My Father's Soup by Ana Vidosavljevic

My Father's Soup

My father was not the best cook ever. He could fry eggs, fish, sausages, make barbecue and warm up yesterday's dinner. Somehow, he always managed to over-fry everything but we, his family, didn't mind. However, making a soup was his supreme skill, and he was unbeatable in this particular task. The art of making soup was his own invention, no one had taught him and even though my grandma Lena, his mother, claimed that she had showed him how to make a good soup when he had been a child, he didn't want to admit this was true, but he also never said it was not. Anyway, I have never tasted better soups than the ones he made.

My father's soups, tasty and warm, nourished our souls in cold winter evenings. They often were the medicine for our cold and fever, when we were not able to eat anything else, and these delicious soups were something that comforted us when we were not in our best moods. There was nothing a warm bowl of my father's soup couldn't fix. It was our comfort food. Prepared with love.

My father made a soup almost every day. He had his favorite soup pot that he claimed was magic. He would fill this pot with cold water and put it on the stove over medium heat. Then, he added two or three spoons of vegetable oil and let the liquid get warm while he was cutting a few carrots, parsley, five garlic cloves and one small onion. As soon as he cut the vegetables, he put them in the oily water. Then, he added a couple of chicken wings and thighs. He added also a bit of salt and pepper and brought it to boil over high heat. After half an hour, he reduced the heat to low, covered the pot and let the soup simmer until the chicken parts were cooked through. Even though the soup was still not ready, the heavenly smell of it provoked me to stay close to the stove and breathe in deeply. It was not only my palate that was enriched when I removed the lid and smelled the soup, but also my mood.

I often checked the soup while it was simmering and wanted to see if the chicken parts were cooked. I removed the pot lid and stabbed the meat with a fork over and over again to make sure it was soft. My father let me be his little helper, his sous chef.

Once I decided that the meat was soft and cooked through, and my father double-checked it, he would remove it from the pot, shred the thighs and wings with two forks and chop the meat into bite-size pieces. Then, he would return them to the pot. I usually gave the bones to our dog Maza, who loved chewing them. Maza kept them as her treasure and to make sure no one took them from her, she often buried them in the ground and dug them up again after a few days.

After my father returned the meat into the pot, he added the noodles to the soup and stirred the mixture another ten minutes. He removed the pot from the heat, took a spoon and tried it even though it was hot and gave off steam. If he found out it was not salty enough, he added more salt, but often it was perfect as it was and ready to be eaten.

The soup, simple and delicious, usually lasted until the next day. And the next day, before making another soup, my father would warm it up and finish it. Simplicity of its preparing and the care of its maker was what made it special. It added an extra flavor that we all remembered many years later when my dad passed away. It is amazing how the most simple things are the most evocative.

In his honor, I've tried making his soup. And even though sometimes it tastes pretty good, it is never as good as his soup. But it is always eaten with dear people and that fact gives my soup the taste that resembles the one my dad used to make.

Ana Vidosavljevic from Serbia currently lives in Indonesia. She has her work published or forthcoming in Down in the Dirt (Scar Publications), Literary Yard, RYL (Refresh Your Life), The Caterpillar, The Curlew, Eskimo Pie, Coldnoon, Perspectives, Indiana Voice Journal, The Raven Chronicles, Setu Bilingual Journal, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Quail Bell Magazine, Madcap Review. She worked on a GIEE 2011 project: Gender and Interdisciplinary Education for Engineers 2011 as a member of the Institute Mihailo Pupin team. She also attended the International Conference “Bullying and Abuse of Power” in November 2010, in Prague, Czech Republic, where she presented her paper: “Cultural intolerance.”

Two Stories by Lorraine Wilson

Lakshmi

She is a trinket, really. Probably haggled for obligatorily at some morning market, flies in the air and the scent of spices, uncooked meat, languages weaving into one another and my grandad’s pale skin always noticed, always odd.

I don’t even remember seeing it in his house, I imagine it boxed away amongst dust-gathered mementos of a life reluctantly left behind. But to see her, brass-cast goddess, hands raised and foot shining from the supplication of my fingers, to see her is to remember. My childhood was filled with stories, you see. Stories scattered with Hindi and Urdu and the crumbs of cake slices scattered around my knees. They were chital deer and tiger prints in monsoon mud, they were dirt roads and they were the smell of flowers beneath a midday sun.

