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.)

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