Chicken Noodle Soup Maiden

By on Mar 31, 2019 in Fiction

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Lizard man with woman on Mars with chips and soda

Felt like dancing the morning of Zoo Trip Day.

“Sure you’re all right?” Rosko’s concern made me feel what I’d later learn was called “paranoid.”

“You’re weirder than usual,” Lowell chimed in. “Red Kryptonite hallucination again?”

“More like imaginary story,” kicked in Rosko…closer to my skinny bones than I knew.

The rest of the day clipped by like flipping calendar pages on an old Early Show movie. We checked into home room, and there was Mrs. B, Joseph, Carol, and me, filing out to the happy side of the fence to board what I prayed was a magic bus.

For this day, though, I l relied on more than prayer. I’d done my homework, absorbing not only Herbert S. Zim’s tome (mostly pictures actually) but nature books in the library, including one promising nuclear-capability: the fascinating claim that the Okapi was 50%-zebra and 50%-giraffe (sadly, it transpired, 100% nowhere-to-be-found on Girard Avenue).

And when I realized there would be no salvation in the mammal house (maybe the Okapis were on a class trip gawking at love-deranged humans) I prepared a series of brilliant reptile observations to wow Carol as we approached the next exhibit, until another species, sui generis, attached itself to me—the dreaded Stanley Slutsky.

“Whaddyu gonna do over the summer? MY parents are taking us to Chicago to visit my aunt. MY father is gonna take me to Wrigley Field. MY dad says I can buy an Ernie Banks glove at the park. Banks was MVP last year. And maybe THIS year, too, the way he’s hitting.”

“Sure,” I interjected, “but Wrigley’s a hitter’s park, all that wind…”

Slutsky’s wind overwhelmed me again, blabbering about his aunt and how they might fly instead of drive, and I wished he’d fly off somewhere, maybe Phobos, maybe Wrigley, because Joseph and Carol were talking and laughing and Slutsky would not shut up and I stopped listening and plotted my next move.

A lunch table loomed ahead, and I tugged anxiously at my sandwich bag and targeted the right spot, where even if Slutsky plopped down next to me in his Phillies’ cap I’d soon wish I was wearing, and even if Joseph and Carol sat together, the Love Gods would smile on me…I’d be sitting across from Chicken Noodle Soup Maiden!

Who, to my amazement, looked right at me and asked the question (one, anyway) of my fantasies:

“So,” she said, brushing her hair from her eyes in that way that laid waste to what little cool I possessed, “how will your story end?”

On the cusp of some Cary Grant/Frank Sinatra version of “that’s for me to know and you to find out,” I was assaulted from above.

My hair and scalp went cold and wet, and my ears felt a terrible burn that seldom left them that day, not for most of school’s final days, nor our particularly-endless 10-week summer vacation: People were laughing.

Pretty much everyone, except Mrs. B, who asked if I was all right. Maybe she figured getting crapped-on at the Zoo, on the noggin no less, not even by something exotic, just a damned pigeon, was more than any kid should endure.

I don’t think I actually cried, though I wanted to, and to be fair, had it happened to someone else, I’d have cracked up…but not if it was Carol. (Can’t say she seconded that emotion.)

I took off, escaping her giggles, and headed for the boy’s room to clean up.

Those cruel guffaws clung to me all the way to the bathroom, back to the table, on to the rest of the exhibits, to the bus, where I sat as far from Carol as I could without bouncing out onto the Schuylkill Expressway.

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Stuart Michaelson is a semi-retired journalist and Philadelphia native. He spent 22 years working on newspapers in the Philly area, Connecticut, and New Jersey as a reporter, editor, columnist, and supervisor, as well as more than a decade at TV Guide magazine, where he contributed to three books on television history. He started writing fiction in 2017, and had a short story published in 2018 in the Schuylkill Valley Journal. Apart from writing fiction, as well as part-time freelance non-fiction, he spends his time reading political and rock-music bios, listening to CDs, and watching old TV shows, ranging from Lost to such escapist fare as "Melrose Place."