laughed
“Jesus Christ, I thought I was being nice.”
“No, no you are being nice. I can’t believe he’s done this.”
“Course he is, worth a fortune now, that place,” she took a gulp of her wine, “I just meant come and stay while you look for somewhere else, it’ll be fun.”
“Thanks, Miri, you’re a life-saver.”
It was their first weekend in the apartment together. Alex had put some of his stuff into storage so he hadn’t brought it all with him. Miriam was used to living by herself – her floor was usually scattered with clothes – but she’d had a thorough tidy up before Alex had got there on Friday afternoon. She’d even changed the bed sheets. Though instead of tackling the study, she’d just closed the door. He wouldn’t need to go in there, anyway, that was her work space, where she went to write up her reviews and she needed the mess; it was part of the creative process.
She was the first to wake up on Saturday morning; she looked at the handsome man in her bed, like a hunk of slow cooked brisket ready to be eaten. She decided that it was cause for celebration – a big, slap-up breakfast was in order. She got out of bed, put on her dressing gown, and went into the kitchen. She took out eggs and slices of bacon from the fridge, along with cherry vine tomatoes and an avocado. Humming to herself as she cooked, she brewed a cafetiere of coffee and wondered if making mimosas would be too much. Fuck it, she thought, and opened a bottle of prosecco.
She carried the breakfast on a tray up the stairs and kicked open the door of the bedroom. “Happy first morning in the apartment together” she said, beaming, as she put the tray down on a bedside table. Alex sat up and ran a hand through his hair. She got into bed next to him and leaned over to kiss him.
“What’s that smell?” he asked, wrinkling his nose and drawing back.
“Is that bacon?”
“Oh, yeah, It’s applewood smoked bacon from the farmer’s market. Food of the gods.”
“Um, I don’t eat bacon.”
“You don’t eat bacon?” Miriam’s mind was racing, why would anyone not eat bacon, with its elegant combination of saltiness and animal fat?
“I don’t eat meat.” Alex said matter-of-factly, as if they’d had that conversation a thousand times. As if it was obvious somehow, from his hair cut, or the way he walked that he was a vegetarian.
“Oh well, nevermind, there’s still eggs, and tomatoes and avocadoes. I’ll eat your bacon.”
“Actually I don’t eat eggs either, I’m a vegan.”
She gawped at him, “coffee?” she asked.
After the breakfast disaster Miriam showered and changed. She stood before Alex in one of her favourite outfits, a navy dress with a large abstract print.
“How do I look?” she asked.
“You look great. Absolutely gorgeous.”
“Listen, I’m sorry about earlier.”
“Oh seriously, don’t worry about it, we’ll figure it out. I’d better go.”
“Good luck at your meeting. Hey – how about I make you dinner tonight?”
“Sounds great, see you later.” He pulled her close, and kissed her enthusiastically, then she hurried out of the apartment, grabbing her coat and bag on the way.
Glad, she hadn’t eaten breakfast in the end, Miriam watched as more platters of meat –pulled pork, ribs and burgers – were brought from the kitchen. “We’re thinking of giving it a similar kind of vibe to Man vs. Food,” Ben said, the TV producer that was sitting opposite her. “I love that show,” Miriam replied, as she thought about the mountains of nachos and sandwiches dipped in gravy with a reverential awe.
“Great,” said Ben, “because we think you’d be perfect to present it.”
“Oh my god. It’s literally my dream job.”
“We’ll need you to come in for some screen tests, but we love the way you talk about food.”
Miriam bit into a juicy burger and shuddered with delight.
When Miriam arrived back to her apartment, she found Alex on the sofa reading a book.
“How was the meeting?” he asked, and she stopped herself before she told him the good news.
“Great” she said.
“So what did they want?”
“Oh they’re doing a new cooking show, and they just want me to advise them on which restaurants to pick and stuff like that,” she considered it a white lie.
“Cool. I made dinner. I hope you don’t mind but I bought a few new things for the kitchen.”
Miriam frowned, she owned every cooking gadget you could think of, she had mini blow torches, electric whisks, a mandolin, a food mixer, a series of piping bags, scales, cups, a pasta press, what on earth could he have bought? She wandered into the kitchen to see an entirely new set of pans on the hob. She hurried back into the sitting room.
“Why did you buy new pans? What’s wrong with my Le Creuset?”
“Oh, nothing’s wrong with them, I just don’t like cooking in pans that have had meat cooked in them.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes, I’m serious. I didn’t think it would be a big deal if we just have two separate sets of pans.”
“No, I spose not.”
She took and deep breath and forced herself to think logically, he was right, what did an extra set of pans matter?
