Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Salt Farming by Tim Macy

The story of Myrna, who harvests her tears for an unscrupulous salt dealer in the blackest of markets; by Tim Macy.

Myrna

She staggered up the stairs to her third floor condo overlooking the dog park, the permanent chorus of Pomeranians and shiatsus silenced by the predawn hour. Her tears, a hybrid of rage and regret, had stopped pouring from her absurdly puffy eyes an hour ago. As for her thin and tangled hair, she tucked it beneath the hood of her jacket and kept her eyes on the ground for the five-mile hike through town after ditching the car. She had struggled to quiet her sobs, to appear normal. Police watched for women like her, women in shambles, alone, moving fast. They would stop her and notice her shaking hands, then her lack of mascara. Girls in Myrna's trade gave up mascara along with contact lenses and anything capable of tainting a pure harvest. They would search her purse next. Every salt farmer could be expected to have a locking clamshell case filled with small square tabs of tissue paper. The smoking gun for a salt farmer.

Once inside her condo, Myrna poured herself a glass of red wine. Alone at the kitchen table, she took the clamshell case from her purse and held the cold metal in her fingers. Unsnapping the lock, she dumped out twenty squares of tissue paper, each sealed in plastic to protect the night's harvest.

Pulling off her jacket, a wrapped present fell from the pocket. Jake must have stashed it there when she went to the bathroom at the bar. Myrna pulled the paper back to reveal a silver frame around an image of the two of them, in love. She had never faked her love for Jake. She had to love him for the harvest to be worth anything. The more she loved him, the stronger the salt.

Myrna made herself count down from thirty. Her fingers caressed the cool glass of the frame. This picture was taken after Jake shaved the winter beard.

She needed to burn the picture and throw the frame into the dumpster at the end of the alley behind her condo. Before she'd reached ten, a light knocking at the door woke her from her memory of that day in the picture. Jake had made awful potato salad and they both laughed about it. They made love in the grass. He told her he loved her for the first time on the drive home.

"Myrna."

The light knocking gave way to a mature, quiet voice behind the locked door. Myrna shook herself from the paralysis of grief and opened to Clive. She hadn't seen him for fourteen months; high-end salt collectors would only accept one harvest a year from their farmers. His dark scruff and mustache had taken on flecks of gray in the time since their last meeting. Small in stature, with a British accent, he'd lost weight since the night when he'd knocked lightly on Myrna's door in a different condo, in a different city and state, calling her by a different name, seeing her with a different hair color.

Clive stepped into the kitchen, his practiced eyes searched for signs of trouble. Myrna stood in a frame of guilt as his glance ricocheted from the clamshell case, to her shaking hands, to the silver frame sitting on the counter. He picked it up and stashed it in his pocket. She watched Jake's youthful face disappear into the lining of Clive's hand-tailored Italian suit. She would never see that boy again.

"Drink water," Clive ordered.

She nodded, went to the sink and filled her hands with water from the faucet. She'd never bought cups or plates or silverware. This place served as an address, proof of a normal life if anyone asked.

"What's your count?"

"Twenty," she whispered.

He collected the harvest, snapping the clamshell case shut, replacing it with an empty one.

Her belly expanded with the gulps of water until she felt compelled to puke it back up into the sink. Clive leaned in and looked at her. New tears formed in her eyes. He held a dry square of tissue paper to them, letting the salty secretions absorb. He managed to get two more for the harvest.

"You have to drink more water on the day of the loss," he told her. "Or you get dehydrated and stop crying."

He turned to leave.

"My money?" Myrna asked.

"If it's exceptional product..."

"It is."

"Then you'll have it in your account soon."

Clive stopped at the door, turned back to the harrowed girl in her mid-twenties. She'd aged so much since he first approached her, after seeing how the men in her life fell in love with her and she with them. He doubted if men still found her irresistible upon impact. Her sparkle had diminished. An aura of remorse shrouded her once vibrant glow.

