A Home Made Soup (words 5891)
By Mark Burrow
There are these days¦Long days, when the sun is bright and the air a scented, brilliant blue; birds are singing and the ice cream men give their odd musical vans one final extra special clean with a sponge dunked in a bucket of hot soapy water because they know business is going to be good on days like these.
'Won't be long now,' shouted Madge. I hear the mechanical chopping of the blender.
Then there are nights when people have plans, arrangements to see movies, plays, concerts, to go ice skating, bowling, to eat three course meals in hectic, lively restaurants or go to bars and drink gin and tonics, loaded with cubes of ice, or chilled pints of lager or wine from stemmed glasses with friends, family¦partners.
'How many slices of bread do you want?' yelled Madge.
The smell of the soup permeates my small flat. I think it is squash soup. Madge, my sister, makes it herself, buying the ingredients from an organic supermarket on the way from her large house, shared with Ryan, her husband, and her offspring, Crystal and Jefferson, aged 4 and 9. She thinks homemade, natural food tastes better.
There are days when people are happy to go out because of the weather and days when they are happy to stay in for the same reason. As for me, I have no preference, apart from to stay indoors. The calendar might indicate a Saturday or a Monday, the clock a morning, an afternoon, evening or night. Rain, sleet, snow or sunshine, it makes no difference to me. I remain here, in the house, cloaked in my own personal ecosphere of sandy dunes and endless mist, sleeping.
'Why don't you come into the kitchen and eat?' Madge asked, predictably.
'The bed is fine,' was my reply, and had been for two, three years.
'You are a naughty mouse,' said Madge, carrying the tray with the soup and slices of brown bread and the wide bottomed glass of orange juice, resting it on the bedside cabinet.
I smiled at my sister. She liked to call me a mouse I think because I hide in the cubby hole which this flat now represents. But she calls her children mice too, sometimes rats if they are misbehaving.
'It is a smashing day outside. We could sit at the table and eat with the window open. Get some sun on that pale skin of yours.'
'I'm fine where I am.'
'Do it for me, go on, come into the kitchen and eat lunch.'
'I'm fine where I am.'
'You are stubborn, Eleanor.'
I shuffle upwards, grimacing as I scrape a sore on my rump against the sheets of the bed. Madge pumps the four pillows and then positions them against the headboard for me to sit upright.
'Thank you,' I said.
I raise my knees, feeling the joints ache, and my sister passes me the tray and then pulls up a high backed wooden chair and sits to watch me eat.
'Can I switch the radio on?' she said.
'You know the rule.'
She looked at me and clasped her hands in her lap, like she does when she is annoyed.
'No radio or television,' I said.
'Television I can understand, but radio.'
'That's the rule.'
Madge pursed her lips. 'But music, Eleanor, you always liked music so much.'
I blow onto the spoonful of soup. It is, as I guessed, squash soup. Madge thinks it is my favourite, but I have, like I said, no preference as to what makes my taste buds salivate and my stomach yearn in anticipation as such bodily functions are impossible for me. I treat food as it is intended by nature to be: sustenance, energy for the body. I hunger for nothing more, nothing less.
I have a sickness, but it is not physical. I do have an illness, but it is not mental. This tiredness is not from over exertion and certainly not from exercise.
On Sundays and Wednesdays my sister comes to visit. I think this is the weekday visit as the cars outside leave in the mornings during the week. I have a brother too, older; none of us see him anymore. He lives in Japan, Tokyo, earning a fortune as a high-flyer investor. As for my parents, both used to drive up once a month from Plymouth to see me until they died from heart attacks, within two months of each other. They never seemed like they were in love, but my father, he clearly couldn't live without mum. The centre of him dissolved once mum died and he was unable to hold himself together and he rapidly fell apart.
'Do you like the soup?' asked Madge.
I swallow and nod. 'Yes, very much,' I said, archly.
