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Susan Bagel: Soup

Written by: Theo Erickson and Sharon Roth

September is the ninth month. Autumn brings with it the chill wind of changing leaves. My home is quiet with the children at school — and Mr. Bagel, lithe and graceful like a hairless cat, hardly makes a sound when he leaves. I haunt the empty house, wondering if anyone remembers that I once lived here. My heartbeat feebly echoes a living woman, ever fading. My grandmother made the perfect soup. She stood in the kitchen for hours, letting the Dutch oven simmer until the creamy concoction coated the back of a spoon. She blended the soup until its ingredients sang in harmony. She ladled it into bowls with love, giving everyone the perfect portion. Every person at the table licked their bowl clean. All my life I’ve tried to recreate my grand- mother’s soup recipe. Butternut squash flirting with chicken stock, zucchini and onion marching in unison. Every flavor lifting the others up, every spoonful a shrine to Nana Bagel. I began my pilgrim- age to the grocery store. I filled the cart

with its offerings: two carrots, four sweet potatoes, five regular potatoes, black peppercorns. Then, in an instant, the Earth shifted off its axis. I couldn’t find the chicken stock. Would veggie stock do? How could my Vons, my safe haven, become a silent stranger to me? I scanned the shelves over and over, but the broth was not to be found in this wasteland. I stood stock-still in the aisle, heedless of the man pretending to look at canned corn while he waited for me to move out of his way. The recipe flashed across the in- side of my eyelids as I swayed under the bright overhead lighting. Chicken stock, three cups. Chicken stock, three cups. My grandmother taught me everything I know. She watched me take my first steps, wrapped her cal- loused hands around mine as I kneaded my first loaf of bread. But my grandmother didn’t tell me what to do if the world I once knew crumbled in an instant, like a short- bread left out in the rain. My vision tunneled and the world

went gray. I held onto the metal shelf to at- tempt to remain up- right. Then, in the dark wood, a stranger came to me. She looked at me, staring at the hole where my stock used to be, the hole that refused to be filled by a substitute. Then she spoke: “Are you also looking for chicken stock?” Her voice was warm and nourished — a need I didn’t know I had. Her voice was like good soup. “I can’t find it anymore, but I think veggie works pretty well.” She handed me a box of the stock. Our fingers did not touch as I took it. I chided myself for wanting to take the sensation of her hands, to steal more from her than I already had. Yet, as she walked away to- wards the yogurt, her broth remained. As I blended my soup, the grating sound of the immersion blender mas- sacred the silence of the house. I began to shake, caught be- tween the impulse to be silent and the need to create. How did my grandmother blend her soup so in- visibly? What did my grandmother whisper into her soup as it

simmered for hours? Who was the woman beneath the woman I knew? After I endured the roar of the blend- er, silence rushed in to fill its absence, like thick soup flowing to fill the cold emptiness of a spoon. Only the quiet flame of the stove, urging the soup to a simmer, gave any indication of life. When my children returned from school, when Mr. Bagel re- turned after working late, I served them my soup. The strange woman’s broth was undetectable, but I could still taste its sweetness. After Mr. Bagel left again for the night shift, I cleared the bowls. I hope my grand- mother forgives me for deviating from her recipe. I hope the strange woman for- gives me for taking her broth to warm my heart. The soup may be consumed, but its flavor still lingers on my tongue. Veggie stock, three cups. Veggie stock, three cups. Anyway, here’s the recipe: 1. Chop vegetables into tiny pieces. 2. Blend until unrecognizable. 3. Serve warm. Attempt to enjoy.

Graphics Editor at The MQ

Sharon was “born” in 1801. She inspired the Archie Comics, which later inspired the hit TV show Riverdale.

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