Observations: Today went far better than yesterday. It obviously helps to have a beginning down on paper, even if the beginning isn’t so good. Doesn’t matter. It’s the words that count at this stage.
Today I included some of the suggestions made by you all after the topic was chosen. I hope I treated your suggestions well.
Disclaimer: This is a draft. Writing is not up to my usual standard. It’s somewhat daunting sharing it with you all, but I think you’re friendly. 😀
Total word count: 3582;
248 words ahead.
You can read the previous section here.
Rose and I settle into our usual preparation routine. Chopping, sautéing, kneading, baking, with a few choreographed dance moves when one of our favorite songs comes on the radio. The hour passes quickly and is punctuated by the return stomp of Isla’s Chucks on the floor and her sullen gaze taking in our funky steps to the bouncy Black Eyed Peas song.
I expected the return of the happy Isla because she doesn’t usually sulk long. Ten minutes tops and she’s back to being her smiling self. Disgusting, isn’t it? Except this time, her lips are still down-turned and it seems as if the anger in her eyes is directed at me. What did I do?
“So, what did you bring me?” I ask, rummaging through the first box of vegetables she’s brought in.
“Nothing you’ll appreciate,” she says, slamming the door behind her as she goes to get another box, I presume.
Rose and I exchange a quick glance before I follow Isla outside to help her bring in the produce.
She’s reaching into the back of her blue pick-up truck, rolling her eyes when she sees me. “I don’t need your help.”
“Tell me what’s wrong, Isla. What did I do?”
Shaking her head, she grabs a box, then hoists it higher into her arms after balancing it on her knee. “Let’s just not, okay? You’re Miss Perfect Soup Maker so it’s okay to treat me with condescension, right?”
Did I do that? I blink, replaying the earlier conversation in my head. I don’t remember treating her badly. Regardless, we don’t have time for this. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you feel bad.” For whatever I don’t remember saying.
“Right. You just want everything to be happy for your evening. You don’t care.”
“I do care.”
“Never mind. Let’s just get this over with.”
To say that the following preparations are tense and uncomfortable would be an understatement. It also feels like I can’t do anything right in the kitchen. Isla’s usually sweet and tender carrots won’t soften. The last thing I need are crunchy carrots in the lentil soup. The cilantro crème fraiche drizzle turns runny without explanation, and I hurriedly make another batch.
The backdoor opens and my best friend and Soup’s On’s only waitress, Nikki Anderson strides in, her eyes coffee brown eyes narrowing immediately. “Your auras are all off,” she says as she looks from Rose to Isla and then to me. “And something smells funny.”
I frown and look at the batch of cumin and tahini lentil soup I am stirring. I think it smells okay. I take a small taste. It tastes okay, maybe needs a little more salt, but that is normal when lentils soak up everything. Turning to the minestrone, I sample it before adding some fresh parsley. It too tastes fine, well, better than fine. I am the Soup Lady, after all. And, lastly, I move to the baked potato soup, withdraw a teaspoon of the creamy mixture, and blow on it as steam rises. Again, excellent, which is a relief considering how poorly things had come together earlier.
“The soups are fine. I don’t know what it is that you’re smelling,” I say.
Nikki shrugs her shoulders. She ties the blue and green Soup’s On apron around her narrow waist and then checks the five high tops in the dining area. Most of our trade is take-out, but a few customers, especially the ones who live alone, like the social aspect of dining with us.
Promptly at 5 o’clock Nikki flips the Open sign, unlocks the door, and Mitzi Marshall strides to the counter to pick up the order she’d phoned in ten minutes before. Isla greets her with pressed lips instead of a smile, but if Mitzi Marshall notices, she doesn’t say anything. In fact, Mitzi Marshall never says much unless she’s unhappy with her service.
I lose myself in the process of dishing up the soups for serving, adding fresh herbs, homemade croutons or creamy drizzle with the good wishes I always try to imbue my soups with, the extra care that makes customers think they’re magical. While I try to concentrate, I can’t help the constant niggling feeling that something’s off, something is wrong.
And that niggling feeling bursts the moment I hear a bowl break and a scream from the dining area.
Whatever I might have expected, doesn’t have me prepared for the sight of portly Lou Tomlinson hovering several feet off the floor while his wife scolds him.
“Stop that this instant, Louis! You’re embarrassing me!” his wife, Tris, yells.
I frown. Embarrassing doesn’t seem like quite the right emotion for this moment in time. I rush forward as Nikki tries to grab his hand before he can rise any further.
“What happened?” I’m almost afraid to ask.
Lou is now horizontal with his arms outstretched, grinning like a maniacal superman. “I was just telling Tris about that old joke about a fly in my soup and the waiter replies, it could be, the chef used to be a tailor and then suddenly I’m flying. Look at me. Whee!”
