Soup – Taiwo Patrick Akanbi
always sizzling with joy
with bubbling stares while
its ironclad house is seated on fire
finger-licking tongue-biting suasion
cheek-activating mouth-watering sensation
the no-eye-swallow escort
and full-eye-baring-grain transporter
garnished with varying seasonings
for supping times, all seasons borne
at its nap-hour, it makes-up with spreading oil
with enough spicy-pepper
hot-to-the-taste, and tongue rending
a delicious soup speaks to the eye
devouring it, is its savouring
Minestrone – Mike Hickman
57 varieties, twenty thousand genes, forty-six chromosomes, 45p.
Diploid cells contain all forty-six chromosomes. Chromosomes contain DNA.
The can contained Minestrone. The cheap kind. It looked like something you’d find on the pavement on a Saturday morning.
DNA is the blueprint, its bases arranged in pairs. There are six billion base pairs and their sequences result in proteins – proteins that can be mutated; mutations that then result in hair colour, height, behaviour.
They don’t have to be fatal.
The cupboard was all cans. Some of them had labels. The Minestrone didn’t. It was a “surprise”. We liked those. We were told we did. The first three out of the cupboard had been Ambrosia Devon Custard. She liked Ambrosia Devon Custard. They were decanted into a bowl and put in the fridge with the single block of Cheddar and the single two finger Kit-Kat. There was no need to account for those. They’d last her a week, easy.
I reached in for a fourth can. The fourth can was the Minestrone.
Promoters and Inhibitors result from alterations to the genetic code. Promoters and Inhibitors control neurotransmitters. Dopamine. Serotonin. The gas and brake pedals of the brain, so the books say. Too much of one and you’ve got depression, schizophrenia, bipolar, panic attacks. Psychopathy. Too much of the other and things happen.
The frontal cortex goes offline and, before you know it, you don’t need to know it. You’ve done it.
So the books say.
There was no label on the tin and no knowledge of the contents until the lid was removed.
Watery, brackish, rust-coloured, thin.
“You opened it,” she said, “you eat it.”
Neurotransmitters. Dopamine and Serotonin. Just how much they affect you depends on your genetic make-up. Depends, too, on enzymes such as MAO-A, to break them down when they’ve done their thing; to stop them signalling. And from this breakdown – or not – comes further behaviour – or not. Emotion, aggression, sexuality. Everyone different. More than 57 varieties.
I’d opened it so I’d eat it. She’d said so. The lid said 45p. I had 45p.
I went over to the hob – for some reason, they were all watching, so perhaps they knew this was coming – and I went to turn the dial – it came off in my hand, I remember that. No-one laughed.
Given the sheer number of combinations of genes – the role of glutamate and amino acids and more besides – there are thousands of different “normal” frontal cortices, and millions of different ways in which neurotransmitters can be pulled out of the synapses. Can be terminated.
“You’ve paid me for the soup,” she said, “but you’ll take the electricity without thinking, won’t you?”
She’d been working up to it. No matter which one of the cans I’d pulled out of the cupboard, it was all leading here. She was waiting on my response. She’d got the others there to see me shame myself. Again.
The shame I struggle to understand in the soup of Me.
Me and Gran – Simon Shergold
It turns out that Oxtail is the best soup if you are going to poison someone. Something to do with the rich beefy stock and the tangy, smoky aftertaste that defies better description. The depth of flavour hides the bitterness of rat poison apparently. Who knew? Not me. I went with minestrone, thinking that ‘variety of flavours’ would do the trick. How wrong I was and, now, here I am.
Me and gran would share a bowl of soup every day for lunch. Routine was our watchword, ever since she’d taken me in when my relationship with my parents became too angry. She’d always seen the good in me, unlike others, and forgiven my outbursts with a smile and a cuddle. I loved her. And I loved her house – I mean, really loved it. I loved the garden, with its willow tree dangling in the breeze, the branches and leaves creating a natural tent for me to feel safe in when things got too much. My room was at the top of the stairs, overlooking my haven, and the smell of gran’s cooking – full English, roast dinner, whatever I fancied – would waft under the door and call me downstairs. Which is why it might seem strange that I decided to poison her.
I think it started when she gently enquired as to when I might look for a job. ‘’Bout time I think, love’ she said, (over a bowl of pea and ham). I nodded assent and thought that would be the end of it. But, as the days went on, she became more persistent;
‘I need some help with the rent, love’ (Cream of chicken).
‘A chance to meet people your own age, love’ (Mulligatawny).
‘Little bit of independence, love’ (Tomato and Basil).
Each bowl and each conversation chipped away at that thing in my head that caused all the trouble with my parents. By the time we reached ‘You’ll have your own money. Maybe get some driving lessons, love’ (Oxtail – missed opportunity), I’d resolved that, drastic as it was, gran had to go.
I was careful with the rat poison, didn’t want to go overboard. I told her I’d make lunch for us. Went to the bakers to get our crusty rolls – gran likes them with seeds, I prefer them plain – and picked up the minestrone from the corner shop. I remember standing over the stove, the saucepan bubbling the little pieces of veg and pasta against the burnt orange of the broth. I remember ladling it out and I remember gran starting to eat; no slurping, she was a soup specialist.
