Grandpa fell off the commode Saturday night, busting open his head on the edge of the already cracked white porcelain sink. Hubby Frank drove home drunk from the afternoon show at Butts and Bolts gentlemen’s club on his Harley Fat Boy, fighting off multiple images of oncoming headlights in several lanes of traffic. The kids punched each other in their thick numb skulls for five minutes straight like mixed martial arts maniacs in a cage match. Deep sobs from 3-year-old Beth wracked her skinny body fragile as uncooked angel hair pasta. Wet sniffles Waylon wiped away with the back of his hand sent the 4-year-old porker into an asthma fit of coughs and snotty spit.
Bonita didn’t know what to do.
So she made hot dog soup.
“Hot dog soup,” she screamed when the pot boiled over and greasy water hissed in the burner flame.
The kids dried their eyes. Metal legs on Grandpa’s walker slammed against the wall as he dripped blood on the carpet and made his way down the steps. Frank opened another beer at the kitchen table as the gassy pop of the Pabst beer can blasted off in Bonita’s head like an exploding bottle rocket. The sound scared her enough lately to cut back on her own drinking though her pill consumption increased whenever she backed off the bourbon. On weekends Frank drank can after can until he finished the case. This being Saturday Bonita figured he had at least a dozen left in the refrigerator before he drove blinded by beer to the distributor for more before they closed.
Cleaning motorcycle grease from under his fingernails with his Buck knife, Frank drooled when she asked if he was hungry for hot dog soup. The hair on the back of her neck stood up straight like soldiers facing a firing squad when he pulled his chair up closer to the table, scraping against greasy linoleum gritty with stones from his black engineer boots grating like a stock car pulling up to the gravel starting line at a dirt track. Fresh boiled frankfurters (an alias her husband once used – Frank Furter – when he applied for a Visa card) always smelled good.
Hot dog soup soothed the savage outlaw biker.
Bonita was cooking high on meth when she first concocted the dish, pouring six cans of generic tomato soup with equal amounts of tap water into the 12-quart stock pot her mother left her when she died from COVID, dicing three packs of government-issued food stamp hot dogs, chopping four raw Bermuda onions and adding four dented cans of baked beans.
“You can add whatever else you like to personalize the dish,” Bonita told her sister Brandi when she shared the recipe.
Grandpa dumped half a jar of sweet pickle relish in his soup. Bonita poured Tabasco sauce in hers. Waylon mashed up a fistful of barbecue potato chips and Beth sprinkled M&M peanuts into her favorite pink Tupperware bowl. That first night, with Frank working the door at the strip club, just the four of them sat around the small table laughing and slurping soup almost like a normal family.
Everybody loved hot dog soup.
They weren’t a normal family, though.
When Bonita heard Frank’s Harley pull in when he came home late, she raced to put his meal on the table so he could sit right down like the man of the house. Before he smoked a joint and went to bed she heard him with a spoon scratching deep into the pot, quietly seething and hating him more than ever when the bottom feeding bastard got digging around the pot. But what could she do? This was the same animal that more than once used his soup spoon to dig into the crack of his ass to scratch an itch before going back to shoveling grub down his gullet.
The next day when she made another batch Grandpa ate his in his room and yelled down for Frank to bring him up another bowl. Hot dog soup eventually became regular Sunday dinner because some of Frank’s brothers in his one-percenter Crushers Motorcycle Club almost always stopped by to eat, especially when their old ladies kicked them out of the house or when they just got paroled and craved a home-cooked meal. Frank once even suggested a tag team hot dog soup wrestling contest before realizing how such a fandango would not be cost effective for already slim club finances.
Bonita made her specialty every time chaos hit the house, which happened often, sometimes calling the culinary concoction a tradition like pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day. The same morning state drug agents broke through the second floor bedroom window from the roof she went nuts opening cans, chopping tube steaks and cooking up a steaming pot at 4:00 in the morning.
Beth and Waylon, who Frank nicknamed Wiener, were stuffing their smeared faces before they went to school. Frank ate right out of the pot when he made bail and came home at noon without mentioning how he had agreed to cooperate with the government. In turn, Bonita kept to herself the knowledge about how a married cop who worked part-time bouncing at the Butts and Bolts and was dating Brandi heard the rumor from his steroid dealer and told Brandi who called Bonita to say her husband was a dirty rotten snitch.
