The worst part about tomato soup is that, sometimes, it tastes like blood. No, I can’t say I’ve ever tasted human blood before, aside from a nosebleed. But if our blood tastes like I think it does, tomato soup might be exceptionally difficult to swallow.
It all started twenty-five years ago when I took my then-fiancée out to dinner at a high-class restaurant. We would be getting married soon.
Before I continue, do you know how tomato soup is made? The recipe varies, of course, depending on whether or not you choose to add onions, bay leaves, or garlic for a spicy flavor. First, you add chopped onions into a pot with a couple spoonfuls of olive oil. Heating this for a while over a range, you stir in all your other ingredients besides the tomatoes.
When you add the tomatoes, get as much juice out of the can as possible; you must mash the tomatoes into a fine paste before turning on the stove. Allow it to boil. Then, remove the pot of boiling soup and pour it into a blender. (Using multiple pours as necessary.) Add another spoonful of olive oil and blend into a puree. From this step, you may return the soup to the pot for additional boiling — if you plan to add more textures like broth, salts, or pepper. When done, give time for the steam to dissipate. Tomato soup can be served hot or cold.
Needless to say, one’s imagination takes flight when the idea of blood-filled tomato soup pops into the mind.
None of this occurred to me, however, as my fiancée and I entered the restaurant. It was late, the October storm pounded with all its force against the building and rooftop, and the forecasters were predicting record-high levels of rain.
We entered the vestibule of this elegant place of eating. Not very crowded tonight, I remember thinking to myself as I placed my name with the young lady behind the counter. She smiled.
We were the last people to enter at such a late hour, so we waited only a few minutes. My fiancée and I were guided to a candlelit table in the corner, next to the shelves of imported and quality wine bottles. I pulled out the chair for her, exchanging the loving glances that belong only to those lucky soon-to-be brides and grooms. We sat down, ordered drinks, and perused the menu, soaking in the atmosphere of the romantic evening.
To this day, I don’t know why I ordered the tomato soup. It was to die for, the waitress said. Or did she say that?
I told my fiancee I needed to use the restroom, and I walked down the restaurant. I remember thinking how slow business was tonight—aside from us there were perhaps two other couples and small families just finishing their meals. Of course, it was late after all.
As I entered the short hallway to get to the restrooms, I passed by the kitchen. In all classy restaurants they allow you to see into the kitchen. They proudly display their finesse of the art of cooking, performed by calm, fat chefs in white aprons and white chef hats—rolling dough, stirring large vats, and roasting meats over fire-licking grills. The hallway to the restroom had a large, Plexiglas window by which you could view the chefs cook the food. I paused for a moment, examining these culinary professionals at work at such a late time of night.
After using the restroom, I washed my hands at the sink. Looking myself over in the mirror, I must admit I was quite a handsome young man at the time. My family had plans to fly in on the twenty-second from West port to attend the marriage. Similarly, my fiancee invited her closest friends and relatives to the event, which was scheduled to begin at the church at precisely three-thirty in the afternoon.
On a counter behind me lay the stacks of softly-folded paper towels to dry your hands—no brown-paper-towel roller in this type of restaurant!
Disposing the towel in the trash, I turned around for the door. And out of the corner of my eye, I saw a reflection in the mirror that made my heart practically leap out of my chest. The sinks, the faucets, the counter tops, paper towels, everything—everything was covered in dark red blood. Caked onto the surfaces like thick, runny guts, the blood dripped onto the floor with no indication of stopping. I should emphasize that this disturbing image presented itself only in the mirror reflection — a reflection of an otherwise sparkling-clean restroom.
My breath caught short. I blinked and rubbed my eyes. The blood was gone. It never existed. You couldn't have seen that. It’s late, you’re tired.
Emerging from the restroom, I decided to keep this disturbance to myself. She and I were having such a good time tonight; I didn't want to give her any cause for worry. I looked through the kitchen window at the chefs. They were cooking away as usual; there were less there than I saw just a moment ago.
The rain pounded against the side of the building, and you could hear the occasional clap and roar of thunder interrupt the continual smatterings of sound. I returned to our table. Sitting down, my fiancee and I engaged in a warm, pleasant conversation about something I regret to have forgotten. I tried to rationalize it, but it’s these small kinds of things you only think about years afterwards.
Oh, and if you’re guessing yet, she and I aren't together anymore. Although…
A short time later, the waitress from earlier delivered our meals. My tomato soup came with a side of Caesar salad, packets of salted crackers, a rather hardened crust of bread, and a set of elaborate soup and salad utensils. Initially, I felt surprised to see the bowl of red liquid before me. Before she left, I asked the waitress for reassurance. She informed me that the bright color of this tomato soup was due to its freshness, quality of ingredients, a little additional flavoring, and the candle-lighting of the restaurant. The incident in the bathroom clipped into my mind for a second, but I let it pass.
