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Salt of the Earth

The first time I left Montana for the open road I found myself in Albuquerque, New Mexico, destined to fall into the arms of an older woman.

We never spoke a single word to each other.

I met her downtown, headed in opposite directions through shopping mall doors. I was busy staring at a new mole on my arm and she was busy looking over her shoulder. We nearly collided. I opened my mouth to apologize, and when she did the same I shut my mouth to let her go first. But then she shut her mouth too. Our eyes got all tangled up in a big mess right in the doorway until she smiled and shook it off and walked past me. I followed her back inside and sat across from her in a little café and bought her dinner. We didn’t speak all evening. Our precedent was set. Other than fierce moments embroiled in each other’s lips, those lips stayed sealed.

We shared her little house just outside of town. She worked in a coffee shop. She had flat fingers and long brown hair, and she coughed in her bathtub through the lungs of a lingering cold.

Sex replaced conversation to fill the corners of our days. Between theaters and meals and long walks, passion punctuated the passage of time. Instead of telling me about work she would climb on top of me as if she was Mallory and I was Everest. Instead of asking her to pass me the salt at dinner I’d toss her over the table, and when we were finished she would wink and hand me the pepper.

In the early days of our relationship we made love as if we were planning an expedition to another solar system. As if our entire affair on Earth was training for a future life in which we would be reunited as cosmic revolutionaries destined to depose some galactic despot. We worked up the scheme with our eyes and scratched out blueprints with our teeth. Nothing compares to planning a revolution with your body. The skin is a map. Breath designates borders. Fingertips sketch out an itinerary of nonsense.

The old folks told me: You’re wasting your time on this relationship. The two of you never even talk anymore.

We never talked to begin with, I’d say.

Wasting your youth, they insisted. You’re wasting your youth on pipe dreams and outer space and expeditions and silent romances.
But isn’t that what youth is for—to be wasted?

My youth was like a spring storm in a monastery. It was sex fully dressed in a field of noise where those who have lost their faith come to be baptized into profanity. But when I met my silent barista, life became a calm and steady pool of silent sleep.

One morning I woke up after a good long three weeks with her. Three weeks without sharing a single word. I was thirsty and she walked me to the door. She seemed to know what was coming even though I did not. I’d only meant to go out for some orange juice.

She kissed my forehead and unlocked the locks and let me out.

“Goodbye,” she said.


*** *** ***

“Salt of the Earth” was originally published in Cafe Irreal vol. 10, 2003