As so many stories do, it started with a pickled sausage.
“We should pull over,” Karen says.
“What do you mean,” I say, channeling our father. “We’re making good time.”
We’ve been on the road for almost four hours, over three-quarters of that time in the dark. At our destination, it is snowing, but here, on Hwy 61, there is nothing but rain, surprising curves in the road, and the silent, unseen expanse of Lake Superior, just over there, to our right.
I can feel Karen staring at me in the dark. “I’m either going to starve,” she says gravely, “or I’m going to pee my pants. Your choice.”
“I’m feeling a bit peckish myself,” I say.
We pull over just north of Duluth, certain that we are near our destination.
“Oh, no, honey,” says the gal at the cash register. “You got about another 75 miles.”
Karen and I look at each. “How ‘bout we double down on the snacks?” she says.
And there, in the aisle of pressed corn flour, sunflower seeds and dried meats is our old childhood friend.
“Look at this,” she says.
Marinating in a vinegary brine, encased in plastic and ready for public consumption, is my father’s idea of a road snack. Friend to the pickled egg, compatriot of pork cracklin’, our snacks growing up all had something of an edge to them.
We are staring at a pickled sausage.
We look at each other.
“I have to have it,” I say.
She looks at the packaging. “It’s practically guaranteed to be made of mechanically separated meats,” she says.
“It’s just the right amount of nostalgia and horror,” I say.
“Plus,” she says, pointing at the label, “there’s a 1-800 number. Something I look for in a snack food.”
“Fresh is over-rated.”
We buy two.
Over the course of our weekend, however, we forget about the pickled treats.
Until I find them, two weeks later, in my purse.
And since finding them, I’ve been sending her pictures.
Her pickled snack folding my laundry.
Her pickled snack taking an early morning seat on the bus.
Her pickled snack in front of a computer screen working on a spreadsheet.
Her pickled snack posing as a doctor.
“You have a lot of time on your hands,” she texts me. “What goes on in your head?”
“You have no idea,” I say.
The sausage, of course, will go back to Karen, as is only right. It’s her pickled meat; she paid for it.
Still, I will miss it.
Karen’s pickled meat snack enjoys long walks in the woods, bubble baths, and honesty. Her pet peeves are hypocrites, people who are late, and insincerity. She hopes to meet the sausage of her dreams in a nice deli some day.