She is the goddess of things that I do not really value but she is more than that, she is memory too, sublimated from my cells into her and given weight, given form, and it is this that she holds delicate-winged in her tarnished hands. A lost father refound, old abandonments forgiven, the tracery of genetics and distant homes that surfaces on my skin; moments. Moments with him and then the moments without. She has heard me weeping and seen me love, and she smiles for me now, above a fire that lends her limbs some tiny remnant of her native heat, and even when all our pasts are parceled away I will want her with me to tell me this: The world is vast and it is small; full of loss and wonder and stories you have not yet heard, and you belong to all of it.

This Dead Sheep

A half-old dead sheep in the hollow of a burn. She did not startle when we appeared, which was perhaps not surprising, but we were never quite sure about these things. We had come to the soft black edge of a bank to stare down into the burn, mountain stream whispering and racing its way down between rocks and peat and heather. We did not startle either, my sister and me, but there was a whisper-frisson of recognition between the sheep who was dead and us, who were not.

She had died in the water, soft ochre hill-water that had tugged her wool away from ribs exposed by ravens and the winter and stained a yellow that could have been hellish but was almost spring-like. It ran between her bones, the water, and must have been cold when she lay dying, must have made her leaden and gravitous but now it stroked her smooth, tickling at the curves and edges of her fondly, remnants of wool water-dancing.

Scrambling down through heather and black peat, water cut, the wind kept moving but we were beneath it there, stroking horns and bared bones with our fingers, with crystals blinking beneath the tannin water and above us, the sky in amongst the mountains was a gift we could have cupped in our hands. The burn cackled and spoke memories of death borne down the hill and we’d been drinking her, we realized. We laughed and the water laughed, at all the slow decay of her that had passed into the pipes and then to us.

Above the peat but beneath the sky, heather flowers shone constellations, a faerie mist slid windward hiding secrets and we felt we knew the sheep’s secrets too. Somewhere other sheep were calling but they were not here, where we were, kneeling in the stone-spangled earth and whispering to her who was surely a part of us now, drunk in and absorbed into the cells of our limbs. We had her death in our bones, cradled there so that even though she died alone and cold, she was neither, any more.

We wanted to carry her skull with us, wanted to bear her down to our parents like a queen, like proof, like a greeting. But she did not wish to come. Her empty sockets, ghosts of eyes, watched us reproachfully, black-edged teeth moving in silent speech and her horns were the perfect curve for the shape of my palm but she did not wish to come. We had already drunk her memories and her death, and so I supposed that she was content then, to let us carry those away with us while her gone eyes watched the mountain-tops and filled up with heather.

Perhaps she is still watching up there where she fell. She is still in my bones.

 

Having spent many years working in remote corners of the world, Lorraine Wilson now lives by the sea in Scotland and writes stories that are touched by folklore and the wilderness. She has had short stories published in several magazines and anthologies and tweets @raine_clouds about science, writing, cats and weirdnesses.

Storm Warnings by John Carr Walker

Storm Warnings

Weather abroad/And weather of the heart alike come on/Regardless of prediction. — Adrienne Rich

The weather machine plugged in behind the sleeper sofa in the office of our new house, set back from the country road and surrounded by vineyards, an intensely quiet place. I liked to visit the office while my father was out just to look at the weather machine, my knees sunk in the couch cushion, arms crossed over the upholstered back, chin resting on the bend of my elbow. It shared the windowsill with a snakeskin and mound of sculpturesque welding slag—this gray box, with a speaker grate, volume knob, and on-off switch, shouldn’t have been what fascinated me. But push the switch and a voice from the Bear Mountain weather station read the most recent report, and in the event of a storm warning, the weather machine’s siren blared like the house had caught fire.

Now, when information appears instantly on our personal screens, my memory of the weather machine's on-demand technology seems sentimental. In 1981, however, the year my sister was born and we moved into our new house, the Internet was still a military secret. Our phones were a mess of wires. We didn’t yet own an answering machine—few families did. Getting a television signal depended on adjusting a pair of antennae, rabbit ear and telescoping, as if the coarse and fine knobs of a radio. Folded issues of The Fresno Bee, dropped once a day at the end of our long driveway, determined the scope of the news. The weather machine asserted itself in a way most devices would not for several more decades. It only talked about the weather, but my father grew raisins. His livelihood—our lives—depended on the weather.  