The cul-de-sac I live in is peaceful, quiet. A car door slams outside and I can hear a neighbour's garden gate opening and then spring shut. I break a piece of bread and put it into my mouth, dry.
My sister, seeing this, said: 'You should dip it first.'
I follow her instruction.
'You are a good little mouse,' she said.
I chew the bread three times on my left side, then three times on my right. I feel a breeze and notice that Madge must've opened the bedroom window. 'Close it please,' I said.
'The fresh air is good.'
'I want it closed.'
'Do you realise how it pongs in here, Eleanor? I¦I¦'
'I want the window shut.' The warm air blows into my room and I feel it on my skin and shiver. 'Shut it shut,' I cried, and Eleanor rushed from the chair and pulled the window down, tight against the frame. 'The lock too,' I said. 'The lock.'
She flipped the brass lock and my breathing slowed and the sweating stopped but my legs were warm ' the bowl had slid from the tray, soup spilling onto the sheets.
'Oh no,' shrieked my sister. 'What a mess.' She took the bowl, rebalancing it. 'Get up,' she ordered, 'get up.'
I kept very still, closing my eyes, hearing her yell, bawling at me: 'I'm always there for you, Eleanor. When have you ever asked about me? My life? You hide away and allow me to deal with it all but when have you ever stopped to think about me? Maybe I need help too. Maybe my life isn't as perfect as you assume it to be. What about me? Why should I always be there for you? Why?'
This to-do went on for a period, until the temperature of the soup had dropped at least to a comfortable level. I felt her yank at my arms to pull me from my final resting place. 'There is nothing the matter with you,' she hollered. 'Walk, Eleanor. I know you do it when you're by yourself. For god's sake walk, don't you think I know that this is all in your mind?'
I remained mute and frozen, playing dead. She persisted to harass and bully and so I slowly, painfully ' oh, the aching limbs - swung my legs from the bed and she ushered me to the bathroom and forced me to bathe. A minor victory of my own was that I refused to make a single utterance.
'Your body, Eleanor, look at the sores. What are you doing to yourself?'
She washed my back and hair, using stinking soap and shampoo, persisting with her intrusive questions, invading my privacy, like the doctors and the psychiatrist tried to do. I refused to take so much as one of their tablets.
Madge towelled me dry and made me lie on the bed, sprinkling talcum powder onto my body. Then I stood there, in a clean floral nightdress, as she turned the mattress and put clean sheets on the bed.
I don't remember saying goodbye as I think the second my head touched that pillow I was in the land of nod.
If I measure time at all, it is by Madge's visits. I wondered if she would visit me after she finally blurted what she thought about my condition. The fact is no one thinks much about my condition as I freely admit to anyone who asked that it is not based on anything other than my choice. I gave up my job as a bean counter and avoided my friends; I refused to make the effort. I have some money saved away and that allows me to get by; my flat is bought and so there is no mortgage. My needs are of the most basic kind. To use the terminology of my profession, my debits and credits are at a zero balance, kind of.
A day, at a guesstimate, after Madge left I got up from my bed and sat on the toilet. I washed my hands. I went into the kitchen and sat on a chair, watching drops of rain splashing against the glass, dribbling in delicate rivulets, and puddles formed on the red paving stones in the garden. When the rain stopped I watched a robin sip rainwater from the cracked plastic fountain by the creeping ivy. I went to bed and slept a deep sleep.
When I awoke I returned to the kitchen. I reminisced about when I was a girl and how I had played with dolls and wanted a baby of my own. When Madge had gotten married I recalled the envy I felt, mixed with the happiness because she was also happy. But me, I was never one to attract boys, they always went for Madge.
I sat in the living room. It was dusty and had that unlived smell of a room's carpet and furniture. I thought about washing myself and getting dressed. This was not unusual for me and meant very little. Frequently, I teased myself that I could perform tasks, errands, to engage in normality and perhaps visit the shops and buy a loaf of bread, margarine, toilet paper and some milk for a cup of tea. I wondered why such perfunctory actions disgusted me in the first place - to the point that I gave up doing them, for myself at least.
