The salt shaker

The setting was impeccable. The tablecloth was pressed, and the bone china shone under the dining room lights. The salt shaker was in the center of the table, a beautiful objet d’art, the salt mixed with white rice so it wouldn’t clump. The old linen napkins were neatly folded and arranged, the color of antique ivory.

Every meal should have its own unique taste, she thought. Appreciated for its natural succulence and complex flavors. A little pepper, yes, that was fine, and garden herbs were a must. Salt impaired the taste buds; spices made them flourish. Her mother told her that. You’ll live a long life if you refrain from salting every morsel, she said. Her mother died in a car accident when she was thirty-five.

The salt shaker was for company, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The main course was leg-of-lamb, straight from the butcher shop, broiled until the juices ran clear, adorned with fresh mint sauce. The lamb was dear, but it was for family. There would be red potatoes with just-so crisped skins and streaming with butter. For dessert, they could choose between a warm peach cobbler or an apple pie brushed with nutmeg and cinnamon. Strong coffee and conversation after the dishes were cleared. Did you know, do you remember….

The salt shaker was a mere decoration, heavy crystal, a generational keepsake. A small thing, really, and unnecessary. If they wanted salt, they could bring their own fast-food packets and dump them on the food. She wouldn’t say a thing. If that’s what they wanted, there was more to heaven and earth than a scattering of salt. But she would disapprove, and they would know it.

Jimmy and Martha, Cody, Janine… they would know. They were old enough to understand. They… Jimmy and Martha were divorced now, weren’t they? He was in Kansas, she was remarried, to that accountant, somewhere in Philadelphia. Five years? Six? Cody, he… something. Terrible accident, drunk driving? No, that was… when was that? And Janine. She was a nurse? Still in high school, and all she could talk about was making the cheerleader squad. Was that right? Names and faces in the mist, but they were coming to dinner.

Ready for your dinner, Mrs. Campbell?”

The nurse was nice. A little too much makeup, but. Was her name Janine?

I’ll set your salt shaker on your night stand, dear,” said the nurse. She was kind. “You should be very careful with that. It looks valuable.”

I think it is. Of course it is,” she said. “I need to take the pie out of the oven at six-thirty. Before they get here. Can you help me remember? I hope there’s enough for everyone.”

***

A very impromptu story. I was thinking about my late grandmother Helen today, and she was one of my favorite people ever. She was so encouraging when I told her I wanted to be a writer all those years ago, and I think she would have liked this, in spite of its dark undertone. She knew the way my mind worked.And she was an amazing cook.)

An invitation

A couple of days ago, I was sent an invitation by MyTrendingStories.com to become a regular contributor to their website. I was a little suspicious. Over the years I’ve been the beneficiary of several people who wanted to give me millions of their dollars, but I still haven’t seen dime one. My little blog has been noticed? Apparently so.

This is a terrific opportunity to expand my audience and hopefully sell a few books. If nothing else, it will encourage me to become a better writer… a little more focused, a little more disciplined.

And no, I’m not giving up this blog. This is my home, and I’ve met and become friends with so many gifted, funny, unique and wonderful people. My contributions to My Trending Stories will be similar to what I do here: fiction, some poetry, observational pieces, whatever strikes my imagination… but in a larger playhouse. (The original email stated they were aiming to become one of the five biggest blog sites on the internet.)

I’m excited/nervous, but I hope to start soon. In the meantime, I’ve got a couple of projects simmering on the stove, so more details to follow.

– Steve

 

Kitten ballet

kittens1

Yep, kittens. Just because. Cricket and May, our newest additions. (Current head count: one dog, one full-grown cat, two kittens, twenty-something chickens {honestly, I’ve lost count}, and one horse.)

Did I mention kittens?

A proper bed

“David,” she whispered, and he stopped.

He did not lay with her here, not here, not between the cragged earth and the lean grasses. They kissed, unrehearsed, and it was a revelation.

He did not lay with her then, or the next day, but on the third day, and it was good. It was upon a proper bed, and watery sunlight pooled under the curtains. Her whispers covered him like a mist. She caressed his throat and wept, but he shook his head. No, he said. Not your fault.

They were delirious waves beneath the blankets. Here. And here. And here. His bruises, her wounds, forgotten, unheeded. The flesh didn’t matter, though it was the flesh they needed, but more: a pain subdued, the slippery balm of sweat soothing each other’s skin.

A proper bed, yes. Not here, churning beneath the scarred pines. They loved properly, in a proper bed.

A leg up

I know I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time and thought on the past, and aging, how then brings more clarity to now… it seems to be a consistent theme in a lot of my writing. And I’ve been thinking about the aches and pains of growing older, because I’ve been experiencing them first hand.

I’m not a complainer by nature. Stuff happens, the body wearies more easily, the thought process becomes a little more slippery. I worry about my memory, but not obsessively. I forget names, forget where I set my coffee cup… small lapses, really. But otherwise, okay. My body aches more, particularly the left leg. Some days it feels like bone has been replaced by a splintered plywood plank. An old injury, never fully healed, it’s been aching for a few weeks now. Some days it’s difficult to write, or rest because of the ache. And, recently, an infected elbow. All clear now (well, mostly clear), with only a bit of “cellular debris” remaining (my doctor’s term. He also called it “squishy gunk”: the technical term).

But today is a good day. I’ve been mowing the lawn, stretching the leg, enjoying the sun and mountain breeze. But not overdoing it. Perhaps there’ll be more substantial writing later. That’s been the most frustrating part. Wanting to, but unable to fully focus. The novel is complete, other than the minor detail of writing it down! That part aches too, because I can’t write fast enough. I don’t think I’ve ever had a story so fully formed in my head before, and I’m so damned slow making sure I get it right. Yes, an obsession. Writers know what I mean. It’s a good obsession, I think. Much better than obsessing about growing old, and hurting along the way.

Have a great weekend, and thanks for reading.

Fingerprints

He could smell the coming rain, the melted copper smack of an approaching storm. Gloom was too soft a word.

Their fingerprints stained the dirt, washed away by a thousand rains, but he knew they were still here, visible only at night, only when the silence was inviolable. He wanted to see them again, to test if they were real, if he was real. He could almost hear the echoes of  their laughter, those first brave kisses, and then….

Yes, they were still here, all of them. They were born here.

“David,” she whispered, and he stopped.

Stratum

The stone age lasted between “I see angels when I rub my eyes, Efrim,” and “this world and me don’t get along so well, buddy.” Almost thirty years, and the stratum ran deep.

Stones thrown into the pond, and the bony dirt convulsed.

She sat alone in the living room, lamp off, the Big Him gone for the night, children outside, co-conspirators in all things summer. The television was on, and there was sound, and there was movement, but it was a prop. She cared nothing for the staged chatter, the rehearsed expressions, the insipid laughter. She rubbed the bruise he set on her hip, rubbed it with her knuckles until it felt raw, and she waited for the night to conceal it, and everything else.

Evening drifted in slow, and the breeze from the Onondaga River, for once, did not stink.

**Excerpt from The Stone Age, a work-in-progress**

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