“A Taste of Home” is based on my short play, “Traveling With Chicken Soup,” which was performed at the San Diego Center for Jewish Culture in April 2016. It won second place!
Nicki rolled over, sweaty and thirsty. She sat up and sneezed, smacking her head on the top bunk. Again. “Ow, shit. The door opened, and Nicki’s roommate, Jessica, walked in wearing only a towel. “Are you sick?”
“I think so. Can you get me a bottle of water?”
Jessica turned and grabbed a bottle of water from the top shelf of the closet they shared. She tossed it onto Nicki’s bed from across the room. “Sorry, but I cannot get sick. I have a physics midterm in two days.”
“It’s okay.” Nicki took a drink and fell back onto her pillow.
“Maybe you should go to student health,” Jessica said, putting on jeans, boots, and a Berkeley sweatshirt.
Nicki sneezed into her sleeve. “I don’t want to.”
“Okay, well, I’d better get to class. See you later.” Jessica scurried out the door as if heading to a decontamination shower.
Class, midterms, studying . . . Nicki couldn’t think about anything except the bump on her head and her burning throat. Just as she was dozing off, the ping of a face-time call disturbed her. Who would be trying to face-time so early in the morning?
Nicki got out of bed and opened the laptop on her desk. “Oh, crap.”
It was her mother, and she had ignored three calls from her yesterday. She tapped Accept.
“Nicki! I’ve been trying to . . . Oh my God, you look awful!”
“It’s just a cold, Mom. I’m okay.”
“You most certainly are not okay.” Her mother leaned closer to the screen “Your eyes are all bloodshot and glassy. Have you taken your temperature?”
“I can tell you’re running a fever, probably over a hundred and one.”
“I don’t have . . .” Nicki’s voice was swallowed by a fit of uncontrollable coughing.
“Good lord! Just listen to that cough! You’ve been at school for barely two months and already you’re at death’s door.”
Nicki wished she had ignored the ping. “I’m not at death’s door, Mom.”
“I know when my baby’s at death’s door. Open your mouth so I can see into your throat.”
Nicki rolled her eyes and opened her mouth wide.
“Lean in closer to the camera and say aaaah.”
Nicki put her open mouth near the camera lens on the computer. “Aaaaaaaah.”
“Hmm,” said her mother. “I think I see pus on your tonsils. Get your flashlight.”
“I don’t have a flashlight.”
“Yes, you do. I put one in your emergency kit”
“What emergency kit?”
“The one under your bed. Don’t you read your emails? I sent one last month with instructions for every item in the kit – the kit I put under your bed the day you moved in!”
“Oh, yeah, I remember now,” Nicki fibbed. “Lemme look.” She dragged herself to her bunk and got down on hands and knees. Her head was so heavy it almost hit the floor. Peering under the mattress, Nicki saw the large Rubbermaid bin. She pulled it out and lifted it onto her desk.
“The flashlight is on the left next to the antibacterial wipes and extra batteries.”
Nicki removed the lid. “Jesus, Mom, I could live for a month with all the crap you put in here.”
“That is the purpose of an emergency kit. Did you find the flashlight?”
“You mean this monster?” Nicki picked up the waterproof, ultra-bright, titanium, 17000 lumen torch. She turned on the light and shined it into her throat.
“Just as I thought,” her mother said. “You have tonsillitis.”
“You can’t diagnose tonsillitis through a computer screen.”
“I just did.”
“You’re not a doctor, Mom.”
“Jewish mother, doctor, what’s the difference?”
“About ten years of school,” Nicki said, turning off the flashlight.
“Don’t get sarcastic with me, young lady. I was the one who told the pediatrician your brother’s mosquito bites were actually chicken pox.”
“And your Aunt Sheila told your cousin Adam his girlfriend had herpes and that he’d better not let her . . .”
“Oh God, please stop. You want me to throw up now, too?”
“No, but Aunt Sheila was right, and she’s a Jewish mother.”
“She’s also a dermatologist.” Nicki rifled through the emergency supplies and found five dozen pocket packs of tissues.
“Don’t get snippy with me, young lady. I want you to start a course of antibiotics. There’s a few z-packs in that brown paper bag.”
“What a surprise.” Nicki turned over a brown lunch bag, littering her desk with a colorful assortment of medications. “What are you? A drug dealer?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. A friend of mine knows somebody who knows somebody with a pharmaceutical connection.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s illegal.”
“I really don’t care, Miss pre-law know-it-all. Now eat one of those granola bars and take a pill before you end up in the hospital with pneumonia.”
“I really think you’re overreacting.” Nicki swallowed the antibiotic with a sip of water.
“That’s what your father said when I forced him to go to the urologist, and it turned out his prostate was the size of a grapefruit.”
“Eww. I knew I shouldn’t have answered.”
“Too late for that, isn’t it?” Nicki’s mother stepped away from the computer.
Nicki watched her open the refrigerator and pull out a bag of carrots, a bunch of celery, an onion, and a whole chicken.
“What are you doing now?”
Her mother leaned toward the camera and smiled, her face filling the screen. “I’m making you chicken soup.”
“How’s it gonna get here? Fed Ex?”
“Don’t be silly. I’ll bring it to you.”
“No no no! You are not coming up here, Mom.”
“I most certainly am. Let me see,” said her mother, looking at he watch. “Soup will be done in a couple of hours. Probably won’t be my best, but it’ll do. I’ll pack it up and get on the road and be at your door by dinnertime.”
“That’s insane! Don’t do it, Mom. I don’t want chicken soup.”
“I don’t care if you want it or not. You need it. And once I’m there with it, you will want it. And you will eat it, even if I have to feed it to you myself.”
Nicki groaned. “This is unbelievable! I’m in college. I can take care of myself.”
“If that were true,” her mother shook her finger at the camera, “you wouldn’t have gotten sick. Too much partying and not enough sleep. I should never have let you skip the third grade. One more year at home with me wouldn’t have hurt.”
Nicki knew she had been defeated. She pouted and blew her nose and watched her mother slice the onion.
“Yes?” Her mother stopped slicing and looked at the screen.
“Are you gonna make matzo balls, too?
“What’s chicken soup without matzo balls? Of course I am.”
“Do you have any of those skinny noodles I like?”
“I’m sure I do. And I’ll chop the carrots and celery into bite-sized pieces and put in some shredded chicken.”
“Just a little.”
“Just a little. Now, you get yourself back into bed and take a nice long nap, okay?”
“Okay,” Nicki said. “Keep your laptop open so I can watch you cook.”
Nicki’s mother gave her the look. The look that said: you’ll always be my baby-girl. “See you in a few hours, honey.”
“You’re welcome, sweetie. Love you.”
“Love you, too.” Nicki crawled into bed with her laptop and watched the familiar sight of her mother bustling about. She took a deep breath and dozed off to the sounds of her mother’s kitchen. She slept, dreaming of chicken soup, a taste of home.