by David Cook
There it is. The question Tracy asks every time I trek back from the microwave to our little office, soup bowl in hand.
So either I say no it’s from a tin, and she’ll give me that sympathetic “poor Carl” expression, the one with the tilty head and droopy mouth that would be more appropriate if I said that my cat died. Thing is, I like soup from a tin. It might not be as nourishing — I hate that word — as home-made soup, but I can’t even cook cheese on toast without a fire extinguisher on stand-by. But Tracy’s one of these people that makes everything from scratch, so she thinks soup from a tin is something only bitter, lonely divorcees eat. And that’s what I am, but I’d be just as bitter and lonely — more, probably — if I spent my evenings slicing carrots for soup instead of eating pizza and watching old episodes of Top Gear in my pants.
Or I could lie and say yes, and she’ll give me that peppy smile, that “you go, fella” grin that insinuates I’m turning my life around and only a few more home-made soups away from beating middle-aged divorcees away from my door with a brothy ladle. Carl, she’ll think — I’ve shared floor space with her long enough to know how her mind works — he’s coming through the bad times and looking forward. And, actually, I am looking forward. I’m looking forward to that eight-pack of lager in the fridge, and I’m going to drink all of them tonight, even though it’s only Tuesday. So, which will it be?
I put the bowl down. “No, it’s from a tin.”
“Oh.” Knew it. If that head tilts any more, it’ll drop off her neck. “That’s a shame.”
A shame. What do I say to that? Oh, yes, I know.
“My cat died.”
Christ, she looks like she’s melting. Next thing I know, she grabs me in an embrace and pulls me to her so fast I get whiplash. “I’m so sorry, Carl, is there anything I can do?”
I shake my head, face muffled in Tracy’s chest, and then I realise this is the first human contact I’ve had in, what, two years? Certainly since Michelle walked out. It feels nice, and I’ve missed just being held, and my shoulders start to shake and I’m actually crying, sobbing like a baby in Tracy’s arms and it’s embarrassing but it also feels good, like being pumped dry of misery, and oh God I miss Michelle, I loved her so much. Then I think about the day the twins were born and the night she left with them, and blubber even harder. I can feel the snot soaking into Tracy’s jumper. I hope she doesn’t mind. Also, I wish I hadn’t lied about the cat. I don’t even own a cat.
“There, there, Carl, let it all out.”
So, as my soup goes cold, that’s what I do.
David Cook’s stories have been published in the National Flash Fiction Anthology, Spelk, Flash Fiction Magazine, Cabinet of Heed and more, and he has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. You can find more of his work at www.davewritesfiction.wordpress.com or say hello on Twitter @davidcook100 to chat about soup recipes. He lives in Bridgend, Wales, with his wife and daughter.