Salt of the Earth
He closed his eyes.
He must blame her for not protecting him.
“Melia,” Theo said, “I don’t know what happened.”
She held on to the side of the bed. She had lost it once, but she would not do that again in front of her child. Her only child. She held her breath till the possibility of sobs passed. Breathing shallowly, fighting for her voice, Melia said, “I would like some time with my son.”
She squeezed her eyes shut, like Nikolas, and listened to the murmurs around her. Theo’s mother sounded as offended as always, but his father seemed to understand. She waited until the last footstep left the room and the door closed.
Then she opened her eyes. Nikolas’s eyes were still closed, but his hand had stopped beating its rhythm on the sheets. She took that as a sign of forgiveness.
The extraction room at Seven Seas was intimate, dominated by the flushing machine. Beyond the window in the extraction room door, Melia could see the main factory floor. The workers appeared to go about their business, but she kept catching them as they looked away from her.
She turned back to Dora. The hospital had pumped Dora full of fluids as they tried to restore her electrolyte balance, leaving her skin swollen like a water balloon. Even so, her tiny body looked lost in the flushing machine.
Melia found herself wanting to look for the sweatband, which Dora must have thrown on the floor. She brushed Dora’s hair back from her forehead.
Picking up the first of the tubes she needed to flush the salt from her daughter’s body, she held the sharp metal tip of the siphon over the artery in Dora’s thigh. She had reclaimed the salt from hundreds of bodies, but her mind balked at pushing the siphon into her daughter.
Melia turned slightly so she couldn’t see Dora’s face, so that the body in the flushing machine looked like any other. She placed the needle again. And stopped. This was still wrong. She had wanted to be the one to extract her daughter’s salt; she wasn’t here to extract a stranger’s.
Looking at Dora’s face, she pushed down on the siphon. It slipped into Dora’s thigh with a slight pop. Melia watched Dora’s face for any sign of a flinch, even though she knew there would be nothing.
She picked up the flush tube. Her hands were shaking, but she pushed it into a vein in Dora’s other thigh. A little of the tension eased at the back of Melia’s throat to have that accomplished.
Her little girl was on her way back to the great salt sea where life began.
Melia turned the machine on. As the pumps began to flush Dora’s body, washing the salt from her veins and bones, Melia sank into a chair against the wall. She rocked slightly as she listened to the pump hum.
Melia’s house was too quiet. She kept feeling like Dora was just in another room, napping. She had to turn off the newsfeeds because she kept seeing Dora’s name. The media could not let go of the extravagance of her death by salt overdose.
Extravagance. In a child her size, it would only take two spoonfuls of salt to throw everything out of balance but that was most families salt budget for a month. So little and yet so much.
The morning of Dora’s memorial service, Melia poked her head into the kitchen to tell Nikolas’s sitter that she was leaving. His plate was on the table, with the vegetables cut exactly the way he liked them, but the room was empty.
Wrong. Something was wrong when he broke his routine. She called him, knowing he wouldn’t answer, but hoping.
“He’s up here, ma’am.”