Honey, Himalayan Salt

Not till a decade after her hair was gray did she know about honey and salt. Pouring wildflower honey in your palm and then sprinkling on it a pinch of Himalayan raw salt. Lick till gone.

We could exist on a star? It was so easy. If the star was near and the space suit was easy to learn? And the rocket was there and the patience? These thoughts were like frantic leather reins in her hands but the horse would not return. Past versus now.

Keeps holding this world together. Ain't nothing better. All the answers to our prayers.

You're right where I found you. With my arms around you. Whoah, whoah, whoah. Love you tonight. Baby. Baby. Baby.

That was so easy. It's the same everywhere. Oh, the tears. A shame, now.

Keeps holding this world together. Love you tonight.

The surgeon was once there. Battlefield, the civil war. The surgeon was her great-great-great grandfather. Young then. The surgeon did not need to cut through much fabric. The man's bloody leg was there, blood spilling out over the remnants of soaked fabric like the feeding ocean. The dark dark blood and the pale pale skin and the bits of dark hair here and there against the skin and far above the soldier's face twisting like tree roots trying to rise above the earth and into the sky and die because the shock, the pain, was so great. The civil war surgeon was her great-great-great grandfather, young then, and the war was like a vast dark blanket that could barely be lifted, town to town, city to city, miserable state to another miserable begging state. Somewhere behind all of it was the valor of the Africans who were brought on boats in misery and kept in misery and somehow they must find more happinesses. Now the legs and arms falling off were everywhere. The unlucky had their hearts blasted out or their necks or their brains. But the legged men and the armed men had the spray of blood shooting, shooting from the tree sap center of their bodies and he had to stop the blood and the only way was the limb coming off as fast as possible. You used whatever instrument you had, wiping it very clean first, and each time you brought the blade out you imagined the faces of women, their looking at each other and away and down as they knew the knife was about to strike and make a cripple of him forever but keeping him alive and his still being able to love someone and be grateful to them and walk slowly with the aid of crutches. He might even be loved more. He might be able to love more. He might even be able to be very very grateful to be alive.

But he might also see the world as a collection of vile dusts and petrifications and obfuscations, or subtractions, a bank account he had been cheated out of, forever. He might hate every general and every army and every man who came back complete. He might keep a long list of every person who looked down at his leg and wanted him to go away so they did not have to think about his difficulties, both intimate and public. He might even begin liking the suffering of things, and hope they suffered more than he did. He might keep seeing the surgeon's face, over and over, as the face of the devil: the man who could have let him die, who could have just not stopped the blood fast enough, who had turned to take care of someone else, and thus, had saved him, by letting him die. On the battlefield, or in the surgeon's tent.

If only you believe like I believe in miracles, baby, so would I.

The surgeon saws. He has whiskey in a jug. He loves the lettering on the label and he hates it, that it never changes, from surgery to surgery, from agony to agony: it keeps saying the same words. He has ether and he has no time to use it except three whiffs which make the soldier pull away as if a ghost wants his soul. He saws and there is more blood, and more blood, and more blood, though another man helps and they try to stuff rags all around to catch it. There is a gurney the soldier will be carried out on and the soldier's eyes will be squinted and he will wish he had never seen the battlefield or a uniform. But his eyes will pick up the agonies of others, and he will see the dead, and it will make him feel luckier, seeing the suffering and the dead. Grateful that a surgeon came to him.

Love you tonight. But from that very first look in your eyes I see you. 

A century, more than a century, later. The room is plain, practical, a corner of a residence hall, where students trying not to think about being students go: there is a television in it. Television means distant-vision. Rarely, it is turned on. Students are too busy. Its gray-green screen signals silence, withdrawal, shock; dread of the real, and the future.

You ripple like a river when I touch you. When I pluck your body like a string.

I love you so.

I love you so.

Baby, I love you so.

I picked up your vibes. I'm still dreaming.

My arms around you.

If only you'd believe like I believe we'd get by. If only you'd believe in miracles so would I. We'd get by.

There they were. Not in the American South, but the West, where their Southern families had long ago migrated to, to get away from the South. Somehow, in some improbable way, that surgeon's great-great-great granddaughter, and a great-great-great grandson of that man who lost his leg that day on the battlefield, but kept his life. They had no idea. They were young and never thought much about the civil war in America over a hundred years ago but it was woven in them, woven in the way they walked and feared and laughed, had survived, after it caught their ancestors by the head and legs and brains and arms, had caught their blood and left them alive or not alive. Changed the certainty of their voices. There had been a gleam of eyes between the surgeon and that  patient, one particular patient: the man's eyes had said you can save me for her. And the surgeon's eyes had answered yes, yes, yes, might have to move heaven and earth. You might have to exist on a star. You might have to be old and hold a puddle of wildflower honey in your palm, with raw salt, pink and frail, sprinkled over it. Keeps holding this world together. Ain't nothing better. All the answers to our prayers. Yeah, it's the same everywhere. Nothing ever breaks up the heart. When you're right where I found you. With my arms around you. Love you tonight. 

