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Image for Fish Mirage Soup

Adapted from an image by Sasimoto

Fish Mirage Soup

Alongside a window in a rural town restaurant, a woman sits alone. She gazes outside at the winter day and then writes:

Crisp air speaks a language of its own: the breath of people, horses, and dogs. Sunlight shines in spaces everywhere designating vibrant codes. The surrounding mountains and sky detail each edge of my window view.

Footsteps increase in volume along the wood floor. Sara looks up at a cross-section of a smiling face and ceiling beams. “Are you ready to order?” the waitress asks.

Sara does not open the menu. Sara says, “How bright and brisk it is outside.”

“It’s cold, if you ask me.”

“Yet the sun heats your bones, while the rest of your body remains cool, tingling the way you might when a man you love touches your hand.”

“Are you a weather analyst or a romance novelist?”

“Neither. I write about places I visit from an aesthetic point of view. I have been taught by artist/professors and friends: to observe light at different times of the day. This window reminds me of the one we did our research from, in one professor’s office.”

The waitress responds, “It is beautiful outside: sometimes I take this view for granted. Our Chef suggests we use many of our senses and faculties rather than only taste.” The waitress lifts her pencil to her pad and asks, “What will you have?”

A couple walks out the door as a few people enter. The waitress watches them sit down and open their menus.

Sara replies, “I haven’t read the menu yet.”

“My name is Molly. I’ll be back in a few minutes,” the waitress says.

“I’m Sara.”

Sara glances outside, then peruses the menu and closes it. Molly’s figure darts in and out of the kitchen, as the sun’s rays intermittently mingle with the clouds, and travel through the restaurant windows.

Molly returns and asks, slightly out of breath, “Are you ready to order now?”

“Oh! In this shifting light I was daydreaming of a Vuillard painting.”

Molly turns toward the kitchen, and then to Sara, “I’ve seen a few of his paintings in a museum.”

“You did? I’m surprised you know his work. What did you think?”

Molly chuckles. “When I looked at a Vuillard scene, I sensed an exact time as if adding moments to my life.”

Sara blushes from the recognition; she has felt that too. She claps. “That’s wonderful! To capture a moment in time.”

Molly smiles.

Sara writes while reading out loud,

“Vuillard penetrates time by interfacing light with the
appearance of motion.”

“Impressive! Now would you like to interface food with thought?” Molly asks.

Grinning, Sara asks, “What do you suggest?”

“Chef’s specialty—Fish Mirage Soup.”

“Will it fill me up?”

“Right up to the gills.”

“And the ingredients are?”

“Harry says, ‘no two bowls are exactly alike’.”

“An Artiste-Chef. I have nothing to lose,” Sara says.

Molly walks to the kitchen. Sara takes out her pad and pen. She shakes her head and writes:

Molly has a mirage.

She puts her pad and pen away, and watches people.

The soup arrives. Sara peers into the bowl at her own reflection. She lifts her spoon and takes the first bite.

“What is this?”

Molly says, “You’re eating it. Tell me.”

Sara thinks before answering. “It’s a salmon who was on a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet and had eaten an orchid of yams.”

Molly chortles. “It could be a sweet potato.”

Sara gulps another spoonful. “This is salmon.” She squints distrustfully at Molly after she swallows her next bite. “This isn’t bass, it’s too . . . ”

“Too fooey,” Molly jests.

“Tofu. I ordered fish soup,” Sara says.

“Fish Mirage Soup,” Molly reminds.

Sara suddenly pushes the bowl to Molly. Molly acknowledges her own image in the mirror of the bowl. She gently says, “ ’The ingredients,’ Harry says, ’are superficial.’ He asks, ’how does it make you feel?’ ”

Sara stands. “This is food. It doesn’t make you feel—anything: it’s survival.” Sara lifts a thick wool jacket from the back of her chair.

Molly leans forward. “Don’t be rash.” Molly looks around when a couple signals her to place their order. She continues, “You don’t have to . . . ”

Sara nods, and shakes the shoulders of her jacket before replacing it around the back of the chair. Sara sits, and Molly approaches her new customers. Sara gazes out the window and writes:

Newly settled shadows form a grid with bright streaks of sunlight. Flickering colors comply with darker edges, configured on buildings and trees. The sun in a stream of light passes through the window. It transports subtle sparkles across an area of the table upholding: Fish Mirage Soup.

Molly returns.

“Sometimes . . . ,” Sara says, placing her pad and pen down.

Customers stir loudly. They quiet down seconds later. Sara motions for Molly to sit down. She settles into the seat opposite Sara; Molly is tired from a long shift. Resting the order pad and pencil beside her, Molly peers into Sara with wide-open eyes.

Sara persists, “The sun warms the soul as if . . . ”

Molly asks, “Yes? As if?”

