topic: CONNECTED medium: TEXT
Liesl Schillinger, of the New York Times Book Review, had this to say about “Pho Therapy”:
Anna Huddleston’s simple, funny, big-hearted story portrays two friends (former college roommates) who are divided by geography (one is in Russia, the other in Belgium) but united by Skype, man trouble, and two bowls of chicken soup. Technology strengthens their connection—alone in their distant cities, they check in on each other via 360º laptop cam, so nobody feels lonely. Instead of using the net to insulate themselves from others, they use it to magnify their bond.
One of the Winners of the “Connected” Contest
My foot was turning blue. I was sitting on the floor next to my bed, my right foot at an improbable angle, and the phone was still on the couch, by the window but a million miles away. The pain was just now starting to register and unable to move, I heard myself making a mewing sound like a cat locked in a bathroom. Tears were leaving salty tracks on my cheeks and running into my mouth. Could my toes still wiggle? Maybe.
Who does just fine hopping around on Russian black ice and then twists their ankle reaching for their phone?
But Alice wouldn’t give up. She was in Brussels, three hours ahead of me in St. Petersburg. At 10 am, it was just starting to get light here, but still so cold there was no need to wobble to the freezer for a pack of frozen ravioli, Russian breakfast of champs. She was now on Skype. I wrapped myself in a blanket and pulled the laptop off the armchair by the cord. Are you busy?” she said, her face filling up half the screen. “I fell out of bed,” I sobbed. “You called and apparently my foot had fallen asleep because it wasn’t there when I was trying to step on it. It’s your fault.” “I am sorry,” Alice said. “But that once again reminds us that you’ve got to start manifesting your true love requests. You’ve been divorced for two years now. That’s too long! And if you had someone there with you, you wouldn’t be on the floor alone right now.”
“Yeah, yeah. So why did you get me out of bed anyway?”
“Bernard left me.”
“I thought you guys were taking showers together. What happened?”
“He just walked out the door. Said he was picking up his shirts from the drycleaner’s and never came back. That was five hours ago.”
I decided that it was bad timing to remind my best friend about love manifestations and how they tend to work in peculiar ways. Maybe she’d screwed up the formula somehow when asking for a perfect man with a yacht. Maybe he also came with a wife, and three kids, and an election coming up. With both hands, I readjusted my foot and put a pillow under it. Climbing back in bed seemed like too much work. “Did he take his stuff?” I asked. “He never kept a whole lot of stuff here,” Alice said. “Mostly socks and condoms.”
That was the problem with most of Alice’s men. Since when we shared a college dorm room ten years earlier, all through her “pick up a stranger on the ski slope” phase to her high-profile accounting job for the European Union, her men didn’t come with much more than condoms. “What if I am alone for the rest of my days?” Alice was whining. “I am such a horrible person, no one will ever want to be with me.” “So it will be two of us lonely people,” I said, even more sure of this looking out into a gray Russian morning, my ankle throbbing. “We will have our own lesbian club and only invite gay men to join because there is no risk of getting hurt.”
“I think we need therapy, both of us,” Alice said.
“You mean right now? You have a shrink on retainer?”
“No, but I can be downstairs at a Vietnamese place in time it takes you to make a cup of ramen or whatever that instant cancer-causing stuff you love so much. Plus it will give you a motivation to make it to the freezer and show your foot some love. So soup
How do you make it to the kitchen on one foot and with a computer in your arms?
Very carefully. Alice Skyped again just as I was pouring boiling water into my mug, creating “Wild Crimini Mushroom with a touch of Tarragon” soup out of brown powder dotted with miniscule croutons. “You ready?” she said. “I always come here when I need soup. The place is kind of ugly but they make the best Pho.” With that, she picked up her laptop and gave me a 360 view of the establishment.
“Hey, don’t shake me. I can’t see worth a damn,” I said. All I could make out were bamboo walls covered with posters of oriental beauties, who thanks for a slow connection, looked like aliens with flowers in their hair. Her soup arrived, and I took a sip of mine. The only thing better would have been a shot of vodka. Alice tilted her screen so that the camera pointed straight onto the peaks and valleys of her Pho. “I think they make the wontons from scratch here,” she said and made an indistinguishable “mmm” noise and I burned my tongue on a too big of a gulp. A bag of ravioli was starting to melt on my foot.
It was comforting to know that someone so far away could be so close, that you could share a meal without leaving your house and feel the same connection that you did when sharing a table. The same urge to stay connected that made you trip all over yourself also brought the pleasure of soup therapy and the knowledge that wherever you are in the world, you are not alone.
“And then you bite into a shrimp, and it’s perfect, not rubbery or anything,” Alice went on. “Check out this color too. Just the right shade of pink,” Alice fished one out and brought it close to the camera for me to inspect. My stomach began to growl. I said,
“Would you like to see my purple foot?”