if i were strong enough, i wouldn’t need to drink it.
every other day, i take a book to the soothie bar around the corner from my apartment and sit at a table away from the window, listening to the drone of the blender as it grinds frozen melons and mangoes into a sedate puree. i scan the pages, my ears perking up whenever someone leans in to place an order. will they go through with it? the orders never deviate.
“medium mango moodslayer, please.”
“large melon self-love to go. no ice.”
then the blenders start up again, whirring blades of sameness, and i return to my novel or bible or whatever book i happened to pick up on my way out of the apartment. i never finish my drink. as i leave the shop, it takes a minute for my eyes to focus, and i reach for the red banister outside the door to steady myself. i toss my cup into a dumpster in the alleyway. bums descend on it. i quicken my pace, rushing away from the sound of anxious sucking.
there is a soothie bar on every corner in north hollywood. nine years ago, when i first moved to this wasteland for would-be actors and writers, people were less inclined to drink pureed fruit in a cup, especially at twelve dollars a shot. since the dereg of ‘22, my neighbors are more than willing to pay fifty-five dollars for their daily soothie. it’s sweeter this way, filling and there is no aftertaste.
if i were strong enough, i wouldn’t need to drink it. women like me are only as strong as the things we fear. as far as i know, i’m the only one of my girlfriends who finds solace in a straw clogged with blended fruit. soothies, hold the blues at bay and rejection and dusty dreams. my friends turn up their noses at such a crutch. when they’re in pain, they go to church. they sing psalms. they talk to god. i wish i could join in their pious conversations; but, my mouth is dry—all the time. if my great-grandmother were still alive, she’d scoff at the sight of me lying in my darkened bedroom, studying stucco for hours. when she was my age, she was down in alabama protecting her property from klansmen with a winchester rifle. “ole bessie,” she used to say, cradling an imaginary gun in her gnarled hands, “she ain’t stopped smoking yet.”
it’s embarrassing to be so weak.
a month ago, on my way out of a soothie bar in studio city, i saw my friend monifa walking down ventura on her way to salsa class. i tried to back into the shop, but she started toward me, pushing her way through the crowd of bums.
“haven’t seen you in a minute, phyllis. how’s the writing going?”
“fifty pages into a new script,” i said. i hadn’t written anything new in a while. at twenty-six, i already felt that my best work was behind me, but she didn’t need to know that.
“we missed you at bible study.”
“work has been crazy. never can seem to get out from under a mound of memos.”
she frowned at the cup in my hand. “inspiration?”
“this is my last one, monifa.”
“you’re better than this. i’ll pray for you.”
if prayer worked, there would be no need to sip soothies. my habit is a fruit-filled gulf separating me from god. i have never felt that love, have never known true communion.
today, i’ve decided that i will no longer live in the shadows of my life. this is my last soothie. i say that every week, but today, i mean it. i made the decision as i showered. water always brings clarity. for once, my hands are steady as i get dressed. i whistle, selecting a black crepe dress with an empire waist. i collect my braids into a wiry bun at my nape, securing the hairdo with a red clip. a faux leather purse and black flats complete the look, and i leave the apartment.
moving down the front steps of my building, i head in the direction of the shop. no idling motor or belching exhaust pipe slices the silence. most folks in my neighborhood choose to walk rather than waste their soothie money on gas. the only sounds are my flats squeaking on the pavement and a fat kid maneuvering his treadmill scooter down the sidewalk. it’s a cumbersome contraption, and the boy sweats as he jogs on the humming black strip atop his scooter. childhood obesity is a pandemic now, and federal law mandates that overweight kids exercise even as they play.
i pass a row of grimy pink buildings that seem to be slouching into the earth instead of rising from it. i never noticed how dirty this neighborhood was when i moved here back in ‘15, but now my eyes are open to many things. at the door of the soothie shop, a small crowd of homeless people part to let me pass. it occurs to me that i didn’t bring a book to distract me as i sit at my table away from the window. there will be no mindless scanning of pages today.
the cashier nods in my direction. behind her, laughing teens measure out powders, coax yellow puree into waiting cups. artificial sunshine. the smell of mangoes seems to be seeping from the walls. customers stand around waiting for their orders. they surround the glass enclosure, watching the blenders with quick eyes.
three empty styrofoam cups of varying sizes stand atop the display case. the largest one taunts me with its pocked whiteness. i lean in to place my order. “i’ll have that one,” i tell the girl at the cash register, pointing to the biggest cup.
“infinite dreams?” her voice is low as well, like a pharmacist at the drugstore reviewing a prescription with a patient.
if the girl is surprised at my request she doesn’t show it. she slides a short form across the counter, and i sign it, barely reading the disclaimer. i read it months ago; but, i couldn’t go through with it at the time. now, i’m strong enough.
“have you made any?” i ask.
“only one, a few weeks after the dereg.” she presses a red button on the wall to initiate my order. “my friend works at the beverly hills location, and she makes ten a month.”
“how does she feel … after?”
the girl shrugs. a cute blonde with a colony of pimples on her chin. “never asked. it’s just a job.”
as i take my change, she points to a narrow door by the restroom marked private. “you can’t drink it at the table, you know. you have to take it back there. there’s a key on the counter next to the restroom key.”
“thanks. have a good day.”
soothie in hand, i reach for the key. it dangles from the end of a long metal spoon, as if its power is best managed from a distance. i head to the door pointed out by the cashier, but there is no privacy now. a few patrons turn to stare at me, and a redhead with a chihuahua nestled in the crook of her arm gives me a distracted smile. “sweet dreams,” she murmurs as i pass.
my dreams will be sweet, and infinite, and they will be sticky like frozen mangoes resurrected by the heat of a whirring blade. i lay in the dark, on a cot, the last of the blended fruit melting on my tongue. water gurgles in the pipes of the adjacent restroom. it’s comforting to know that i am not alone, that patrons line up like pallbearers outside the door, and i will be ushered into the waiting arms of the almighty.
ever since the government deregulated the sale of antidepressants two years ago, sipping oneself into oblivion is much easier than swallowing a handful of pills. it’s sweeter this way, filling and there is no aftertaste.
+ nicole d. sconiers is an author + screenwriter who lives in a sunny jungle.
*”infinite dreams,”a sci-fi, short story, was featured in the literature section of neonV, volume I the continuum in december 2012. the opening page collage, featured above, was created by the talented jasmine rose of followthelaws.