The couple at a nearby table argue. Molly reluctantly rises. Then she notes that only the lady is standing, while the man remains seated. Pots and pans chime together! Molly and Sara turn their heads toward the kitchen and then to the woman who stands and demands an answer from the man, “What were you thinking when you said that to me?” Molly and Sara blink at each other with surprise. A hot pan sizzles with food, and all heads turn to the kitchen. A whistling pot of steam ensues. Molly and Sara watch the man calmly stand and amble over to the woman; he whispers in her ear. Her head drops. He waits. She whispers into his ear; he kisses her hand and they warmly embrace as the steam settles quietly in the kitchen pot.

“Stop throwing food!” a mother tells her children at another table. Giggles rise from an ambitious food fight of lettuce and French fries.

“Freeze!” their father demands.

The kids stop playing and laughing. The little girl spins around and rests her chin over her arms, on the back of her chair. The little boy has a bite of his burger, watching his sister from the corner of his eye. Sara and Molly look back at one another, about to proceed in conversation, but turn away captivated by the children. The parents glare at one another, fearful of their inadequacies. They coax their daughter into facing them. The little girl smiles—from their attention—swallowing a tear; she leans on her brother, and sips his shake, ignoring her own. Her brother tosses a French fry onto her plate.

Now Sara and Molly face each other.

Molly asks inquisitively, “The sun warms the soul as if?”

Sara says as she writes,

“The sun warms the soul as if we are not alone in daylight or at night when the stars glisten and we may feel Divine presence.”

“I know,” Molly says. Sara swallows (nothing) to conceal her surprise of Molly’s ease. Molly adds, “You are a poet.” Sara smiles. Molly continues, “The chef has made soup for you, please eat it before it gets cold.”

The sun drops another notch as a stream of light inside the restaurant slowly disintegrates. Sara eats her soup, saying between mouthfuls, “It’s still hot.”

“I’ll be back.” Molly goes to the cash register. The parents pay their bill, and the kids cheerfully count out the tip together.

Molly returns and sits with two lemonades. “These are fresh squeezed.”

“Thank you,” Sara says. She pushes her empty bowl aside. Sara looks at Molly leaning forward on the edge of her seat and asks, “What’s on your mind?”

“Questions,” Molly says.

“Fire away.”

“Do you feel warm from the soup?”

“Yes.”

“Then the Fish Mirage Soup made you feel something,” Molly continues.

“I don’t know what, though,” Sara replies.

“Warmer.”

“I’d like to know what’s inside,” Sara insists.

“Were you disappointed?” Molly asks.

“No, but I’d like to know,” Sara says again.

“The chef says, ‘only God knows the mystery of our souls. When we are true to ourselves, the mirage is plentiful’.”

Sara asks, “Very deep. However I was talking about food not a metaphor for human predicaments. If only the chef knows what the ingredients are, please say so. What do you think of the soup?”

“This is a lesson from the chef. Everyone who works here respects him,” she says, looking around. “You are to experience the soup. It’s not about what you think of it.”

“Then, you don’t know what you think?” Sara says.

“I didn’t say that.” Molly pouts.

“You should try the soup—you’ll feel better about it,” Sara says.

“That was cold.”

“No, it heats you up!”

Molly slides her chair backward along the wooden floor. After a moment of silence, she says, “I feel bad.”

“I’d like to know why.”

“I don’t know, why.”

“I thought I was being funny.”

“Sarcastic.”

“It belongs to the humor category. Ah, are you upset? I think: you’re funny,” Sara says.

“I am?”

“You know what you feel—instantly,” Sara says.

“I do?”

“I don’t, know how I feel.”

“I don’t always know, what I think,” Molly says.

They smile oddly at each other.

The Japanese chef Harry pops out from the kitchen, with two steaming bowls on a tray. Molly starts to jump up, but he quiets her, saying, “No, I see you two are meditating.” Harry puts the bowls on a table where a young couple is seated.

Molly suddenly says, “If we were one person, we’d be well-balanced.”

After a few moments of deliberation, Sara retorts, “However, if this were the case, the probability is we would then be: an acquaintance to one self.”

Standing, they shake hands briskly and mimic, “Nice to meet you, Molly/Sara.”

“I would like to read your mirage one day,” Molly says.

Sara nods handing Molly her notebook; she exchanges it for a menu from underneath Molly’s arm, “I’ll pick it up in the morning when I come in for the . . . ,” looking in the menu, “Double-Baked Miraculous Hotcakes.”

The sunlight drops out of sight.

Copyright © 2009 by Nicole Borgenicht

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Nicole Borgenicht

Nicole writes:
“Fish Mirage Soup” was inspired by teachings with artist Richard Lazzaro about sunlight and color, as well as conversations with a Russian-born colleague named Debby (whose last name I forgot), both at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In addition, the story is inspired by the late Pat Morita (Karate Kid) who I imagine as the chef of a spiritual order.

Nicole Borgenicht is a writer of short stories and plays published in periodicals such as The Los Angeles Times and World Audience. She may be contacted via email at nborgenicht1@dc.rr.com.



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