Synaloepha (sin-a-lif’-a): Omitting one of two vowels which occur together at the end of one word and the beginning of another. A contraction of neighboring syllables. A kind of metaplasm.

I was scrubbing the cushion like a maniac. I had spilled some of Mother’s special pickle relish on the sofa—‘bout one of the worst things that could possibly happen.

She made the relish in 1993 and it had magically “retained” its freshness. Every morning, Mother used tweezers to put a microscopic bit of her relish on her lightly toasted English muffin, along with Nutella and horseradish. She swore the mix, since it contained the ageless relish, was keeping her young, although to anybody who bothered to look, Mother was aging like the rest of us.

I had spilled the relish on the sofa when I was headed to the kitchen to pour it down the sink; to replace it with a fresh batch. I did that every week. In a way, dumping the relish was mean, but in another way it was a caring gesture that I made to keep Mother feeling good. I thought it was harmless until she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

When she got home from the doctor, instead of being angry and sad, she told me to make ten English muffins. I made them with the usual toppings. Over the course of five hours, she ate them all and then went to bed.

The next morning she ate all of the remaining relish. I didn’t have the heart to tell her the jar was filled with relish I had gotten at the supermarket two days ago. After she vomited, she watched CNN all day, cursing at the TV as usual. Six months later, she died. She was buried in a beautiful cemetery with a valley view. I know this is crazy, but every week I leave a new jar of relish on her grave. I was ashamed for what I had done, but at the same time, I was glad I had done it. Shame and happiness keep grating against each other in my conscience—in my soul. I think the opposition between good and bad engaged by a single deed is operative in everything we do. We may not be aware of it, but “good” may have bad consequences, and “bad” may have good consequences. Emphasis on one, blinds us to the other. But where does the “emphasis” come from? Circumstances. Nothing transcendent. Nothing psychological. Just circumstances: the contestable elements that constitute the human habitat: that surround us and affect us conceptually and physically. Strangely, I want to say I “relish” this insight.

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (

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