*

In school, my sister read Night of the Twisters, about tornadoes that devastated a Nebraska town, and her imagination wired the disasters of that novel into her nervous system. Though we lived in California, in earthquake country, what might fall from the sky terrified her. When the weather machine's siren went off, she hid in her closet, in the box with her stuffed animals, and prayed the roof wouldn’t blow off the house. 

*

Our weatherman was called Angelo. We followed him with the kind of loyalty usually reserved for a favorite sports team. In one promotional spot, I remember, he appeared on the television screen wearing an overcoat and galoshes, kicking puddles, while "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" played in the background. Then, with an omnipotent twirl of his umbrella, Angelo stopped the rain. Surely, I’m not the only raisin grower’s son who can still see Angelo turning his palm toward the changed sky. It was a brilliant piece of advertising. Weathermen in the San Joaquin Valley were supposed to be able to do the impossible.

*

In preparation for the evening weather forecast my mother set the television trays. She closed the living room mini-blinds to keep the glare of the winter sun off the screen, while outside, the weather did its thing unobserved. My father needed to know if he should expect a freeze overnight, if he needed to run the irrigation pumps to protect the crop, and he only trusted Angelo to tell his fortune.  

From the moment Angelo appeared on screen my father demanded silence. My mother flapped her hands to hush my sister and me. For the weather forecast, everything must stop—talking, eating, breathing. I used to hold bites of half-chewed food in my mouth so not to obscure a word Angelo said. But we always made too much noise, somehow. My father hiked the volume until Angelo’s voice rattled the speaker. The rest of the forecast hollered through its parts: today’s temperatures, tomorrow’s highs and lows, Angelo’s narrative of historical patterns, all delivered at the decibels of a scream. My father kept his jaw set while he listened, baring teeth ground small from being constantly on edge. Only he could comment on the forecast. Perfect, he’d say, or Jeez, in resignation. 

After the five-day outlook, when Angelo returned to the news desk to banter with the anchors, my father turned the volume back down. My mother stormed into the kitchen. I swallowed the bite gone mushy in my mouth. My sister must have been longing for the shelter of her stuffed animal box. 

*

If the skies were gray when our mother picked her up from school my sister begged to go anywhere but home—let’s runaway, she'd plead.

*

In 2006 I moved eight-hundred miles away from our family vineyards. It must be distance that allows me to remember the weather machine as a piece of archaic, amusing technology rather than an instrument of terror.

Angelo retired from Channel 30 in May 2013. Honored as “The Dean of Central California Weathercasters,” by his colleagues, Angelo’s farewell segment lasted for more than six of a twenty-two minute broadcast. He said goodbye to his public with a tremor in his trained voice.

My father leased his hundred acres to an almond grower and in the fall of 2014 the vineyards were bulldozed to make way for orchards. 

*

My sister still lives down the country road from my parents and still gets nervous during storms. Even though Angelo is retired and the vineyards are gone the squalls of our childhood remain. Somehow, a change in the weather still feels like losing everything. 

John Carr Walker’s writing has been appearing in literary journals since 2007. His critically acclaimed first book, Repairable Men (Sunnyoutside), was featured on Late Night Library. A native of the San Joaquin Valley and former high school English teacher, he now lives and writes full-time in Saint Helens, Oregon.

Beedancing and Stupidhead by Carolyn Eichhorn

Beedancing

When I was four or five years old, I stepped on a bee. I had been running around the pool at my grandparents’ house in Arizona, exactly as all kids are told not to do, and I crushed a dead bee with my chubby little bare foot. The little bastard stung me from beyond the grave, rearing up to inflict pain and psychological damage long after its last gasps of ridiculously hot desert air. It was probably bitter about the heat. Arizona is a special kind of hot.

Anyway, as my mother tried to calm my gulping sobs, treating my swelling sting with baking soda, cooing, and promises of ice cream, I remember thinking that this was profoundly unfair.  What kind of creature can hurt you after they die? Thus began my bee phobia, my apiphobia, according to Google.