They were young, frightened about the terrible unsolvable drama of being young, uncertain. The television was the shape of calm; cold and dull in the corner of that room while music played. It, the television, would someday be deep, deep in a landfill. Thrown away. In half a decade or a decade. The television, which always, in repose, had looked like the soul of a headache.

The Jefferson Starship song frightens them. What does it want from them? A similar battle of love? Their ancestors already paid; they are the lack of courage leftover. His Civil war grandfather was the man losing the leg after the battle; her Civil war grandfather was the surgeon taking away his leg. The song rings like a battle. They are trying not to hear the words and they are trying to hear the words; headache.

Let me try. I can't even believe it with you. It's like having every dream I ever had. Still dreaming.

Years are small and cold as if in the glass of an hourglass, he thinks. Dangerous place, life. He looks at her, thinks it is better to be shy, mannerly, withdrawn, safe.

It was so easy. We could exist on a star. I've been so many places.

Only our bodies were apart. Never stop me.

If only there was courage, there was honey and salt, she was thinking, decades later, thinking too late, but finally bravely, like a provisioner, a surveyor, looking back into that dark unstocked past of her youth. That young man. There was then available honey and salt, and equal to honey and salt were movement and stillness. And dark and light. And pain and ease. And mountains and flat land. And paths and no paths at all. And shame and pride. And elbows and no elbows, and a hard bed and a soft bed, and wine and no wine. And music which could carry you over the bridge which you could not possibly bear to cross. It, the bridge, carried you over like the gurney carried the man with his leg sawed away (she knew now, gray-haired, about the civil war past). A leg bound up, tied tight, so he could keep his blood and he could live on long after the countless miseries of the war were over and half the country crowed newly awake, and blacks were free, and the southerners were poorer. The ones who had won, the North, were the surviving good leg. And the other half of the country became the crippled, dwindled and stumbling, in shame and sorrow. Choked with consternations which politicians would try to heal by talking, talking, and offering people money, as songwriters and bands offered people ideas for love: new half-good ideas for repair and hope. Pity. Was pity the blandness of honey without salt?

But there would always be honey and salt, the sun spinning, and the moon being still, and the trees whisking themselves back and forth in their dance which made its own tune, trying to sweep up their human follies and wastes of time. Time dripped away like life-blood. Your leg was gone if you didn't hurry. They, she thought, if they could do it again, must painfully insist. Must hurry. Crash into love. Hold each other's heads as if each had just been born. They must listen to each other's sounds without words in them. The act of sex made you babies again, all feelings and fears of loss of balance, loss of sense. The act of sex was orientation though the compass was not keepable or publishable or interpretable. It said I am as much as I ever am. I am explorer, and loser. It was proclamation of blood contained and kept and running and persisting. Damnation of the fearful, the shy. It took Death's skull and turned it upside down and painted a raw laughing face on it, and said: there. There you are. How do like that, Death? I have this and you do not. You have the ashes and the books and growing recordings of names on battlefields and in hospitals and in car crashes, and that is all.

I feel like swirling and dancing whenever you walk in. You ripple like a river when I touch you. When I start dancing inside you. I love you so. Baby.

All will fade away. Death will come, and you never paid back that magic of the surgeon, the great-great-great grandfather who was hers. Or his, the one losing the leg.

There are new cowardices and new televisions. Old televisions, except the few in museums, antique stores, dead, discarded: their watchfulness, their announcements, over. The images rippled across them like dusty tapestries of fabric, also lost. No longer loved. Unpermanent. In the new televisions their blood is electricity and people's present-tense, uncertain thoughts. 

Two people were there. The building, the room still there, but wave after wave of students, gone through. Old, blank, somehow-listening television no more, surely gone to the place old light bulbs go. Music played on a record player but not for them, the shy: the song was full of dying battle, but they had no idea how to go to war. Or love. The rigors, the fears, too great.

She barely turns her hands, again and again, looking for something in them. More than a song. Palm of honey dredged, not sprinkled, with sharp salt.

We could exist on a star. It was so easy. I've been so many places. Ain't nothing better. It's the same everywhere. Nothing ever breaks up the heart—oh, the tears—

REBECCA PYLE is a fiction writer whose work has been published by Fugue, Posit, Guesthouse, The Hong Kong Review, and Pangyrus. Her fiction has been nominated for both the Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. Pyle is a poet, a writer of essays and reviews, and also a visual artist. Her artwork and photographs have appeared most recently in West Trestle Review, Cream City Review, Otis Nebula, and on covers of Rock Salt Journal and Pithead Chapel. See more of her work online here: