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.

Arielle Part 4

Going wasn’t where she wanted to be right now. She had decided, once she had learned she could bottle life for later, to figure out why this place would become where she was from.

She had seen people talk about the place where someone was from. How it made them who they were. How unlikely it was, but how fortunate they were. When the someone was the one talking about it, it was as if they had just woken up to find themselves made, like they were a bag of ingredients that only needed time to cook and didn’t realize they were already in the oven. How they wished at the time they had known. She wished to know, too, and she would make the time.

She knew she should tell Delia. She didn’t like it, but she didn’t have to like it. She just had to do it. The less sober, the better, she thought.

With her older sister Maribel’s ID — backer by her student ID from North South City College — she bought some mini bottles of tequila and the big bottle of Coke.

After Laura picked her up to meet at Delia’s, they stopped by the bush down the street where Arielle hid her bags.

Delia was playing a video game when they got there. “We’ve got the house to ourselves. They all went to a movie,” she said.

“Cool,” said Arielle, looking from Delia to the TV screen.

“What time are we going to Trey’s party?” Laura asked.

“I don’t know. Taco Bell at like 9 then go?” said Delia, looking to Arielle.

“Taco Belllll,” ringed Arielle, falling dreamily onto the couch beside Delia. Eyes closed, clutching at her heart, “my love.”

“Mexican Pizza?” Delia asked a bit quieter.

“Mm, to share yeah. But I’m getting my own Crunchwrap,” Arielle said and turned to Laura. “Want to split nachos if I get them with jalapeños?”

Laura nodded and murmured while drinking from her water bottle. “Definitely,” she exhaled. “Are we going to the KFC-Taco Bell?”

“I mean, we could,” said Arielle looking to Delia, who paused the game.

“Yeah, we could. It’s not really on the way, though,” Delia said back to Arielle.

“Yeah, but it’s not like Trey’s party is going anywhere. His parents don’t get back until Sunday,” Arielle said.

“It could get broken up like Arthur’s,” said Laura.

“Oh shit, that’s right,” said Delia. “Yo, what was I doing with Joey Sampson that night?”

“Not much after he came his pants,” said Arielle.

“Oh my God, yeah. Because then you had to drop him off after me.”

“I wouldn’t have had to if you still lived down the street from me,” Arielle said.

“I wish I hadn’t traded my turn for Joey Sampson,” said Delia.

“No trading back because I plan on cashing in my turn for graduation tomorrow,” said Arielle.

“Oh fuck,” said Delia and then opened a bottle from Arielle’s bag.

By Tom Hanks

A made-up story

“I would like to write a book,” Tom Hanks said.

With a casual finality, he flicked an arm, the hand of which made a pleasant splat when it landed atop his crossed knees. He gave a closed-mouth grin and tilted his head. It jittered, like he had once again stumped Meg Ryan and was watching for her to smile sideways then stare at him in admiring bewilderment. He lifted his eyebrows and glanced to the side and then back in response.

“Well, I was thinking short stories…. Of course people read short stories outside of The New Yorker. There is….”

He leaned forward, one hand on his knee, the other in the air as if holding Yorick’s skull. Beholding it, “There is The Kenyon Review,” Tom Hanks said, italicizing the words aloud. “There is The Paris Review. The Susquehanna Review.” Sloping forward in his seat to face full attention, “Have you not reviewed the reviews?”

Pleased, Tom Hanks leaned back, knees again crossed. His socks matched his slacks just so. Still, that grin.

“No no, these would be my stories, but these wouldn’t be my stories,” he said and this time underlined the words, folding his fingers into his chest. “They would be stories I make up. Now they may be, uh, inspired by events in my life. But they may also be pure imagination. I don’t know yet, I haven’t written them.”

He looked down as he smoothed the front of his shirt in preparation. When he looked up, his lips parted into a smile.

“Well, you know, I thought Steve Martin did it,” he said. “And whatever reasons he would have had not to do it, he did it anyway. And whatever reasons people would have had not to read it, they did. So I thought, why can’t I do that too?”

Tom Hanks stilled himself in the mirror.

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.”

Rodney: Part 3

“It’s the new slim fit shirts,” the store manager said over the phone to the store manager. “He can’t fold them.”

The regional manager didn’t understand. They were shirts, made out of cotton, with a crew neck and two short sleeves. She asked for Rodney.

“These shirts aren’t made to be folded,” Rodney intoned. “I’m sorry. I’m trying. I’m trying to learn how they want to be folded. But I’m, I’m sorry.”

The regional manager tried to say something but heard the rattle of the landline being passed.

“What about all the returns?” the regional manager asked the store manager.

“Oh that. The customers say that when they return to their homes or hotels, they realize they didn’t like the shirts, or they don’t fit right, or the material is too starchy. Or they’re from here and feel ridiculous walking around in an “I ❤️ NY” shirt. We’ve even had customers from other countries email us, asking if they could return the shirts and saying they’d be willing to pay the shipping. We tell them that’d be almost as much as the shirts.

“They like the slim fits, though,” the store manager continued. “Even the people who shouldn’t be wearing slim-fit anything. But they look awful folded. So we’ve had to hang them.”