As I’m wondering how we’re going to get Lou down and tethered, I notice that there’s a Winesap apple sitting in the corner, with arms and legs, and Mrs. Hedgerson’s face, her lips forming an “o” as she looks down before emitting a tiny shriek, and fainting, falling to the floor in one solid apple thump.
In the opposite corner, the Brothers Mario and Luigi are sitting where just moments before The Garretts had been sitting. They stop talking and look each other before bursting into laughter that drops off when they look down and realize that they had both changed.
I must be hallucinating, but several eye blinks don’t alter the situation. Rose elbows me.
“What did you put in that soup?” she asks, folding her arms in front of her and surveying the room with a bemused expression.
“This can’t have been me,” I say but doubts barrage me. Who else could it have been?
Isla is trying to help Mrs. Hedgerson back into her chair, but the older woman slaps at her. “I just thought that this baked potato soup was going to make me round as an apple, and now I am,” she wails.
Nikki who is still holding onto Lou’s hand so he can’t escape shakes her head. “I don’t know, Soph, this seems pretty bad.”
“I think we’d better shut down for the evening.” As I look around, all I can hope is that these changes aren’t permanent.
Ever notice that when you can’t get to sleep, but you finally do the alarm jolts you awake what feels like a few minutes later? The last thing I need at 6 am are happy people singing about today being a good day. I can only hope, but what I most want to do is throw the comforter over my head and pretend I am on vacation somewhere other than Rosemead, Virginia, maybe the Greek Isles or New Zealand. Yeah, New Zealand might just be far enough away for me to face life.
As I brew tea and force myself to eat a bowl of oatmeal, I stare out the kitchen window where my backyard dips into a creek. A doe is drinking. She raises her head, her ear twitching as she searches out the noise that startled her. Everyone wondered why I would want this tiny cottage almost in the woods and this is why. The peace of seeing wildlife and being able to chill when life is hectic. Of course, I didn’t know the meaning of hectic until yesterday evening.
The explanation for the soup mishap eludes me. Just thinking about it kept me up all last night. Obviously, it was me. I did something to make people turn into whatever they were thinking about or talking about. I just don’t know how I could have. It makes no sense. While customers think my soups are magical, I know there’s no magic involved, just good recipes that I invented.
The smell of baking bread permeates Soup’s On as I enter the backdoor. Rose is singing loudly to Dolly Parton and doesn’t even hear me come in until I tap her on the shoulder and hand her her favorite double shot latte.
“Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you,” she says and takes a big sip. “I needed this. I couldn’t sleep last night.”
“Me either,” I say and then sip my tea. “Where’s Isla? Do I want to know?”
Rose shrugs. “She said something about picking the last of the tomatoes so that you could do a bisque. She’s got fresh basil as well. I think she feels really bad about how she acted yesterday. She said you didn’t even answer her texts.”
I shake my head, recalling that I had turned my phone off and still hadn’t turned it back on. As soon as I power up, a barrage of texts fills the screen as well as a notification of 7 voicemails. I flip through the texts and begin answering, frowning when I see one from my mother saying she’s going to cut their vacation short so that she can come home for the crisis.
“Who told mom we’re having a crisis?” I ask.
When a timer jingles, Rose removes two loaves of bread from the oven and sets them on racks to cool before slicing them into cubes for croutons.
“Evidently Bill Marshall told Mitzi over our soup that he wished she had the disposition of Mother Theresa, and she became a nun for 45 minutes. When Mitzi became Mitzi again, she called Granny Sorcha who called Rose who called Mom. Voila, immediate crisis.”
We work in silence for the next fifteen minutes. I empty the dishwasher and quickly inventory the dry goods, making certain that we’re not running too low on anything. Usually this is Isla’s job, but I need something to keep my brain busy. I’m worried about lunch service. Will my soup again somehow be poor judgement wish fulfillment or something worse?
Isla shows up with two bushels of lush red tomatoes, a few yellow heirlooms that will make a nice garnish, and fragrant basil. I smile at her, bringing one of the tomatoes to my nose and inhaling it fragrance. “These are great. You were right they’ll make an excellent bisque. If it were warmer, I’d make gazpacho. I can just imagine how succulent these are.”
Isla beams at me. I hope that we’ve moved past whatever caused yesterday’s unhappiness. Already knowing that she’s not upset, I feel better. Maybe lunch service will turn out okay after all.
And yet, it doesn’t. We’ve only served two customers when it happens. Both stop eating and sit perfectly still, their eyes glazed and unseeing. Nikki waves her hand in front of an older gentleman, someone I don’t recognize. He doesn’t blink, but he does start to whimper. The other customer, Anne Petrie, the librarian, starts to cry.
“What on earth have you done now, Soph?” Rose asks.
I have bitten my bottom lip until it bleeds. The one thing I do know is that we are closing for the day, and unless something good happens, we might just be closed permanently.
end of day 2