A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

Who Gets the Point?
by B. Mitchell Stephenson (Oct 2006)

I was eager for lunch that Thursday afternoon.  I had been up most of the night studying for a Biology exam and I grabbed a dry bagel off the ‘eat n’ run’  bar for breakfast.  Now there were thirty people ahead of me already, but it didn’t seem so bad when almost immediately there were thirty people behind me too.  When I got to the counter, I lifted my silverware burrito and set my tray on the sliding counter. I was six feet down the line before I noticed the smear of ketchup that decorated the tray.  I was too tired to care. I wasn’t going to eat off the tray and might as well drip my own lunch leavings on this one as any other.

The first offerings in line were salads, and I searched vainly for a green salad that had something more than lettuce and one miniscule grape tomato.  No go.  The fresh spinach and bacon ones went to the thirty people ahead and it was lettuce or nothing.  No green salad for me.  Next came the cottage cheese salads, cleverly formed with an ice-cream scoop and launched on a half-peach raft.  Was it masquerading as dessert? I have nothing against cottage cheese as long as it can be fed intravenously and never has to go near my mouth.  I passed.  I didn’t fall for the ice-cream scooped tuna salad ploy either.  It wasn’t the denotation that bothered me, but the connotation.  Who could eat tuna ice-cream?

Clearly our mothers voted for the order the food was served in, because after salad came vegetables.  How could I choose a vegetable before I know what the main dish is?  (I always forget to read the chalkboard, unless they are already out of my favorite choices.)  The first hair-netted girl had a slotted spoon and served canned green beans mixed with bacon and onion.  The concept sounded good, but the chosen thirty ahead so depleted it that she was now stirring her slotted spoon around in two or three gallons of greenish water in hope of some stray bean she had missed to make up one last serving.  She made no attempt to capture the bacon floating on top, and I was not to be so easily tricked.  The second choice was canned spinach.  I wondered vaguely if it was pond slime from the green water in the neighboring bin.  I ranked it with cottage cheese anyway.  I had come to the end of the vegetables except for a ‘summer squash medley.’  Dead little rings of green and yellow, their limp bodies heaped upon each other and sitting in a watery grave.  I was in despair. At the last second before passing the fruit and vegetable choices, I reached back and grabbed a lonely apple from a basket, but it was merely a decoy. I was lucky not to push my thumb through the skin into the mush when I squeezed it.  I didn’t know if they had a ‘you broke it, you buy it’ policy in this cafeteria, but I was glad not to find out. I returned it to its ‘desperate fruit’ basket and took a little dish with small slices of honeydew and cantaloupe melon.

Just then I heard someone say he’d ‘have the combination pizza’.  When a moment later he passed me with a veggie laden, cheese oozing, steaming slice, I began to hope.

The cheesy potatoes also looked promising as they were served to the chosen thirty, but each bin held exactly thirty servings, it seemed, for it was empty.  “They’ll bring me another bin in just a minute,” the hair net informed me.  I stood for a few seconds, hoping to see the doors to the kitchen swing open, but pressure was building behind me, and fearing the consequences of making the whole line wait for potatoes I wanted, I caved and moved my tray along past the potatoes and past the ham, meant to go with them. (too salty and portions too meager anyway).

“I’d like a slice of the combination,” I told the hair net.  The server was a burly, middle-aged woman.  She carved out a huge slice and plopped it onto an oversized plate.  Olives and mushrooms and tiny bits of red pepper and onion rode a river of melted cheese over the pointed tip in languid luxury.  Pepperoni cheeks and sausage freckles grinned coyly.  The piece was so big that I secretly wondered if it was meant to be two and accidentally left undivided.

I stepped over to the register where I would run my meal card like a credit card and waited for my turn.  A heavy set girl got in line behind me and as I raised my arm to pay, I saw with horror that she held the butter knife from her burrito and had nipped off the semi-liquid point of my pizza, and now reached for the nugget!

“Stop that!” I cried.  My protest didn’t arrest the tactical movement toward my plate, and she smiled her well-rehearsed, perfect orthodontia.  “Sorry, I can’t resist!”

“Oh YES you can!” I interrupted the path of the tidbit toward her mouth with my meal card and pushed it back toward my plate.  She arranged her dimples in a displeased little pout and defended, “It’s the biggest piece anyway!  I can never resist the point of pizza especially when it’s all oozy and gooey.  I don’t want the whole piece, I only want that one tiny bit.”

“Buy the point of the pizza and they’ll give you the rest of the slice for free!” I stormed.  She pushed away my defensive hand with her forearm and tried a rush at her mouth. I didn’t care that she had handled it.  I didn’t care that her fingers were now greasy and dripping cheese, she would, she MUST return my point!  I said so.

“You have a new point, see?”  She had trimmed my pizza so it had a broader, new, non-oozing tip when she pilfered the true point.

“You don’t have any older brothers, do you!” I hissed.  She shook her head, still jockeying the tidbit toward her mouth.

“I can tell, because you still think you’re going to eat my pizza.”  (I have five older brothers and have been well-taught in the jungle training table.)  “I’m telling you now, it ain’t gonna happen!”

Other students had arrested their progress in the lunch line to watch the fray.  Males seemed uniformly aligned with me while females rolled their eyes as though I was being childish.  “What’s going on?” someone down the line asked.  “A couple of chicks fighting over a piece of pizza,” he was answered.

“No!” I answered mankind in general.  “It’s NOT just a piece of pizza!  It’s the principle of the thing.  It’s the point!  The most desirable, most delicious and never-big-enough point!”  Students further down the line seemed to be getting impatient, but I was undaunted.  The cash register hair net said, “Miss, will you pay for your lunch?”

Ah, here was a terrible dilemma.  Should I pay for the ruined pizza?  Could I make her pay for the point and I would eat the free part?  That would be justice and when I suggested it, the boy two back in line heartily agreed. 

“Forget it.” The orthodontic princess answered.  “I’ll go eat in my dad’s office.”

“Dean Halvorson?” the boy behind us asked.

“Yes!” she answered with a toss of her dyed head.  She left her filled tray at the register and swept out of the cafeteria with her superior pride.

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