The Nightmare Soup
9.00 pm. An usual London Saturday evening.
Mr. Frank is entering the Emergency Room of the Royal Free. In a few minutes he becomes Dr. Hommerson, who so loves to makes forecasts as well as prognoses. For that evening he foresees at least four seriously injured from traffic accidents. And about thirty between drunk and dope cases. And among these at least five managers who have lost their job during the week. Then the usual cardiac arrests, of which at least half imaginary. A moment before he starts his shift, the Doctor’s personal cell phone rings.
“Hi Frank, it’s mom, I’m not disturbing you, right?”
“I’m in the hospital, have a hard time hearing you, but were are you?”
“In a pub in Kennington… I have no idea what they are playing, but it’s fun! I was hoping you were free this evening… well, next time then! Bye, Franky!”
Not even the time to say good-bye. Dott. Hommerson shuts off the cell phone, while wondering why his mother is in Kennington, and in a pub at that. Last he knew where the 6 pm get togethers at Mrs. Hatcher’s home. A twenty-year old friendship… His mother had met her when she had moved to Walworth, after her husband’s death.
5.00 am. A rainy Sunday’s dawn.
Dr. Hommerson has taken his gown off, after two surgeries, a delivery and a defibrillation. Overall it had been a quiet night. One patient had died in the ambulance on his way to the hospital and Dr. Hommerson had only to certify the death. Every time it happened, he thought: one less weighing on the public coffers. Despite his cynical pragmatism, he was an excellent practitioner, timely and scrupulous. Now, he was crossing the parking lot under the FINE rain, and getting into his Mini Cooper.
9.00 am. That same rainy Sunday.
Frank’s mother, Mrs. Ann Dansey-Hommerson, wakes up enveloped by the aroma of coffee, from the mug sitting on the dresser. Young Lennox, dressed for jogging, is sitting on her bed.
“Already ready?” exclaims Ann, as soon as she is able to bring Lennox into focus.
“Yes, I’m going now, so we’ll have the whole day to do whatever we want.”
“I was thinking of having brunch in Kensington…”
“No, let’s go do Shoreditch… I know a nice place!”
“Perfect, Shoreditch then!”
“Half an hour, and I’ll be back, a quick shower and we go. So be ready!”
Lennox’ shoes on the park’s cycling route. Ann picks her lilac suit from the closet. Lennox stops to do a few sit-ups on a green clearing. The muscles of the black legs and arms touch the damp grass. Ann in front of the mirror is straightening the tailleur’s lilac jacket. Lennox comes back home. Ann takes her lilac purse from the closed.
“I’m back” Lennox hollers while he pulls off his t-shirt and goes into the bathroom.
“Hurry up!” says Ann while straightens the veil of her lilac hat.
11.00 am. That same rainy Sunday.
Mr. Frank is sleeping in his space-design bed, latest fashion in London house decor. The cell phone rings. He answers half sleeping.
“Hi Frank, it’s mom, I’m not disturbing you, right?”
And so far the call is a ditto from the evening before.
“I was sleeping …”
“Oh! So sorry! I forgot you had the night shift… I wanted to invite you to brunch… I’m in a cute restaurant in Shoreditch… a lovely place!”
“Shoreditch? And why Shoreditch? Weren’t you going to Kensington?”
“But that’s for the old, Frank! There are so many wonderful young people here!
Mr. Frank keeps silent, trying to elaborate the concept, but he just can’t manage to. He can’t understand why his mother should frequent a place for youngsters… And Shoreditch at that? Even he would be too old for Shoreditch.
“Well, next time then! … Bye, Franky!”
“No, wait mom, I’ll be there… let me just get dressed, give me the address.”
Lennox gets up from the table. “Can I bring you anything else, Ann?” The woman looks toward the buffet before answering: “A bit of carpaccio, chicken salad and then… what else is there Lenny, I can’t see?”
“Vegan eggs Benedict and…”
“Vegan eggs Benedict?”
“Yes baby! It is the ultimate brunch menu item. Tofu instead of eggs…”
“And for the sauce?”
“They made a vegan Hollandaise sauce with margarine, soy milk and vegenaise. You should try it.”
“Maybe I’ll try… What else is there?”
“Turkey and mushrooms …”
“No, no, no mushrooms … Everybody knows I don’t eat mushrooms!”
“Sooner or later, I’ll convince you to taste them!”
“Over my dead body!”
“How about dessert? Share a cheesecake?”
“Perfect!” says Ann while Lennox with a few strides is already at the buffet.
