Sitting on Cheese Sandwiches as a Metaphor for the Creative Process

“Someone Who Will Feed Me Cherries,” a short story by Emily Brout

Sitting on Cheese Sandwiches as a Metaphor for the Creative Process

“Someone Who Will Feed Me Cherries” by Emily Brout

I felt the cold of my cherry-flavored seltzer in my palm. Cherries are the fanciest fruit. When I feel really sad, I spend my money on a jar of maraschino cherries. I just pop them into my mouth three at a time in public libraries and on subway platforms, and I know everyone is thinking, This bitch made it. I rest my hand on my floppy overused brown bag. When I walk I always look like I’m scared someone’s going to rob me. Joke’s on them. All I have in there are jars of maraschino cherries and paintbrushes. Debbie and I are in the park. She is questioning me hard because I got laid off, again. The guy whose sandwiches I have been sitting on for money found a new girl, but I can’t tell her that.

“I mean, I just worry because you’re getting old, and it doesn’t seem like you’ve ever committed to a real path. Also, honey, someone has to say it. Your belly pouch is starting to look like a peach fanny pack. You have to stop eating those cherries, it looks ridiculous anyway.”

My other friends tell me I should cut her out because she’s judgmental, but they do not live in the city. They don’t know how hard it is to get someone to show up.

When you sign up to be Debbie’s friend you have to be your best self. Debbie’s the kind of person that worries that one association with the wrong person will strip her of all she’s worth, which isn’t that much because she’s a swim instructor. But still, it’s good to have her around because I know when I get really embarrassing she’ll start to cancel brunch plans, and I’ll know I have gone too far.

Debbie smells like chlorine. She must have taught an early class. I tell her that, and she tells me I smell like burnt dust, and the musky carpet of the back room of her church, but then she takes out her chapstick and makes circles around the rim of her lips counterclockwise. She does this when she knows she has gone a little too far with her criticism. She uses the chapstick to keep herself from saying hurtful things, and she purses her lips to offer me a peck. She knows I am attracted to her.

Once, she got really drunk while we were in a club and she said there was not enough music in the world to drown out my disgusting breath. She could tell she really hurt me. So she tried to make up for it by saying that she wanted “to be stuck in a knot of our naked and dislocated bodies.” I thought it was really sweet.

A crunchy leaf smacks me in the face before I get Debbie’s kiss. She won’t do it now that the leaf’s touched me. She is terrified of “pathogens.” Instead of the kiss, she keeps talking. She asks me if I’ve started my job search. I answer that I have not.

“What kind of work are you even looking for? Whenever I ask you about your work experience you just freeze. I have never met someone that talks so much about wanting to be employed without actually taking some realistic steps to make it so.”

I apologize for being a frustrating person. We stop talking because she stops asking me questions. We sit on a bench and she updates me about her children. I space out and think about my work history. I was working for a dating service, and part of my job was to ask the clients what they were looking for in a partner so my boss could fix them up with a successful on paper person. The service was called Successful on Paper Dating. I was supposed to write down notes of what the clients wanted and give them to my boss. A simple enough task, you would think. It is actually how Debbie met her husband. When I asked her what she wanted she said, “Someone that knows my opinions are always right.”

But not everyone is like Debbie. The thing is, most people don’t know what they want. Every other client would inevitably answer my question with the question, “I don’t know, what do you look for in a partner?” and they would have this look in their eyes that maybe I possessed some grand wisdom, because I worked for one of the most successful on paper dating services. I don’t have wisdom, so I would be honest and say things like, “Someone who will feed me cherries on the subway.”

After my grandma died — she was the only one who ever told me my art was good — I had a little outburst at work, and got fired for telling someone I couldn’t find them a successful on paper date because their personality sucked. I think it was more about Debbie than it was about her. She had flaked on our brunch for the second time.

I got a little desperate for some fast cash, so I answered one of those weird Craigslist ads, and before I could blink I was employed by a porky man to sit naked on his grilled cheese sandwiches and then watch him eat said sandwiches. Why this particular sandwich? I still wonder sometimes.

I know it was sexual for him but for me every time I watched I would have the most interesting thoughts and get inspired to sketch in my journal because when you think about it, a naked person sitting on a grilled cheese sandwich is a great way to think about the creative process. The author is a sensing creature and to sense what he could pull out of his ass he must be vulnerable and take off his pants. When he is vulnerable, he can only speak in his voice. He doesn’t have time to distort it, and yes, the whole process is ridiculous, but that’s what makes it special.

