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Winners' Press Release: English | Italian
Second Round Finalist (English)
6 Finalist (English)
2nd Place Winner of
the Literary Contest:
"Words of Salt"
Natascha Hildebrandt is a writer who lives in New York City with her cat, Orlando. She recently wrote a story about him for The London Times, proving that your cat can get you published. She is working on a novel and teaches Pilates.
THE LOVE OF SALT
At the beginning of the world the King of Pepper was longing for companionship. His life was filled with work but there was an undercurrent of incompleteness. He went about his duties as leader with grace and kindness, although he was also capable of strong decisions. The people loved his charisma. They admired his tall, dark looks and strength of character. And as with most celebrities and leaders, large groups of people would gather whenever he appeared. But he drank his tea alone and this began to bother him.
One day he noticed a pale face in the crowd. A lovely young woman dressed all in white. It occurred to him that he had seen her before. Later that evening her ghostly image floated back into his mind as memory.
Days later he saw her again. He had gone to a talk on trade agreements for spices. It was a lengthy conference during which their eyes met repeatedly. Like a grain of rice in his shoe, he could not get her out of his mind. He had no sense of what her class might be as she seemed to blend into every environment and embellish the looks of anyone she stood beside. Most of all he noticed her perfect white skin and remembered her name. Salt.
He invited her to dine at the palace. They ate together and talked effortlessly and through her presence everything tasted more seasoned, the colors around him were brighter, and even his own presence seemed enhanced. After she left he asked if someone new had cooked the meal. No, his favorite menu was exactly the same, prepared by his favorite chef. Once she had gone the food tasted bland and unbalanced and he missed her.
Next he took her on a picnic by the river. They reclined on the bank and he gently kissed her neck.
As soon as they parted he felt incomplete.
At last as they walked by the seaside he asked her to be his wife. She wanted to accept, but warned him that she could be overpowering, even dangerous. She was a very passionate woman. He was unconcerned. I am rough, but grounded, he told her. We complement each other, like sour and sweet. So she took his hand in hers, their white and black fingers interlaced, and said yes.
And then they traveled. The more the King of Pepper got to know his Queen, the more convinced he became of her uniqueness and importance, and the more he appreciated her power and the effect she had on everyone and everything around her. Animals flocked to her and licked her skin. It seemed everywhere she went she left a part of herself. She would weep salty tears at the sight of tragedy and sweat in the sun. She cried easily and often and when he tried to comfort her she would explain simply that this was how she expressed her sadness and grief for others and it was all right. In many places she would cry until her tears became lakes. Afterwards anything in the path of her tears was cleaner. When he made love to her she tasted of the sea like an oyster. For all her passion she could draw the moisture from you. Exhausted at times, he would crack his back, twisting at the waist, chipping off little parts of himself, and then feel renewed to be beside her. He realized that she was more indispensable than he. She was essential.
As they left the places they visited, people gathered up what they could of her. For many thousands of years they traveled and saw the world and she would cry with grief and sometimes happiness at everything they encountered. Stories were told about her and written down. One was about a woman turned into a pillar. The King found this one particularly ironic. His wife did not believe in looking back. Payments were made in cakes of her, she was sometimes unfairly taxed, and trade routes were established in her name. Sometimes she was difficult to obtain. Deposits were blasted from rocks with gunpowder, they mined her, and collected her from the ocean. She could preserve pickles and fish. He marveled that even when a fish came from the saltiest sea, adding more salt in cooking made it tastier, a subtle reminder of her power. She was so prized that religious significance was attributed to her and covenants were made in her name. Peace talks were named after her. And the King, though now clearly in the background, was almost always at her side. His pride was for her. Sometimes he would quietly be grateful that at least he was taller and could see over her head because though she was his wife, he felt she did not really belong to him. For this she was too powerful. She was everywhere: in women’s wombs as the child grew, in athletes’ electrolyte replacement drinks, in guinea pig cages and at the farms of goat cheese makers.
It was perhaps the greatest love story ever. The King of Pepper and the Queen of Salt transcended time, race, culture, and were always in fashion.
To this day they stand together on every table except for a few great restaurants where the King has graciously allowed that he stand alone. Here the chefs believe that through their training and talent, salt has been added so perfectly in advance behind the scenes that it would be an insult to require more of her.
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