Special Ingredient

by Teresa Mariano

The haggard-looking waitress tries to muster a smile as she puts the menus on the table, but her eyes are angry, and we jump every time she slaps down a menu. There are 12 of us – my parents, my siblings and their spouses and children, and Aunt Helen, whose house we are supposed to be at right now – crowded around pushed-together linoleum tables (the wobbly, dingy kind, not the stable, colorful kind) in a drab truck stop somewhere in Pennsylvania on Christmas Day. The plan was to have dinner at Aunt Helen's, but as we were preparing the food, my sister noticed a box of rat poison on the counter and asked Aunt Helen about it. "Oh, that's my sea salt; I use it in everything," Aunt Helen said, squinting at the box through magnifier-lens-thick glasses. My sister looked in the cupboard and found the real, never-opened box of sea salt, and demanded that we leave immediately. The only customers in this cheerless truck stop, we’re relieved by my sister’s discovery, and completely suspicious about how Aunt Helen became a five-time widow.


Teresa Mariano is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys writing fiction and telling tall tales.