The noise of a key in the door startled me. I must've slept for longer than I realised as it was a Sunday or perhaps even Wednesday. Shopping bags rustled and then I heard Madge's voice: 'Eleanor, it's me, you awake sweetie?'
I lifted my nightdress to the knees and gazed at a red sore on the Achilles of my left leg. As hard as I tried to do nothing, my body still acted, even if merely to decay and politely decompose. And my mind too with a life if its own, never knowing when to shut up, especially about the thing that happened a long time ago.
While the thing was unrelated in every conceivable way to my decision to renounce the making of decisions, to the emergence of, if you like, my condition, I would be lying if I said it, the thing, didn't play on my mind.
I listened to the fridge door unstick and the opening of the plastic drawers for vegetables. 'Are you asleep?' she cooed, friendly, as if I were another one of her children. I rolled down my dress and considered sleeping. I could make myself go out like a light in an instant. That was the one decision I could make effectively.
She walked along the hallway, not checking the lounge as she headed for the bedroom. Madge was pregnant with her second child, Crystal, when the thing happened. I was staying over at their place for Christmas, a procedure as traditional as the red of Santa Claus' outfit being, as I was and always will be, the spinster aunt. Their friends had left. Madge and Jefferson were asleep. That left Ryan and I together, watching a daft Hollywood film which he thought was hilarious. We drank port. Enough had already been drunk. More than enough.
'Eleanor? Eleanor where are you?' called Madge. I appreciated the urgency in her voice; she was authentic when it came to caring about people. I wished I could say the same about me, or her husband.
'There you are,' she said. 'What are you¦Well done, you've got up. You've been walking.' She laughed. 'It's fantastic. Don't you feel better for it, Eleanor? Isn't that nice, standing up and literally standing on your own two feet?'
I said: 'I feel sick.'
She leaned over me, putting a hand on my shoulder. 'You do look a bit green around the gills,' she said.
'What about if I¦I ¦Can I open the windows?'
Madge yelped joyfully. 'Oh my god,' she said.
'Yes, yes, of course, I'll fetch it for you now.'
She scurried off. We went through a period at our Catholic school, all girls, when she was slightly mean to me. She had her own group of friends who were attractive, who went bowling on Saturdays, and went to the movies with a group of boys from the school down the road. But that was for a couple of years, when we were 15 and 16, and I didn't like the group anyhow. I preferred to stay in the house, letting mum make cups of tea.
I would do my homework before the deadline set by teachers. I read Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte and Shakespeare, who wasn't on the Secondary school syllabus; I studied by myself for A-level maths at college before I had even passed my GCSE maths exams. The head mistress, Mrs Honeycomb, once called me a boffin and a brain-box and I was so pleased by this compliment. I got a certificate for my application. I felt what only the young can feel: special.
Apart from those two years, I can honestly swear that Madge has been kind and considerate to me. Her intentions, I think, have always been rooted in compassion. At the end of the day, I don't know whether this counts for anything. I used to assume that kindness reaped its own reward, but now I'm not so sure. However, I appreciate the effort involved. She is a better person than I will ever be, that is beyond question.
I take the glass of water. The window is open and I feel the wet air, smelling the leaves and soil.
'Now isn't that better?' said Madge.
'Yes,' I said, the giddiness in abeyance.
'I know I generally come and see you on the Sunday after the Wednesday but I felt bad about our set-to the other day,' she said.
'Don't worry about it.'
'No, I do, that was poor of me: I shouldn't have spoken to you like that.'
From the window, I saw seagulls wheeling and darting above the houses across the road. The sea was miles away from here.
'Would you like some nice soup?' asked Madge.
'I found a recipe off the internet for a better squash soup. Hope you don't mind eating it again; if you do I can just make you vegetable.'
