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Story by Abe Gaustad (Read author interview) March 29, 2011

art by Gay Degani

The renewables convention had gotten a bad reputation as nothing more than an industry banquet followed by a weekend of anonymous sex. The joke among the participants was that we needed renewing too, all those late nights and weekends thinking about how to renew things led ultimately to divorce and long stares over longer conference tables. The convention was a way of taking it all out on your industry colleagues.

So it happened that Jen and I were two of seven people who endured a presentation on reclaimed salt. A woman from Nova Scotia gave the talk. She peppered her Powerpoint with snapshots of her two puggish mutts (“just to keep ya awake, now”). Most of the pictures showed the dogs dressed in various outfits, which, she was keen to point out, had been made from scrap material and discarded doll clothes.

Jen sat two chairs away and dangled her shoe from her toes. I asked her, in a whisper, if she found her shoes on Ebay and she frowned. The salt lady passed packets of reclaimed salt to each of her audience members. As she moved behind us, I asked Jen if I could spread the salt on her naked body and lick it off.

“I have time,” she said.

We headed for her room after the talk. Her lower abdomen was banded with the impression of her pantyhose, and this added to her beauty in no small way. I tore the packet open and spread the salt around. It was grayer than regular salt, but the taste was the same. She repeatedly tried to cover the small pooch of her belly, but I moved her hand and kissed and licked the salt away. Later, when we were finished, she asked about my line of work.

“Reclamation of raw materials,” I told her.

“Sounds fascinating,” she said.

“I could go on,” I said.

But already we were tired and we slept holding one another on her bed. The afternoon disappeared.

When I awoke, she had moved to the sink and was rinsing out the condom. In another place, she would have been a madwoman, and in another time. Love doesn’t grow on trees, my father used to say, but even things that do grow on trees fall from your grasp from time to time. Why was she working so hard to save that condom?

“Do you have kids?” I asked. I saw her Casaerian scar before.

“Yes,” she said.

“Do they like to climb trees?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Do you like to climb trees?”

She laughed, but then she was silent and her hands stopped moving and the water ran down the drain. The only sound in the room was the light squeak of the water and the gurgling of the drain. She didn’t move and the water ran on and on. I tried to estimate how much water was going. One cup. A pint. A gallon. More.

I dressed as she stood there over the sink. I passed her on the way out. She held the mouth of the condom wide and stared at the cloudy water collected at the bottom. I closed the door softly behind me.

I saw the salt lady at the bar. I told her that I had enjoyed her salt on some french fries and she smiled. She wanted me to drink with her, but I didn’t want to hear stories about salt or her dog or what exactly we could save in this world. I wanted to think about what could not be saved for once. I wanted to think about my own kids, so I sat at a table alone and pictured them running over and over through the wasteful spray of a sprinkler in the long gone days of summer.

About the Author

Abe Gaustad lives and writes in Germantown, Tennessee. His fiction has appeared in New Orleans Review, Third Coast, Other Voices, Memphis Magazine and elsewhere.

About the Artist

Gay Degani has been nominated here and there for Pushcart consideration, Best Small Fictions, and a few various and sundry honors including the 11th Glass Woman Prize. She is the author of a full-length collection of short stories, Rattle of Want (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). Her micro “Abbreviated Glossary” appears in the anthology New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fictionedited by James Thomas and Robert Scotellaro. She occasionally blogs at Words in Placeand is currently working on another novel of suspense.

This story appeared in Issue Thirty-One of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Thirty-One

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