‘Warren’ barks a voice. Not a nice voice like the doctors who work here but a nasty one.
‘Visitor’. Just two words, two commands.
I enter the white room, tables and chairs spread out. And there she is. Gran. I take a seat opposite and she reaches out a hand.
‘Hello, love’, she says.
‘Hi gran’, I answer.
‘Love you too’, I reply.
Even if the pencil fades – Colin Alcock
It was right at the bottom of her shopping bag. The one she still clutched tightly after the bomb; a crumpled heap under the rubble. Leatherette, black and maroon, scuffed and scarred, with long use and broken bricks; one handle crudely repaired after the time she tripped on the kerb and sent her meagre haul of groceries rolling down the gutter; her day’s prize, a small roll of brisket splayed beyond use, under the wheels of a bus.
So many years since then. But I kept the bag. Though I never delved deep, until today. Now in my hand, her last thoughts, perhaps. Written down on a small, feint ruled page, torn from the little blue, spiral bound pocketbook she kept, with a pencil, on the kitchen windowsill. ‘Can’t trust my memory these days,’ she’d say. ‘I have to write it down, as soon as I think of it.’ It brings back memories, as I read.
She used to make her own. Beautiful, sharp crusted loaves, so soft inside, some served warm with butter bought straight from the farm, brought around by pony and trap. Then we had to move into the town. Dad’s job. Three years later the war.
Creamy puddings turned to sloppy milky ones, to make the rice go further. And oft times semolina instead.
Not wasted in tea, anymore. Rationing. Used sparingly. Sometimes for sandwiches to give us energy for school. If there was no jam. Occasionally, condensed milk.
Not just for gravy; as a warming drink against winter’s cold or mixed with the sparse mince and oatmeal for cottage pie. Dad had the largest portion, until an exploding shell took him from us. At the munitions factory.
She must have been saving points. Tinned stuff was extra to ordinary rations. A luxury for her, after boiling up meat bones and vegetable scraps to make a greasy broth. I never told her it made me feel sick. Especially when we had no bread. Or it was mostly cabbage.
No longer her own choice. That would be leg of pork, slow roasted to fall away, as it was carved; roast potatoes, cabbage and baby carrots (all grown in our back garden, before we lost Dad); lashings of real gravy and an apple sauce. Now, only a dream. Now, only what the butcher can find for her allowed fourteen pence. Old pence. Nothing, if you don’t get there early.
She’d normally buy this alternate weeks, 4 oz at a time. Reckoned just 2 oz would melt away by the time she got home.
The staple diet, next to bread, and like most vegetables, not rationed. Just scarce. Unless you grew your own.
And there it ends. A crumpled list. A mirror on her life. Even if the pencil fades, the memories never will.
Colin Alcock is a septuagenarian storymaker, mainly of shorter works, who has published two collections and three novels. Swopped to fiction from copywriting, in retirement, and writes simply for the love of words and the images they can create.
Website: http://colinalcock.co.uk Twitter: https://twitter.com/ColinAlcock
The Rules of Contagion – Judy Darley
Ms Elba tells us we’re doing an experiment to consider how germs spread. I wonder how it compares to the ‘blue eyes, brown eyes’ test my big brother did last year. He wanted to do it with me when he came home, but got cross because my eyes are green.
The Rules of Contagion is different. Our class is down to twelve kids with parents who are key workers; the rest are being homeschooled. Ms Elba designates four of us germ carriers. “You have germs on your hands,” she tells us. “Some will transfer to anything you touch.”
I can feel miniscule monsters wiping their dirty feet all over my palms.
Lisa Marwell goes to the art sink. “Happy birthday to you,” she sings as she scrubs, going through the song twice. “Happy birthday dear Cornona, happy birthday to yooou.”
When the four of us sit down, an invisible circle opens around us. It’s like ‘blue eyes, brown eyes’, only worse.
Everyone’s making paper rainbows to thank the NHS and other key workers. I ask Liam Gibbs for the classroom scissors. He pretends not to hear. I snatch them from his hands and he screams like I stabbed him.
Ms Elba sends me to the corner.
My nose is running, but I’m scared to wipe it in case the germs get inside, so I let my nose-juice drip onto the wall.
The scissors lie on the table where I dropped them.
When I’m allowed to my seat, I crayon a big black cloud instead of a rainbow and tear it a grumpy mouth.
One germ-carrier has an asthma attack and goes to the nurse.
In the playground, another gets sent to the headteacher after punching a classmate.
Lisa sits atop the climbing frame, fake-coughing whenever anyone approaches.
I stare at my hands. Maybe I can teach the germs tricks, like a flea circus.
Maybe I’ve washed them off already.
At 3pm, Ms Elba waves goodbye and encourages us to stick rainbows in our windows.
I show her my raincloud with its torn-out mouth. Her eyes widen, but she tells me expressing feelings is important, especially sad and angry ones.
Mum collects me at the gate and we walk the long way home.
