A tale for when you’re feeling a little salty.
A knock on the door wakes me from dreams of salt. I rub the grit from my mouth before pressing the tip of my tongue to my fingers. I do this gingerly, as if my dreams can poison me.
A breeze rustles the leaves of the oak that shades my room, the sound like a whisper. In that whisper, I hear words.
Like bread loves salt.
The sound is too soft, too hollow for me to grab onto and shake into recognition. But I know—or at least, think I know—who speaks those words. With a second knock, I forget everything except the taste of salt on my lips.
Few people knock on my door these days. The chances I want to speak to the person on the other side are so dismal that, at first, my hand refuses to unlatch the deadbolt. But I do. I always do. There, standing on the threshold, is the wound for my salt.
“Anna,” I say.
Salt has visited her as well, or at least, it colors her hair. Her skin is fine and powdery, more like sugar. Anna is many things; sweet has never been one of them.
“You stole him.” Her voice is even, as if she’s simply informing me that my morning paper has been delivered. And oh, look; it has. I prefer newsprint to television and the internet, the dry feel of it against my skin, the residue of ink, words peppered on the salt of the page.
I scoot past her to scoop up the paper. “Look.” I point to a headline. It’s a poor attempt to change the subject, but I try nevertheless. “They’re saying this heat will break.”
“You stole him.” This time, her voice holds an edge. Any louder and the neighbors will peek through their curtains. Any louder and the bead of sweat rolling down my spine will become a torrent.
“Anna, I don’t know what—”
“Roger! You stole Roger!” She grips the handrail, her fingers tight, knuckles thick, like knobs.
“Roger’s dead,” I say, in that voice reserved for small children, dogs, and the aged. I dread the day I will hear it spoken at me, although by then, God willing, I won’t notice. “Remember? We buried him in April.”
It’s July now. I don’t think Anna’s forgotten, or that this is the onset of dementia. Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe it’s a stage of grief.
“I dream of you two, together.” She pokes a finger in my chest. “I see you. I see you with him, see what you do, what you’ve always done, for all those years behind my back.”
“Roger and I were never together,” I tell her. “He loved you.” This is the truth. And yet, the salt on my lips tastes like a lie.
“But I see you.” And now her words are a whimper.
I urge her inside. She slumps at the kitchen table. I brew tea. I hit the speed-dial on my cell phone. When Renee arrives, still pajama-clad, the salt is the flavor of guilt. But it’s Renee who apologizes.
“Oh, Aunt Jane, I’m so sorry.” She shakes a headful of curls that bear only the slightest trace of salt. “She’s been having these crazy dreams about … Dad. We’ve been going to a therapist. It’s been good for us, but …” Renee trails off, swipes her fingers over her lips as if she, too, can taste the salt in the air.
At the door, before they leave, Anna turns and says:
“You stole him.”
Now it sounds like a death sentence.
That night, I taste the salt in my sleep. I hear the whispered words.
Like bread loves salt.
It’s true. I always have. Bread only needs a pinch of salt to sustain her. But that love is three months gone. Oh, we were so careful. How can a love confined to dreams hurt anyone but the dreamers? Fifty years of nights. Fifty years of dreams. Fifty years of stealing salt.
And now, that residue of salt is all I have left.
Like Bread Loves Salt was inspired by the many love like salt folktales.