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Tomato Soup

Tomato Soup is an imaginative response based on the writing style of J. D. Salinger (author of The Catcher in the Rye). The storyline is adapted from the poem Gooseberry Sorbet by Simon Armitage.

Well, if you really must know the truth, it was probably around this time last year that I started setting the table with an extra bowl, of tomato soup. It’s a helluva food to serve. Real annoying to try and clean the goddamn dishes afterwards, if I’m being perfectly honest. But I insist on serving it.

Dorothy, has been a great missus. I don’t think anyone should care about cleaning the goddamn dishes, after a great missus has cooked. I mean a really good one though. Not a phony missus who only treats you right while you’re the only bloke on the farm. I mean the heart-on-chest-honest-to-God, good missus.

She’s a champ at keeping secrets, for one thing. Most women would blab to their friends the moment they thought you up to no good. Dorothy’s patient too. Real angel. This one time my younger kid, Henry, brought home a bum collapsed at the Rosewood train station. Found him collapsed on the wooden walkway that goes over the top of the tracks. He brought the poor bastard home and begged Dorothy to let him stay.

I always feel crumby when I see bums. I really do. I can never stand to let them go without giving them some money. Even if they refuse it, I sort of push it into their hands, or bring them home to stay for a-while. I don’t want you to think I’m trying to be a saint or anything like that, but I must’ve helped every bum this side of the railway line.

‘Another one?’ Dorothy asked, when Henry brought this guy home. She was acclimatised to it and all, by this point anyway.

‘Please mum? He just needs someplace to stay,’ whispered those innocent lips of Henry’s.

They’re the kind of lips that wobble when he sees something pretty sad. I’ve seen them wobble over a wallaby that was run over by a bastard. Had to stop the goddam car and bury the mangled thing. You’ve got to do it though. Henry won’t sleep unless something dead gets buried. He’s funny that way.

It’s an odd house we have here on the farm. Coffin-shaped, I guess you could call it. You can see the walls slant away from you on one side, sort of like you’re falling down a goddamn hole. Crappy house is sinking.

Can’t beat the location though. Pure silence. Barely even any insects. When you’re standing on the back porch, you can see the dark blue mountains fade into nothingness. Those mountains always look like someone sleeping to me. A man lying on his back. The clouds are fields of crops above those mountains.

There’s no neighbours for an hour’s walk in any direction. It gets lonely out here, planting the barley and rye. Hard to meet people. I can see the fruit and vegetable garden poking up out of that hillock, like someone’s hair.

It was two months ago when we brought this other bum home to the farm, and Dorothy gave him the same room upstairs. 

‘Jimmy—’ I gave him a firm slap on the back of his filthy jacket and everything. ‘You stay here as long as you need, to get back on your feet.’

I hated myself as soon as I said it. No one knows what ‘on your feet’ means, really. It could look different for everyone. It’s the sort of thing a phony politician might say when he dolls out the crumby worker allowance. I never say crap like that. I only said it because Jimmy had such a terribly honest face. You really couldn’t help yourself around him.

He’d go looking for work every-day, but always come back still a bum. It killed me. He had such an honest face you felt sure he’d get offered CEO or some other phony job with a tie clip and all that. I guess what I’m saying is that you really trusted him before you got to know him.

Take this tomato soup we’re eating, it was his recipe. The second day he stayed with us on the farm, he took my wife into the kitchen and taught her how to make it. Took her hands and showed her how to crush the tomatoes, all sexy like.

‘You’ve gotta’ fertilise these tomatoes more,” Jimmy always said to me while they worked with the blood-red mash. He was making all kinds of flitty eye-contact at me. Jimmy and Dorothy really got in there together, and crushed them. Poor Dorothy never knows what to do in those situations. She was laughing and giggling and whispering, but you knew for a fact that she wasn’t comfortable with Jimmy, or his sexy hands.

He was right though. He really was. Fertilising those tomatoes really did make the soup taste better.

You could tell Jimmy wasn’t too precious with my kid Henry either, because Jimmy taught the kid how to gamble better than a mobster. Jimmy was always an ace at that sort of thing, took all of Henry’s pocket money. Practically had Henry taking out short-term loans just to pay him back. I put a stop to that. Henry’s a good kid, see. He cries when he sees sad things.

On his last day, Jimmy spent all morning talking to my daughter. Asking really personal questions too, like what school she went to, and whether she liked it there. He was standing real close, with those sexy hands gesturing in the air inches from her auburn hair. She’s far too innocent for that sort of thing, if I’m being honest.

We were gonna’ eat the tomato soup that night. His recipe. Before dinner, I offered to show him how to plant his own tomatoes. By that point he’d been here for six months, and I was really growing tired of him. We kind of dug a big hole together. Jimmy was confused by it, but I explained that the tomato hole needs to be six feet deep.

That night, Jimmy decided to nick off before dinner without a word of thanks to my family. I couldn’t believe it. You treat someone like a real sultan and they just up and leave. I had to explain the sad news to Dorothy, Henry, and my daughter who you can’t meet. They were devastated and everything.

It wasn’t a total waste of time though: I’d fertilized a brand-new batch of tomato seeds with Jimmy.

That’s why, whenever we have a bum stay for too long, we eat tomato soup. That’s why Henry’s lips wobble when he eats tomato soup, because it’s a sad thing. That’s why Dorothy cleans the blood-red dishes now, because she’s good at keeping secrets.

From the author:

If you enjoyed this short story, you should pick up your copy of “Spirits in Your Area”. It’s my anthology of short stories that reimagines classic fairy tales and ghost stories in a dark, quirky, and surreal way. Imagine The Witcher meets The Castle.

Spirits in Your Area Cover ImagePurchase “Spirits in Your Area” Now
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