By Maria Cannon
“Oh my god, what is that smell? Did someone die?”
“It’s just the Parmesan burning a little, Bill. There’s no need to be cruel,” snapped Louise.
The smell of melting butter filled the tiny kitchen. Winston, the dachshund, snored loudly by the door.
“Grilled cheese again? I want Gruyere on mine, maybe a little smoked Gouda. Ooh and I’m gonna add arugula and mustard inside. And definitely some singed Parmesan on the outside.” Billy hoisted herself thoughtfully up onto the kitchen counter.
Winston woke up and padded softly over to Louise, nudging her feet as she moved from counter to stove. At only a foot off the ground, Winston was voluminous. His belly dragged on the ground, but his ears perked up officiously at every sound. He commanded attention. When he entered a room, everyone watched. For now, he was content to prowl the kitchen floor, surveying his kingdom and waiting for a scrap of food to drop.
As Billy sat, getting in the way of Louise, she griped, “Why didn’t we start making these earlier? I can feel my tummy rumbling.”
“You mean why didn’t I start making these earlier?” snapped Louise.
“Yeah, why didn’t you—hang on, did you put ham in yours? You can’t put meat in grilled cheese! It’s not allowed! What the hell, Louise? What kind of kitchen do you think this is?” Billy began pacing, hair swinging behind her in frustration.
“If you know so much, make your own lunch, Billy.”
Hanger was a very real and serious problem in the household. Billy’s stomach grumbled audibly.
“That was loud.” Louise observed as Billy cut off a hunk of the Parmesan cheese.
Louise as she added cheese to the second sandwich. The bread and butter sizzled happily together in the pan. Louise transferred the first grilled cheese from pan to plate, flipped the second, and turned off the gas.
She sat in the chair closest to their two kitchen windows and took a big bite. The grilled cheese was cooked to perfection. Meat, cheese, and onion melted together harmoniously in her mouth. Louise had cooked a layer of slightly burned Parmesan cheese onto the outside of her sandwich, and the delicious crunch it made was audible. She lived for a hard shell that would crack and reveal a gooey and welcoming center. Louise took a second bite. It was rich, it was creamy, it was interesting, it was delicate, it was the ultimate grilled cheese. For a minute Louise just sat and exalted in her culinary triumph.
Billy finished her grilled cheese in forty-five seconds, and then belched. Loudly. Winston matched the noise with equal enthusiasm. “That was pretty solid. I could do better, but it was satisfying.”
Louise leapt to her feet, eyes blazing. “Better? No, that was sheer perfection. You’ll never find a tastier grilled cheese anywhere. It was better.”
“I can definitely make better. I have made better.”
“You haven’t used the stove in weeks! I make us grilled cheese every weekend, there’s no way you could make a better grilled cheese than me!”
Louise sat down. She didn’t have anything worth betting. “Yeah, let’s make a bet.”
“If you win I’ll give you my car. My beautiful 1974 El Camino will be all yours.”
“That car barely runs, but fine. If you win, I’ll pay the full rent for three months.”
“If you cover rent you’ll just make me pay for all our food, but fine.”
“Who will judge?”
“We can’t ask Chad from down the hall, we’re still feuding with him after that time you stole his cat because he was using our wifi.”
“We could call Jenny, she loves cheese.”
“Jenny’s still annoyed at us for taking two months to return her coffee-maker.”
“Do we have any friends?”
“Winston likes cheese.”
“And bread. And butter.”
“Winston likes all food. And he loves us equally.”
“Winston, are you hungry? You want some grilled cheese?”
Billy sat down next to the brown lump on the kitchen tile. “I better win, huh, Winston?”
Louise narrowed her eyes. “Let’s get cooking.”
The kitchen felt tiny. There was smoke in the air, and the stove was too hot for August. Billy had decided to broil her grilled cheese so the oven was going full-throttle while Louise grilled on the stove top. The two were overheating, and fast. Sweat gathered on their brows, and their shirts were glued to their backs. No one said a word. Winston was sitting in the corner by the door, his usual spot, but on high alert.
Louise dared not look away from her pan, but all Billy wanted was to open the oven door every thirty seconds. Every muscle was tense, and the air was heavy with resentment. Between the two of them, they had already burned thirteen sandwiches. It was down to the last four pieces of bread.
Louise’s eyeliner had smudged all the way to her ear. Billy had long since given up any attempt to put up her hair, and simply let it get in everyone’s way. The air was charged and heavy. The smoke of sandwiches past filled the air.
Suddenly, Louise squeaked. Her grilled cheese, and last glimmer of hope, was done. It was finished. She flipped it one last time, and turned off the gas. Billy’s timer went off, and all the colour drained from her face. She took a deep breath as she turned off the oven and pulled out her grilled cheese.
With the cooking done, Billy and Louise stood together in the kitchen, exhausted and unsure what to do. An uneasy energy enveloped them; neither wanted to be the first to talk. Thankfully, Winston had noticed the mood change, and yipped, loudly.
Billy picked up her grilled cheese. “I guess this is it.”
“I guess so,” Louise mumbled, as she too picked up her grilled cheese. Together, they lowered their plates of food to the floor and stood back, waiting.
Slowly, Winston stood up. There wasn’t much of a difference between a standing and sitting Winston, but nonetheless he waddled over to the plates of food. First, he nuzzled Billy’s, sniffing the herb blend as it wafted together with her onions and peppers. Louise watched Winston and the grilled cheese, growing hungrier by the minute as she sensed the subtle notes of smoked mozzarella and queso fresco of Billy’s grilled cheese mingled together.
Billy gripped the edge of the counter, her knuckles white. Winston licked the perfectly browned bread, and then turned his head, slowly, towards Louise’s sandwich. The tangy mushrooms and bacon in it were mouth-watering. The mix of gouda and muenster was too much for Winston, and he began to make his slow and lumbering way over. Halfway between the two plates, Winston stopped. He took a huge whiff of the air and then, fast as lightning, took a huge chomp out of Louise’s grilled cheese.
Billy let out a small cry of despair. “No! This isn’t fair! Yours can’t be that good!” Billy reached for the winning sandwich in disgust.
“Billy come on!” smiled Louise. “I don’t really want your car anyway. It kind of sucks, I mean it looks great, but, it doesn’t really run does it?”
“This is actually really good” said Billy through a mouthful of grilled cheese. “I think this might be the best thing I’ve ever eaten.”
Louise smiled and sat down on the floor next to where Winston paced. After eating so much sandwich, his energy could hardly be contained. As Billy sat down next to her, Louise picked up Billy’s sandwich and took a bite.
“You know, this isn’t half bad.” Louise sighed. “We better start cleaning up.”
“Can we just sit here for a second?”
Winston nestled himself neatly in between the two bodies, and began to drift off.