“Tell me something funny,” I beg, swinging my bag.
“Oh.” She thinks. “A patient on my ward says lockdown is the best time of his life. He feels part of something again.”
I don’t get why that’s funny. “Anything else?”
“Um, someone I know is using their time to whittle spoons.”
“Didn’t they have any?”
“They had plenty. Another person I know is spending whole days digging up cauliflower, cabbage and spinach to simmer into soup.”
“Your soup-maker sounds lonely,” I say. “So does the spoon-whittler. You should introduce them.”
“I should, shouldn’t I?” Mum beams. We reach a hopscotch some homeschooled kids have chalked and take turns to hop, skip, and jump – arms in the air in a silent, unending cheer.
Judy Darley is a British writer who can’t stop writing about the fallibilities of the human mind. Her fiction has been published in the UK, New Zealand, India, US and Canada, and performed in Hong Kong. Judy’s short story collection Sky Light Rain is out now. Find Judy at http://www.SkyLightRain.com and https://twitter.com/JudyDarley.
All the things you cannot buy – Cath Barton
It was in another country, another world, time stolen out of time. I remember the ferry, the warmth of the night air and of you behind me at the rail of the boat, your mouth on my neck. Cut now to the two of us standing by the side of the road – for what I remember as hours, but memory plays tricks – until finally a car stopped, a man who recognised us for what we were, said he knew a place.
It was no more than a roadside bar, and Madame ne parlait pas anglais, mais oui, une chambre. Yes, they had a room. She winked at me, or I imagine now that she would have done. A young girl and an older man. Oh là là. They really do say that in France, though in this case it would have been behind the closed door of the kitchen, after she had left us alone in the little room with the iron bedstead and a sink in the corner.
They were – I don’t think memory deceives me here – delighted, this Madame and Monsieur. He cooked, she served. There might have been the odd local drinking at the bar. Or there might have been just the two of us. We were hungry for everything there was, in those few days – the sun, the château down the road, the wood where we lay together. And, bien sûr, the food.
I think this was on the second night. Soup, bright green in colour and sharp in taste.
‘Qu’est-ce que c’est, s’il vous plaît, ce potage?’
‘C’est de l’oseille, Mademoiselle.’ She stood there, smiling.
All we could do was smile back and laugh and say it was good, très bon. We had no idea what ‘oseille’ meant. I thought I knew French, hadn’t taken a dictionary.
I remember nothing of the journey home, just the bleakness of the aftermath, and dark blue sheets on my single bed where I hugged my memories close. Later I dragged out my big French dictionary and looked up ‘oseille.’ Sorrel, it said. But it turned out that, along with everything else I really wanted, I couldn’t buy it. It would, I thought, have to just be one of those memories which time would erode and tarnish.
But it has followed me through my life, that elusive herb, the sorrel that makes the best soup. I found it growing in the first garden I could call my own, a patch of South London earth. And I discovered how to recreate the soup, or at least an approximation of the memory. The tang of it. By some quirk that I cannot explain, the plant has turned up in every garden I’ve had since. The memory is rekindled each time as I fry onions and boil up potatoes. The soup looks unremarkable, unassuming. Until I take it off the heat, add the herb and whizz it up. The green is shocking. It is the colour of my life. And the taste of my hope.
Perils of Staying Safe – G J Hart
Why now the rumble
stone and sappless
fields and dusty
skies beckoning me
And why now
Your call – decades
late, tongue mad
as a hugged
cat as storms roared
and pain out-paced
And strange the world
now mirrors me – exactly
looks in a quiet
room – the walls
folding in on
Of coffee, tundras
of news, peeling
each day like battered
soup – knowing
on Mars our minds
Is this a stage darling?
I couldn’t be angrier –
no habit, no ritual, best
to stand strong – punch
till your eyes
You can do it.
Land, land –
a mistake the sea
never make and my body
cups no breeze,
my belly broken
ice – portents poor
sailor – you boat
bears it’s own
Soup – Basila Hasnain
Soup- we call it curry here, the soup as you know it. But there are Soup stalls you’d know nothing about: the semi-solid broths served under the names of Asli* Chinese Soup, or American Choupsy Soup or more presumptuous one, World’s Best English Soup. Of course, these, you see, are seasonal stalls that appear around Model town roundabout, Moon market outskirts and township bazar.
The boys standing at the stalls waiting for a car to pace down, slow just a bit so that they could just leap onto it’s windshield ,waving the menu card with oil marks and grease-coat , thrusting it forward hampering the hasty drivers heedless of horns. There’s urgency in their wish to sell. A daily wager’s urgency to make it through the day with at least a hundred rupee including tips if it’s their luckiest day. It’s an anxious urgency of a con, who knows it’s not exactly soup, they don’t even know half of the ingredients that go into making a soup. They better sell while the pots are hot and weather, chill. It’s the rush of a local Lahori who knows it’s only through the short period of December to January and maybe half of February too.
