Soup and a penance

by Ron Hardwick

My colleague Blanchard asked me to have lunch with him.  I occasionally dined with him at a charity shop that sold soup and rolls cheaply.  The charity shop was shut. 

‘We’ll go to the Good Earth Store,’ he said, brightly.  I recalled the place.  It had an Airstream caravan in the front yard and was as pretentious as Liberace’s hairstyle.  To maintain its planet-saving credentials (everything was ‘sustainable’), it was all brick walls, stone floors, stripped pine tables and uncomfortable chairs. It reminded you of a sanatorium for tuberculosis-sufferers.

The place was packed, full of earnest, middle-class women and bearded men who looked like Billy Connolly.  The women were all devoid of make-up. Many were reading socially acceptable texts.  A scattering of young children ran around the tables, making a terrific din on the stone floor. The staff were mainly unshaven young eco-warriors in shorts and sandals. 

The soup of the day was carrot, coriander and marrow. You had to pay before you could eat.

‘Don’t they do proper soup?’ I asked Blanchard. 

‘Only one soup left,’ said the cashier. 

‘Couldn’t you open another tin?’  I asked. 

Grumbling, I ordered the soup and Blanchard decided on something far more expensive; a panini sandwich of goat’s cheese, dill and parma ham.  The bill came to ten pounds ten pence.  There was an awkward silence whilst I waited for Blanchard to offer to go halves.  His jaws remained as tightly shut as a bull terrier’s.  Eventually, I handed over a twenty-pound note from my dwindling store.

Blanchard said: ‘I can help.’

‘Hallelulah,’ I breathed.

‘I’ve got ten pence here,’ he said.  Indeed he had and he handed it over.  I received the tenner change.  I turned my attention to the cashier.

‘Your prices are a bloody disgrace.  You’re supposed to be saving the planet, not bankrupting it.’ 

‘Our pricing strategy is generally enough to keep the riff-raff out of here.’  He looked pointedly at me. 

Blanchard picked up a huge block of wood and made for the one vacant table. 

‘What’s that for?’ I asked him, peevishly.

‘It’s got a number carved into it, and you stand it up on the table so that the waiter knows who to serve.’

‘For God’s sake,’ I retorted, ‘It’s not the Savoy Grille.’ 

The waiter, a bulky chap wearing a headband, sailed by the table twice, not noticing the wooden house brick standing on it.

‘Hoy, mush,’ I said, ‘I like my soup hot – I don’t need you to take it for a walk.’

He harrumphed, lumbered into the kitchen, returned and jammed my soup down on the table.

Amazingly, it was tasty, even if it did have some dubious-looking seeds floating around in it.  I didn’t much like the bread.  It had the consistency of a carborundum block. 

As we left, Blanchard said: ‘I enjoyed that.  We’ll have to do it again sometime.’ 

I gave him the most telling of glances as he reached in his pocket for a toothpick.

Ron Hardwick resides in East Lothian, Scotland. He has written well over two hundred short stories and pieces of flash fiction.

2 thoughts on “Soup and a penance”

  1. So relatable. Why I mix and share my soup at home; guests bring the wine/bread. I can be as saucy as the staff at the joint you describe 😅

  2. Fun story and commentary on putting on a show of “doing good.” And loved the Billy Connolly reference. Lots of Billy clones in Portland too.

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