Rose Salt

by Embe Charpentier

On a Monday, crimson roses arrive.

The bruises Wesley left on my arm are as good as a signature.

My brothers rib me. “Marcy, who’s your boyfriend?”

“A boyfriend? No way.” I heave the roses out the kitchen window, vase and all.



In culinary arts class, tangy basil and tomato tease me. I swipe my finger into my red sauce.

Barry winks at me as he spoons marinara on his crust. “You may be prettier than me, but my food’s gonna taste better than yours.”

“So cheesy,” I tell him. “Not the pizza – you.”

His wide lips and red headband stretch tight.  Tiny dreads bounce as he tosses the cheese. He glances at my station. “You gonna eat it when you’re done cookin’?” he asks. “I got a little brother an’ he’d like it.”

Our pizzas, gooey cheese sides stuck together, still steam while he packs them in foil.



Mom used to put on her chef’s hat for “do-not-miss dinner.”  Every Sunday, my four brothers and my dad sat down five minutes early just to pound their knives and forks. They hollered, “We want food” until Mom brought biscuits.  She basted roast beef in wine, mashed buttered potatoes, candied gingered yams, and iced chocolate cake with fudge. During football season, we tailgated in the driveway.

But heartbeats can go missing. When the two hands that hold you up fall away, you dissolve until the hole at the base of the world spits you back out. Me and the guys – at least we had each other.

Every Sunday for a year, I fried sliders, burned skinny frozen fries, and boiled undrained cans of peas. I sliced Twinkies and dumped pumpkin pie filling over them.

One morning about a year ago, my puffy eyes opened. I turned down whiny country radio so I could hear the wind whistle. I told my dad I had to go back to school.

Now I roast chicken with rosemary, bake sweet potato casserole, and whip up a chess pie without a cookbook. Every Sunday, I bask in aromas and noise.

Dad gives me a kiss on the forehead. “You look good in her hat,” he says.



Every Friday and Saturday, Dad lets me drive the Pontiac to the Under 21 Dance.  One Saturday, Wesley asks me to go out the back door with him. I won’t. He leans against the bar while I dance. I make sure to leave when my friends do, but my car won’t start. Wesley and I trade crimson slaps so hard I end up on the ground. He drives off in his father’s Caddy. On Monday, it’s the rose parade.

One new-moon night, I’m alone with him. My knuckles crash into his jaw. My back bashes the Pontiac’s side mirror. I drive away shaking.

Roses again.  I move them into my room before anyone sees them. I pull every petal off and leave the thornless stems sticking out of the dry vase.



While I toss the crumble on my fried apple casserole, I ask Barry to the dance.

“Everybody there’s white.” His voice catches like a broken zipper.

I say, “So what,” even though I know it’s, “So plenty.”

My friends tell me they’ll back us up. Dirty looks don’t scare poor girls. Seeing Barry on my arm gets Wesley leaving skid marks.

Barry sings when he dances close. I drive him home to a mustard-colored ranch house. He kisses me goodbye like he’s pancakes and I’m maple syrup. I don’t remember the ride home.



On a spring Sunday, Barry brings purple pansies ripped from his garden. The root dirt rolls into the sink. “Wish we could eat’ em,” he says. “There’s a recipe for ’em in our cookbook.”

I run upstairs. Those old rose petals grind up fine in the spice mill. Milled blossoms tint salt pink.

Dad brings home the chicken stock. He stares at Barry for a tick-tocking minute before saying hello. He calls me into the dining room to check the silverware.

“I didn’t know Barry was black,” he says.

I lean back against the wall with my arms crossed. “Your point?”

“Just that you didn’t tell me.” He picks up a spoon and wipes it with the napkin. “He’s welcome. It’ll be nice to have seven at the table.”

The Temptations sing our kneading music. Barry rolls dough; I chop celery. He beats eggs; I whip cream. Dad peels potatoes and grills Barry with questions.

“Why you helpin’ today, Dad?” My hands tremble a little as I slide a cast-iron pan out of the oven.

“Should’ve cooked a long time ago. Not like I don’t know how.” His head and voice dip low.

“Scrambled eggs and grits? Maybe?” I sit Mom’s hat crooked on his head.

He taps my cheek with a potholder. “Wisecrackin’ on me, Marcy?”

I explode flour all over his nose with a pop of my fingers.

“Lemme get you a towel, Mr. Reed,” Barry says.

“You kiss-up.” I toss flour on Barry’s face. Soon bleached clouds soar. My giggles roll at full boil.

Dad wipes his face with a towel. “You two are cleaning this up.” His stern command doesn’t surprise me or fool Barry. Dad winks as he leaves the kitchen.

“That eye-battin’ was for me, right?” asks Barry. He needs the elbow I shoot him in the ribs.

That night, my brothers pound on the table. My idea? A delicate pansy on each plate.  My brother Mark gulps a whole blossom down. Barry pats Mark on the back as he coughs and everybody laughs.

“It’s a garnish, you clown.” I shouldn’t roll my eyes – it’s childish. I do it anyway.

“Boyfriends make some girls act all fancy.” Mark tries to grumble, but he can’t. He’s smiling too loud.

After the first table-pounding in a long time, we eat slow and feast deep. The table groans under seven plates of chicken and dumplings, mashed potatoes, and steamed asparagus, sprinkled with rose-pink salt.


Embe Charpentier spends her days teaching English as a Second Language and her nights typing furiously. She’s been published numerous times this year in such venues as Polydras Review, Gambling the Aisle, and LitroNY. Kellan Books is publishing her first novel, Beloved Dead, in early 2016.