This year winter was long, this year they had better chances too, this year the stalls have added an extra few pots meaning making extra rounds of soup bowls too. But this year with winter virus came along. An alien diction, a strange commotion everywhere, an unprecedented silence- there were no business for street food sellers, no whizzing cars, no customers- The stalls were brought to stand still inside the borrowed garages and places. The hungry sales boys, mostly preteens, fired. There was no business. Everyone said so. They said we are all going to suffer, the rich, the poor- daily wagers and billionaires together? This’d be an amusing conceit of conditions, if it was believable by any measure. You don’t see them dying for basic needs, you don’t see them choosing between health or hunger. But they say, it’s all the same, everywhere. The poor are, globally, in more trouble. This’d appease the misery of their struggles if it was to be over in some foreseeable future. This now seemed like an endless tunnel of morbid blackness and despondence. There’s no refuge from now and no promises of quantum leaps in coming days after the pandemic’s termination. The resulting hunger, poverty and hopelessness seems like a tedious dénouement to the current conditions. What else could you expect when the pessimists are mute, and the optimists are hoping for a day of judgement?
Basila Hasnain is an inspiring Pakistani writer, currently working as a faculty member in LCWU, Lahore since 2016. Recently, two of her papers were published and presented in Research Journal Of Language And Literature (RJLL) and 1st National Conference on Linguistic Challenges in Regional Integration and Globalization.
Upward, like flowing silk – Mark Sadler
“Safety!” declared Michael Sams.
Across the table, the new boy lifted his mug a few inches above the drying arc of a fresh tea stain.
“To safety,” he replied, quietly.
“It completely ruined the sport,” continued Michael.
Scattered laughter. The boy got up and made a slow retreat into the oily gloom of the garage, where he leaned against the lip of the counter, with his back to the sink. A grease strain on the cement floor pooled around his feet like a bruised shadow.
“You’ve embarrassed the lad,” said Brian Miles. “If he’d wanted to be insulted he could have stayed in Cambridge and had it done by qualified experts.”
Michael glanced across his shoulder towards the kitchenette.
“Don’t be like that,” he said.
The boy rejoined the table in a different chair, making steady eye contact with his tormentor.
“We used to cook our own fuel,” said Michael. “You refined the basic product until you arrived at something that would move you rapidly through the gears, like flowing silk. Every team had a recipe.
“I worked for Boughton, when it was on the bones of its arse. They was based at a country house in Suffolk. Their neighbours were giving them grief over the engine testing. Said that it was frightening their dairy cows. I was staying in one of the groundskeepers cottages. I used to clay-pigeon shoot everyday before breakfast.
“There was an American team called Skeete. They were paying over the odds for talent so I made the jump. I got the call to go down to Edden Speedway. I walked into the garage. Matt Skeete was there with two of his engineers. Germans lads. I used to called them Bill and Ben. They was perched on wooden footstools, peering over the sides of a massive vat of fuel. On a trestle table there was what looked liked someone’s weekly shop. Fruit and vegetables. Loads of this skin-lightening cream you can only buy in the Gulf States. They began adding it to the mixture.
“Matt looks up at me and he says: ‘How’d you like to help us win the World Championship, next year?”
The boy smiled without emotion:
“I know how this story ends.”
“I thought we’d replicate the recipe,” replied Michael, indignantly.
He dragged a handwritten list from his pocket.
“Why don’t you go into town and pick this lot up?”
A flicker of hurt registered in the boy’s eyes. He pursed his lips like he wanted to say something. Instead settled for swinging his jacket violently over his shoulder as he exited.
“Not a mark on him,” said Michael.
Alan Busby rocked on the bent pin of his chair leg.
“Future of the sport, isn’t it,” he mused.
“What was really on that list?” asked Brian.
“A few things the missus asked me to pick up.”
Outside there was the roar of an over-revving engine and the screech of tires.
The Collection – Amanda van Niekerk
Gary was taken aback; aggrieved even. It showed on his face.
Come on Bru, he said. It’s lockdown. You’ve got plenty here to see you through. More than enough. Please Man, just one.
Dawid laughed– the sound filling the 2 metres of sacred space between them. He took a small step back. Tension can cause contraction– he needs to maintain the distance.
Well, we don’t know that for sure, he said.
The bottle in his hand was dusty, the label faded. This one says 1992, he said. It’s all down to pot luck now. I just don’t know what I’m going to get. Some of these are probably not even ok for cooking with. He laughed again— a short laugh. He slid the bottle back into its slot in the crate, its slim, dark neck pointing outward alongside other necks of other bottles.
Gary’s face hardened– a tightening at the jaw, a frown pulling at his eyebrows. Oh come on. You’ve got like ten bottles there. And they’re probably all fine. Please Man, I’m asking you. Just one to keep me going. Don’t make me beg Man, it’s embarrassing. Come on, you owe me that favour, you know you do.
Dawid was holding his breath now, his cheeks puffed up. Tension hummed in the silence. He exhaled loudly.
Sorry Gaz– extreme circumstances. Not a good time to be discussing favours. Seriously, I need to hang onto these babies. God only knows when these restrictions will be lifted. Sorry Man, but I’m taking no chances here.
Again he laughed. Tentative.
