People's Soup

by Alan Arkin

Public Domain

Science Fiction Story: When you took pot luck with this kitchen scientist, not even the poor pot was lucky!

Tags: Science Fiction   Novel-Classic  

Bonnie came home from school and found her brother in the kitchen, doing something important at the sink. She knew it was important because he was making a mess and talking to himself. The sink drain was loaded down with open soda bottles, a sack of flour, corn meal, dog biscuits, molasses, Bromo-Seltzer, a tin of sardines and a box of soap chips. The floor was covered with drippings and every cupboard in the kitchen was open. At the moment, Bonnie’s brother was putting all his energy into shaking a plastic juicer that was half-filled with an ominous-looking, frothy mixture.

Bonnie waited for a moment, keeping well out of range, and then said, “Hi, Bob.”

“Lo,” he answered, without looking up.

“Where’s Mom?”


Bonnie inched a little closer. “What are you doing, Bob?” she asked.


“Can I watch?”


Bonnie took this as a cue to advance two cautious steps. She knew from experience how close she could approach her brother when he was being creative and still maintain a peaceful neutrality. Bob slopped a cupful of ketchup into the juicer, added a can of powdered mustard, a drop of milk, six aspirin and a piece of chewing gum, being careful to spill a part of each package used.

Bonnie moved in a bit closer. “Are you making another experiment?” she asked.

“Who wants to know?” Bob answered, in his mad-scientist voice, as he swaggered over to the refrigerator and took out an egg, some old bacon fat, a capsuled vitamin pill, yesterday’s Jello and a bottle of clam juice.

“Me wants to know,” said Bonnie, picking up an apple that had rolled out of the refrigerator and fallen on the floor.

“Why should I tell you?”

“I have a quarter.”

“Where’d you get it?”

“Mom gave it to me.”

“If you give it to me, I’ll tell you what I’m doing.”

“It’s not worth it.”

“I’ll let you be my assistant, too.”

“Still not worth it.”

“For ten cents?”

“Okay, ten cents.”

She counted out the money to her brother and put on an apron. “What should I do now, Bob?”

“Get the salt,” Bob instructed.

He poured sardine oil from the can into the juicer, being very careful not to let the sardines fall in. When he had squeezed the last drop of oil out of the can, he ate all the sardines and tossed the can into the sink.

Bonnie went after the salt and, when she lifted out the box, she found a package containing two chocolate graham crackers.

“Mom has a new hiding place, Bob,” she announced.

Bob looked up. “Where is it?”

“Behind the salt.”

“What did you find there?”

“Two chocolate grahams.”

Bobby held out his hand, accepted one of the crackers without thanks and proceeded to crumble the whole thing into his concoction, not even stopping to lick the chocolate off his hands.

Bonnie frowned in disbelief. She had never seen such self-sacrifice. The act made her aware, for the first time, of the immense significance of the experiment.

She dropped her quarrel completely and walked over to the sink to get a good look at what was being done. All she saw in the sink was a wadded, wet Corn Flake box, the empty sardine tin and spillings from the juicer, which by this time was beginning to take on a distinctive and unpleasant odor. Bob gave Bonnie the job of adding seven pinches of salt and some cocoa to the concoction.

“What’s it going to be, Bob?” she asked, blending the cocoa on her hands into her yellow corduroy skirt.

“Stuff,” Bob answered, unbending a little.

“Government stuff?”


“Spaceship stuff?”




“I give up.”

“It’s animal serum,” Bob said, sliced his thumb on the sardine can, glanced unemotionally at the cut, ignored it.

“What’s animal serum, Bob?”

“It’s certain properties without which the universe in eternity regards for human beings.”

“Oh,” Bonnie said. She took off her apron and sat down at the other end of the kitchen. The smell from the juicer was beginning to reach her stomach.

Bobby combed the kitchen for something else to throw into his concoction and came up with some oregano and liquid garlic.

“I guess this is about it,” he said.

He poured the garlic and oregano into his juicer, put the lid on, shook it furiously for a minute and then emptied the contents into a deep pot.

“What are you doing now, Bob?” Bonnie asked.

“You have to cook it for seven minutes.”

Bobby lit the stove, put a cover on the pot, set the timer for ten minutes and left the room. Bonnie tagged after him and the two of them got involved in a rough game of basketball in the living room.

“BING!” said the timer.

Bob dropped the basketball on Bonnie’s head and ran back into the kitchen.

“It’s all done,” he said, and took the cover off the pot. Only his dedication to his work kept him from showing the discomfort he felt with the smell that the pot gave forth.

“Fyew!” said Bonnie. “What do we do with it now? Throw it out?”

“No, stupid. We have to stir it till it cools and then drink it.”

“Drink it?” Bonnie wrinkled her nose. “How come we have to drink it?”

Bobby said, “Because that’s what you do with experiments, stupid.”

“But, Bob, it smells like garbage.”

“Medicine smells worse and it makes you healthy,” Bob said, while stirring the pot with an old wooden spoon.

Bonnie held her nose, stood on tiptoe and looked in at the cooking solution. “Will this make us healthy?”

“Maybe.” Bob kept stirring.

“What will it do?”

“You’ll see.” Bob took two clean dish towels, draped them around the pot and carried it over to the formica kitchen table. In the process, he managed to dip both towels in the mixture and burn his already sliced thumb. One plastic handle of the pot was still smoldering, from being too near the fire, but none of these things seemed to have the slightest effect on him. He put the pot down in the middle of the table and stared at it, chin in hand.

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