Soup

Another Friday, another challenge from Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds. Last week people posted the first sentence for something, only the first sentence. He got over 500 comments, eep!, and selected 10. I picked one of those and this is my take on that sentence.

Soup

“Of all the things I expected to find in my tomato soup, this wasn’t one of them.” (Stella Wood)

I grinned and slurped down the chunk of real, fresh tomato. I pushed my spoon through the soup and saw a sliver of green, I dug hungrily for it. Inhaling deeply I could almost smell the real black dirt that must have been used to grow the basil.

The shredded cheese on the top was standard for the cans of soup everyone used, but the rest, was magic. I wasn’t even sure what else was in it but I knew I wanted more. I ate the rest of it with abandon, slurping, licking the bowl clean.

The waitress finally came back over to my table as I leaned back and tore the bread. I hadn’t even dunked it in the soup. It was great too, but great bread was easy to find. Actual tomato chunks? Not so easy.

“That was amazing, how do you even get fresh tomatoes?” I stared up at her in awe.

“We grow them in the hot house. We’ve got lots of herbs and in the fall, fresh squash.” Her warm smile sharpened and she shifted uncomfortably. “It’s perfectly legal and most of our customers like it, you don’t have to eat here. Some people just prefer the whole thing.”

I waved my hand to stop her. “I think it is delicious.” She was worried I was going to lecture her. “The last time I had a real tomato, it was a caprese salad at a very fancy place. They advertised as shipping in all their produce whole grown. It wasn’t anything like this. The waitstaff lectured us about how they did only the bare minimum to enhance the flavor.” She snorted.

“No, you have to salt the tomatoes or they just taste like tangy water.” I laughed and she glanced around the empty cafe. She pulled up the seat across from me. “We use the prettiest ones in the BLTs. You should try one, they are my favorite this time of year. The lettuce is still crisp and the first tomatoes are ripening. They explode with flavor.”

“How can you do it? I know people can grow stuff for themselves, but…” I trailed off not quite sure. Was I asking too much? Prying? Exposing something illegal? I knew the really high end places had to have lots of certifications and the food would be flown in from specialized growers. I couldn’t imagine this tiny little alley way cafe could do that and serve three dollar soup.

“If you don’t buy the vegetables you are ok. We have a garden upstairs in our sun plot. There is always a chance, I suppose, that someone is going to push back against that. Although people who think that spending the time and energy on a potential crop failure should be banned aren’t the kinds of people who usually come in here anyway. They prefer to know exactly what they are going to get every time.” I felt my face turning red as she spoke.

I was one of those people. I went to the same places for all my meals, they were always the same, it was always good. I fumbled for something to say but she reached out and put her hand on my arm.

“We know all of the benefits of that. We understand, there is nothing wrong with it.” She smiled and patted my arm. “We just can’t afford those things. And I personally like making the soups.”

I frowned. “How can you spend all that energy on something that might fail?” I carefully guarded my energy, usually. Today had ended up being a disaster and I had to find new work, I didn’t really have the energy to be here spending time and thought on soup.

“I love it. Sure some days are failures, but those days end. I go to bed and get back up and try again the next day.” She leaned back in her chair and looked at me. “Not everyone thinks a bad day is the end of the world. Not every job fires someone for one bad day.”

I tore another chunk of bread and chewed it, giving myself time to think. Maybe you could be a waitress and have a bad day, though the places I frequented had an immaculate service standard, they wouldn’t sit down with a customer. They wouldn’t have a slow afternoon. I didn’t understand how this place hadn’t gone out of business. “Do your parents own this place?” If they were a wealthy family, maybe that would explain it. Children of owners were the only people who failed with impunity.

“No.” She grinned. The door chimed and someone came in. She raised a hand and waved. “Go ahead and sit anywhere, I’ll be right with you.” She gave me a sad sigh. “They say we are a creative world, but they punish actual creativity. I’ll bet you were released from your current contract today. If you need something we are looking for someone to wait tables in the morning.” She scribbled a number on the paper and walked over to greet the other patron.

I wanted to complain that I was better than that. I was an artist. I was part of the creative class. I was in charge of my own career, I could leave any job when I wanted, find something better.

I looked down at the soup bowl again. I paid the tab and left a good tip. I thought about the soup, the moment when that chunk of real tomato surprised me, discovering the basil. I always heard that art involved discovery. I wanted that feeling again. That rush of something new and unexpected.

I shoved the slip of paper in my pocket.

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