Soup and Burger

She liked how the cold bit at her cheek on nights like this when she could feel its lips. On these nights, the colors contrasted, the yellow of the taxis huddled against the black sky. Everything in lamplight. She wondered if it might snow.

She sucked in as if from a cigarette. “So where to now?” Rachel asked her friends also clad in dark jackets and bright heels.

“Well, do we want to go to another bar, or a club, or– ”

“No,” Nellie said, interrupting Jasmine, who side-eyed to say, “Or weren’t Adam and Elisha having a party?”

“Tomorrow night,” Rachel said.

“Oh yeah, okay,” said Jasmine. “Or we could get food and figure it out?”

Rachel’s mouth tightened. She should have eaten the wings they were offered. But she didn’t like how her fingers still stuck even after wiping them with a napkin, and she didn’t want to deal with waiting in line for the bathroom just to use the sink. At the same time, she was too hungry and it was so early, that she knew she wouldn’t be able to sit down somewhere to eat and not order anything with fries.

“How about Soup ’N Burger?” she offered.

Nellie mmm-ed and Jasmine’s eyes brightened and her hands raised like she had been inflated.

Immediately inside the air warmed like the diner and everyone inside were breathing beneath a heavy blanket. It smelled of noodle soups with celery and coffee, and the lights aged the walls yellow like newspaper.

“I’m definitely getting soup,” said Nellie over the percussion of silverware.

“You have to,” said Jasmine. “It’s in the name.”

“You don’t have to,” said Rachel.

“On your first time, you do,” said Jasmine, in mock offense to Rachel before facing at Nellie.

“Do I have to get a burger too?” said Nellie.

Jasmine gave one of those long, sharp hums like she was deciding. “No,” she said. “The burgers are just okay. They char them too much.”

“Nooo,” Rachel said in gleeful disagreement. “That’s what makes them good.” Turning to Nellie, she said, “it’s like they were cooked in a fireplace. The soup’s really good too. The cheese and broccoli.”

“I might get an omelette,” said Jasmine.

“Oh with the home fries?” said Rachel in approval.

“I’m definitely getting coffee,” said Nellie, her eyes nudging at the wallet-looking flask peeking from her jacket pocket.

They got a booth against the wall. Rachel had always appreciated that the leather seats weren’t vinyl. She also liked the pictures on the wall of people and places she didn’t know.

When her patty melt came, she dug a fry between the cheese and burger and ate it. Nellie noticed and dipped one of her fries into her cheesy soup.

“Oh, I’ve never tried that,” Rachel said, wide-eyed. “Can I have some?”

Swallowing, Nellie nodded and slid her bowl over. Jasmine took one of Rachel’s fries and tried it too.

“We’re gonna need to get more fries,” Jasmine said.

“And soup,” said Rachel over the fries in her mouth.

The soupy fries sharpened the whiskey in their coffees. They had to drink them black because sometimes, if a cup sat too long, the liquor separated from the milk or cream. This being a college part of town, sometimes the servers looked for that, and sometimes they said something.

Their server hadn’t said anything other than “sure” when, while she refilled their coffees, they asked for a basket of fries and another bowl of soup. She wore a bandana over her hair and looked like Frances McDormand. When she leaned down to take Nellie’s empty plate with her free hand, the way she held the coffee pot above and away from the table, with the kitchen and counter behind her, her mouth slightly open and eyes blank with thought — Rachel wanted that picture framed in her future home, to show her kids and their kids where she had lived once, what it was like.

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Arielle Part 6

Laura got dirt roads. She wished there were more around, that this were one. She’d love to tear down a dirt road: field of shadows to the left, a veil of moonlight. But the best would be that humble crackle when a car slows on loose land. She turned down the music anyway.

“You don’t like that song?” said Delia.

“What? Oh, no. I wasn’t sure if it was too loud.”

Delia smiled and turned it back up. She needed her music loud, especially at night. Even this song. Arielle loves this song, and it’s so dumb. The words aren’t even trying. They probably wrote it in high school. Like, “what kind of movie would have this soundtrack?”

“What?” shouted Arielle.

Laura turned down the music and said, “What movie would have this soundtrack?”

“Ohh,” Arielle hummed. She loved these questions. She taught Delia this game; well, her dad taught them. He would ask them to title different parts of their life. She would have told him twelfth grade was “The Year of Blankets.” Tonight would be “A Very Special Episode.”