Fast forward to Florida where the air teems with insects and one’s twitchiness caused by buzzing, flying things can really blossom. All those orange groves have beehives set up to pollinate the sunshine fruit, so when riding horses or minibikes, one needs to take care not to end up in a cloud of angry, armed, flying fuzzballs. Combine that with a movie about killer bees, a proliferation of wasps and “mud daubers” with their dangly legs and rampant house building skills, and my nerves were always on edge while out-of-doors.

Aside from one incident with a hornet that stung me through my leather gardening gloves (I sobbed in the fetal position on my living room floor for fifteen minutes), I had few direct interactions with the flying pests. But the buzzing, the threat, always triggered a physical response.

During a volunteering day at Give Kids the World, I was painting the side of one of the administration buildings alongside friends and colleagues, hip deep in hedges when I heard that familiar, horrifying sound. In seconds, I had leapt from the bushes, arms flailing, face contorted in terror, screaming like a sorority girl in a slasher movie. Once out of the danger zone, I looked up to see my team, my friends, doubled over in laughter.

“Did you see that dance?”

“That was a bee dance!”

“Buzz, buzz! What’s that by your shoulder?”

Unfortunately, that bee dance has been repeated many, many times while mowing the yard, hiking local trails, chilling at the pool, even walking across the parking lot to Publix. There was a particularly horrifying incident outside a Sam’s Club once when I discovered a wasp nest up in the handle of the tailgate of my Mom’s pickup truck where my fingers had been. But patio furniture, pool chairs, long wooden docks, and all those places you would expect to relax are like Disneyland for flying, stinging things. Wasps love water parks, by the way. Seriously, just look up while you wait in line for that flume ride. Wasp nest city.

When I get caught in full freakout mode, the question is always the same. Are you allergic? 

Um, no, I’m just fucking terrified. Does it diminish my panic that only pain, not anaphylactic shock, is coming at my face via airmail? Nope. Avoidance of pain seems like a completely legitimate and logical effort to me.

And, by the way, bear maulings can’t be fixed with an Epi-Pen, which is just as well since no one can afford those anymore.  Nor can they soothe the anxiety that descends like that paper dentist bib at the sight of the silvery metal torture tools next to the spit bowl. At that critical moment, when it’s just you and a flying thing that could be a brain eating wasp or merely a ladybug, we have only our own defense mechanisms, no matter how ridiculous they look to others.

It turns out that bee dances are really a thing. Bees communicate with each other, so beekeepers would have us believe, by using a series of “dances,” the most famous being the “waggle dance” which seems to be a butt-shaking figure-eight, not unlike what one might see at the club. Presumably, these bees can share details about the location of food, taking into consideration the distance, angle of the sun, and line of flight.  Seriously. Buzzaboutbees.net even has a video of this spectacle, though I could not bring myself to watch it, as I had no Xanax on hand. And, honestly, I’m not sure that I’m comfortable with the idea that my lifelong foe is capable of GPS targeting. Are they just messing with me? Throwing in a little fly-by on the way back to the hive for kicks? Gathering with each other for a little pollen and some bee-sized guffaws at my distress?

I’m no longer that child in bare feet, but I find that as a grown-up, I’m still watching where I step, lest something seemingly harmless might come at me with poisoned barbs. I’m listening carefully when I enter a room of chatting humans for any warning buzzes that I should avoid, especially around politics. You might not see the sting coming, but you will often hear the thrumming warning hum. I cannot seem to control my facial contortions in response to bullshit, though arm flailing is infrequent at professional events. My bee dancing is happening all the time in degrees, though not usually in a figure eight. The waggling, I’m afraid, is merely a result of a slower metabolism. I wish that I was just sharing the location of leftover meeting brownies down the hall, but it’s more likely a manifestation of other fleeting things that might hurt us, though they appear harmless.

Stupidhead

“So, we’re all good then?” Beezer asked, like he always did.

Lisa got to her feet and brushed red dust from her clothes and hair. Her limbs all appeared to work normally, but she knew she would bruise where her hip had struck the ground after her Huffy spilled her into the rutted clay road.

“You are a stupidhead,” she said back to him, her standard reply. She gulped the last part, still fighting to catch her breath and not willing to drop the attitude that clung to her thirteen–year-old self like the rust colored earth staining her Keds.

