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Kosher Salt MAG
Jed shook me up at 9 a.m. The air was tart with sleep breath, and the light streamed through the window like rhinestones. Jed said we had a snow day. When we staggered into the hallway, it smelled savory and warm. Gramps was making his biscuits and gravy.
“Hey! If it isn’t attack of the clones!” Gramps said. “Do you mind going out and getting some salt? I need at least three teaspoons. The gravy won’t taste right without it.”
Jed and I zipped on our hunter-green snowsuits. I think I was wearing Jed’s because the sleeve tasted like the calamine lotion he used for his eczema. We hopped over the stone wall to the Sheridans’ and got a Ziploc bag filled with salt. On the way back to the house, Jed and I had a snow fight.
“Look over here, Pete!” Jed yelled.
I turned, and Jed threw an ice ball straight at my face. I heard a crunch, and I couldn’t tell if it was the sound of my nose or the pounding of the ice on my cheek. My nose dripped red onto the white ground, melting the snow like acid burning metal. I wiped the blood on the snowsuit sleeve and spat on the ice.
To cheer me up, Jed invented a game of Yeti. He was the hunter, I was the Yeti, and the small plastic bag of salt from the Sheridans was our magic, meltless, abominable snowflakes.
The Yankees were playing the Mets in the World Series. Jed and I were 11, and it was the first time we were allowed to stay up past nine. We went to the gas station and bought Goobers and pop; we needed the sugar to keep us awake. Jed ran in circles around the living room, screaming when the Yankees won. Mama put us to bed after the follow-up show. Jed slept in the top bunk, and I slept in the bottom. Jed woke me at three in the morning, groaning like a goat.
“Pete, get me a bucket, now!” Jed whined.
I crawled out of my cocoon-like flannel sheets, avoiding bumping my head on the top. Before my body was all the way out of bed, something came dripping – more like pouring – from the upper bunk. I got the fizzy, peanut-chocolate, sour sick in my hair, which I had been growing long that year. It went down my sweatshirt and collected in the elastic waistband of my thermals. But I couldn’t move. Frozen in that spot under Jed’s bunk, I stayed there, crying until Mama came downstairs. Mama took one look at us and came back with rags, a dishpan, and a red box of salt. Jed stared at me, drenched in his vomit. He was shivering and sweating at the same time.
Mama poured the entire box of salt over the stained shag carpet. She said it worked like kitty litter, absorbing the smell and moisture. I peeled my clothes off and left them draped over the bunk-bed ladder. I took a long, steaming, skin-reddening shower and stayed there until my fingers and feet looked like the outside of a walnut shell.
It was April, right after Jed and I turned 13. After two days of constant rain, the skies turned blue again, and the sun trickled out. Everything was faded and wet and soft. Jed had a girlfriend, so he took her to the movies during the rainstorm. I was alone.
I went out in my bare feet and walked all over the dark moss, looking for snails. They plinked when I dropped them in my old fishbowl. There were four large suction cups stuck against the edge of the bowl. I put the snail bowl in Jed’s room as a surprise when he came home – except Jed walked back from the theater with his arm around Amy, took her to the basement, and locked the door behind him.
If it were still raining, I would have run outside and spread myself out onto the blacktop, smelling the wet asphalt until my bones felt sodden. But it was only wet out, and the sun was drinking all the moisture from the pavement.
I ran into Jed’s room, took the snails into the kitchen, and dumped an entire boxful of salt into the glass bowl. I sat at the kitchen table, watching the snails desperately cling to the glass. The feet slowly shriveled into themselves. The flesh shrunk back into its coiled shield.