The next time Grandpa fell off the commode he spent three days in the hospital with a concussion. Security guards buckled thick cracked brown leather restraints around his wrists and ankles when he grabbed a nurse by the waist and hung on with both hands demanding hot dog soup and a kiss.
More pandemonium struck the night somebody stole Frank’s bike. Bonita screamed when she went to lock the front door before going to bed and saw nothing but a big black oil stain where Frank always parked his beloved soft tail cruiser with flaming skulls hand-painted on the gas tank.
“Frank, Frank, somebody stole your scooter!”
The video Bonita shot on her phone shows Frank running around the street cursing in his underwear and clodhopper motorcycle boots with the dull silver buckles on the sides. When it dawned on him his bike was really gone he started to howl and beat his head against a telephone pole. In the home movie, wearing a moron’s grin, Grandpa sticks his face in front of the camera.
“Time to make the hot dog soup,” he says, sticking out his tongue and wiggling it like the front row flesh freaks Frank regularly punched out in the Butts and Bolts nude strip club.
So Bonita did, leaving the pot to simmer for hours on the stove. This time, though, when she turned off the meal she filled and covered the biggest tureen she owned with tin foil and put the chow in the refrigerator, writing Frank’s name real big in red crayon on a piece of Wiener’s school notebook paper before taping it to the side of the deep dish.
She left half-a-pot of hot dog soup sitting on the stove.
Packing a suitcase for herself, a duffle bag for Grandpa and knapsacks for the kids, she bundled them all into the back seat of the flat black 1977 Buick Regal she bought for $8,000 when she was dancing at the Butts and Bolts. By midnight Bonita, Beth, Waylon and Grandpa were sound asleep at Brandi’s apartment.
“Dinner, sweetheart,” said the note on the dish in the refrigerator.
When Frank woke up still loaded, he smelled the spicy aroma, spotted the half-full pot on the stove and dug into the cold, thick mix settled in its own juices just like he liked it. He dropped five stale hot dog buns into the broth like depth charges in a sea war, devouring the meal standing up, never opening the refrigerator, thinking Bonita must have added a new ingredient that nicely sweetened his soup.
The rat poison tasted like orange blossom honey.
When Bonita’s trial started her lawyer told the jury Bonita poisoned the soup in the pot on the stove to draw the sewer rat the size of a football that for the past week had chewed his way into the kitchen cupboard posing a danger to her family. Frank was a jerk, the lawyer explained, who never did anything to help around the house and didn’t care if the rat ripped out the children’s throats as they slept.
The lawyer said Bonita warned her husband at least twice not to eat the soup on the stove (a big fat lie), going so far as to make sure he knew his scrumptious dinner was in the refrigerator with his name written on the dish. The lawyer entered into evidence a photo of Bonita’s note on the soup in her handwriting.
Of course she didn’t add poison to the soup in the refrigerator.
Posing in the blue, pinstriped suit he bought at the Men’s Warehouse, Bonita’s lawyer said and never in a million years thought Frank would be so hammered he’d forget and eat the poisoned stove soup when she took the kids and her aging father to her sister’s for a sleepover with popcorn and a Disney video. The lawyer put his hand over his heart like he was pledging allegiance to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Grandpa testified at trial, corroborating the rodent tale.
“Everybody loves hot dog soup,” he swore under oath. “Even rats.”
In closing arguments Bonita’s lawyer said, “She loved her husband so much she taped a note on his favorite soup. You can lead a horse’s ass to water but you can’t make him drink.”
“Objection,” the prosecutor yelled, spinning om the heel of his black Italian loafer to give the finger to the defense lawyer.
“Overruled,” said the judge who Bonita impressed with her tears and swollen, deep cleavage on the witness stand.
The jury was out less than an hour before returning with an acquittal.
When Bonita got home from court she called a celebratory family meeting in the kitchen to announce the insurance company agreed to release the family’s $200,000 accidental death benefit first thing in the morning.
“Life will be better than ever, kids,” Bonita said. “Now, guess what I’m making for dinner?”
Beth and Wiener barked with the wild fervor of hungry Dobermans.
“Hot dog soup,” Grandpa slobbered so loudly his two hearing aids whistled.
That night at the table everybody gobbled down seconds.
Bonita ate Frank’s share.
Then she asked for thirds.