$5.99 Soup (For Pagliacci’s.)

I had decided to take a mental health day. There would be no cigarettes and there would be no drinking. A day like that, I reasoned, would be the best way to get over the cold that had been fucking up my life for several days. Sure, I’d been sleeping lots in an attempt to get better, but sleeping lots wasn’t a change from the norm. Real change was what cured illness; real change and no cigarettes or liquor. My first plan was that I would tie myself to the nearest writing device, and get something done. Progress was to be my elixir of healing; completed pages the pills in the bottle.

So I sat down at the blank page and thought, with a result of complete nothingness. I had recently been mired in a period of nothing, and when you expected nothing, you were sure as fuck going to get it. I could feel my illness growing stronger as I sat and stared into white space, it crept up my spine and cozied in around my brain like a cat napping on a couch cushion. Desperate, I unhooked myself from the blank page and decided to instead go for a walk. A walk would clear the head and a walk was always good for the soul. Who knows? I thought to myself, “maybe I’ll see something that brings forth the next great piece of work.” Dry spells always seemed to end with the good stuff shooting out of you like the world’s best hookers had sucked it out.

A walk it was.

It was a day outside where no coat was needed and all the people in the street seemed to be drenched in purpose and drive. The kind of day where you saw good things, and all things were good. Where as you walked, the human race didn’t seem to club you in the face with a tire iron of annoyance, but just instead seemed to welcome you. A day where the blocks melted away under your feet and insurmountable distances suddenly became a thing to scoff at; an obstacle easily vaulted and conquered by you and your sneakers. It was a good day to be outside, not enslaved to the blank page while illness cackled and swirled around you like the Wicked Witch of the fucking West.

I yanked on my shoes, pulled open the front door of my apartment and headed down the hallway. Then I was out into the world, and the sun on my skin seemed to rejuvenate me as if I had been a man locked in a dark prison cell for years, and was finally now again being allowed to see the sun.

It was a summer day that would have been seen by artists as a slice of Americana. Children played and couples swooned and kissed. The birds all chirped hymns of the best Ramones songs, and the stray cats of the alleys all strutted like they were kings of their world. I walked along till the blinking of a do-not walk sign halted me. I reached into my back pocket for my cigarettes, but stopped my hand halfway through it’s journey.

Today was supposed to be a mental health day. There was to be no smoking on a day like today. Nor could I at some point on this trek stop into a local bar for a scotch and a slice of garlic toast. Well, I could have gotten the garlic toast, but who the fuck wanted to eat that without the burning snap of cheap, watered down bar scotch circling their throat?

Savages and idiots, that’s who. I had at least one of those before, but at that moment, was neither.

This problem had to have a solution, and I would have to find it on this walk. It was either that or go back into the writing cave and forgo seeing the sun for months while I lit more cigarettes and drank more drinks and felt my cold get stronger and stronger till I had to stuff my whole head with toilet paper and drink eight bottle of cough syrup just to right myself for ten minutes. I didn’t want that, it was a day to look after myself, despite myself.

My steps suddenly slacked. My direction pooled out of the bottoms of my pant legs as I realized that I had no solution to my problem. The blocks seemed to stretch endlessly out in front of me, and where there was once desire to walk all of them, there was now dread and doom. It took every ounce of meek energy I possessed to not simply fall down to my knees and weep.

I was a man in the sneak-attack death grip of his own bullshit, and as anyone who has ever gone through that knows, every thought that arises is filed under “catastrophic.”

My head felt as if it weighed an amount akin to twenty cinder blocks, but I lifted it to level my vision anyway. My line of sight swam and blurred like a college frat boy drunk’s, but out of the smeared shop signs and mangled bodies of the people walking on the sidewalk was the white lettering stenciled onto the window beside me:

LUNCH: Bowl of Soup. $5.99

Soup. My salvation would be soup. Where others found religion, or found solace in the family unit, I would find solace from cigarettes and booze in the warm confines of a bowl of soup. This would be my deliverance from evil, and it could be served in both cups and bowls.

I dragged myself through the entrance of the restaurant. A woman, nay an angel of mercy, greeted me with a menu and a smile.

“One for lunch?

I stammered a yes, barely able to hold myself together. Before my eyes she turned into a woman made of menthols and Pal Malls, her mouth drooled bad bourbon and spit ice cubes and flicked ash. I kept down my screams, knowing that what I was seeing wasn’t real; that she couldn’t actually snatch the life out of me with he delicious nicotine fingers, that she couldn’t really douse all of my future pages in breath soaked with liquor. I shook my head hard and she turned back into a normal lady of the establishment. She led me to a table by the window, as we walked I asked her if she could get me a table somewhere near the back of the room, away from all of the windows up front. She said sure, and didn’t bother with a second thought as she led me to a lone table propped up against the bar.

Against the fucking bar, the gods were cruel.