"Can you do another one?" he asked, not knowing the answer.

She nodded.

"Contact me in three months if you get someone."



Clive

The humidity in Ft. Lauderdale worried him. His samples needed to remain in a state of careful preservation. A ruined harvest represented six figures.

The buyer had arranged to meet by the marina. The details were enough for Clive to know what stock to have on his person should the buyer be motivated. All he knew about the buyer; a woman in her fifties who'd stumbled onto enough of her husband's lies to wish on him something more terrible than an ugly and embarrassing divorce.

The buyer, a very pretty woman who had remained so by virtue of a sharp scalpel and an imaginative team of surgeons, was thirty minutes late. Clive waited for her on a bench in full view of the water, the heat giving birth to beads of sweat down his back and legs.

The buyer circled him half a dozen times before sitting.

"Do you understand how this works?" he asked, foregoing introductions.

"A friend told me it's like acid."

Clive relinquished a warm smile and shook his head.

"People like to categorize. Because the government created this by accident, as they did acid, salt gets put in the wrong column by those who haven't tried it."

The buyer searched the marina with disorganized glances in every direction.

"What happens if I get caught?"

"What you're doing isn't illegal."

"Yet." She studied Clive's face for the telltale signs of a monster. "But what you do is."

She reminded him of one of his first clients, years ago, before he dealt in premium salts. Linda something. She had phoned Clive, blubbering an incoherent narrative of love and betrayal, the name Michael making an appearance every ten words. The iterations of the man's name rose in volume and intensity until she screamed it to punctuate her tearful rant. Clive urged her to stop crying, to let her mind go dark and silent until he could get there.

She had lived in one of those underground houses; cool in the summer, warm in winter. The weather that night mimicked Linda's state of mind, rain blowing sideways as Clive held his imitation leather coat together at the bridge of his nose. When he opened the door, she'd stopped crying, settled down, poured some wine and accrued enough perspective to speak coherently.

"I may not be right for this anymore," she'd said.

Clive pushed her buttons. He asked about this Michael. About the future they'd planned in their underground home. Through inquiry, he led her as if by a leash back into the swell of hurt and shock.

"You called me because you know he'll do it again. We can't let you forget about this feeling, this pain."

Back then, on those simpler calls, he'd needed only two samples. They were personalized, useless to others. When Linda called three months later, her voice clear and uplifted, she told him about the ill-advised reconciliation. She didn't invite Clive over in her polite and positive words but the phone call meant "come now."

Beneath her tongue went her sample and a pathway to clear and true memory opened. Pain remembered. That had been the model in those early days. The accidental invention of salts had been applied to a common problem in the culture, man's inability to learn his lesson due to a tendency to remember things as they were not.

So many years later, Clive now heard a jingle in his head. In those days, TV and radio ads for Personalized Heartbreak Salts (PHS) had ended with a little tune. Iiiif I only knew now what I knew back theeen.

That tune was the soundtrack of a time when salts were fun and innocent, the same way smoking made a person seem carefree and relaxed in the early 1900s. Salts were an ugly thing now, because of men like Clive, what he'd become. The malleability of the technology was too tempting for entrepreneurial criminals who saw a market between the cracks.

Since salt farmers had moved into the realm of murder, Congress had been inundated by groups and families of victims to get new laws on the books. Analysts on CNN predicted that in three months, salt farming, in its every form, would be outlawed in the United States. Black markets in Europe were already salivating for the time when their salt would be smuggled in and sold for huge, untaxed premiums.

Individuals like this new Florida woman represented a third of Clive's sales, middle-aged, wealthy, lots of friends, bound tight by the laws of society. If satisfied, she would spread the word amongst her various groups and agencies - women with specific holes in their lives. In his business, he relied on word of mouth.

"I love my husband..." Her eyes filled with tears as she spoke about the man she'd been married to for thirty years.

"But you want to kill him."

Her head swiveled around.

"You can't stop thinking about killing him."

She shushed him.