When people asked me what I did for a living, I would just say I ate sandwiches. When word got around, my friends started thinking I was a food critic. My family began to treat me differently because they were proud to have produced loin fruit with a talented tongue. At first this fake job was great. It was so easy to pretend to be a food critic. I was making so much money. I could go to these fancy restaurants and delis, and I would post all these pictures of myself tasting sandwiches with weird statements like “Everyone knows to live in something it must be hollow. Why won’t anyone live inside me?”

My parents would like it on Instagram and I would feel ashamed for neglecting to tell the truth. I never told Debbie what I was up to.

We are still sitting on the bench. I’m feeling pretty hopeless, full of shame for deceiving my parents. I want to know my shame is wrong. I need Debbie to tell me. I put my hand closer to hers, I just want to hold it, and she slaps it like it is a spider. I don’t know if it is because of the slap, or because the peach pouch comment really hurt me, but I blurt out my shame. I tell her all about the porky man, but mostly about the guilt I have about misleading my parents. Her face goes from judgmental to amused. It is not the reaction I expected. She starts to laugh, a laugh that makes me feel like my throat is full of thumbs, and I have swallowed a baby’s hand. Finally, she explains, “I just think it’s funny that your parents can make you feel more shame than a naked man paying you to sit on grilled cheeses.”

I am confused by the comment. How could the porky man make anyone feel shame? Ridiculous people can’t cast shame — the problem is if you look long enough, everyone is ridiculous. I mean look at Debbie. She is a swim instructor for children and she is terrified of germs. The guy passing in front of us is eating a potato out of tinfoil. There is a woman going to the bathroom behind a tree, but people like Debbie don’t consider why. The guy eating a potato is afraid to use anything that is not a microwave because when he was thirteen he almost died in a fire. The woman going to the bathroom behind the tree has an important interview, but she can’t use public restrooms to change because once she starts she can’t stop counting tiles, and Debbie, Debbie might be afraid of germs, but she loves yelling at children.

Debbie sneers at the woman. She says she wants to go over to her to tell her she is disgusting. “I hope her children get mono,” she says.

It doesn’t bother me when she says things like that to me, but to other people? I don’t say anything, because I am not comfortable with expressing my anger or disapproval, because who am I? But I can feel myself wanting to say it. I know it’s going to come out. So I get up off the bench, say nothing, and start running away.

On the street, I run into the porky man. He is eating a grilled cheese sandwich over a trashcan. I can see that he has just met with his new girl. There are pubes on top of the bread that are red and shiny. I guess he could tell I was upset, but I was still surprised when he invited me up to his apartment and made me a cup of coffee.

I tell him what my friend Debbie said — that I should be ashamed of what I did with him. He laughs at this and tells me to just relax and enjoy the beans, they are from Costa Rica. Then he hops into the shower. I watch the steam come out from under the crack of the bathroom door. When he walks out he is already in a suit. He tells me he has to go to work, so I leave, but I end up following him to work. I want to know what he does for money. As I follow him I realize we are near Debbie’s place. Then he walks into her building and reaches behind the lobby’s desk, puts on a cap, and stands by the door. He’s Debbie’s doorman? I watch him as he smiles and greets everyone, even when they ignore him. He lets Debbie’s kids ride the luggage carts when they walk in puffy-eyed because she has yelled at them for tying their shoelaces incorrectly. He makes his body stiff and triangular. He has to pretend to be a traffic cone when the children go too fast.

About the Author

Emily Brout lives and works in New York City like Cyndi Lauper or Giuliani. As a teenager, she was occasionally known as the vocalist in the rock band The Indecent. More recently, she has written many short stories one of which was recommended by Etgar Keret, translated into Hebrew, and published in Maaboret. She thinks this is pretty damn cool and may act as a psychic atonement for never having been Bat Mitzvahed. She has also written for Tom Tom Magazine, Feminine Collective, Flock, Pigeon Pages, and the New York Observer.

“Someone Who Will Feed Me Cherries” is published here by permission of the author, Emily Brout. Copyright © Emily Brout 2019. All rights reserved.

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