The Ripening Process | J. D. Hellen
It starts with your girlfriend buying a new kind of cheese she had to request at the deli counter. She believed you last weekend when you expressed the need to “elevate” your omelet, a diversion from discussing your unemployment.
You try a slice around noon and decide the cheese is too good to taint with eggs and oil. It’s perfect as it is, right from the twin stacks in waxy paper.
It’s easy, too, a creamy, satisfying mouthfeel to hold you over until you figure out what to make yourself because your girlfriend is working late again. She said she’d help you update your resumé this weekend and that, maybe, her coworker has an in for you. “He likes music, too,” she said.
But you told her liking music isn’t enough. You can’t work just anywhere after you’ve been in The Industry.
On Saturday, your girlfriend is tired but offers to proofread your resumé. “It’s in good shape because you’ve been home all week?” Her assumption is insulting, distracting. So while she naps, you snack on some slices and rearrange your record collection. Music lovers can’t be reduced to bullet points and power verbs.
The next day, you assure your girlfriend you’d get the groceries if you could, but your ankle’s acting up. You ask for more of that cheese. “You’ll have to make me one of those omelets,” she says as she leaves the apartment. You can’t tell if she’s serious.
The next week is more of the same, but you keep the cheese closer, cradled between a couple of ice packs in your old work lunch bag. Your ankle’s acting up, after all, and calcium is good for bones.
You call Todd, your college buddy who lives in Texas, because he has connections in The Industry. He texts hours later, after you’ve almost finished a cheese stack, and all you reply is, not much same shit different day.
Later in the week, when your girlfriend comes home with dinner—subs, but she forgot cheese—you talk about moving to Texas. Your girlfriend cries and doesn’t finish her sub. “You’ve never talked about moving to Texas. Do I even know Todd?”
You finally get to your doctor about your ankle, but she’s more concerned about your cholesterol. “What have you been eating?” You don’t mention the cheese and insist on an x-ray. “I’m sorry about your job,” she says, writing the x-ray script. “My cousin teaches music. Maybe you’d like that?”
You tell her about Todd and Texas, and she gives you another script for Lexapro.
Your x-ray came back fine, but you think it’s best to do home delivery for groceries. You have to now, since your girlfriend moved out. You’re not sure which cheese she was buying, so you keep trying new ones. Burnt. Nutty. Almost soapy.
Your (ex-)girlfriend emailed you apartments in Texas before she left and said the move would be good for you, that you’d “freshen up.”
Todd keeps texting, but you usually don’t answer.
About the Author:
J. D. Hellen writes character-driven stories. Her short fiction has been featured in the Timberline Review, The Horror Is Us anthology by Mason Jar Press, and Door Is a Jar Magazine. She is currently working on a novel. Before professionally working with words as a copywriter and copy editor, she was a science teacher for almost a decade. She lives in a suburb of Philadelphia, PA with her fiancé and cat, and you can get to know her more at jdhellen.com or @jdhellenwrites on Instagram.