Jim’s life relied on cheese.
He woke up this morning like usual, trudged downstairs, made himself a cup of coffee to jet-start his brain, and leant lazily on the counter, sipping slowly. He hummed a perfect beat late to the familiar wake-up call of the Uber Eats advert and dreamily mused to himself about the shopping order that would arrive soon at his doorstep. He’d have the ingredients to chicken alfredo, and he’d tell himself he’d finally make it, until he found himself in the armchair at nine at night having fallen asleep five hours ago and use it as an excuse to order takeout once again and stoop in front of the television shoving cold pizza into his mouth until midnight. He knew he would, but he just enjoyed the fuzzy feeling of motivation, until it disappeared with an abrupt clang.
It sounded like someone had broken in through his front door, but Jim knew the shopping order wasn’t due until ten – it was only nine thirty, and what sort of shopping order is ever early? Jim remained leaning against the counter, slurping on the dregs of his coffee and thinking about this. He was flattened against the cupboard in an instant.
Next minute, he was desperately thinking of a way to prevent a short, fuming woman of her early twenties from pulling the trigger on her gun that was pressed against his throat. He’d tried his natural response, charm – “I’m gonna kill you–”: he chuckled, “Good lord, why would you want to do that?” – but the woman only pressed the gun harder, gritting her teeth and standing on her toes so to shove her face right up against Jim’s. He’d resorted to the very next thing that popped into his head, and being so agitated, that had been bluffing that he makes the best grilled cheese in the world, and it would be a crime for him to be killed and not be able create that for people. He could’ve sworn he’d seen a smile of excitement waver on the woman’s lips.
“Alright, then,” she’d sneered. “I’ll give you an hour to make me some. If it’s as good as you say it is…”
Jim nodded frantically. It was a miracle in its own that the woman wasn’t just laughing in his face and pulling the trigger then and there, but living up to his bluff would be a whole different story. Jim didn’t cook. He owned one frying pan which, apart from the layers of dust that had gathered, looked as good as new. He’d bought that frying pan three years ago, and had only ever used it a few odd times. The most he ever cooked was a packet of microwaveable rice that he’d add to some sauce from a shop-bought jar and throw in a few chicken nuggets spared from McDonald’s and call it a homemade meal. Sure, grilled cheese wasn’t that difficult to make, but he’d only ever eaten it at bars and had foolishly never appreciated the fact it could save his life one day. In fact, who would?
Unnerving as it was, the woman stared hungrily at him as he fumbled about, searching for the ingredients. He couldn’t find as much as a scrap of bread he could use, and ten minutes in, gave up despairingly and sat down in his favorite arm chair, fully aware that the woman was still watching him. She opened her mouth to speak, most likely to ask him whether he’d given up, but was interrupted by a sound Jim had never been so grateful to hear. He even let out a sob of relief and practically ran, his beer-belly wobbling with every jerky movement his porky legs made, to the door, and hastily retrieved the few bags of shopping he had been expecting. There was bound to be some bread and cheese he could make do with in here. Jim even remembered ordering them.
He was watched as he rummaged through the bags. When he found all the ingredients, he gleefully got up and wobbled back into the kitchen to splay his finds out in front of him. He quickly worked through what he would assume the steps to be in his head, and got to work. Two slices of bread. Thickly butter each side. Grate the–
Grate the cheese. But Jim had no cheese.
Jim paused and gawked at the counter. How could he make grilled cheese without cheese, the key thing? How could he have not ordered any?
Again, Jim’s agitated mind caused him to say the stupidest thing: “Er, could you let me go to the shops? Get some cheese? I can’t make it without…”
Before he knew it, the woman had driven him to the local store to pick up the missing ingredients. Another miracle. Jim was convinced that would get him killed, but the woman seemed pretty intent on tasting the world’s best grilled cheese, and was quite obliging to come with him. He picked out three different types that he prayed would melt and mix together perfectly – it didn’t just have to taste good, it had to be better than any other grilled cheeses the woman had ever tasted, and for all Jim knew, that could be a lot. The woman drove him back, and with only twenty minutes left to spare until his verdict, Jim finally started on the sandwich.
He cursed himself for leaving the bread out: that was surely going to lose him points. “Hopefully no flies have nibbled at it,” Jim mumbled numbly to himself, grating cheddar onto one slice and spreading it evenly, then moving onto the gouda. In what he could’ve sworn had been longer than twenty minutes, wiping sweat from his brow, Jim finished off on the last cheese and put the other slice on top. He buttered the outside and moved over to plop it onto the frying pan, which he was surprised to found had been heating steadily for him. Had the woman… was the woman trying to help Jim? Surely not – she had wanted to kill him. No, no, that was a silly thought…
Jim tried his best to crisp the bread nicely, and make sure all the cheese was melted enough to string when cut– of course he had to burn himself, that was just his luck. He waved his hand frantically, hissing in pain and stumbling back to knock the grater on top of him. “Bloody hell,” he grumbled, “is it even worth keeping my life?”
He didn’t have time to try stop the burning with water, and got right back to the sandwich. Now he’d probably overcooked it, which wasn’t exactly helping his situation, but he tipped it solemnly onto a plate nevertheless. At least he’d produced grilled cheese, even if it wasn’t the best in the world. Maybe the woman would be an easy-pleaser. At least, at the end of the day, he’d managed to cook something – actually cook something, and for Jim, that was an accomplishment, and he couldn’t help allowing a little bubble of pride to grow in his chest.
Glancing over at the woman, who was sitting eagerly at the dinner table, still watching him, he gave the plate a little shimmy to gesture to it, as the hand not supporting it was still searing with pain. The sandwich almost slid off, and he regretted his decision instantly, wishing he’d just used his voice.
She nodded, and he brought the plate over and placed it neatly in front of her. “Would you like anything to dr–” Jim began, but the woman had already sunk her teeth into the cheese, a twinkle of delight and famish in her glittering green irises. Within seconds, she’d devoured the whole thing, and was staring at him with a look of utmost pleasure.
“You don’t lie,” she said, slyly. “This is the very best grilled cheese in the world.”
Jim goggled at her. “So– so I live?”
The woman let out a harsh laugh. “Nope. I was watching you the whole time, see? I wrote down your recipe. Now, I get the pleasure of the sandwich… and your death.”
And just like that, Jim’s head was flung further away from its body than it had ever been.