“That’s not a movie,” said Laura. “You’re supposed to pick a movie.”

“Shit, you’re right. Delia you go, and I’ll think.”

Arielle Part 5

Delia leaned back to pinch the hem of Arielle’s dress. “Where’d you get this?”

“It’s nice, right?” said Arielle, turning back to Delia and brightening. “My mom got it for me.”

“Raquel picked this out? Damn. Since when can she shop?”

“I know,” beamed Arielle. “She didn’t even ask for help, she said.”

“She said,” said Delia.

“That’s what I said,” Arielle breathed. “Yeah, I got home, and it was just laying on my bed.”

“Ew, like how she’d lay out your clothes when you were little?”

“She did it for you too.”

Delia grabbed Arielle’s knee. “She got me a dress?”

Arielle laughed. “No, I mean she used to lay out your clothes too.”

“Oh. Only when I’d stay over long enough that she washed my clothes.”

“Which was a lot.”

Laura glanced back at Arielle through the rearview mirror. She had rolled down the window and was leaning her face into the wind. It was too dark for Laura to tell if her eyes were open. In side mirror, she saw Arielle had her hands out the window, holding her palms flat forward like she could slow them.

“It looks like space,” Laura said.

“Huh?” said Arielle. Delia had turned to Laura too, like she had missed something.

“Your dress. When we pass under the streetlights, the sequins flash like space. Like those pictures they show of what space looks like to an astronaut,” said Laura, lifting her chin as if to bounce the words back to Arielle.

“That stuff scares her,” Delia told Laura.

“What are you talking about?” asked Arielle, pulling her arms in.

“You don’t remember that Sandra Bullock movie and how scared you got?”

“At getting stuck in space. Not about being there in the first place.”

Delia wasn’t sure if Arielle’s lip had curled or the shadows were being weird or the tequila. “Yeah, but if you go to space, you have a chance of being lost out there,” she said.

“That’s not the same. Who do you know’s gotten stuck in space?”

“No one knows. The government won’t tell us,” said Laura and laughed and Arielle and Delia laughed too.

Boiled over

She forgot about the boiling noodles. But it wasn’t even that she had forgotten about them. She hadn’t. But she hadn’t forgotten about the sausages either, which needed turning, or the cookie tray that needed to be lined with aluminum for the bread that needed to be put in the oven that needed to be set. The bread. The bread needed a light buttering and some seasoning that she needed to take out from the cabinet above. Oh above, where the fan needed turning on so the oil from the skillet didn’t smoke out the apartment and set off the fire alarms and make her get out the fan instead of, shit, the noodles.

Traffic patterns

It can’t wait, though. It’s work, she wanted to yell to the billboard. Work doesn’t wait. It doesn’t fucking work like that, she found herself now shouting.

Her hands choking the steering wheel, her eyes staring at the red light like the asshole that it is, “you smug bastard,” she exhaled. “You don’t know. Or do you?

“What do you do when you turn off? Do you know when you’ll turn back on? If you do“ — a car honks — “I have a follow-up question about sitting alone at red lights, but we can come back to it.”

When the days didn’t have names

A sketch

Those days it was like the sun rose to find them. Like it needed to get as high as possible to peek at where they were, to wake them. But they would stay hidden. Blankets pulled over heads and legs dangling across the bed.

The house that had been loud was now silent except for the birds and the lawnmower out back. It smelled like warm wet. Like a good day for bees and flowers to be together.

Once up the day had begun, but not yet. Now was still sometime between yesterday and today, which was really tomorrow. And tomorrow was closer to the first day of school, which wasn’t today but sometime not far away.

Too bad it rarely rained. The days always felt like they’d never end when it rained.

Something else

A dialogue

Talk to me.

About what?

Just talk.

Okay. I almost broke my tooth.

What? How?

I was eating a hard-boiled egg, and I guess I didn’t get all the shell off.

You almost broke your tooth on an egg shell?

Ha, yeah. I mean, I thought I did. I didn’t.

Well that’s good.

I know. Can you imagine if I did break it? Then, for the rest of my life, if someone asked if I’d ever broken a tooth, I’d have to say yes. And if they asked how, I’d have to say from an egg shell.

That’d be quite a story.

I know. I almost wish I had broken it.

I miss you.

I know that too. And know what?

No, what?

I miss you too.

Tell me something else.

Something else.