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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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.”

Almost al dente

The third noodle stuck, high above two lying limp on the tile. She threw a fourth. It also stuck. A fifth fell. The sixth stuck.

So she kept throwing them. Some stuck, some fell. She didn’t yet know what to do with the fallen ones or the ones that stuck. She still had a whole pot to go.

She began to aim, adjusting her throw and her grip. Some she grabbed near the middle and flicked at the wall like she was trying to ring a milk bottle to win an overstuffed penguin. Others she flung for the fuck of it. For some, she wound up, stepping to set her weight to one leg, her arm twisted behind her, and then she whipped forward to frisbee the noodle, which often splatted against the fridge.

She thought about cleaning. Then about cheating. She could move them, she told herself. Who would know? Who would care? Who the hell would she tell? Maybe later, she decided.

But now she struggled. She saw where she wanted the noodles to land. She even had an idea of how. But she lost sight before she let go. They knocked against other noodles and fell, more collecting on the floor.

That became the game. With the few noodles she had left, her last lives. She flung, some fell, some swung into new places and opened new spaces. She finished and took it in. It looked like nothing except spaghetti. She framed it anyhow.

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.

Traffic patterns

A short-ass story

It can’t wait, though. It’s work, she wanted to shout at the billboard. Work doesn’t wait. It doesn’t fucking work like that, she found herself now shouting. Hands choking the steering wheel now, 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? And do you know when you’ll turn back on? If you do —“ a second car honks “— I have a follow-up question about sitting alone at red lights, but we can come back to it.”

Sow

a sketch

The woman stared at her garden. My garden, she thought. She had never had a garden before. Not really.

As a kid, she would water her mom’s plants. Until one time her parents went away for a few days, she forgot about the prayer plants in the bedroom that otherwise remained empty.

“You killed the prayer plants,” her mother accused her. Her mother small but powerful with her hands holding together the brown leaves that, when green, would fold toward one another in solemn conspiracy.

Her mother’s words rang ridiculous at the time, but she roiled in recall.

“You weren’t here. You let them die,” she burst.

Years later, her mother — sitting in a circle of family and friends at the point late at a party when the ice has melted — would offhandedly say that this was the worst thing her daughter had ever said. Then, she smiled at her firstborn, for a time her only, as if the memory bound them.

Two days after her mother passed, she remembered the plants. She drowned them. Accidentally but still. It wasn’t for a few more days that someone told her what she’d done, was in fact doing at that moment she learned that plants can drown, that they drown at the root.