Mr Frank is a few steps from the restaurant and keeps thinking that his mother must be victim to an attack of arteriosclerosis to come to such an off neighborhood for brunch.
He walks into the restaurant and sees his mother setting by the window, the only elderly person in a cloud of teenagers hollering by the buffet. Mr. Frank is about to go to her table when a black kid cuts in front of him to sit by Ann, after kissing her on the cheek. Frank blinks several times, the scene before him is unreal… He takes a few more steps and enters into Ann’s field of vision. She waves her hand, inviting him to the table.
“What are you doing here, mom?”
“It’s a place Lennox knows, nice, don’t you think? It’s so colorful that it cheers one up!”
Mr. Frank doesn’t answer.
“Frank, this is Lennox. Lennox, this is my son Frank.”
The boy clasps his hand, without bothering to get up to greet him… Out of place youthfulness.
“Sit down, Frank, what are you doing standing up?” His mother has always been a rather bossy lady, so without realising it, Mr. Frank lets himself drop onto a chair.
“Won’t you eat something?” Lennox asks Mr. Frank.
“No!” the Doctor answers dryly.
“Franky, you must absolutely try the chicken salad, it’s out of the world!” says his mother with a dazzling smile, while grabbing a French fry from Lennox’s plate.
Mr. Frank thinks he is having a heart attack. The hour is right, it’s not midday yet, so the catacholamines, derived from tyrosine, are still in circulation. The pre-cardial pain has already started. Now he feels the retrosternal oppression irradiating to his left arm.
“Mom, who is he?” he says forcing himself to remain calm, while he already feels an oncoming respiratory crisis.
“But it’s obvious, Franky, my boyfriend! We’ll get married two months from now!”
6 am. It’s almost evening, that rainy Sunday.
Frank did not have a heart attack. Only a shock from which he has not yet recovered. He is lying on the white sofa in his black living room, with the Tv tuned on a boring documentary. The phone rings, he does not answer. The answering service turns on, and then a female voice, “Franky, it’s Angie, you haven’t called me this week… I’m no longer your favorite topsy? Please call me, Doctor, I’m so ill!”
That’s all he needed, Angie, his occasional perversion. Mr. Frank had never been one for relationships, escorts were fine by him. But now he was dreaming of a world without sex… He would have done all the work…. Starting with Lennox.
And in that precise moment he decided he could do something.
11 am on a usual Monday.
Lenny is lying on the sofa, reading the strips. Ann is on the phone with Mrs. Hatcher and keeps saying, “Yes, yes, dear, I see,” and would like to put an end to the conversation.
In that same instant, Mr. Frank is entering the hospital for his shift. The turmoil is over. He will bring his mom back to reason. The party is over for that little sucker.
Ann succeeded in ending that boring conversation and declares “She would never end with the list of all her illnesses…. What an old lady! Come on, Lenny, let’s to go Covent Garden, I feel like having tea.”
8 pm of that usual Monday.
Ann is coming back home with Lenny. They are still laughing over the funny fellow on the tube who faked reading the paper, while he was actually trying to hear what they were saying to each other. And so they raised their voices while deciding the menu for their wedding party. In the end, the fellow couldn’t take it any more, broke the rules of good manners, and exclaimed “I’ve been through it too, madam, a year ago my daughter, the adopted one, got married… It was so hard to please her, but in the end she was happy… one needs to humour one’s children!”
Ann had been curt: “Of course I’ll make him happy, we are getting married!”
The fellow recoiled in silence, and ran off at the first stop.
Still 8 pm of that usual Monday.
Mr. Frank is in the car, blocked in a traffic jam in the City. It was the sixth attempt to call his mom, but she would not answer at home nor on her cell phone. He was beginning to worry. He ate a peppermint candy while observing two elderly ladies walking on the sidewalk, exchanging opinions. He felt a pang of envy… Why couldn’t his mother be like them?
He grabbed his cell phone and dialed again.
8 pm had passed by just a few minutes of that usual Monday.
“Hello, who is it?”
Ann’s voice still had a tinge of fun in it.
From the other end of the line, Mr. Frank thought that Lennox must have doped his mother.
“But who is it? Won’t you tell me who it is?” Ann kept repeating, losing her patience.
Only then her son shrugged his thoughts off and answered: “It’s me, mom, when can we meet?”
Mrs. Dansey-Hommerson burst out laughing. “Lenny, guess who’s on the phone?”
