Bleach Soup

by Meighan Donaldson

 East Van at Night Steve Dynie, 597

East Van at Night Steve Dynie, 597

The city bus chugged slowly east along Hastings Street as the spotty rain turned into a full downpour. I didn’t have an umbrella, or even a hood for that matter. When I exited the bus, I walked as fast as my ego would allow.

Although it was only a few short blocks and my pace steady, I was soaked by the time I walked up the decrepit steps of my home—one block from the main industrial road, just on the outskirts of The City.

The house I had rented for the past two years was a small bungalow with patchy grass in front. Our landlords had painted it Palm Springs Pink in the late ’80s but over the years it had become dusty and worn along with the cement steps. The iron fence was eroded beyond repair. Despite the rough exterior, it was home.

This was a type of home where Christmas was spent at the movies and bedtime didn’t exist. We were products of broken families and bad parenting; we had each other. We were fine.

The front door was unlocked. I kicked off my soggy shoes and immediately began looking for another pair of footwear. The floor was littered with beer cans, cigarette butts, and something sticky. I grabbed an abandoned pack of cigarettes off of the graffiti-covered coffee table and popped one in my mouth. I smoked slowly and began trolling the house for life. The living room was scattered with mismatched furniture dragged home from various alleyways, but the chaos of the place was comforting.

Alex and I had the rooms on the main floor. His room was deserted as well as the kitchen next to it. I peeked in the sticker-encrusted cupboards for anything edible but only found hot sauce and a bottle of gin. At the back of the kitchen was a rickety staircase to the basement. Noah and Mickey’s rooms were at the bottom right and left with the jam-room in the middle.

The boys were in a punk band called the Dirty Wieners. If they weren’t so talented I’d think they were only in it for the blowjobs. There were at least 15 pairs of panties draped on various instruments. I had considered selling them online when rent was due. 

I descended the unsteady flight of stairs. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. The lights had burned out months ago and we never bothered to replace them. I treaded carefully across the cluttered floor and poked my head into Noah’s room. It smelled like hangover and mildew. It was damp, and the walls were covered in wilted posters of the Damned, but at least he was in there. Noah’s morals were as questionable as his hygiene. He was my best friend.

“I don’t know how you live like this.” I stormed in ashing on his floor. “It smells like you still have some girl from last weekend under your bed and she’s starting to decompose.”

“Did you come in here just to judge the way I conduct my affairs?” Noah snorted and grabbed the cigarette out of my freezing fingers.

“Maybe,” I said. “But you also look like you could use something to eat.” Noah looked a little pale from his constant diet of 7-Eleven meals. 

“Eat?” He smirked and picked a giant sticky piece of last night’s narcotics out of his nostril and started rubbing it on his gums.

“You’re disgusting” I said, stamping out my smoke on the floor. “Where are the rest of the boys? I’m hungry and I need a goddamn drink.”

“Mickey’s working,” Noah answered. “And Alex? Last I saw he was running around the block with a dead cat in a Tupperware container. That was around five this morning.”

We grabbed our coats and headed back out in the rain. I like to eat bad food when I’m feeling bad. Not unhealthy food, like eating a whole container of ice cream because you went through a breakup. I mean bad food, like eating mashed potatoes with a hint of mildew or things that taste like fish when they shouldn’t. It goes well with the shakes. I hope the person working the grill hasn’t showered in a month.

We walked to our favourite place. It served health-board-violating Chinese food. The lobsters in the tank had gangrene, and the soup tasted like bleach. I’m certain. I’ve ordered it three times.

Noah and I found our usual table by the window that overlooked the rain-soaked parking lot. The top of the table was sticky and the plastic flowers in the center needed to be watered. 

“Mustard Milk is going on tour,” Noah said with disdain as we sat. “Pressed another 7-inch too, the bastards.”

Mustard Milk is one of the countless garage-rock bands from this side of the city, but, unlike their peers, they seemed to be going places.

“You know why that is, though?” I asked and saw Noah’s lip quiver. “Marin’s dad owns that restaurant chain. It’s easy to be successful when you never have to work a day job.”

Noah splashed a little of something into each of our green teas while his lip continued to twitch. “It’s not fair, man. We can barely pay for recording and rent. Mickey and me are both working two jobs. Touring? Forget about it.”

The little old woman who had silently dropped off our tea was back and ready to take our order. While I was contemplating my fourth bleach soup, Noah was crunching numbers for the Dirty Wieners.

“It’s going to take three years at $12 an hour.” He was sweating. “And I haven’t even factored in the insurance for the van and repairs.”

I watched the lobsters out of the corner of my eye. A smaller one was being cornered and prodded by the resident in the back of the tank.

“Half the time I’m too exhausted from trying to pay rent to even play the guitar.” He didn’t look up from his whiskey tea as he continued. “I’m scared I’m going to fail. What if no one cares about our songs or our stories? It’s not like we’re getting any younger either. If you don’t make it in your late twenties there’s a damn good chance you won’t make it at all. And then what? I spent all this time playing shows and trying to make it when I should have been in school. Now who’s going to hire me with tattoos fucking everywhere?” Noah tugged at his shirt sleeves self-consciously. “Why did I take my early twenties out on my arms and any visible skin I have?” As he finished, he took a long slow defeated breath. He was silent for a long time.

“Noah, do you think we blew it?” I asked

Our food showed up before he could answer. I took a huge mouthful of my bleach soup.

It tasted like we did.


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