Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tea and Sawdust

Tea and Sawdust
By Sue Ellis

Kendra hoisted herself into the cab of the log truck with difficulty, thinking for the hundredth time that she should've stuck to waiting tables. At thirty-eight, she couldn't leap up the cab's steps with the same vigor she'd displayed at twenty-five.

She'd met Ray at her old job at Patsy's Diner. "Kendra, you ought to get your CDL and haul logs like I do. You're a capable woman. Plum Creek Paper is looking for drivers and they pay more than what you make here."

So she'd done it, that audacious thing, and now she was a local legend, as fearless as the men on the narrow mountain roads. She was lonesome, though. Men loved to socialize with her, but strictly as buddies. She'd drunk her share of free beer on Saturday nights, and got slaps on the back that had nearly knocked the wind out of her, but that had been it.

Her friend, Beth, owned Mountain Traders, an outpost of naturopathic remedies billeted alongside feed sacks, wire fencing and salt lick blocks. "What you need, Kendra, is a love potion."

"Oh yeah?" Kendra rolled her eyes at Beth. "And who in hell would I give it to?"

"Ray."

"Psshh. Ray's my friend. Besides, he's almost ready to retire."

"So? A little maturity never hurt a man. He's almost as tall as you, and he respects you. You want to be alone your whole life?" Beth scrawled a recipe on scratch paper and shoved it at her:

Aphrodisiac Tea - Small slice gingerroot, 5 whole cloves, 3 cinnamon sticks, 5 peppercorns, 3 dried saw palmetto berries. Steep in two cups boiling water for three minutes. Strain. Add milk, honey and pure vanilla extract.

As they waited in queue at the mill the next afternoon, Ray accepted Kendra's offer of tea from her thermos. He doubtfully sloshed it around in his mouth before spewing it out on the ground. "That's the shittiest stuff I ever tasted, Kendra. What have you got mixed up in there?"

"A love potion."

Ray snorted as he hitched his suspenders and started to walk away, but then he stopped and stood perfectly still, his head cocked to one side. When he turned back to Kendra, he had a bemused expression on his face. She wanted to sink into the ground. He knew--plain as day, that she was six feet, three inches of longing and that he was her best hope. "Maybe I'd better try another taste, then," he said.

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Sue Ellis lives and writes near Spokane, Washington, but she's got roots in The South and still speaks with a nasal twang, especially when she's aggravated. Her short stories, essays and poems have appeared at such places as Christian Science Monitor, The Shine Journal, Flash Me Magazine, Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and Wild Violet.

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