'Squash soup is fine,' I said.
'Okay,' she said. She patted me on the shoulder.
A sore next to the base of my spine pressed against the wooden back of the chair. Madge was my sole visitor now that mum and dad had gone, and yet Madge was the last person on earth I wanted to see.
'Why don't you come and help me in the kitchen?' Madge called.
'I'm fine where I am,' I responded.
The thing that I mentioned started that night when he, Ryan, asked if he could sit beside me on the two seater. "Why don't I come over there? he asked. I pretended I didn't hear him. He picked up the bottle of port and his own glass and came and flopped next to me, apologising because we were close, our legs touching, but he didn't shift over. "Here, he offered, "let me fill your glass.
I let him. I thought he was being friendly but a part of me knew - this dim remnant of soberness in the drunken sloshing of my head - I should leave the room and go to bed. "Why don't you ever have a boyfriend? he questioned. "I was saying to Marjorie that it's madness, a girl as pretty as you not having a boyfriend.
Up to this point, I had not said much at all. He had done the gabbling. I can't remember what he talked about; memory kicks in only when he started to pay me compliments. Why I answered him like I did when he called me pretty I'll never know or understand. I looked at him directly, and we were close, a hand's span apart, and I said: "Do you really think I'm pretty? That does me in, recalling that one. What was I thinking? My sister's husband. My pregnant sister's husband.
In retrospect, he was chatting me up by numbers. Winning me over in the style of a dot-to-dot colouring in book. I can't stop myself from wondering if she, Madge, succumb to similar lines, and other women too, although I guessed he had to work harder at the schmooze talk when sober. "You're beautiful, he said. "How can you not see that about yourself?
Winning me over. Now there's a joke. Oh, I let him win me over. We were Anthony and Cleopatra, reincarnate. Winning me over. That's a laugh. This is Act One, Scene One of me playing hard-to-get: Ryan put his glass by the side of the two seater on the carpet and did the same with my glass, telling me, "That's a nice a top you're wearing, and then he put his arm round my neck. He kissed me, fully. Then a hand snuck under my cashmere jersey and his fingers picked beneath one of the cups of my bra and brushed against a nipple, kneading the breast. The other hand rubbed the back of my head, fingers twining my hair, and I could hear him breathing, pushing against me.
Madge enters my living room, in my flat, setting the table. 'It's such a relief to see you up again,' she said.
I smiled at her.
'Do you know how long it's been since I've seen that proper Eleanor smile? I wish I had my camera with me,' she said, giving a brief clap of the hands, rushing to kiss me on the forehead and then hurrying into the kitchen. 'I'm just cutting the sweet potato,' she said.
Act One, Scene Two: my breathing also became heavier. He steered me onto my back and lay on top of me, kissing me. "Do you like it? he said. I started to kiss him and he directed my legs either side of him and pushed up my skirt. I helped him remove my tights. He unbuckled his belt and pulled off his trousers as I raised my legs to remove my underwear.
We kept on kissing. The acts and scenes elapsed at ludicrous speeds and blend in my head into a blue movie montage. All the while, it didn't occur to me, properly, that his wife and child ' my sister and nephew - were upstairs. He kissed and was getting agitated. "Don't tell me this is¦Don't do this, he said, and I didn't understand what he meant. "What's up? I said. He gestured down below and then he guided my hand downwards and said, "Touch it, touch it. I did what he asked and he arched forward and whispered to my face, "I've liked you since I saw you and, the cream of the crop as far as I'm concerned was when he said, "I married the wrong sister.
I don't think his doo-dar was properly erect but he pushed and prodded himself inside of me - which, in retrospect, reminds me of a baker preparing a meat pastry - raising my legs, and then he shoved, pushed, very fast, gazing at me until it actually started to hurt and my head was banging against the arm of the two seater. He pulled up my jumper and lifted up the cups of my bra so that the wires pressed uncomfortably into the skin.