Lenny had a questioning grimace, so Ann kept on: “It’s my son… He asks permission to see me… Do you realize? My boy works too much, he’s worn out … He could use a nice little wife!”
And Mr Frank heard Lennox asking his mother: “But will you be a nice little wife?” with Ann retorting “You won’t find a better one even combing through universes and galaxies.” Then a pause. Mr. Frank felt like hanging up, but it was his mother, his family, so he gritted his teeth and repeated the question: “When can we meet, by ourselves, mom?”
11 am on a Thursday.
At Spitalfields Market, and as on every Thursday, the young stylists exhibited their creations at the Fashion Market. Ann had arranged with her son to meet there, since she had to pick her wedding dress. With her yellow suit, lace gloves and hat to match, she stuck out like a lemon in that odyssey of colors and of incomprehensible outfits. Frank found her looking at a long, shapeless, acid green jacket, with a fuchsia mandarin collar.
“What are you looking at, mom?” Frank said coming up behind her.
Ann jumped. “But you want to kill me?” followed by too short a pause for a reply from Frank. “I’m looking for my wedding dress, this one for example, isn’t too bad!”
“No, it’s simply obscene… besides, you always wear suits…”
“And will keep on doing so… I would like something eccentric, for that day only…”
“That day will never come, mom. It’s pure folly, don’t you understand?”
“It’s folly for you to want to interfere in my life… And if this is what you came to tell me, you can just go away!”
Mr Frank remained where he was, motionless, watching his mother buy that dress and then return to him to repeat “Go away, Franky!”
9 am on an unusual Tuesday.
Lennox left the house as he did every day for his morning run. Frank was in his Mini Cooper and as soon as he saw him, followed him to the park. He had studied this meeting for days, he knew exactly Lennox routine, and it wasn’t difficult for him to place himself near the exit, at the exact point where Lennox would stop for his last push-ups.
“Hi Lenny, how’s it going?” as he searched for juvenile language, but those words sounded false in his mouth.
“Just grand, Franky, just grand…. What brings you this way?”
Mr. Frank felt the blood rise in his cheeks and was unable to calm down his ire. “Why my mother? Why? You are a social reject, a saprophyte, a status seeker, a money sucker …”
Lennox kept his cool. “No, I’m a basketball player… and I don’t need to suck money from anyone… I earn much more that you, dear Doctor!”
Mr. Frank, astonished, now was no longer upset with Lennox. His was becoming a war without frontiers “With the difference that I save human lives, while you through a ball in a basket… This society is filthy and you are a reject of the system! I order you to go home immediately, pick up your things and disappear forever from me and from my mother’s life!” Lennox broke into a broad laugh. “If you are through with your theater, I would go home, we have to prepare for the wedding. Have a good day, Doctor!”
Mr. Frank felt ridiculous, that kid had succeeded in putting him out of kilter. This time it was heart attack for sure.
1 pm of a dreadful Sunday.
Mr Frank got out of his Mini Copeer holding the container full of soup. He rang the doorbell at his mother’s house, and found himself facing Lennox.
“I wanted to ask you to forgive me… I brought some soup… mushrooms! Please accept it!”
Lennox took it and thanked him, then added “Ann is taking a bath… if you want to come in, we could dine together.”
“I would love to, but I have my shift at the hospital… next time… Well… Friends then?”
“Of course doctor! No hard feelings! See you soon, Franky”
3.30 pm of that dreadful Sunday.
It was the fourth ambulance coming in. Dott Hommerson ran, full of hopes, toward the ambulance. It was the usual case of a broken thighbone. Then the fifth, with the usual drunkard… And then the sixth… it would have been the right one, but it was a bad surprise for the Doctor. It was a case of food poisoning. From mushrooms, they had told him… And he ran, to that human life in danger… but he froze… it wasn’t Lennox gasping for life on the emergency room gurney, but his mother. He did everything he could to save her, looked for antidotes to that poisonous mushroom on the web… but there were none… or at least – in the few hours of the woman’s agony — he hand’t had the time to discover any. Then his mother died.
11 pm on a December 25th of a usual year.
Mr Frank, that is Dottor Hommerson, is asking himself what it would be like to sit at the table… Stuffed turkey, a mother a bit out of her wits and a 27-year-old stepfather… He thinks about it and for the first time over the three years spent in an isolation cell, he would like to open his eyes and discover that it was just as dream…
… Instead it was only a nightmare!
The voice of nurse Chloe of the Royal Free brings him back to reality, as she shakes him by his shoulders: “Wake up Doctor, please hurry, we have an emergency!”