Beezer smiled his gap-toothed grin and Lisa smiled back. After all, it had been as much her fault as his. She’d agreed to sit upon the handlebars as he steered her pink beach cruiser down the steep switchbacks. Turns out, this made maneuvering difficult and the incline did the rest. Beezer had dumped them both over to prevent the bike from careening completely off the road. He’d gotten the worst of it, not from the wreck, but from the removal of the bike from the thorny blackberry bushes growing wild in the ditch. Beezer’s close-cropped blond hair and Ron Jon t-shirt were wet from the Georgia summer heat and his efforts to tug the bicycle back to the road. Lisa took a moment to straighten the barrettes that struggled to contain her insubordinate wavy brown hair. Neither of them wanted questions from the parentals.  For insurance, they picked enough blackberries for a cobbler, wrapping them carefully in Beezer’s shirt, before returning to the cabin. The diversion worked long enough to get them inside and upstairs, but five minutes later they heard Beezer’s mom call from the kitchen.

“Benjamin Zachariah Ross! Did you intentionally ruin this shirt?”

Lisa snorted with laughter.

“Goofball,” Beezer said.

“Stupidhead,” Lisa replied.

At least there wouldn’t be stitches this time. The waterbed adventure at the lake three weeks earlier had earned Lisa nine. Filling the patched-up mattress with air and jumping on it from the pier had seemed like an awesome way to pass a hot afternoon. However, seven minutes in, Lisa had been catapulted with impressive height into the closest splintery piling. When she had sputtered back to the surface, blood coursed down her face from a cut at her hairline. Beezer had fished her out of the water and pressed a wet beach towel to her face. Soon, both the towel and Lisa’s freckled face were streaked with watery red. Lisa had joked, “Good thing there are no sharks in the lake or we’d really be in trouble.” This had gotten a laugh from Beezer. He’d looked a little worried.

The parentals had gone berserk. Well, the ones who were still around had. Beezer’s mom and Lisa’s dad were sister and brother. Every summer the families gathered at Pop-Pop’s cabin. While sister and brother complained about their lives over beers and barbecue, Lisa and Beezer played in the woods around the lake, not wanting to hear anymore about illness or affairs or heartbreak or divorce. They already knew the ways parents could leave.

Each summer meant elaborate adventures, mostly of Beezer’s invention. As the older cousin by a full year, he became the coordinator for their summer shenanigans. They improvised parachutes of bed sheets and leapt off the roof. Luckily, there were no broken bones, but both agreed it would be best not to tell the parentals. When Beezer wanted to catch a Sasquatch, they dug a hole so big it took them a week before they covered the opening with tree limbs and set up surveillance. They checked it every morning for six days. No Sasquatch. They searched for treasure and buried some of their own – just stones, an arrowhead, a metal Corvette toy, and other stuff in a cardboard shoebox, the location carefully marked with an X on a bona fide map. They built a make-shift tree house with some old two-by-fours and plywood scraps once Beezer was old enough to use Pop Pop’s drill. They played Hunger Games. Although Lisa had agreed that real bows and arrows were probably not safe, she fell while fleeing Katniss-style into the old Sasquatch trap. In the darkness of the pit, the wind knocked from her lungs, she managed to gasp, “Beezer, you stupidhead.”

Their last summer together at the cabin had been before Beezer went away to college. He played football, channeling his toughness into the game. After graduation, he became a coach at a high school in Florida. Last Christmas, Lisa had teased him in front of his boys about the trouble he’d gotten them in as kids. He’d laughed in a way that made Lisa suspect that he had pulled off a few adventures with his little guys. Lisa had punched his arm and complained that he always seemed to get away with everything.

“Not true!” He’d laughed, showing that same gapped grin.

And he was right. In the end, it was cancer that caught up with him, not his reckless spirit. Lisa ran her thumb over the raised lettering on the funeral program, while the pastor lead the congregation in prayer, blinking back hot tears before whispering, “Stupidhead.”

Carolyn Eichhorn completed her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Tampa where she won the Plant Hall Spooky Story contest in 2015. She's had stories published by Oscillate Wildly Press, ScrawlBrawl, and the Baltimore County Library Foundation and is currently shopping her mystery novel, Murder in the Mix. Carolyn teaches writing and writes twisty fiction in Baltimore, Maryland. You can check out her blog at: https://groundsforsuspicion.blogspot.com/.