Lie Soup

Jalen Johnson

Mr. Jockers

ILA ~ Period 6



Lie Soup


When I put the spoon in my mouth, I didn’t think it would be that bad. I mean, Nana wasn’t the best cook in the world, but she wasn’t the worst. I guess I just thought it would be like any soup I’ve had. Not amazingly good… but bearable. Boy was I wrong.


My grandparents were over and my sister, Julia, and I had just been called to dinner. They were visiting from Plainsboro, New Jersey, where we used to live before we moved. That move was a tough blow. Swift. Sudden. Hard.

When we found out, Julia and I were devastated. We’d lived in New Jersey a long time and  I’d really gotten attached to it. I still couldn’t convince myself we were truly moving until I started seeing the houses.

We still saw our grandparents, but less often. The two minute walk to their condominium just became a two hour drive with good traffic conditions and we just couldn’t do that all the time; especially on the Hutchinson River Parkway, where traffic conditions were never good. Well, this was one of those seemingly random times where they came to visit. It was a spring weekend or summer; the sun was shining and the weather was really good for Connecticut.

Grampi and Nana, what we call my mom’s parents, were chatting about something. Something grandparents would talk about that nobody else can really engage in: like a crossword puzzle or joint pain. Julia and I sat down.

“I made some seafood soup for lunch.” said Nana.

Our parents were somewhere, we didn’t know where. We were just glad Nana and Grampi were here so that we didn’t have to get dragged along to whatever it was.

While I was wondering about what the heck mom and Dad were actually doing, Nana set the bowls down in front of us. I looked down at the murky brown liquid with a skeptical and suspicious look.

“Oh, c’mon! You’ll love it.” said my grandfather, noticing my look of disgust. I hadn’t always been a picky eater. My mom told me that when I was a baby, I used to eat everything she put in front of me; now I just slowly grind my fork across my plate and wait until I can be excused. I slowly dipped my spoon into the liquid, watching the soup broth part around it and then conceal it from view. Nana and Grampi followed suit, but Julia still looked at her bowl with intensifying hesitancy.

I brought the spoon up to my mouth. The cold metal of the spoon touched my mouth and I could smell the musky, seafood odor of Nana’s soup. My tongue touched the rough liquid as the sun glinted off the kitchen window. I swallowed. I watched Nana and Grampi  try the soup (Julia was still boycotting the soup in silent protest), the kitchen filled with the sounds of their clinking spoons.

The flavors of shrimp, sauce, and fish floated into my brain as well as carrot and corn and a slight tinge of the metallic spoon. My brain finally registered the last flavor of the soup. I tasted puke.

I gagged and immediately choked on it and had to force it down my throat. I looked to see if Nana had noticed, but she hadn’t; she and Grampi were going to town on that serum of death like it was freshly made apple pie.

“Wow! This is delicious!” Grampi said, his mouth full of soup.

Nana nodded, accepting his compliment,  swallowing her own spoonful of soup.

Grampi turned towards me, an expectant look in his gray-blue eyes.

Oh no. I thought, it’s really bad, but… they totally want me to say that it’s good.

I didn’t know what to do; should I lie and say that it was good, or should I tell the truth and risk getting yelled at? I really wanted Nana to feel good about herself and not feel bad, but I also didn’t want to lie.

What if… I thought I decide not to decide?

I shoved my spoon in my mouth,  not swallowing for fear of death, “Mmhphf.”

Nana and Grampi took that as a yes.

“Well?” Nana asked Julia, turning her critical and expectant gaze towards her.

I gulped, forgetting that I had soup in my mouth. It slid down my throat (more like rolled) and I could almost hear the chunks of it land in my stomach.


“Well… I don’t… really…” Julia stuttered at first, which was unusual compared to the endless stream of chatter that normally emanated from her mouth.

She looked at me quickly, looking for assurance. I knew what she was going to say: she didn’t want to try it. I couldn’t have an enraged Nana, not yet. I gave the slightest shake of my head.

“I haven’t tried it yet,” she finished confidently.

“Well you should,” I chimed in, grimacing at what I was going to say next, “it’s good.”

Julia finally convinced herself to try it and I watched her face as I choked down another mouthful of prison-cafeteria-worthy broth.

She looked curious at first, like she didn’t know what she was tasting. Soon, that curiosity rapidly became horror and, in the split second it had taken Julia to put the spoon into her mouth, it and the soup that was just in her mouth came right back out and onto the table.

“It’s disgusting!” she said.