“What did you make for dinner?” she asked.
“Millet and tofu cakes,” he replied, pleased with himself. Good thing I ate so much at lunch, she thought, and then said aloud, “you know what I’m hungry for right now?” He looked up and grinned at her, then stood up, took her hand and led her into the bedroom. At least there was something on the menu they both enjoyed.
About a week later Miriam was standing in her kitchen looking at the ever-growing army of new crockery, cutlery, and pots and pans. She started to look through the cupboards, and in one cupboard, which was now divided into his and hers, she found a portable gas hob. Alex arrived home, his hands were covered in grease from the bicycle workshop where he made bespoke bicycles, and for a moment she was distracted by the smell of oil and the curve of his jawline, like the perfect ribeye, but she made herself focus.
“Are we going camping, Alex?” she asked, holding up the portable hob. Alex sighed and she stared at him, perplexed.
“Look, the ethics of food are really important to me,” he said.
“They’re important to me too.”
“No, they’re not, Miriam.”
“I try to buy free range and organic whenever I can.”
“Look, I won’t go into the fact that over half of all greenhouse gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture, so by eating meat you are destroying our planet.”
“Okay, thanks for not going into that.”
“But more importantly, meat is murder. You are murdering another living being.”
“I know what meat is, Alex,” she said quietly.
“And I don’t want my food to taste of death. I don’t even want it cooked on the same gas ring.”
“Wow, that’s extreme.”
“Well it’s just the way I feel. I know it’s part of your job, but maybe you could eat less meat at home.”
She stood silently for a moment, “Yeah, I guess, I don’t mind cutting down at home.”
“And you should probably start taking a stand in some of your writing. Just think about how foie gras is made, for example.”
Miriam stared at him hopelessly, “yeah, I guess.”
Alex put down a bag of something that was sprouting on the countertop, and Miriam stared at the floor. Alex laughed, “at least you don’t work in a abattoir! Or one of those shows like Man vs. Food! God, I hate that show. Think how many animals have died for that guy to stuff his big greedy face. It’s disgusting. It’s the worst kind of thoughtless, consumerist crap I’ve ever seen.” Miriam kept looking at the floor.
The next day, Alex’s words kept repeating in Miriam’s head. She’d start typing on her laptop, ‘the starters of beef tartare…’ and then his words would spin round and round like a zoetrope, the images in her mind getting more and more awful: lambs bleating for their mothers before the slaughter; exploding geese, their blood and guts dripping down corrugated iron walls; a lobster screaming in a pan of boiling water. The lobster peaked out from over the edge of the saucepan, “What have I ever done to you?” it cried, before it slipped back down into its watery grave.
No matter how much she tried, she couldn’t write about sautéed chanterelles. She had to tell Alex about the TV show. She felt a knot in her stomach. Moving in had been more complicated than she thought they would be, but she still loved waking up next to his warm body in the mornings, the smell of Swarfega in the bathroom, the way he kissed her like he fucking meant it. She took out her phone and texted him, ‘meet me tonight after work in Moonbeam’. It was the bar they first met in. She figured they could have some cocktails and some fun, then she would tell him. The fun and the cocktails would remind him of why he liked her so much, and serve to form a fluffy pastry crust, encasing the news of her imminent televisual display of greed and murder, making it more palatable.
The bar was almost full, with the gentle background noise of people having a quiet after work drink. Miriam was sitting at the bar on a stool, stirring a martini nervously. She waved as Alex entered, running a hand through his hair, and wearing a smart shirt. He looked delectable. He came over to her and kissed her, then sat down and ordered a soda water.
“How was work?” she smiled at him and tucked his hair behind his ear.
“Good, you?” he mimicked her gesture, affectionately, tucking her hair behind her ear.
“It didn’t go so well today, actually. I was distracted.” She was drawing up all the courage she had, sucking it up from deep within her guts. She could do this, she could tell him.
“Actually, I have something to tell you,” he said.
“Oh really? I have something to tell you too.” She felt relieved, if he had something he felt bad about too, maybe this would be easier than she thought.
“There’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while; I’m going to give up drinking.”
“What?” she gawped at him, her mind racing, why would anyone give up booze? Sweet, delicious, life-giving booze.
“I think I’ve been drinking too much recently and it’s not making me feel good.” He said, smugly, “also a lot of the alcohol companies don’t act in a very environmentally responsible way. And, Miriam, I don’t want to sound judgemental, but I think you should think about giving up with me. You drink way too much, you know.”
She thought about her lovely kitchen, now over-crowded with all the cheap pans he’d bought. “What is it you wanted to tell me?” he asked.
“You have to move out,” she said.