Hey, maybe you should have been better prepared. We were warned remember? We all knew.
The space between them shimmered. Sunlight entered the gaps, striking the dark glass of the necks of bottles.
Fucking ridiculous. Gary was pulling his jacket from the back of the chair, heading towards the door in the same stride.
So much for friendship, huh? He paused, turning, his movement abrupt, one finger raised and pointed at Derek– at his chest. You like to see me sweat, don’t you? To see me run. Well I won’t be forgetting this.
The phone call from the security company next morning was brief: Sorry to hear that Mr Scheepers. There’s been a spike in petty crime in the area since lockdown. The guys on the other side are getting restless, you know?
Yup, he said.
So what exactly is missing, Mr Scheepers? Anything of value?
Dawid paused, his breath was puffed up in his cheeks. He exhaled loudly.
Not much. Around three hundred bucks in cash, and some change. And a bottle of red wine.
Mr Celery – Lou Adderline
The man’s hand curls around the base of my stem and hauls me upside down. He turns on the tap and the water gushes over me. Streaming down my green body, splitting at the delta of my leaves and finally reaching the sea of the sink drain. He thumbs the grooves that dirt sank in when I grew inside the soil.
I’m clean now. I’m ready for the machine. The silver bullet centrifuge that will tear me. Fibre from fibre. Until I’m something he thinks he needs me to be.
This is a strange and desperate development. We have been cultivated since antiquity. Our stalks and leaves and salts and stems and seeds. We’ve been useful. Perhaps too useful. Perhaps these unmeetable expectations are of our own doing.
I am a vegetable – perhaps I cannot conceptualise immortality. But I know I cannot make this man immortal. Every morning, he performs this same ritual on his kitchen counter. He’ begging. He thinks I can save him. I have no means to verbalise that I cannot save him. I have no vocal chords. If I had, I should scream it.
He plugs in the cable and flicks a switch. The machine begins to hum, soft but anticipatory. He throws us inside. A blinding, deafening buzz whirls me around and I become something changed. A neon green liquid in a pint glass – highlighter fluid with the coarse stench of salted earth.
Every morning, he cleanses us and liquidates us and drinks us to cleanse himself. Now, all that’s left is waiting. So, we sit in the glass and wait. Fibres floating to the top as our entwined molecules attempt to reverse entropy. It’s ill-fated. He will stir up before he drinks.
Our mission isn’t clear. I am food. Food is fuel? I can follow the metaphor. Becoming caloric intake comes naturally. A calorie is not an arcane thing. No one had told us what a toxin is though. I do not understand how to fight them. What is it I am meant to fight?
He reaches for the glass and tips it into his mouth. Nose pinched. Gulping and guzzling and gagging at the taste. He is trying to brew the elixir of life. There was no philosopher’s stone, there was no fountain of youth. You cannot convert mercury to gold and if you try it will poison you. His kitchen counter alchemy will fail and, as he swallows, I am so sorry.
Lou Adderline has spent most of her life in a village in the North of England. She is on Twitter @LouFuchsia. This is her first time writing from the point of view of a vegetable.
Stirring – Meagan Lucas
I stand with my back to the shrieking, the tossing of throw pillows and Nintendo controllers, and the tantrums rumbling through the floor. I ignore my husband as he shouts through his closed office door, directing me to quiet the wildebeests. His ‘please’ strangled. With my hip pressed into the stove front, the pressure – almost pain – is a relief. I stir the soup.
The soup we bought, horded, for when the virus came for us and we needed something easy and comforting, to spoon past our fevered lips. But it hasn’t come, not the way we expected with lungs full of pus, but by shrinking the house: the constant narrowing of halls and a squeezing of rooms pressing us into each other. I’m 5’2 and I walk bent over, turn my shoulders and suck in my belly when I squeeze through a door. At first, I suck up their cuddles with a straw and hold them tight, I ask sweetly him to move his elbow so I can scratch my calf, but now the skin of politeness worn off, and their sweaty skin chafes me, and I just push him away instead. At least the danger outside has a name; we can wear masks, we can stay in. But the peril inside is ripping me limb from limb.
No one wants soup, not even me, though I keep stirring. I only want pretzels and jellybeans eaten in the car parked in the dark garage, alone. They talk longingly of the homemade sourdough, biscuits, and sticky buns in their feeds. But the kitchen becomes a haven because no one wants to help with dinner. ‘What about pizza delivery,’ they say when I complain I’m too sad to cook. I can’t even shit without someone knocking on the door, yelling through the wooden panel, needing me. And so it’s only here, damp in the split pea steam, where the heat can hide the flush of my cheeks, that I can grip the spoon and think of you. You’re a vacation, a warm hug, a cocktail on a crowded rooftop deck, and this is simultaneously a punishment and a reward.
I used to think the idea of quarantine was sexy. Oh no, I’m trapped in this small space with this attractive person, who knows what will happen? Sweatpants. That’s what happens. Homeschooling during conference calls, and grey roots, stress pimples, carb-loading and passive aggressive channel switching. And distance, distance from the things I love, the bookstores and the coffeeshops, and the things I need like your fingers in my hair and your palm on my hip, and your thumb stroking my bottom lip. Worse – you’re my own private loss, and I wonder as I sit next to him on the couch watching tigers, if he is missing someone, too. If maybe that would bring us back together.
