"She got bit, but I think it wasn't real bad. They got her to the
hospital right away."
"Why didn't they put him in jail?"
"I don't know. I guess the bite didn't swell up much. Her husband
said it might have been their pet raccoon that bit her."
"A box of rattlesnakes? Who's got a box of rattlesnakes?"
Jackson dumped the mussels into the pan, put the top on, and
looked at his watch. Soup bowls were stacked on the counter. The loaf
of French bread, from the Cornucopia, was on the table.
"Willa Fern's husband, that's who. He's a holiness preacher down
in Little Egypt. Southern tip of Illinois, across the Ohio River from
"Is that around here?" Pam asked. Pam was from California.
"Four hundred miles."
"Why does he have a box of rattlesnakes?"
"They handle them during their services."
"Is that legal?"
Claire poured herself some more wine. "Jackson, I'm going to go
with you when you pick that poor woman up at the Henrietta Hill.
She's going to need a female friend."
"There's no 'we'll see' about it. She's going to need some looking
after. Imagine, your husband forcing you to put your arm in a box of
rattlesnakes. And when you try to defend yourself you get thrown
in jail. This country is unbelievable."
Jackson specialized in simple French or French-type dishes. He
had both volumes of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and a copy of Larousse Gastronomique in French, but the only cookbook he used regularly was his first, which he'd bought at Kroch's
and Brentano's in Chicago. The Flavor of France. A picture on every
page (of France, not the food), and no recipe was longer than a half
a page. He hadn't given a little intimate dinner in two years, and he
was looking forward to the buzz - from the wine, and from the
possibility of a strange woman spending the night.
Claire asked Ray to say grace and insisted that they all hold hands.
Jackson, sitting across from Father Ray, held hands with Claire and
with Pam, ready to disengage his hand before Claire gave it a special
little squeeze. Pam's holding strategy was neutral. She had no special
message to communicate. No invitation.
He put a side of salmon on the grill so it would cook while they
ate their first course, moules marinières. One thing he'd learned
from Claude was how to give a nice rhythm to a meal by serving two
courses of more or less equal weight. The salmon was done by the
time he'd cleared the mussel plates, so they picked up the thread of
the earlier conversation - ShoppingKart.com - and then Father
Ray pointed out that today was not only Jackson's birthday, and not
only the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, but also the
Feast of the Transfiguration. There was a connection in Father
Ray's mind because his grandfather had been killed at Okinawa
"Some churches have started to celebrate the Transfiguration on
the Sunday before Lent. It's not a bad idea, actually. It makes a nice
transition between Epiphany and Lent. But I don't know. It's always
been on August sixth, as long as I can remember."
By the time the conversation turned back to the heat and the
humidity, the salmon was flaking nicely. It was beautiful. Jackson
served it on large white plates that had room for the salad. A wonderful
salad. Spring mix. All kinds of herbs and lettuces in special
"You know what I'm thankful for?" he said. "I'm thankful for the
salads in these little bags. It took them a long time to figure out how
to get the bags right. Each bag is a miniature biosphere. You have to
have a different kind of atmosphere for every kind of salad. You get
the wrong kind of ink on the package, bang, your salad is suffocated.
Jackson didn't keep any brandy or cognac around, no hard liquor in
the house. So they drank more wine. Jackson had always enjoyed
unbuttoned after- dinner talk, but he was thinking of introducing
a system of entertaining in which people came over for a good meal
and then left right away. That's the way his parents had entertained.
Before they'd lived in Paris. But it would be hard to explain this to
friends and colleagues when you were inviting them to dinner. I'd
like you to come for dinner, but I want you to leave as soon as we're
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