"It's not illegal to say it," Clive assured her.

He withdrew one of the Myrna samples, labeled N7. That troubled girl's first sample came at nineteen. Since then, she'd fallen in love seven times in seven years. He'd never met anyone so childishly romantic, so susceptible to men and all they would do to be with her. Clive had been the one to spot Myrna's darkness. Girls like Myrna came along once in a lifetime for salt handlers. Seven harvests from the same farmer was unheard of.

Clive held the sample out for the Florida woman.

"You go someplace. A hotel room. Turn your phone off. Pay for two days in advance. Put this under your tongue."

"I thought I had to do something else... some kind of drug to open me up."

"Rebutiriditol. It's on the paper."

She took the sealed square of tissue in her hand.

"This woman killed her husband?"

"The man she loved."

"Not her husband?"

Clive assured her it would serve the same purpose. "Tears aren't the government. They don't differentiate."

"What does it feel like?"

Clive had never tasted salt, a good handler never did. They also never admitted to their inexperience. When a buyer asked, he talked history.

"A few years back scientists realized that tears carry in them different enzymes and proteins. Enzymes and proteins found nowhere else in our human experience."

"Even tears of joy?"

Clive shook his head.

"Tears of joy aren't the same as tears of sadness."

Clive reached out and let one of the buyer's tears trickle down his knuckle. She smiled at him.

"How much is that one worth?"

"A woman at a crossroads, considering murder. Already bought the gun."

The flicker of embarrassment on her face confirmed it.

"Inner turmoil is for salt tourists. Granted, yours is an interesting destination. Two-thousand dollars."

Her eyebrows went up. Clive overestimated the price by fifteen hundred. He wanted her to feel special.

"And the tears of a woman who's just murdered the man she loves?"

Clive quoted her a number based on the clothes she wore and the car she drove. He gave her a line about nonrenewable resources and market demand. There were more women thinking about killing their husbands than he had samples enough for, but his access to them remained limited given the country's recent negative attitude toward salt farmers and salt handlers.

Spouses who wanted to kill their significant others represented the second highest number of requests for salt. First place, in a landslide victory, went to those in search of the salt from tears shed after a kill in the name of revenge. Revenge kill salts were the rarest and went for staggering figures at black market auction.



Debra (the Buyer)

She avoided the downtown hotels because her husband did business in the area. Instead, she drove north up 95 toward Boynton Beach. She found a place that advertised to surfers in town for the swells and she paid cash for two nights. Debra switched off her cell phone. Dean would call around six to spout the day's lie about taking a client to dinner or staying late to get a jump on Friday's reports. Three weeks ago Debra discovered a bill for an apartment, a love nest. She went there; saw the pictures of her husband of thirty years on vacations with a young redhead. They'd been to three continents. Debra found a sorry note stuck to the fridge from the girl, an actress who wrote left-handed. They were intimate enough to fight and make up. The jilted wife and mother of four made up her mind to kill the man who had destroyed her life. Her rage blinded her to the consequences.

A friend told her about Clive when she saw the power of the hate behind Debra's eyes. Debra, at first, looked down her nose at the idea. She'd heard all about salt farmers, murderers and rapists out for profit. It took a special breed of monster to mix so much emotion and premeditation with their crimes.

Then Debra's friend told her about the positive experience she'd had with salt. She'd been fighting nonstop with her teenaged daughter. She took salt harvested from a parent of a missing teen. Her daughter took salt from a teenager with a mother who had died from breast cancer. Perspective entered their lives. The fighting stopped. They were doing yoga together now.

Debra locked the door to her motel room, placed the paper beneath her tongue, sat on the bed and closed her eyes. The intense emotions of murdering one's beloved overcame her within the hour, forcing her body into the natural stages of grief that would follow in a forty-eight-hour period, ending with a staggering rush of regret that would send Debra back to the marina to throw her new gun and bullets into the ocean to rust.

