The package arrived in the Sandwich District of Pastapolis with little fanfare. All of the fanfare was three serving trays over, on Reuben Street. There was a local pride parade in full swing. Colorful sugar confetti reined down on the tray from apartment windows. Bacon flags in an assortment of colors flew from the baguette floats, topped with the local dancing spread.
Everyone came out to celebrate their bread, lettuce, and cheese together. The LGBLT organization had arranged the whole thing and was now flanking the floats, passing out colorful garnishes. A barbecue chicken singer flung melodies and bits of sauce the crowd’s way, giving shout-outs to all the finger sandwiches, beef on wecks, and Parmesan subs out there.
The package went unopened for several hours, even as its contents called out for help. It was labeled on all sides with stickers that said handle with care, each of them decorated differently. The package moved a little, but drew no attention until a dock worker stopped by with a box cutter.
He was a smelly durian, and the other food never wanted him around anyway, so he was picking up some extra shifts during the parade. He tapped the cardboard with a rind spike and was surprised to hear nearly twenty taps back. After that the fruit hurried, cutting open the side of the box and releasing its contents.
Out poured many exotic wedges and wheels of cheese, in a host of colors and pungent smells. Some of them choked on the fresh air and struggled to get their bearings as they spread out. A small wedge, named Marzu, squeezed her way past two aged cheeses. That was when she got her first good look at Pastapolis: soaring spiraling rigatoni towers, in three colors no less, and pie crust stadium lips. It was beautiful, everything she had imagined on the long voyage over from Curdistan.
Sadly, she could not feel the joy she had envisioned. That joy included her parents, but they were gone now. The man back in Curdistan, who owned the box, who had the blank stickers, had promised their family so much: inexpensive travel, immigration documents, and even help getting a job in America.
What they actually offered, once the tape shrieked across the box flaps, was darkness. No room. No ventilation. No protection from the melting heat. Many of them were nothing but moldy piles in the back of the box now. Her parents had succumbed to maggots, carried by another one of the cheeses. Eaten inside and out they were, without even a proper burial: a napkin over their coffins. It was just Marzu now, alone in the strange new city.
It was her father who spoke the American language: Engoulash. Marzu had not a word of it, but she understood what she had been told by that secretly-moldy fellow back in Curdistan. America was a place of opportunity, where foods from all cultures came together to improve their lives. She had been shipped across the Melting Pot Bay to get there after all. Marzu heard the commotion from the parade a few trays away. Her father had told her what the stickers on their package said. Handle with care. The Americans would help her. Some food out there had to want her in their family. She went well with so much! That’s what her tater tutor always used to say.
Marzu ran back to the box, tangy spirit full of hope, and peeled one of the stickers off. It was the one she had decorated with her family, with swirls of pink and blue icing. She outran all the other immigrating cheeses, past their orange rinds and blue patches. She would get to meet them in a nicer setting now that they weren’t cramped in the dark together. She ran, corners leaving tiny oil prints on the street.
At first the parade didn’t notice the little foreign cheese as she ran between members of the band, holding up her sign and hoping someone would read it. She shouted friendly greetings, but nobody could hear her over the flaxophones. It was the wrong sort of food that spotted her first.
The American cheese stood in a homogeneous homogenized line, silently observing the parade. They weren’t fans of the LGBLT organization running the show, but they certainly had pride in Pastapolis. Most of them were born and cultured there for three generations. They wore the same garnish, almost like a uniform, and stood on the sidelines. They had taken it upon themselves to make sure nobody disturbed the parade.
One of them spotted the young curd climbing a root beer float. He broke formation and ran after her, plucking her off the float with his corners. Soon she was surrounded by American cheese skimheads, all yelling and grabbing. The parade came to a stop.
“It’s one of those smelly imports,” one slice declared to the curious crowd. “Stinking up our streets. I bet she isn’t even pasteurized! Don’t touch her!” Another slice wasn’t listening. He picked up Marzu, who interpreted the gesture as friendly, and held her up for everybody to see. She, in turn, held out her sign proudly. Handle with care.
The plan of the American cheese might’ve worked, but it was immediately thwarted by a simple stumble. The slice holding her lost his balance on one of her oily footprints, the oil from the bottom of the box, formed from the doomed cheese that had believed in Pastapolis. He flung Marzu away to steady himself.
The young cheese landed partly under a brioche bun. They all immediately noticed how adorable the cheese was and how amused the brioche sandwich was. Food clamored for her, all wanting to hold her and be seen. Photographers snapped pictures wildly, vying for the best view of the tiny cheese and her sign. The American cheese was pushed aside, grumbling as they put their backs to waffled walls.
Surely Marzu belonged in America. She belonged in the parade. She belonged nestled in all their finest ryes and sourdoughs. They could all be proud together, proud of Pastapolis and the frothing warmth of the Melting Pot Bay. She went well with everything!
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by WolfChkin during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!