The writing challenge is this: When a man takes lunch to his wife’s office, he’s told that she hasn’t worked there in weeks. 700 word limit.
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Cobb Salad, Cheddar or Bleu Cheese?
By Richard Zowie
Fridays are often a half day for me at work. I’m a journalist and usually work five extra hours combined on Monday and Tuesday as we rush to meet deadlines and lay out the weekly newspaper. Because Fridays are often a slow day, I normally take off most of that day to keep my weekly hours near 40.
My week ended at 11 a.m. on Friday, so I thought, why not take lunch to Jesse?
Jesse is what I prefer to call my wife, Jessica. She’s tall, her pale blue eyes stand out against her olive complexion, and she has corkscrew curly black hair. When she wants to make me melt, she smiles and dimples appear on her cheeks. Her maiden name was Antonian: her family fled Armenia shortly the Soviet Union collapsed.
I went to the grocery store and picked up a Cobb salad. They make it exactly as she loves it — with shredded cheddar cheese instead of bleu cheese. When we first met, we learned of our mutual dislike for bleu cheese, that sharp taste of decay. It’s since become an inside joke during our 15-year marriage. A playful, but intimate secret between two lovers.
Maybe the salad will cheer her up, I thought. Jesse has seemed talkative lately, odd since she normally doesn’t say much even when it’s just the two of us at home. She teaches Algebra and geometry at the local public high school. She insists nothing is wrong but, deep down, I know she’s lying.
I went up to the high school and brought her a Cobb salad, along with a wheat roll and her favorite drink, Evian spring water. The school smelled of a fresh repaint, its walls Kelly green and white (the school colors), and the halls empty as class was in session. One teacher, a female coach wearing wind pants and tennis shoes, walked past me with a clipboard in her left hand. I looked at her but she was elsewhere, as if managing 20 projects simultaneously.
I walked to Room 229, the teacher’s lounge, and knocked on the door. Since I don’t work at the school, I prefer to knock instead of walking in.
The door opened, and a towering teacher with dark brown hair and graying temples peeked out. His eyes were dark brown. He was a coach, but I couldn’t remember his name. Henry or Hendricks. “Yes, can I help you?” he asked, his strong breath that of someone whose coffee maker only took breaks when he slept.
“Hello,” I smiled, offering my hand. “I’m Steve Wolverton, and I brought lunch for my wife, Jessica. May I come in?”
He shook my hand, a loose, distant grip. His eyes stayed on mine, and I could tell immediately he knew something I didn’t. In the very back of my mind, I wondered if they were having an affair.
He looked down at the salad, the green lettuce, red tomatoes and yellow cheese mixed together on a black plastic tray, the contents visible from the clear plastic dome. Half a boiled egg nested in the middle.
“Mr. Wolverton, your wife, um, hasn’t taught at this high school in a month,” he said. “She resigned.”
“Resigned?” I asked, surprised, but realizing that probably explained her strange behavior. “Why, Coach Hen—I’m sorry, what is your name?”
“Coach Henderson,” he said. “She left, and after doing a little research, school officials learned she faked her résumé. Her education never went past junior college, and she does not have a teaching certificate.”
I didn’t know what to say. When she did talk, Jesse tell me all about her students, lessons, papers to grade, stories of attending the University of Houston and its math professors. I even saw her writing a few tests. As my mind wondered there, I slowly lost my grip on the salad. It fell to the linoleum floor, the plastic cracking open and spilling green salad and shredded cheddar cheese onto the ground.
Henderson looked down, the bewildered look returning to his face. “Cobb salad with cheddar cheese?”
“Yes,” I said. My throat was dry sand.
“That’s odd. She loves Cobb salad, but she prefers it with bleu cheese.”