General Fiction posted July 9, 2019

This work has reached the exceptional level
Not quite meatless


by shaffer40

Ah, one of my favorite dishes, Waldorf salad. Apples, celery, and walnuts atop a bed of crispy Romaine, a vegetarian's delight and a meal in itself. It wasn't surprising that my eyes lit up when I saw a tray full of them, say, twenty-five or thirty, on the cafeteria counter where my friend, Cheryl, and I had stopped for lunch. I reached over and picked one.

I like to think I'm not only saving cows, chickens, pigs, and other sentient creatures from the horrors of the meat industry but that I'm tolerant of all living beings big and small. Many of these life forms were an integral part of my childhood. I gazed, charmed, at fuzzy caterpillars walking across my hand and watched, fascinated, at Army green grasshoppers spitting tobacco on my fingers. I found it fun to hold a garter snake, carefully, just below the head, and peer into its beady little eyes.

Likewise, I thought nothing of arachnids the size of half dollars spinning their silky webs in almost any open space between branches, flower stems, or among the goldenrods that dotted the landscape in autumn. I had no fear--until my big brother Tim issued a grave warning: "Don't ever step on a spider. The poison'll go up your leg, through your body, and when it hits your head, you'll die."

I knew better--I'd just stomped on a big one in the elderberry patch--but at five, this admonishment from my much-larger sibling planted a seed, and thus blossomed a phobia as big as all outdoors.

But spiders were the last thing on my mind that day many years later. Looking forward to a relaxing lunch, Cheryl and I settled at a table, chatting about--what I don't remember--men probably. Fork in hand, I was about to scoop up my first bite when I noticed that one of the walnuts appeared to be moving. Not sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing, I stopped talking mid-sentence and watched in horror as a tiny, mayonnaise-covered leg swung upward and clutched a piece of apple, followed by a brown body and seven more legs.

I didn't scream. With surprising restraint--or perhaps shock--I said nothing, but the involuntary tossing of my hands into the air sent my fork across the room, nearly striking the restaurant manager, who was heading for the kitchen. She was all concern as she approached our table, appropriately apologetic when she learned, from Cheryl, the reason for my labored breathing and inability to speak.

Needless to say, I didn't finish lunch that day or even the coffee-on-the-house the manager delivered, once she was confident I'd be able to exit the place of my own accord and not on a gurney.

We did leave right away, Cheryl and I, with comforting words from my friend as we discussed the probable destination--the garbage disposal--of the hapless arachnid who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"Don't worry," Cheryl quipped, putting the key in the ignition and starting the motor, "this was much more traumatic for the spider than it was for you."

I'm not convinced she was right, but one thing is for sure: the formerly celebrated Waldorf has forever fallen from favor.

True Story Contest contest entry


Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by imperky at

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