The soup is done, but I’m not. So I turn the burner off, but I don’t stop stirring. I’m not ready to let you go just yet.
Meagan Lucas is the author of the novel Songbirds and Stray Dogs. Her short work has appeared in The New Southern Fugitives, Still: The Journal, and MonkeyBicycle among others. She is a Managing Editor at Barren Magazine. She lives in North Carolina.
hot soup – Ceinwen E Cariad Haydon
scalds her palate
hunger makes desire rash
will safeguard full flavours
Cooking – Roger Haydon
It now seems that there never was any prehistoric soup, at least not a soup that mattered and certainly not an ancestor soup and that confuses and confounds me. I’m not sure I’m entirely happy with the idea that my lineage might have been rooted in mere fermentation and putrefaction arising from organic molecules shagging lethargically in dirty sea water while being struck by lightning and bathed in the sun’s unfiltered ultra violet rays. Mind you, I do have to say that the idea that I might have come from a miraculous and vaguely sexy event of mystical spontaneous generation does have a certain appeal. I can just about see myself arising from the waves in a sort of orgasmic convulsion, illuminated by a brilliant flash of lightning as I emerge naked, beautiful and fully formed, intellect in full flow, master of the world and prototype of all humanity to come. I mean, that has the kind of magnificent sweep of dramatic tragic intensity that characterises me as I have evolved until today. But, if push comes to shove, I can give that away, I really can.
No, the generally held expert view is now that my beginnings were much, much deeper and, though quieter, more spectacular and profound and, possibly, more sexy. Basically, there was the deep and endless ocean with just one bit of land poking out of it somewhere. And there was the molten core of planet earth spewing out minerals and heat and other stuff via massive volcanoes in the unlit ocean depths, a sort of continuous orgasm instead of the occasional one and that’s where I came from. And that feels a whole lot better: conceived deep in fire and water with a generous sprinkling of star stuff to finish the whole thing off. So I’m not a by-product of some mucky random spontaneous event, I am, in all my super evolved state, the descendent of a long line of inevitable events culminating in, well, yours truly, your host this wet and windy afternoon in the middle of the week. Is there a better place to be?
So, to roll out my oft quoted catchphrase, “Let’s get the chopping board and let’s have some fun”. Today viewers, snuggle down because I’m going to show you how, in these difficult and pandemically constrained times, to make easy vegetarian soups that are amazing and tasty and go a very long way on not very much. A bit like me really.
Love Letters – Lisa Ferranti
Glory’s soup bubbles on the stove, the pot’s lid rat-a-tatting a tinny melody. She adjusts the flame to simmer. Her daughter works on algebra, next room over, and Glory hears fingers tap keys, misses the scrape of pencil against paper against woodgrain, when the worksheet could be turned in at school instead of virtually.
Her son reads Shakespeare, prepping for remote end-of-year testing. The thick book drapes across his lap, and she’s thankful there’s still binding and ink and some solid things in the world, at least.
Cauldron bubble, she whispers, trying not to think of the virus, the tragedy swirling around them. She removes the pot’s lid and stirs the soup with her grandmother’s wooden ladle. Steam singes her nose, but still she inhales, adjusts seasonings. There are people counting on her soup, and not just her family. Her family’s tired of it, actually. But she helps supply the food pantry, and the ladies in the neighborhood miss her second only to their hairdresser.
The ladies swear by her soup, believe it guides them, provides answers. When Margaret’s daughter was pregnant, she fed her Glory’s signature alphabet vegetable, peeking over her shoulder as she ate, and she’d seen tiny pasta letters spell B-O-Y on the spoon. Her grandson was born a month later.
They ask Glory how she does it, beg for her recipe, but it’s a family secret. Her grandmother had the same gift, manifesting itself the same way. Glory’s gift never works for herself, though, always just a jumble of letters, holding no answers, no clues.
Glory will feed her family before she makes her round of contactless deliveries. She ladles soup into four ceramic bowls. She calls to everyone, hollering down the stairs for her husband, where he’s toiling in his makeshift basement office.
She has to physically remove one of her daughter’s earbuds to be heard, for which she gets a Mom! and a sharply shrugged shoulder.
Wash your hands, she reminds as they emerge from their separate corners of the house. She hums the alphabet song to herself because she refuses to taint future birthday celebrations.
Once they’re at the table, they’re all still distant, despite their close proximity and her efforts at conversation. So she tries another tack. She wills the soup to speak to them.
What she wants for her son is to F-L-Y, for him to go to college next year, to soar.
Towards her daughter she channels every warm feeling inside her, despite the friction between them. L-O-V-E.
To her husband, she projects an abbreviated T-H-X, and she sees his jaw relax for a second.
She peers into her own bowl, but as always, the words elude her. Looking at her family, the illusion of protection close at hand, she wants to freeze the moment and fast forward, all at the same time. She looks down again and sees O-K. Two simple letters. She decides to believe the letters are meant for her. For her family. For the world.