I sat down at the table and turned my head away from all of those delicious bottles of liquor, all of them lined up like supermodels and brand new Corvettes. I knew that each and every drop of those bottles would be delicious, and a day spent tasting each and every one of them would not have been a wasted day.

The waitress arrived and threw a menu down on the table. I slipped out of a hazy hallucination of sanguine gin and sultry vodka.

“Just soup today Hon?” she asked.

Yes, just soup, soup was all I needed, soup and 10,000 drinks, and if you could get that cigarette monster I conjured up earlier to come over here and light her body aflame on the table candle that would be great as well. I think I would do well to smoke half a pack of her left thigh.

I didn’t say any of that though, I just said yes to soup.

She disappeared away behind the bar with my soup order. No part of my brain thought to ask what kind of soup they would eventually be brining me, but that didn’t matter right then. As long as they didn’t bring out a large bowl of Bombay Gin dotted with floating Marlboros I would be able get ahead and get back to the levels of a normal person. That was the hope, at least.

I turned my head slightly to look at the bar and all of its wanting and unloved bottles. They all stared back with fuck-me eyes and leering grins. I slammed my head down into the table, and told myself that I would keep it there until that bowl of soup arrive to save me. It was the only think I could do to not hop the bar and drink every last drop of booze in the place. They would find my body with a stratospheric blood alcohol level, and an intoxicated smile of death plastered on my face.

It felt like an entire eon, but eventually the soup did arrive; a small bowl of it that looked to be some kind of creamy tomato adorned with big thick flakes of mozzarella piled in the middle like a monolith. The waitress then placed a large soupspoon down beside the bowl and told me to enjoy.

I grabbed the spoon, and used it to bring a hearty helping of soup to my lips.

The world darkened around me. That’s not to say that the blackness consumed me, I simply just forgot that anything else was there. The second that the soup touched my lips I was lost in a state of complete bliss. All the flavors, all the hints of spice culminated perfectly, and the sound and the fury of sweetness and flavor exploded throughout my body, and right then I experienced a moment of pure tranquility. I forgot about booze, I forgot about cigarettes, and I am thankful to this day that I didn’t forget about breathing, because I possibly could have died right then and there at that table with a mouthful of soup and a smile on my face.

But I didn’t die. I had to keep alive, because there was a second spoonful to attend to. I reached that milestone and kept doing, each bite a new saga of joy and each swallow a step closer to tears with its beauty.

I finished every possible spoonful, then brought the bowl up to my mouth and used my tongue. To waste a single drop of this soup would have been an unforgiveable sin; I would die, make it to the afterlife, only be told that I had to toil for 9000 years in hell for not finishing every last drop of that bowl of soup I had ordered.

The waitress came over and took the bow, which looked as if it had been cleaned in the kind of expensive dishwasher that Porsche would design. She eyed the bowl and then eyed my euphoric gaze. A part of her probably thought that it was best to not say anything; to leave the madman in his state and return to the safety of the kitchen with my empty bowl. However, she had certain waitress duties to perform, and damn it if she wasn’t going to do them.

“Did you enjoy your soup sir?”

“It was goddamn transcendent.”

“Well thank you sir, I’ll be sure to let the chef know that you thought that.”

“You tell your chef that he or she saved my life today with that soup.”

She chucked, I didn’t.

“I’m serious, your chef saved my wretched life.”

She retreated. There was no way to respond to that, as the waitress handbook said nothing about frothing madmen and their transcendent experiences with soup. She returned with the bill, and I got ready to pay everything and more for the bowl of soup I had just eaten. It would have been worth it no matter the price; if the bill had demanded that I go out and shiv my own mother then mother would have had numbered days. I flipped the bill over and surveyed the damage, all the while thinking about whether or not a toothbrush or a hair comb would make the best shiv.

$5.99.

How could I have forgotten? The soup was only $5.99! My brain exploded like Oppenheimer’s pet project on fucked-up steroids. How could soup that good be that cheap? There must have been some kind of hoax at play. There must have been something else.

When the waitress returned to collect on the bill, I asked her,

“There must be some kind of mistake, there is no way that this soup is only $5.99.”

“It always has.”

I reached into my wallet, fished out a ten and waved off the change. The waitress might have said thank you, but I never heard it if she did. I looked out into the street through the front windows of the restaurant; the world was normal again, everything was in its place and everything could be conquered. The soup had worked, and I was back track and cured. I would write novels tonight, and the all my pages would shoot out like machine gun rounds; fast and lethal.

$5.99. That’s how much it had cost for me to get correct and fix myself. As far as a mental health could be concerned, it was the best that one could hope for. I stepped out into the street a new man. The people I saw were now peasants and worshippers, and I was their soup-filled god. I turned back to look at the restaurant of my salvation; to take in its visage and to commit its name to memory forever, for future dark days and nights of the soul.

Pagliacci’s.

Now that was a bowl of soup.

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