Cactus Soup

Contributor: Kristina England

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Jerry walked into the Midnight Boulevard Diner and sat down. 100 miles of road now between him and the past, he finally realized how hungry he'd been.

A waitress came over and smiled at him. "You look like you need the chef's special today."

He looked up and shrugged. He knew better than to smile. Smiling led to talking, perhaps friendship and, before you knew it, three kids your wife said she never wanted.

The waitress nodded and handed him a menu. She went on to the next customer, her face more formal and reserved.

Jerry looked at the menu, then blinked. He turned and beckoned for the waitress. She waved a "one moment" finger at him and took the other customer's order. Then she returned to his booth.


"There's only one item on this menu."

"Yes, that's our special."

"But where's your regular menu?"

"Out of order."

His eyes scanned her face to see if she was being wise, but the face was now stone, almost as stiff as rock. He felt an urge to reach up and touch it. There was something so familiar about that face.

Jerry pulled himself together, the grumble of his stomach reminding him why he was there.

"I'll take the special."

The mouth thanked him. The hand took his menu. The skirt swiveled away.

Jerry looked out the window, but all he saw was his own refection. He heard a clanking sound and turned to find a bowl in front of him.

Cactus soup. That's how he met Dee. Over a bowl of cactus soup. Not the bowl specifically but the conversation on how odd it was to find a menu item like that in a diner. He wondered if this was the same diner they had both happened upon one snowy night? Were there other menu items then? Were there different waitresses? Did their emotions change with his as the whole diner seemed to dim with his mood right now?

He was happier then. He was sure he smiled.

Of course, that was back before he and Dee became a them. Back before reality became jobs and crying babies. It was long before he realized she wasn't fit for the role of wife. Long before he learned the third kid wasn't his.

That reality struck him only a week ago, filling the next seven days with yelling and tears. It left him packing, running out the door, the hardened look of his eldest daughter the last memory he had of home.

The cactus soup warmed him. It rehydrated his heart. He stumbled to his feet, digging for change.

"Soup's on me," said the waitress.

He smiled, thanked her, and ran out the door. He spun out of the parking lot in the same direction he had come, all the while thinking of his daughters and how he should make them each a cup of cactus soup.

Jerry turned his head to give the diner one last glance, but all he saw behind him were cacti and the long stretch of an open desert.

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Kristina England resides in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her poetry and fiction is published or forthcoming in Extract(s), Gargoyle, New Verse News, The Story Shack, The Quotable, and other journals. Her first collection of short stories, "Stanley Stanley's Investigative Services and Other Mysteries," will be published in the 2014 Poet's Haven Author Series.
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