Lisa Ferranti’s fiction has been twice short-listed for Bath Flash Fiction Awards and a Reflex Fiction contest finalist (BSF 2019 nom). Her stories have appeared in Literary Mama, Spelk, New Flash Fiction Review and Lost Balloon (Wigleaf Top 100). She lives in Ohio with her husband and two children.
His Name is Fred – Omar Hussain
My guardian angel spreads himself across my couch, feet kicked up on the arms, Converse shoes caked with speckles of dried mud, untied and hanging over the edge. He crooks his head in my direction.
“What are you making?” he asks.
He’s been bunkered in my apartment for five weeks. Ever since the third day of quarantine. Randomly appeared in my mudroom, a black garbage bag full of spare clothes held over his shoulder, a stained denim vest and a grimace beneath his trucker goatee. He flapped his wings and announced himself. Tells me his name is Fred. Not Gabriel. Not Uriel. Not even Michael. This dude’s name is Fred. He eventually tells me that he was laid off because, for now, stay at home orders put us all out of harm’s way.
I stir the soup. The wooden spoon clanking against the sides of the pot. “I’m running out of food. Soup is just about all I have left.”
Of course, I didn’t believe him at first. But then he showed me the tapes. “The God Vids,” as he liked to call them. He showed me the accident on the freeway when I was 18. The time I slipped off a 30-foot boulder at Lake Tahoe and miraculously splashed into the only part of the water not littered with jagged rocks. The bodycam footage from his guardian angel uniform showed it all. Him steering the car to a manageable crash. Him gently pushing me, mid-fall, to the right spot in the lake.
“Poor doomsday planning,” he says.
“I didn’t think I was buying for two.”
“Is Karen coming over?”
Karen is my girlfriend. She’s also the reason Fred won’t leave. He’s in love with her.
“I told you to stop talking about her.”
“Remember what happens if I don’t get to see Karen?”
There’s more in Fred’s God Vids collection. There’s footage of me masturbating. Like every single time. Since I was thirteen.
In my childhood bedroom watching Baywatch.
To Spice Girls music videos.
Dial-up internet XXX pics.
Porn paysites and everything in between.
Fred is blackmailing me. Threatening to release the tapes on the internet if he doesn’t get to see Karen.
“I’ll text her.”
Every time Karen is over Fred puts the moves on her. Right in front of me. Woos her with tales of glory and guardian angel heroics.
He smiles and turns on the TV.
Karen texts back. “Is Fred there by any chance?” I slam the phone down, manhood shattered along with the screen. I stare back at the soup.
Then at Fred.
My feet move me to the supplies closet. To the bleach. I dump a bit in the pot. Stir it around.
“Soup is plenty hot. It’s all yours.” Fred walks over, flapping his wings with each step. He pours himself a bowl and tilts the edge to his lips. His mustache now tomato red.
I smile. Hoping guardian angels don’t have their own protectors.
Omar Hussain is a writer from the San Francisco Bay Area, transplanted to Ann Arbor, Michigan. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ellipsis Zine, Spelk, Dream Noir, the Drabble, the Potato Soup Journal, Fleas On the Dog and (mac)ro(mic), among others. Omar’s beta-test novel, The Outlandish and the Ego, debuted in late 2017. It received some praise, remarkably.
Soup – Ursula Troche
Storm in a teacup, virus in a soup.
“Soup, what have we done?” Introduced an ingredient that doesn’t mix! A harmful substance. Rather: we didn’t, it happened. Something’s stirred our soup, disturbed us and went viral. It’s called Corona. There we had been, more or less interconnected, together in our bowl of soup called World. And now it’s been a soup-down! Maybe it’s because we hadn’t stuck together enough when we could, we didn’t bind, we lived in a system marred by inequality, segregation – and now distance! And now, in the interval, locked down together apart to reflect.
We were supposed to be one world, one soup, all of us together a group soup. But it hasn’t always been a melting pot, this soup! Look at our pot, in which we are, our world, gone wonky. Can we have some pot luck now at least?
Liquid modernity, they say, flowing sea. We can’t give it all up because we are here. We’re in the soup, there’s no cure for it!”, almost said Samuel Beckett. Makes sense. We have to keep it clean, or soup, protect our soup the environment. Keep ourselves from drowning.
Soup of the World, what could you be made of? Tomato soup has always been my favourite. Tomato, a thing that is both a fruit and a veg, like us, who are two things at once! Both human and animal maybe. Or whatever we can be, twice even.
How do we simmer, how do we cook? A world at boiling point. Where are we in this soup? Are our oceans the soup and our islands and continents the big pieces within? Both land and sea with its many ingredients. The sea, the soup, Soup-sea! Come to the soup-side!
And that’s what I did. I went to the soup-side at night, and above me were the stars. And it reminded me of what I thought of as soup as a child, this milky murky creamy stuff that you can see around the some of stars at night: I thought that was soup. But it’s the Milky Way! It’s hanging there in the sky and I thought it facilitates travel from one star to another. Because at that distance the stars are quite close, so maybe you can get across. With the help of the soup, cosmic travelling agent. The milky soup has ways of entangling and intertwining the stars, so as to connect them – like us, in our soup-world.
