The tomato soup at the 8th Avenue Deli in New Hampshire is an unintentionally delicate mix of “classic shades number five red”, also known as “Spring Tomato red”, (a color hailing exclusively from Jake’s Hammer hardware store), and several crushed bread crumbs. Its taste is bitter and disappointing, though at least it never fails to deliver its particular brand of acrimony. The poor souls who eat it have no idea that its bright, deceiving shade is being splattered on someone’s wall who likely shares the same hopeful idea that this exact color of red will bring vibrancy into their life. It is a wonder that no one ever licks a wall out of pure abdominal, salivating attraction to its color. Yet, as pretentious as it might be, it is no wonder that hardware stores would carry brands of paint that are named after food; it’s what most people are thinking about anyway.
The décor of a room painted in Spring Tomato might very well carry shades of blue and brown to compliment the red. The bowl of atrocity at the 8th Avenue Deli can offer only the coupling of toasted bread. Very good toasted bread however, much better than the soup at least. The soup is unworthy of the bread! Jennifer, a waitress at the deli, sometimes serves the soup with a blue spoon, and is delighted when she sees a faint smile in a customer that could signify that they have noticed how well the spoon matches the meal.
Can you count the number of times the word soup was mentioned? How about the number of letters in that sentence? In how many different ways can the letters be divided equally without cut loses? Into sets of three, five, maybe four? Why would anyone do that? Mark would. It’s a goddamn compulsion. He wonders if it is all part of a larger problem. As he sits at the 8th Avenue Deli staring down into his large bowl of tomato soup-he doesn’t even like tomatoes-he tries to count the amount of letters the sentence “We can do it!” has and how it can be neatly divided. He saw the words on a pamphlet. Wec, and, oit! We, ca, nd, oi, the t is alone. The exclamation mark! We, ca, nd, oi, te, xc, la, ma, ti, on, ma, rk. Brilliant! All settled, all nicely categorized.
Jesus! Just eat the soup! Ugh, what the hell is this made of! Bam. Acrimony. Looking away idly to recover from the taste Mark notices a bus through the faint soapy smudges of the Deli’s window. Splashing the water collected in a dent in the road, swerving to the left to catch the traffic light, and what’s that: an advertisement on its side. Here we go again.
Mark’s girlfriend is a nut. A cute one though. Almost too cute, stupid you might say. Instinctual. Not considerate like Mark. Opposites attract. Mark’s thoughts: opposites attract, they don’t stay together. She takes Mark to exotic restaurants and is constantly redecorating their apartment. Her full name can be divided like so: Sam ant haH unt. Samantha Hunt. Or even: Sa ma nt ha Hu nt. There are more possibilities of course. There’s always the middle name. Or even her nickname instead of her full name if need be. Making up the rules as he goes. That is the single joy of Mark’s little obsession; No one but he is privy to his own little world of perfect analysis and word decapitation. He has never told anyone about it, and he is afraid that if he does no one will understand.
It is truly amazing how after only a few slurps of the vile tomato soup Mark has already become more accustomed to the taste, more accepting. Not so bitter after all. Maybe it’s the color. Each time it never seems to fail to lure him back in with the same promise, no matter how many times he has proved his expectations false. This is why history repeats itself. Mark finishes only half the bowl and doesn’t leave a tip. On his way out of the Deli he notices that the wide, curly haired waitress, with a slanted name-tag that reads Jennifer, is wearing a baby blue apron.
He heads home and as usual he is plagued by signs, images, so many words in need of order! He barely notices it anymore, it’s like breathing; constant autopilot. Until that is, something strikes him enough to bring his attention to what he is doing. Then he is strangely aware of something he feels he is not meant to control, his grasp on it becoming weaker and more difficult to maintain as a conscious exercise. Jennifer from the Deli is a functional drunk; Mark is a functional…what? A compulsion isn’t an addiction is it?
If he walks two blocks from the Deli and then takes a left he will pass by Jake’s Hammer, if he takes the right (also the longer way home) he will pass by several Victorian townhouses and will then continue down a path which will lead him through a park two miles long. The park is nice, no signs to read. And it’s green, wonderfully green, like the leaves on a tomato vine.
He takes the long way. Mark welcomes this stroll. The day is cloudy and the wind brushes up against him in a way that makes him feel that the swaying of the branches is synchronized with his meeting with the wind. He can almost sense the way the branches feel. In his apartment Samantha is just as briskly smoothing the fibers of a paintbrush that has accumulated the color green from its last use as a stationary look across the corners of their bedroom wall. Does the wall feel the thick, smooth hairs of the brush?
The word red is alone in the world. The only way it can be divided is into sections consisting of only one letter and that’s against the rules. Its function is that of uselessness but at the same time it is bold in its refusal to conform to Mark’s values. He almost respects red for this. Green is much the same, but who could be angered by green. Perhaps if he combined red and green. That makes eight letters in total. Two sets of fours, four sets of twos. No sets of threes. That’s no good. Stop.
Samantha, Sam, Sam Hunt, Samantha Hunt, Samantha Mercy Hunt, is now smoothing the third wall of their bedroom with paint.
Red and green make brown. That’s thirteen letters. Sudden death. Incredibly large, too large not to be divided, yet impossible. The goddamn soup!
Mark starts walking faster, praying to reach the solitude of his home. Maybe he’ll turn off the lights, or maybe he’ll just go to sleep, anything to stop thinking.
A woman’s skirt blown upward by the wind catches his eye. Red. He looks away and sees a stroller on his right. The wheels…red. The leaves everywhere are green. The red, the green, for God’s sake! That dog’s collar! Red! That man’s sweater! Red! All red!
Mark is now running. Is he catching more of the wind by running? Who could tell him?
Eighty-seven steps later Mark is inside of his apartment. He is slouching at the bottom of the front door trying to catch his breath. He hears a whoosh. Then a dip of sorts.
“Sam!” he calls out.
“I’m home,” he says somewhat helplessly. He begins laughing to himself. His laugh sounds too exhausted to become maniacal. For a minute everything’s okay and Mark regains his strength. He stands up from the floor and staggers to his prize retreat.
As he walks into the bedroom he is stricken. It can’t be. He is consumed, trapped. Mark stands dumbfounded between the four walls of his bedroom.
Samantha flashes him a lively smile: “Spring Tomato!”