THE FINAL SOUP
by Steven Ramirez
Marta Gutiérrez de Alma had been cooking soup for days. She told her friend Teresa that this was going to be the best soup she ever made. What she didn’t say is that it would be her last.
She had dug out every pot she owned. Then she went to her mother’s house and got more pots. Soon she was asking people for pots after Mass. The town began to suspect that something was wrong with Marta.
To be honest, she hadn’t been right since her husband Cinto went off with “that woman.” Making soup, people felt, was her way of keeping herself occupied. And they had approved at first.
Marta’s mother Juanita became alarmed when she discovered that the children hadn’t been bathed in days. The house was filthy, and there was no food in the kitchen—except for the damned soup ingredients.
Something needed to be done.
So Juanita moved in with Marta, explaining to her own husband that it was the only way to save her grandchildren from turning into criminals. They were five and seven.
Juanita cleaned the house, bathed the children, and did the dishes while Marta went out shopping for only the freshest ingredients to make her amazing soup.
Marta bought ranch-fresh chickens and slaughtered them for their necks and gizzards. She chopped, diced, peeled, minced, and sautéed until her hands were swollen and bloody. The town felt that, even if Marta was well on her way to the loony bin, she would leave behind a soup never to be forgotten.
Finally, after seven days Marta said, “Está lista, mamá.”
With tears in her eyes, Juanita watched her poor daughter go off to the bathroom to have a bath. As soon as she heard the sound of water running and Marta singing a lively canción, she found a spoon and tasted the soup. It was magnificent.
“¡Ay, pobrecita!” she said, weeping.
While she finished her second bowl, Juanita recalled that Cinto had insulted Marta badly before walking out on the whole family. In his pathetic drunken rage, he called her a soup monger and a hard-hearted cow.
He added that she never loved him and that cooking all the time was her way of avoiding intimacy. He even went so far as to suggest that Marta had grown their two children out in the little vegetable patch in the back because he could not recall the last time they had slept together as man and wife.
“¡Qué lástima!” Juanita said as she started in on her third bowl.
When Marta was finished bathing, she announced that she was going to get the biggest kettle she could find, fill it with the delicious sopa, and take it to the plaza on Sunday. At first, Juanita didn’t hear her because she was slurping so loudly. But as Marta repeated her intentions, Juanita began to worry.
Her distress multiplied as Marta rummaged through all of the pots she had borrowed, made ear-splitting clanging noises, and uttered strange incantations under her breath. When she observed Marta setting aside an enormous cauldron—one so big she could have bathed both children in it at the same time—she nearly choked on a lemon seed.
“Marta, ¿estás loca? You’ll break your neck carrying that thing all the way to the plaza!”
“Oh, no, mamá,” Marta said, laughing. “Don’t you worry about me. I’ve carried around that drunken louse of a husband longer than that.”
“Hija,” Juanita said and crumbled back into her chair at the kitchen table, burping politely into her napkin.
The plaza is paved in ancient cobblestones. There is a beautiful fountain in the center covered in blue-and-white tiles. On one side next to the girls’ academy is the Church of the Wary Bystander. Directly across from it among the shops is the Bar Social.
Cinto and his woman spent Sundays there eating and drinking like pigs while everyone else went to Mass. Marta knew this because Teresa had heard it from her husband who claimed he heard it from a sailor who was presently suffering from a dose of el chancro.
On Sunday morning Marta washed and dressed the children. Then she bathed, put on the most seductive dress she owned, and prepared to deliver the soup to the plaza. Juanita still couldn’t believe her eyes and tried to stop her. But Marta was final.
“Look,” she said. “I’m taking this soup down to the plaza whether you like it or not. Now help me get it up onto my head.”
For fifteen minutes the two of them struggled with the pot. Marta had piled several towels neatly on her head to cushion her from the weight and the heat. But it was no use, they just couldn’t lift it. Just then José Luis came by.
José Luis was madly in love with Marta and was glad when Cinto ran out on her. He saw this as a sacred sign from Almighty God that Marta would finally be his.
After exchanging the usual greetings, she ordered José Luis to help balance the soup on her head. With a lover’s devotion, he lifted the cauldron and placed it on top of the towels as Marta crouched down.
Once everything was in place, she slowly rose and straightened her back. Juanita, José Luis, and the children stared wide-eyed. And when she jittered out the front door, the sound of soup sloshing inside the pot, they were astonished.
It took Marta nearly an hour to get to the plaza, which was only a mile away. She had to keep stopping and starting so as not to collapse from martyrdom.
Juanita, José Luis, and the children followed a little way behind commenting on the fact that Marta not only cooked an excellent soup but carried it wonderfully. Then other townspeople saw the procession and began to follow.
Crusty old men sitting in doorways, smoking and drinking coffee with brandy, stopped in mid-conversation and watched as Marta struggled past with a look of pride and determination. Rising painfully from their wicker chairs and brushing the ashes from their faded sweaters, they decided to join the parade.
By the time she reached the plaza, three hundred cheering, pan-waving people had gathered behind Marta including two priests and six acolytes. They watched deliriously as she knelt at the edge of the fountain and waited for José Luis and another volunteer to lift the soup from her head. Then carefully she removed the towels, wiped her face and breasts, and took a deep breath. One of the priests was so moved by the spectacle that he started to bless the soup. But someone cut him off with a vulgar noise.
A small boy ran to the door of the Bar Social and shouted to everyone inside that Marta Gutiérrez de Alma was in the plaza with soup enough for everyone. People began pouring out of the building with any glasses, bottles, and funnels they could get their hands on.
Cinto and his woman just sat at their table with suspicious looks on their faces, trying to fathom the significance of the strange news. Reluctantly, they got up and went outside to join the others.
Cinto had to cover his eyes a little until they adjusted to the bright sun. Then he spotted Marta looking more beautiful than ever, sitting on the edge of the fountain and politely turning down the many requests for soup.
He heard her say, “No soup. Not until Cinto has had his.”
With tears in his eyes, he realized that Marta loved him after all and wanted to go back to being a devoted wife. When he suggested this possibility to the other woman, she cuffed him on the ear, called him a sea hare, and marched back inside.
“Marta!” Cinto cried as he pushed his way through the crowd holding his ear. “I knew you still loved me! I knew it! You see, everybody! A good wife knows how to please her man. Marta has made this whole caldera of soup just for me, but I’m going to share it with the entire town!”
Marta smiled as people offered their congratulations and admonished her to serve the stinking soup before it got cold.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “It’s still plenty hot.”
Then she removed the cover and with the strength of an animal lifted the colossal pot by herself and dumped its contents onto her startled husband. People gasped in terror as the boiling carrots, onions, and potatoes turned Cinto red like a giant lobster. His unholy screams could be heard for miles.
“That is the last soup I will ever make for anyone!” Marta said.
As Cinto lay on the ground twisting in pain, Marta gathered up her family and walked back to the house. The people watched her go, stunned by the experience. Though they felt all kinds of sympathy for Cinto, they couldn’t help but harbor a nagging resentment toward him since it was his fault that they would never again enjoy the wonderful soup.
Copyright © 2021 by Steven Ramirez.
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