It went on for ages. My legs hurt where they were up so high. I found a place for my head so it was more against the cushion than the arm. I thought I was going to wet myself at one point and kept telling myself that, under no circumstances, must I let myself pee as that was bad. I mean, really, like wetting the two seater mattered given the situation, even if it was newly purchased. Finally, he groaned and gasped and landed on top of me, smothering me: the end.
Less than five seconds ' not minutes, seconds - passed when he got up, having gathered his breath, pulled on his Y-fronts, trousers, buckled his belt and, sheepishly, he said: "See you in the morning Ellie. The door opened and then I heard him go upstairs and I was on my own in the room, the stupid movie still on. I used my undies to stop his stuff dribbling from me and onto the two seater.
I dressed too, swallowing a mouthful of Ryan's yuletide port. I went and sat on one of the single armchairs and watched the rest of the movie. Although I was wobbly on my feet from drink, I took the glasses and bottle and the nibbles into the kitchen. I washed the glasses and then went into the lounge and patted the creases from the cushions on the two seater and switched on the big overhead light to make sure there were no signs and evidence of what had gone on.
Then I turned off the television and all of the lights, including the fairy lights decorating the window and around the Christmas tree, where earlier Madge, Ryan and myself had arranged the presents as Jefferson was sleeping, and made sure the front door was locked, as I do worry about burglars, and I went to the bathroom, cleaned myself, brushed my teeth, and went to bed in the spare room, which was for yours truly, the frigid spinster auntie.
The morning Ryan referred to was Christmas morning. I had agreed to stay until the day after Boxing day. Jefferson was up at 7 and as excited as you imagined a child to be. I heard the family downstairs and rose about 8, showered for nearly forty minutes, and then dressed and went down the stairs. "Merry Christmas, said Ryan, giving me a kiss on the cheek. Madge greeted me and we kissed and she hugged me and when I opened her card she had written in brackets that I was "the best sister ever. After opening presents I returned to my room, claiming I needed a lie down after too much celebrating the night before. Madge said she understood, adding, "You never were a drinker, it's Ryan's influence staying up all hours.
After twenty minutes there was a knock on spinster auntie's door. "Yes, I said. "It's me, he said. I threw off and smoothed the duvet and sat on the side of the bed, flicking my hair, concerned ' unbelievably - about my appearance. He pushed open the door and closed it. He held a plate of 20 party sized sausage rolls. "I wondered if you wanted one, he said. "I'm not hungry, I said. He picked one from the plate and popped it whole into his mouth and then yelped, extracting it with his fingers. "Hot, he said. Downstairs, I could hear a machine gun or laser firing and Jefferson making war cries. Ryan touched his tongue. "That was very hot, he said again.
He placed the plate on the chest of drawers. "Do you mind if I sit down? he said. I looked at him: "Obviously, yes I do. I would like to rest, I'm tired. He hesitated a moment and then, hushed but forcefully, said, "What's the matter with you? Why'd you let me do it? You knew I was drunk. You should've stopped me.
I sat there, much like I do nowadays, although these aspects of my past and present are connected in the vaguest, watery of ways.
"I was drunk out of my skull. You were sober. Tell me you're on the pill, he said. I gave a shake of the head and he whimpered, "Jesus Christ. What are you thinking girl? He rubbed his forehead. I said, "Is there a chemist or health clinic nearby? Health clinic is better, I think. He sighed and said, "It's Christmas Day, why? I opened the wardrobe and removed my long coat from a hanger. "I need the emergency pill, the 24-hour one. He groaned and said, "You sound like you're an expert at this.
I pulled on my coat and I remember seeing the buttons, round, black, the threads of cotton through the four holes on each button, properly seeing them as I primly buttoned from the legs up to the neck. If I hadn't done this, I think I would've punched him squarely on the nose.
"What shall I tell Madge - about where we're going? What reason can I give for going out? he said. I looked at him, not uttering a word. "I'll think of something, he said, reopening the bedroom door.
