Salt of the Earth
“Hush, hush.” Melia was by his side in an instant. She watched the tears flow down Nikolas’s face, knowing that the salt in them was lost. Damn Theo. He knew better than to touch Nikolas without warning.
“Oh for the love of Pete.” Theo pulled a salt candy from his pocket and held it out to his son. “Here. Want a Salti?”
The screams stopped as if a switch had been thrown. Nikolas took the Salti, and removed the paper wrapper with precise motions. He put the candy into his mouth and folded the wrapper in half, then half again and then dropped it on the floor.
“Me too, me too.” Dora called.
“Sure, Adorable.” Theo stripped the paper off one and popped it into his daughter’s mouth.
Melia picked up the wrapper, and put it in her pocket to drop in the reclaimer later. She got off the floor, feeling every joint ache with sudden weariness. “Don’t give them too many.”
Theo snorted. “You control them your way, I’ll control them mine.”
Melia opened her mouth to retort, but Nikolas stood up, abruptly, and went to stand by the door. She looked at the clock. “Time to go.”
“Well. I wouldn’t want to break his schedule.” Theo stopped by Nikolas and turned to smirk at her. “See you next week.”
Traffic in Delfie City was crawling. Scattered thunderstorms dumped heavy rain randomly, followed by brilliant blue sky. The few pedestrians had slickers pulled tightly over their saltsuits to keep the salt from washing down the gutters.
During the drive, Melia replayed every moment of the conversation with Theo a dozen times, filling in all of the I-should-have-saids with bitter rhetoric. By the time she arrived at the Seven Seas salt factory, she was ready to bite someone. The receptionist at the front desk only gave her a half smile as Melia stormed past.
Her dad looked up from the dehydrator lamp he was adjusting when she burst onto the factory floor. He raised his eyebrows. “How’s Theo?”
“He grabbed Nikolas’s hand!” Melia crossed her arms holding in the desire to hit something. “Lot’s Wife! He knows Nikolas hates to be touched.”
Sighing, her dad screwed the cover back over the lamp. “We can go back to court if you want to try for sole custody again.”
“If I thought it would do any good, I would, but he’ll just put on another show of how much he loves his children.”
“It’s good for them to spend time with their father.”
“Is it?” She glared into the shallow pan of water under the heat lamp. A mosaic of crystalline salt shimmered down the length of the pan, except under this lamp.
Her dad cleared his throat. “Feel up to a blind tasting before you leave?”
Dad was trying to distract her, and Melia was more than willing to get Theo off her mind. Her dad led her up to the tasting room and set three tiny dishes of salt in front of her.
Moistening the end of a toothpick in neutral water, she dipped it in the first plate, catching some of the crystalline grains on the end. Melia touched her tongue to the salt and closed her eyes. “Sweet, with a little bit of a caramelized quality, nuances of…tobacco?” She opened her eyes. “Pure human reclaimed?”
Her dad was grinning at her, so she must be right. “Go on. Try the next.”
She got a clean toothpick and sampled the next plate. “Oooo…this is that new salt lick in the South Valley, isn’t it? I like the traces of magnesium you’re leaving in. Very tangy.”
He was bouncing on his toes with pride at her palette. “And our final sample?”
At the first taste, Melia frowned. A bitter aftertaste clung to her tongue. “Potassium chloride. Oh, come on, Dad. Don’t tell me you’re going to start blending too.”