Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Chicken Soup" by Mark Barkawitz

He broke their date Saturday night. Told her he wasn’t feeling well. She had offered to come by. To play nurse. But he’d said no thanks. So he stayed home and brooded by himself instead. Maybe she wasn’t The One, after all? Did the same thing Sunday morning, too. Just lay around on the couch, watching football, listening to his stomach complain because he hadn’t gone down to the corner cafe for his usual Sunday breakfast. But as the morning game ended, he heard a car pull up outside.

He got up and looked out the blinds. Her Honda was parked at the curb. Wearing a little spaghetti-strap top over tight, white jeans, she was already approaching with a covered pot held between both hands with a dishtowel—her take on Florence Nightingale. All she needed was the red cross on a white, nurse’s cap. He turned off the TV and opened the front door.

“You’re not contagious, are you?” she asked.

He shook his head, “Nope,” and pushed open the screen door.

“Good.” She stepped inside. She was tall and slender with high cheekbones and innocent, doe-like eyes—a model’s face and figure. Definitely, a head-turner. “I made you some homemade, chicken soup.”

“Really?” She had never cooked for him before. He had only been to her apartment a few times. Mostly to pick her up for dates. The place was usually messy. More like a guy’s than a girl’s. And his new bed was larger and more comfortable than her old twin-sized, with its back-stabbing, mattress springs. He followed her into the kitchen. She put the pot on the stove, turned on a low flame, and approached him.

“I missed you last night.” She put her long arms around his neck and smiled her purposely crooked, little smile. She wasn’t wearing a bra. But she was young enough and firm enough to pull it off.

He wanted to kiss her. Badly. But he had promised himself to play it cool. So he didn’t answer, even though he, too, had missed her.

She leaned against him. The corners of his mouth rose uncontrollably. He tried not to smile, to give in. But damnit, it really wasn’t her fault. He’d agreed—they could see other people. He had likewise wanted to keep his options opened. How was he to know it would come back to cuckold him?

“You hungry?” she asked.

He nodded. “Famished.”

“Good.” She kissed his cheek and went to the drawer for a ladle. “I spent all night in my apartment.” She turned and pointed the big spoon at him. “Cooking for you, mister.”

He sat at the kitchen table. As she reached up into the cupboard for a bowl, her shapely, little breast threatened to pop out the side of her top. Maybe they could work this out, he thought? Rearrange their arrangement. Get the other guy—she was unaware he had seen them together—out of the picture. Make it monogamous. Exclusive. Why not?

But when she removed the top from the pot, stirred up its contents, and ladled out a steamy bowlful, an aroma—like dirty sweat socks—wafted across the room. Smiling, she brought the large bowl and placed it on the table in front of him. As she went back to the drawer for a spoon, she warned playfully: “And you better like it.”

But as he looked down through the steam at the oily surface of the murky liquid before him, he knew there was no way in hell anything that smelled like this was going to be likable. She came back with a soup spoon for him, sat at the table, and arched her perfectly-plucked eyebrows in anticipation. He dipped in, lifted the spoon to his lips, and tasted the oily broth. But as he tried to keep from gagging in front of her, he suddenly knew—she wasn’t The One. Not for him anyway. Because dalliances aside, there was no way in hell he could spend the rest of his life pretending to like this woman’s cooking.

It was as simple as chicken soup.

Until she rubbed her leg against his under the table and again flashed that crooked, little smile of hers. Aw, what the hell? There were antacid tablets in the medicine cabinet. So he sipped another spoonful, forced a smile back at her, and made a mental note:

From now on, we dine-out exclusively. Let the other damn guy eat her cooking.

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