Jefferson was on the landing, on one knee and taking aim. "You're dead, he yelped, firing a laser beam at his father. "Ryan, I said. He paused. "Don't forget your sausage rolls, I said, holding the plate which he took from me. "Dad, you're dead, I got you, Jefferson shouted, dressed in a white space soldier's costume. Ryan clasped his stomach with his spare hand and dropped to his knees, holding the plate of sausage rolls. Jefferson then ran to where I was standing and grabbed my hand. "Come on lady, he said courageously, "let me take you away from this suffering. And we went down the stairs together, Ryan watching me through the banisters, Jefferson firing the laser, and I saw Madge on the two seater, laughing at the television. I was in floods of tears. I never told her why. Jefferson blamed enemy fire.
In the car to the clinic, Ryan swore he would not tell Madge and I made the same pledge. But what do I owe Ryan? On the days or nights when I cared, I wondered why we should attempt to keep what we did secret. Madge is kind; she must have a right to know.
The blender chops the food, making its mechanical sound.
'This will be yummy,' Madge said.
I sit there, gazing out of the window. There are other things, injustices, the sides you see of people, at work, in the street, at family funerals for instance. The Cubist face of humanity. I wonder what is to be done with us? Where does all the hurt and pain that is caused go?
She enters the living room. 'Come and sit at the table,' she said. 'I think this recipe is going to be delicious. It might make me as big a fan of squash soup as you are. I'll be your first convert,' she said, laughing, assisting me off the chair and walking me to the table. 'Are you warm enough in that night dress?' she said. 'Shall I bring your dressing gown?'
'That'll be nice,' I said.
Every person is shaped by love. Either too much or too little. Somewhere along the line something happened to me, as it does to one and all, and love went askew, like faulty wiring. Madge has love, unconditionally from her children and, in a warped, twisted adult sense, from Ryan too, probably. I am glad for her. Me, all I want to do is sleep and forget about what love does to people. For even though Madge has love, she doesn't see that she has been harmed by it, damaged by what she doesn't even know.
'I can do it myself,' I said, taking the dressing gown.
'Listen to you, you're getting cocky now,' she said.
Steam rose from the soup. Outside a car door slammed and a neighbour's front gate squeaked as it sprung shut. 'How many slices of bread do you want?' Madge asked.
'Three? An appetite too, my goodness.'
She sat opposite me. I glanced up at her and said, 'You can put the radio on too if you like?'
She fetched the radio and tuned it to a classical station. 'Is that too loud?' she asked.
'No,' I said, watching the layers of steam rise from the soup.
'Doesn't it look delicious?' she said.
'Yes.' I moved the spoon into the soup, left to right, and blew, seeing pieces of parsley on the surface. 'You're right, you know,' I said.
'About what, the soup? You haven't tasted it yet.'
'No, the other day. I never ask about you, how you're doing. I don't think I've thanked you either for all that you do, not properly.'
'I was in a mood that day. Let's not dwell on things past, Eleanor. Let's be happy at the progress you've made today.'
I swallowed the soup. She watched for my reaction. 'Mmm, that is tasty,' I said.
'Isn't it just? I had a little taste before bringing it out. Shall I give you the recipe?'
'The past, though, Madge, what if you can't help dwelling on it?'
'I'm not a believer in that. Live for today as you never know what might be round the corner. That's what dad always used to tell us, that was his motto after he got back from the fighting.'
'But what if something went on in the past, shouldn't you confront it Madge?'
She tasted the soup. A concerto, violin, played on the radio. 'You know who would like this? Mum. God bless her soul. I bet she would've raved about this. It's so simple to make. I'll have to give it to you.'
'That Christmas, a few years back¦Do you recall when I left on Boxing Day?'
'Yes. Yes. It's 3 cups of butternut squash; half a cup of radish for garnish; one cup of sweet potato and of course you have to cut it into pieces. You can't put giant sweet potatoes in the soup, can you?' She laughed.
