Tiny snappy specks. Float through the nostrils, zinging, tingling, making us sneeze. Mixing with the muggy steam that hovers about the kitchen, mother places checkered table mats in a soft pile, waiting to be set out. We do not turn three times in a circle when we spill the pepper, instead we curse, mutter and sweep it into our hands, the brown flakes mixed with dots of white and tan, like a cup of earth settled into the lines in our palms.What fortunes lie in pepper scattered across the countertop? We pinch it and toss it in the pot, where it sinks through hissing bubbles, boiling. And when we ladle soup into our earthenware bowls as the dinner bell sounds, “too hot, too spicy,” we ask for salt. The zing and zest of cracked black pepper, properly fulfilling its title “seasoning” floats atop a slick puddle of oil where men with prominent noses and tight curly hair place a tray of bread with a flourish. From warmer shores, from sunnier times, it comes to reside inside metallic sides, lives in little shaker houses, graces the starched collars of dinner time. Always set out in a pair, pepper is never alone. Dark woman wrapped in brightly brazen colors glide about, white white teeth shine out of the darkness as they stretch their lips wide to cry “gumbo, gumbo, hot n’ ready.” Later they will clasp hands, boas wrapped around their supple shoulders, and dance for Ms. Lou. There’s always a Lou. A wintertime friend, bringing heat and life to dishes while the snow flakes down, white white, against the skeleton trees. Frozen rivers and sheets of ice, no match for our gumbo hot and ready tonight and though a haze hangs over our kitchen table, we have checkered table cloths, we have boas in our basements, we have salt and pepper, pepper and salt.