Norma’s Chicken Soup

by Geoffrey Philp

 

‘Uncle Joseph once told me that my chicken soup could resurrect the dead,’ said Norma as she stirred scallions into the stockpot. But Daniel wasn’t listening. His eyes were fixed on the television and events in Tiananmen Square.

Norma walked over to Daniel’s wheelchair and picked up a blanket that had fallen on the floor. She covered his body, which was now a shadow of the soccer player who had won an athletic scholarship to the University of Miami, where he met the girl he would marry and give her a grandson. But like his father, Daniel had strayed, and when his wife found out, she and the child disappeared from their lives.

It was spiteful, Norma had thought. When he was alive, Norma followed Jesus’s word and had forgiven Daniel’s father when he went ‘chasing a little tail,’ as he called it. But Daniel chased a different kind of tail.

Norma rubbed the top of Daniel’s head and went back to the kitchen. She turned off the stove and gazed out the window. The view was one of the best things about the apartment she had inherited from her uncle − his ‘Little Samaritan’ as he had called her. Norma had cared for him after his stroke and the congregation had cast him ‘out into the world’ after they discovered he had been ‘living in sin.’

Norma’s church sisters were outraged that she would take care of ‘a man like that,’ and later, one sister had told her that Daniel’s illness was a ‘punishment from God.’ Norma had had enough. When the pastor begged her to come back, Norma left.

‘Stay with them,’ Daniel had urged when he was stronger.

‘He’s just afraid of losing my tithes.’

For twenty-five years, Norma had donated more than ten percent of her salary as a head nurse at Mount Sinai where Daniel had been born− ‘the cutest preemie on the floor’ as one of her coworkers had said. Still Norma missed the choir practices where she sang ‘Rock of Ages’ with her sisters, a song that had comforted her uncle in the last days of his life.

Picking up a ladle and a strainer, she poured the clear broth into a bowl. Then, she filled a glass with water and placed it beside a spoon, napkin, and vials of Daniel’s medicine on a small tray.

Norma pulled up a chair beside Daniel and between sips of water, slipped the pills that no longer worked into his mouth. Cooling the broth with her breath, she gave Daniel a sip.

‘I hope it’s not too salty.’

‘It’s perfect.’

Norma wiped Daniel’s chapped lips with the napkin and turned toward the television that had captured his attention. On the screen, a young man, held aloft by his friends, bared his chest in front of the tanks and flashed victory signs with both hands towards the sky; and in that moment, it seemed as if the world held its breath and believed that everything, even hope, was possible.

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