'I went home earlier. I was supposed to stay over until the day after Boxing Day, but I left a day early; I had a tummy bug.'
'Why are you bringing this up?' said Madge, spooning soup into her mouth and breaking a slice of brown bread into segments. 'After that, you want carrots, lots of onions and then naturally water. I'll give you the amounts.'
'I didn't have a tummy ache. That's not why I went home,' I said.
'I think it's the radish that really gives it that zing which it usually lacks. And a clove of garlic, did I mention the clove of garlic?'
'On Christmas Eve,' I said.
Madge went on for a while, eating the soup, then she said: 'You never had a tummy ache, are you sure?'
'I am, yes.'
'I wondered if you were a fibbing little mouse. I said to Ryan at the time, I said: "I'm the one who is 7 months pregnant and she's complaining about a stomach ache. She should try carrying this load around all Christmas. That's what I told him.'
'We stayed up late Madge and¦'
She raised the spoon to her lips and blew.
'We stayed up late¦'
'You did, didn't you? You stayed up late drinking on Christmas Eve, drinking into all hours. I think you had too much that night, you both did. Ryan can be such a bad influence, can't he? I know, Eleanor, I know he can.' She looked at me, tense, gripping her spoon.
'I always enjoyed Christmas with you,' I said.
'You had an upset stomach, didn't you that day as well?'
'Was Christmas so bad with us, Eleanor, that you had to leave a day early when I was pregnant? I had to do all the cooking by myself on Christmas day as he was driving you around to get something to settle your stomach. That would be weird wouldn't it, if you were driving for hours on Christmas day to get something to settle your stomach if you didn't really have an upset stomach?'
'Perhaps I did then. I might be getting confused.'
'It doesn't surprise me. I was confused, a bit, as I said then and there that I had something to settle your stomach, but you needed something stronger, something unique, he said, to settle your stomach. Maybe I was confused, thinking back. Did you find it, Eleanor, did you find it as I never knew your stomach was so delicate?'
'It took longer than we thought to find what¦what I wanted.' I dipped my bread. 'This is very good soup,' I added.
'And even though you found this extra special thing, it didn't settle your stomach as you had to leave the next day. But you think it wasn't your stomach after all. Maybe I am confused, you know, more than, when you put it like that.'
'It must've been, I guess. I'm not used to the drinking. I had too much to drink. I'm the confused one.'
Madge nodded. 'Did it settle your stomach?' she said.
I found it difficult to speak. Eventually, I said, 'It did. I didn't need to take anything else.'
She coughed and swallowed, although she had not had another spoonful of soup. 'Excuse me a second,' she said.
I went on eating. I heard the flush but she stayed in the bathroom. I had nearly finished my soup when she returned. She was pale, ghostly. 'I'm actually quite full,' she said. 'I'll put this in a tub and you can reheat it later.'
'Are you going now?'
'I just wanted this to be a nice day,' she said.
'Can you stay for a bit?'
The piece of music ended and the reception of the old radio started to crackle. I stood up, my legs aching, especially the joints, and moved the silver chord of aerial, extending it. 'Do you have the recipe for the squash soup?' I said.
'It's not with me.'
'Can you bring it the next time you're round?'
She stood there. I concentrated on the radio, switching stations.
'If I remember,' she said, 'but I have to go now.'
'Please bring it,' I said.
I walked her to the front door. She didn't remark that I hadn't done this in a long time. The street seemed different, wider, with the door open and me standing upright. I waved good bye. She didn't smile. 'Don't forget the recipe,' I shouted, mouthing the words for affect, making a spooning gesture into my mouth as she backed the car out of the drive. She waved, feebly.
My sister is a kindly person. As the car disappeared in the sunlight of the afternoon, I stretched my arms and yawned. The soup had filled me up and made me tired. I was about ready for bed.