LORETTA PROCTOR

Chop Suey

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Edward Hopper, the famous American artist was said to frequent a restaurant in China Town called Chop Suey - so I imagined him sitting at another table with his wife, listening in to this conversation with Marge and Jean. It‘s set in the 1920’s when the picture was painted. ‘Jake’s gotta another woman, Marge, I feel it in my bones.’ Marge stared across the table at her friend Jean and paused, her chopsticks half way to her lips. She swallowed the morsel of rice and chicken in haste and put the chopsticks down. ‘Hell, Jean, what a thing to say suddenly. What makes you think a thing like that? Jake’s such a solid guy. He’d never leave you.’ ‘I never said he would leave me. He won’t do that. He likes his comforts too well and he knows he’ll never find a better cook. He swears I’m the only gal he knows makes such good pancakes. Loves his stomach too much.’ ‘So what you saying?’ ‘I’m saying he’s got another woman. I just know so.’ ‘Let’s look at it sensibly,’ said Marge, picking up her chopsticks again and shuffling some more food into her mouth,’ what proof you got?’. Jean stirred her bowl of noodles with a dejected air and then pushed the plate aside untasted. Marge looked at her full plate and suddenly lost her own appetite. She also pushed aside her food and called for jasmine tea. ‘Food not good?’ asked the Chinese waiter looking worried as he surveyed the plates and left over dishes on the table. ‘It’s great. Not the cook’s fault, so you needn’t worry. We just had bad news and lost our appetites,’ said Marge with a sigh. She hated to waste good food but she’d had a feeling all afternoon that Jean wasn’t herself and it worried her. They watched the waiter hurry off with an anxious look on his face, ‘Guess he’s scared the cook will dice him with his machete,’ Marge chuckled in an effort at lifting Jean’s spirits. It had no effect at all. Her friend continued to look glum. ‘So,’ resumed Marge, ‘what proof have you got, if any?’ ‘He’s been awful quiet of late,’ said Jean, ‘sort of faraway look in his eyes and a weird little smile on his face now and then like he was remembering something real nice. When I ask him, he acts kinda guilty, looks away, says it’s nothing. He’s been out on lots of fishing trips with his buddies lately but when I spoke to one the other day, he said he hadn’t seen Jake in an age. So where’s he been all day? Just tell me that!’’ ‘Gee, that’s all a bit circumstantial,’ said Marge who read lots of crime novels and knew about facts and proof, ‘maybe that friend hadn’t been on any trips himself. And looking dopey-eyed is normal with men. Farley looks like that all the time. He’s generally reliving some baseball game in his head.’ ‘Okay, maybe,’ said Jean looking unconvinced, ’but how about the fact that I found a pair of earrings in his pocket?’ Marge nearly choked on her jasmine tea. ‘Earrings?’ ‘Yeh. Big blue clip-ons.’ ‘And you’re sure they’re not yours?’ ‘Of course they’re not mine. I’m not a dope! I do know my own earrings when I see them.’ ‘Still, not really proof, Jean. Maybe he just bought them someplace and meant to give them to you.’ ‘Honey, they aren’t new ones.’ ‘Maybe from a thrift store?’ ‘Hell, no, Marge. He knows darned well I’d never wear such common looking things as these. I threw them in the bin.’ ‘You didn’t challenge him about it?’ ‘Sure I did, I nearly blew his head off. But he made some dumb excuse about them being yours and how you had left them behind at our place when you came round last week. He said he put them in his pocket meaning to give them to Farley when he met him next. Now why do that? Why not give them to me if that was true? I’m more likely to see you before he sees Farley. Anyway, it isn’t true. As if you’d wear earrings like that. I never ever saw you in them. He’s lying in his teeth.’ Marge frowned, ’What sort of earrings exactly? I do have some blue earrings…’ ‘You didn’t have these on last week when you called, Marge. I would have noticed. You wore those yellow ones like flowers.’ ‘Oh, so I did.’ ‘So you see, he’s gotta another broad.’ Marge was silent for a while. She poured out some more tea. ‘You got any ideas who she might be?’ ‘Nope. But I can picture her exactly. I know just what she looks like.’ ‘You do? What’s she like then?’ ‘Well, you know how it is. We all have these pictures of the kinda person we wanna go to bed with, don’t we? Then we go and marry someone entirely the opposite. I’ve no idea why that is but that’s what happens to us all, men and women. I always used to fancy someone blonde and tall and beefcake like that Joe Timola, the baseball hero. And what do I do? I marry Jake who is dark, thin and wiry but has such nice brown eyes.’ ‘Yeh, I know what you mean,’ Marge agreed, ‘and I always liked dark-eyed, romantic looking men and married Farley who’s got grey eyes, a bald head and a beer gut and falls asleep in his chair and snores most nights.’ ‘That’s it. And I know just what sort of girl Jake fancies.’ ‘What sort of girl does he fancy?’ asked Marge curiously. ‘He likes tall, slim, willowy girls with blonde hair falling over their eyes, sort of Veronica Lake, you know.’ ‘Does he?’ said Marge with an air of thoughtful surprise. ‘So I keep imagining him with this gal, all gorgeous and blonde and how he spends the day with her and it makes me feel . . . ’ and Jean began to get choked up. Marge stretched across the table and patted her friend’s hand, ’There, there, Jean, don’t take on so.’ ‘Trouble is I still love him, Marge.’ Jean stared at her hands and the wedding ring on her finger and then picked up the little blue bowl with a sigh and sipped her jasmine tea. ‘How can you say that after the way you say he’s behaved,’ said Marge with a little smile. ‘Oh, easy. You know yourself how smooth he can be; how he can look at you with those gorgeous brown eyes and . . . gee, it makes me wanna cry just thinking about it.” ‘Well,’ said Marge in her down to earth, abrupt manner, ‘If what you say is true, don’t you reckon you’ve wasted enough of your life on that no-good, two-timin’ heel? Why don’t you just leave him for good?’ Tears came to Jean’s eyes and she put down her bowl and twisted the ring around on her finger, her throat heavy with a painful lump of sadness. ‘Oh, Marge, I couldn’t do that! No-one will look after him like I do. And I bet she can’t cook him pancakes like I can either.’ ‘Who cares? That’s his problem, don’t you think?’ Jean frowned, sighed, then looked at her friend who regarded her half-humorously and gave her a sudden little smile. ‘Maybe I’m being crazy, Marge. Do you think I’m being crazy? Am I imagining all this?’ Marge laughed merrily,’ Honey, you are indeed being crazy. You know Jake loves you. But men . . . well, sometimes they play about a bit -or think about it anyway. But it’s nothing, most of the time. Why not just forget your suspicions and put on a pretty dress tonight and make him a stack of pancakes and see what happens?’ Jean smiled a little, ’Well, he’s gotta go downtown to meet his business partner tonight but I’ll do that tomorrow. Surprise him with a really great cooked breakfast. Yeh, I guess you’re right. I feel so much better now I’ve talked it over with you, Marge. You’re such a good friend to me. Don’t know what I’d do without you.’ They paid the bill and rose and went to the powder room. As the two of them washed their hands, they surveyed one another in the mirror and smiled. Jean laughed suddenly, her good humor restored. ‘You do look great today, Marge, I really like it since you dyed your hair blonde, you know, – and boy, have you lost weight. What’s the secret?’ ‘No idea, just keeping off the chips and beer. You really like this colour? Not sure if it suits me,’ said Marge as she passed a comb through her short fair bob and regarded herself in the mirror. ‘It does! You’ve been looking really great lately. Lucky you! I’m so crazy! You know I used to feel jealous of you once?’ ‘You did. What for?’ smiled Marge, getting out her compact and patting her nose with powder, ‘you’re pretty glam yourself, Jean.’ ‘Oh, I used to think maybe Jake fancied you a bit at the start. But I know that’s silly.’ Marge laughed again. She had a sweet, rippling infectious laugh. ‘Oh, Jean . . . I think you’re always worrying too much. Just have faith in poor old Jake just as I do in dear old, beer-gut Farley. We couldn’t live without them really, could we? Besides who’d fancy them . . . they’re both middle aged men.’ ‘You’re right. You’re so sensible, Marge.’ The two women went out into the street and hailed a cab. Dropping Jean off at her home, Marge leant forward and said to the driver, ’Take me back to Chinatown, driver. I’ve left something at the restaurant.’ She got out at Wang’s Chop Suey, paid the driver and told him not to wait. ‘I’ll walk along a bit and look at the shops,’ she said. She entered the lobby of a restaurant further along the street and looked around expectantly. There waiting in the shadows stood tall, slim, good-looking Jake. He came forward and put his arms about her and they kissed each other passionately and urgently. Later that evening as Jake got out of bed and put on his shirt and trousers, he came and kissed Marge again, ruffling up her short, blonde bob of hair. ‘You are the girl of my dreams, babe’ he said. ‘Guess, you’re the guy in mine, Mr. Brown Eyes,’ she replied. He looked a little worried suddenly, ‘But you know, I think Jean may suspect something.’ ‘Not any more,’ said Marge with a smile, ’but just make sure you’ve got the appetite for a great stack of pancakes and syrup at breakfast tomorrow.’ The End.

‘Chop Suey’ by Edward Hopper 1929

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