And down here it’s different. If I think that the sea is the soup, then I have seen sea in the sky too! Sky-ocean, soup-world, something’s cooking. Our categories break open. Soup as a substitute, even as a word. And that might help. It might help us to take our challenges in keeping our world in order.
Soup could be the password to a new world, which we say to each other, acknowledging the flows that bind us together. Now there’s some soup for thought!
The Night Is Day – Ian Anthony Lawless
Moonlight splashes across the bare wooden floor of Harold’s room.
He is to move soon. To be less overwhelmed by memory and space. The house breathes a sigh of relief.
Floorboards are creaking where feet have not touched.
Harold sits on the end of the bed. A hollow imprint on the left side.
Where Marget once slept.
Now he is full of regret.
He shouts, to his darkened reflection in the bedroom mirror.
Ignoring the strips that are slowly descending from above it.
Little pieces of daisy patterned wallpaper gently floating all around.
As if carried by a stiff breeze.
Who ever knows what your last words are to be?
Amid flying newspapers and near misses with slippers whizzing by his face, his last words to his wife was
“I’m sorry. But he is my son. He deserves to see me”
An shameful affair committed in the early days of their relationship.
Doctors tried to calm his shaking body.
That trembled and would not allow voice to exist.
So overwhelming was the death of his wife.
His mind felt as if in another body. That he was observing from afar. Plus the house became his carer now.
It was no comfort when they told him she died peacefully in her sleep.
What is peaceful about anger and silence. Furrowed brows and bitter sighs?
Her heart had to be broken.
There was definitely anguish in her expression when fruitlessly Harold tried to wake her up the next morning.
Now Harold is forever restless.
His nocturnal routine sparked him up from sitting position to a jump into a poker straight stance. All in a surge of extreme energy.
He surprised himself by this feat of agility.
At 45, he expected his legs to buckle as if made of sand.
But now frankly nothing surprised him anymore. It was time to confront his nightly visitors.
“Everything is spotless, like always my dear.
The words jump from his mouth before he could even finish formulating them.”
Reaching the landing, he turns his head to the side, ear cocked towards the hall. In an overt display of listening. It was more for the house.
He slaps the air repeatedly. As if grappling with a ghostly foe.
A sound emanates from the downstairs kitchen.
The sound of porcelain scratches across the marble counter.
His thoughts scream to find rationale but there is none.
Once again as if a puppet master guides him, his feet begins to rise three inches off the ground. He floats down the long flight of stairs.
The needle of a record player is heard being placed.
Beethoven symphony number 9 lightly plays.
As he passes the sitting room, he sees the legs of male being crossed. The laughing man again.
Tartan slippers hanging on milky white feet.
The Kitchen. Where Marget always loved to be.
On the table for the fifth time this week.
A bowl of soup.
Boiling hot, Harold smiles
“Hello again my love”
Making A Point – Kali Richmond
I struggle to believe that anyone considers soup anything but a disappointment. It’s noble claims of rejuvenation, healing and soothing are the closest thing I’ve found to a global joke, for food added to liquid and cooked until disintegrated and abused seems evident in all culinary corners. There are books dedicated to this one category of cuisine. I look at the smiling faces of the chefs or home cooks or celebrities, dieticians, fitness fanatics, bored trustafarians, and see devilment behind the eyes. Delicious, sumptuous, mouth-wateringly good, irresistible, opulent. They know soup is shit. They’re flogging a lie.
I eat soup to make a point. Made from scratch portrays moderate ennui – all that effort, the cost of ingredients. From a plastic container which must be kept refrigerated demonstrates self-loathing – the most scorned of packaging for something that won’t even fill me up. From a tin confirms depression – its content luridly reminiscent of partly digested food. I reach now for the tin.
And panic. The smell rising up from the boil (it says do not boil, yet takes an age to heat without boiling, congealing at the edges, cold in the centre, requiring constant stirring. Devilment, see?) is so pungent, so evocative of school dinners, that I worry the act too blatant and set about trying to hide my misery. Nachos sprinkled on top, sour cream, grated cheese, all of it piled one after another. A sprinkle of paprika, a flurry of chopped chives.
Thrust a spoon into the seething mass of melt. Scorch my tongue. A nacho spears my gums. I am a baby, an aeroplane of slop hitting turbulence as I laugh at my pathos. I am terribly ill to torture myself so. I am falling out of a wormhole, the years sped up, teeth flowing from my mouth as hair catches in the wind, as loose change falls from a pocket, as hail rains down from wretched sky. I am in need of sustenance but can no longer chew. I am cold and wish to be warmed. I am warmed and wish to burn.
Kali Richmond is a native Londoner and lapsed VJ currently attempting a closer to nature existence in the north of England. When not cultivating an unruly patch of land and unrulier children she attempts to write amid the chaos. https://twitter.com/SevenKali