Long Live the Salmon King

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The canulier received the news that the salmon king had died.  She heard it from the scone man, who asked the Latvian sausage maker and the Japanese salad dressing specialist, then the fiery Italian pesto girl until he finally got an address. I knew you’d want to know, he wrote.

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For years they worked the weekend farmer’s markets together, sharing the Brotherhood of Waking Up Before Dawn On Weekend Mornings, rewarded by an eyeful of sunrise as they drove to the market,  shivering in light jackets and hats as they unloaded their trucks in the early morning chill, breath pluming as they traded gibes and offered each other help erecting their tents with the fairground peaks. The salmon king would direct others to help the canulier, who was small.   His muscles are younger than my back! he’d laugh as the jerky man would scurry to lend a hand.

Getting set up is a 30 minute endeavor unless you are the salmon king, who kept his crab cakes and wild Alaskan salmon steaks in a cooler, which he sat on, behind a table: voila, a market stall. Within five minutes of driving up and calling out his halloos to the canulier and the sausage maker he’d be open for business, chatting up the line of customers who seemed to apparate from other dimensions to queue up in front of his stand before his market mates had rung their first sale.  The not inconsiderable cost of fresh, wild caught Alaskan seafood is not a deterrent to the crowd at this market, one of whom once left a Tesla key fob among the canulier’s towers of pastry boxes.  She really knows how to barter, the Salmon King could be heard remarking.

copper-canele-moldThe canulier could be seen slipping behind the salmon king as he gabbed with his customers, leaving behind a crisp white bag of pastry – usually vanilla, though he favored pineapple and lemon too. In between waves of customers the salmon king would hold up the depleted white bag and call out to the canulier (“Thanks, Canelé Queen!”) then  turn to talk  back pain with the gruff, grudgingly friendly sausage maker. When he joked with the pretty salsa girl with her long hair dyed mermaid colors, their laughter would invariably bring the young pickle man, something the canulier suspected the salmon king of planning, though he would never say.

The rules of the market are clear: all tents must stay up til the end of the afternoon, but the salmon king has been there the longest of anyone and when he’s sold out he’s sold out, what’s the sense in waiting around? He’d spend five minutes loading up and before noon he’d be making his rounds to say goodbye til next weekend. Often, he’d save back a package of salmon or crab cakes for the canulier and drop them at her stall when she wasn’t looking, then  drive off with a honk and a wave of  his suntanned arm out the window of his old Datsun.

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The last time she saw the salmon king, the canulier didn’t know it was the last time, and neither did he.  She returned his wave, packed up her truck that just rolled over 250,000 miles and made the long trek home. She would be up before dawn the next day, but for now the window was cranked down to let the eucalyptus-scented air rush through her hair, and there was the happy  surprise of the salmon king’s gift of crab cakes on ice resting in the passenger seat. Barter anything good? came the husband’s text, and she sent the delicious answer All hail the salmon king. The end of the weekend beckoned with the jewel-like flash of sunset on a glass of wine.

The canulier’s fine husband prepared the crab cakes for dinner;  they opened the window and talked and ate with the mild California air breathing its fragrance into the room. It was such simple perfection the canulier felt her heart expand until it threatened to escape her chest, like light leaving a star.  They watched the sun’s slow descent into the Pacific, lighting up the distant blue of the water with a glittering red shimmerlane that stretched  like a path you could walk straight to the edge of the world itself, a sight the canulier would immediately remember when the sad news reached her that the salmon king had died.

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RIP Dave