“So you see,” concluded Trudie Dawn, “I love him so terribly and Daddy won’t hear of it. And his folks think I come from ‘a decayed and decadent stock.’” She rolled the words between her teeth with a certain relish.
“Hhmm.” Auntie Sutra was usually more sympathetic to the tribulations of her young relatives, but she was distracted. For the past ten minutes the saltshaker had been moving across the table in brief, jerky spasms, unassisted, and this perplexed her.
“Yes, dear.” Auntie Sutra looked up from the provoking shaker and smiled at Trudie Dawn. “And why exactly does your father object?”
Trudie Dawn folded her arms and leaned back against the pink vinyl chair. “He says I’m far too young to marry.”
“And he is quite right. You are far too young to marry. Nineteen—it’s ridiculous! And yet...” she tilted her gray, well-tended head and considered the shaker. It shuddered and inched forward a fraction. “And yet, the women of our family have a longstanding tradition of marrying too young. It suits them; they marry young and they flourish. Or they do not marry at all. And they flourish. Your father is quite aware of this.”
This was true. The Summerville women were wed in their teens, their early twenties, fresh out of high school or college. Occasionally they made it to twenty-five. Beyond that age, no. They had grand passions, affairs, live-in lovers, long-term mates. But no husbands. It was said in the sleepy and suspicious town of Bluebird Springs, Alabama, where the Summervilles had made and lost their fortunes, that when the women of that family were left too long to their own devices, they were claimed by the dark forces and became demon brides: unearthly, seductive creatures with a talent for what could only be called magic.
And those fair, flourishing brides – they too had a touch of the uncanny, but it was considered polite to ignore that.
Auntie Sutra was one of the unmarried.
She still could not understand the spasmodic progress of the saltshaker. If it were headed towards the pepper shaker, its hesitant, almost involuntary movements would make sense: a passion, a pairing of opposites, of light and dark, a salty, peppery joining.
“As for the decayed and decadent stock,” she continued, “that simply means that once we had money and now we have none: nothing else.”
Trudie Dawn was fidgeting with her manicure and obviously in no mood to confront the saltshaker’s aberrant behavior. “Daddy doesn’t even want me to go back to University in the fall,” she continued. “Wants me and Alvin to take some time apart. I know he hopes I’ll lose interest and not go back at all. Says my major’s impractical.”
“What are you studying again, dear?”
Sutra waved at Mabel—it had to be a joke, her name, for she looked too much the part of a gum-chewing, brassy-permed, nasal, powdered waitress named Mabel in a tight pink checked gingham dress to really be one. And yet her name was Mabel.
“Auntie! I’ve told you again and again. Applied Mathematics and Algorithm Engineering. Why won’t anyone listen?” This was addressed to the imperfectly hung tiles of the ceiling.
Mabel had drifted to their table, having paused to shift a neighboring and maladjusted centerpiece dead center.
“Yes, Miss Sutra?”
“Mabel, do you see anything queer about this?” Auntie Sutra indicated the vibrating saltshaker.
Mabel considered it. “Well, it’s certainly out of the ordinary.”
“Does this happen much?”
“Can’t say as it does.” She considered. “Maybe we’re having an earthquake.”
“Pretty subtle for an earthquake.”
“Or it’s possessed of an evil spirit. I’ve seen stranger things at high noon on a hot day. You needing anything else, Miss Sutra?”
“I can always use more ice tea.”
“Will you talk to him, please, Auntie?” Trudie paid the saltshaker nevernomind and leaned on the table, clasping her hands together.
Auntie Sutra smiled kindly on the child. Trudie Dawn was her favorite niece.
Dreadfully impractical major, though. Especially...
“I’ll talk to your father,” she said. “Run home and tell your Daddy I’ll be out there tomorrow afternoon. We’ll get you and this Alvin-boy – must he be an Alvin? – well, there, there, child. We’ll get you all squared away.
And Trudie Dawn squealed with joy, kissed her on her powdered cheek, and sailed away out the flimsy door.
Auntie Sutra was determined not to leave until the saltshaker made up its mind one way or the other. It was headed for her handbag, an ancient thing of cracked black leather, stuffed with everything from tissues to violet drops, belladonna and six different shades of lipstick. She wondered if the shaker would stop or find a way around.
It stopped. What’s more, it tapped impatiently against the burnished surface of her purse. Carefully, she undid the -- [End of Preview.]