Not only did Nana’s face immediately filled with outrage, but her cheeks reddened and I was afraid she was going to yell. My hands went all clammy with sweat. I hated conflict, but my fingers trembled in anticipation for both of their reactions. The disgusting taste of the soup lingered in my mouth like the stink of fish at a harbor dock and I took a sip of water, letting its cool surface cleanse my mouth of any remaining flavor. Hearing a sharp intake of breath, I noticed Grampi. His usual smell of black labrador retriever and the outdoors hit my nose and reminded me of Wisconsin, where him, my mom, and I were born. I realize his reaction is the same as mine.

I could see Nana was perturbed. “No, it’s not, Julia,” I quickly interjected before she could say something harsh.

“Yeah, I agree.” said Grampi.

Even though I began to feel guilty and ashamed about lying, it made me feel good that I was helping my grandparents feel better. That couldn’t be bad, could it? I thought. Just Nana alone was going through enough stuff as it was: working full time at BASF, taking care of both Grampi and their dog, Jack, and making time to come up and see us.

Think about what would have happened it I had come out clean and said: ‘Oh, yeah. I agree with Julia. The soup you worked really hard to make was really bad and made me want to vomit!?’ Nothing good.

Nana was clearly confused that I, the picky eater, ahd taken favor with her soup instead of Julia, the girl who would eat anything, but I could see the gratitude shining in here eyes. I was reassured by that. I knew I was lying, but it made Nana feel better.

“It’s actually really good, Julia,” I said.

“If you’re not going to eat it, then I guess you won’t get dessert,” Grampi said.

Now we were young children at the time and the temptations of dessert was just too strong, at least for me anyway. I scarfed down every bit of that revolting, repugnant, runny brew, muscling through every lumpy bit as it oozed down my throat.

In the same way I was disgusted at the soup, Nana and Grampy loved it and devoured the rest of their bowls with more enthusiasm than I could ever muster.

Julia still stared at her bowl. She beckoned enough bravado to bring the soup to her lips, but she was immediately discouraged from trying more after swallowing. I could relate. It was just disgusting. I could see the empty bowl in front of me and Nana’s sad face and Grampi’s angry one and Julia’s look of indiganancy at both their faces and the wilting trees outside in our backyard, knowingly swaying as if to say She’s never going to eat it.

If trees could talk, they would be right. She never ate it. She stared at it and stared and stared. And finally Grampi had one of his outbursts and went on and on about how much Nana and him love us and how much they try to do for us.

That made me feel lucky to have stuffed the poison that was Nana’s soup into my mouth before I got told off like that.

Eventually, Grampi gave up on his ranting and Julia to wash the soup down the drain and get no dessert. Lucky.

As I saw Julia’s relieved expression and the tired looks on my grandparents’ faces, I realized lying to everybody about the soup may have not been the best idea. As the faint smell of the soup mixed with the dishwasher soup permeated the air, I contemplated my actions. A leaf blew off a small tree branch outside and floated off into the breeze, like troubles being forever taken away. I wish life was like that. I wondered what the trees would have done if they’d been forced to choose between feelings and honesty.

Lying is never a good thing. Especially when you’re lying about the work of others just to make them feel good. Nobody can improve that way. Telling people honestly what you think isn’t wrong.

Why she thought that her soup was good? I don’t know. Why did I pretend that it was? I don’t know… actually, I do know. I don’t like hurting the feelings of others who haven’t done anything to me to deserve it. How I mustered up the strength to even talk after that poison seeped through my body? THAT, now that  I don’t know. How did Nana even manage to make such a foul concoction? Did she even do anything? I swore she must’ve thrown all the ingredients in the pot all at once. No prep. No nothing. I despised the soup, and I despised the act that I had to eat more of that maddeningly moldy mash-up of material. Still, I had to put on a false mask for Nana.

In the end, I knew I should have said what I thought. I had done it not so that Nana’s feelings would be hurt if I didn’t, but that I would get in trouble if I got her upset. It was a selfish act and I will remember it because of that; but I will most remember the soup… and how bad it was.

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1 thought on “Lie Soup

  1. Jalen,

    Hi it’s Julia your younger sister. I came onto this blog to see if I could read any of your old writing and I found it!! I just wanted to comment on it, even though I know you won’t see it because you’re in High School. I really enjoyed reading this piece, you described the encounter exactly the way I remember it, and it was really fun reading what you thought about it. The only flaw in this piece is the fact that you remembered this moment as an act of selfishness on your part. I know you, you are extremely stubborn. I don’t think you would’ve cared if you got into trouble, you would’ve told Nana the soup was horrible. You didn’t lie to save yourself you lied to save Nana (and to get me to lie to Nana but apparently I can’t take a hint). And lying to save someone’s feelings isn’t selfish, it’s noble. Anyways, I loved it. I hope you’ll let me read more of your writing as time goes on. I can’t wait to see what you do in this life Jalen, you have a bright future.

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