I should mention that this tomato soup was unlike that of any soup I had ever tasted. Its consistency, potability, and appearance combined to form a different kind of soup. To this day it remains difficult for me to describe. It didn't taste bad; as a matter of fact, their tomato soup tasted better than the soups of most other restaurants. There was just something familiar about this soup; it was on the tip of my tongue like the aftertaste of some long-forgotten flavor.
Before long, we finished our meals. The waitress returned with her amicable smile. By this time, we were the only people remaining in the restaurant. The other tables were being wiped off, busboys folded up and removed the tablecloths, and chairs were stacked together in small groups at one end of the room. She presented the bill and joined the other remaining workers in closing.
I grabbed the pen and scrawled my signature onto the receipts, ensuring that our waitress would receive a generous tip. That was when I reached into my pocket to take out my wallet—but I felt nothing! Feeling up my front and back pockets and glancing underneath the table, my skin turned a sharp pale. My wallet, where did it go? Did I leave it in the car?
As my fiancee was about to reach into her purse for her own credit card, I stopped her. "I must have left my wallet in the restroom, please let me check to see if it’s there. You just stay here," I told her, "and I will be right back."
Walking quickly into the restrooms, I desperately searched for where I could have left my wallet. I didn't remember taking it out when I used the restroom a while ago. Why would I have left it there?
Just as I was about to give up on my search, I spotted the wallet lying on the ground next to the trash. I picked it up and breathed a sigh of relief. All my cards, cash, and identification were still inside.
Nervously, I glanced back at the mirror. No blood this time. The mirror revealed just an amazingly normal restroom.
I walked out and casually glanced through the hallway window a third time.
The sight that I saw in that kitchen has burned itself into my memory. The earlier disturbance in the restroom paled in comparison to the grotesqueness I witnessed in that kitchen. No, it wasn't just blood this time. Corpses. Mangled, defiled and graying corpses of brown-haired, slender women and the lifeless eyes and limp bodies of children I had never before seen. Gashes, deep cuts, and partially severed limbs revealed blood that seemed to have dried long before. There were no chefs in the kitchen, only those dead people. Yet, just like the soup, I felt a strange connection beyond my intuition.
Visibly shaken, I returned to the table. My fiancee must have assumed I didn't find my wallet, because she had already paid for dinner and put on her coat. I told her I found my wallet. That was all I said; that was all I wanted to say. I practically dragged her out of the restaurant.
I don’t know why I drove so fast on the way home that night. I had to sleep; I had to get those horrific thoughts out of my mind. Those scenes of terror, I thought, must not be real. I must have been seeing things. It’s late, you’re tired. We’re getting married next week; so much has yet to be done. You can’t let this experience disrupt things.
I tried to shake off these troubling, unsettling thoughts in my mind. The rain was pouring harder than ever now. The headlights could barely combat the total darkness of nighttime on the roads. Perhaps that is why I didn't see the oncoming truck.
I must not have heard my fiancee's frantic cries to me to get back on our side of the road. It was almost a head-on collision. By virtue of the truck driver’s own reflexes, he managed to swerve such that only the right side of the car suffered the brunt of the impact. I felt my body slam against the left side of the car, my hands let go of the steering wheel and smacked against the passenger window. The front windshield shattered, rain began pouring into the dashboard, and the wheels screeched as the car spun in circles of burning rubber. Both vehicles veered off the road and into a muddied ditch. At this point, I lost consciousness.
When I came to, it was still dark outside. A burly, middle-aged man wearing a red trucker cap opened my side door and grabbed me by the shoulders. He yelled something at me, but due to the rain and thunder, as well as the constant ringing in my ears, I couldn't hear or comprehend what he was saying. I vaguely felt stabs of pain emitting from my left hand; my body felt sore and numb in the cold rain. Two other people grabbed me and placed me onto a medical stretcher and hoisted me into the back of an ambulance. The flashing red and blue lights were the last thing I recalled before reawakening some time later at the local hospital.
As I mentioned before, the right side of the car caught the impact of about thirty-six tons of semi-truck. The resulting spin-out gave me multiple lacerations, contusions of the head, forearm, and leg, a minor concussion, and a broken left wrist.
My fiancee, the love of my life, wasn't so lucky.
It is a great irony that before that night I was making plans to attend my marriage. Today I still reflect on that night and consider it a great tragedy that one of us lived while the other did not.
From that point on, tomato soup always tasted like blood. The driver of that truck was transporting heavy crates and pallets of cans of condensed tomato soup.
I've written this story from within the iron walls of John T. Torrance Penitentiary. The ensuing trial took a short amount of time without too much publicity. Involuntary manslaughter. These things happen, I guess.
Now that I’m finished telling you my story, I must have my lunch now.
It’s tomato soup. It still tastes like blood.