She would divorce her husband in a month and move on with her life. The only residual effect would be a haunting image of a good-looking young man near a lake gasping for a breath that would not come.



Jake

He saw Myrna on the street, two weeks before Christmas. She didn't know how to walk in the snow. He told her she looked like a newborn deer. That led to a brief and lively discussion on whether deer made noise. He said they were mute creatures. She told him they could scream.

Within a week they were spending every night together. He let his "winter beard" grow for three months until she badgered him into shaving it. They spent Saturday mornings in bed talking about the names of their future children. Hudson for a boy. Camilla for a girl.

His one complaint was that she didn't want to meet his family. She had this presence in their relationship that he couldn't pin down until the last couple of months they were together. As if her presence was only temporary. He took it as a challenge.

By spring, Jake's mother had asked to meet her son's new girlfriend a dozen times. She showed up at the house uninvited in hopes of springing an introduction on the mysterious girl who had won her youngest son's heart. When they finally met, she noticed Myrna's makeup, no eyeliner, no mascara, everything else about the ensemble done with care. Jake's mother developed theories about this Myrna who drove an expensive car and wore a six-hundred-dollar purse over her shoulder but had no job to speak of. She'd seen on the Channel 2 News a report about what to look for with salt farmers. Jake's mother went in search of Myrna's family, her history. She came up empty-handed.

Jake refused to listen to his mother's wild theories about his girlfriend. He planned to propose. He stashed the ring behind the good towels no one ever used in the guest bathroom and bided his time. On their one-year anniversary he drove her to the banks of the Elk River; the bluffs and hills dusted in the year's first snow provided a backdrop for a night they would never forget.

Something changed in her face when she saw him get down on one knee, letting the mud soak his pant leg in a chivalrous gesture symbolizing the sacrifices he would make for her as the years passed.

"I love you," he whispered, tears in his eyes. He'd been thinking about this night for months. The return look in her eyes startled him. Not happiness or surprise or even sadness, more like she'd run out of time.

It all happened in slow motion. She hoisted a rock the size of a car battery and smashed it into his head half a dozen times. She screamed and wept and bludgeoned. When she believed him to be dead, she went back to the car and dug through her purse, dumping it out along the snow and the mud and grass as she cried and rooted through her makeup bag. She never went anywhere without her makeup. The last thing Jake saw was Myrna, blood spatter on her trembling hands, wiping her face with cleansing wipes. His mother told him about that too. Salt farmers needed a clean sample. They carried alcohol wipes with them at all times to protect potential harvests from contamination.



Zola (Jake's Mother)

The police had little to go on in the case of Jake's murder. They recovered his body four weeks after his mother filed the report about her missing son. Unrecognizable, the casket remained closed for the services. Zola wept for her dead child as his body was laid to rest.

A gentleman with a British accent, dressed to kill, patches of gray in his beard, offered her a handkerchief at the funeral.

For a month, Zola appeared on the news, in the papers, showing a picture of Myrna, also known as Edith in the state of Oklahoma and, as it was soon discovered, Iris in Montana. Zola would not let it go.

There were two sightings of the now infamous salt farmer on the east coast. Other salt farmers were being picked up every day. Their handlers were unmasked and carted in beside them. Life sentences were handed out. The European black markets swelled in anticipation of a salt drought. Black market farmers lurked in war-torn countries. They kidnapped children and offered their safe return in trade for the tears of the grief-stricken parents and brothers and sisters. Specific orders were being placed by the very wealthy and scenarios were arranged within the emotional webs of those most susceptible and defenseless.

When six months had passed, the police told Zola not to expect justice for the death of her son. Myrna had gone underground. She would not reappear. Likely, she had her hooks in a new man. She would be falling in love right about now, building a relationship of trust and lust. Laying in bed with her man on Saturday mornings, talking about what names they would give their children.

Clive appeared on Zola's doorstep when he knew she would do anything to put her hands on Myrna's throat. He'd watched her, her passion for justice went starved and, like an irradiated virus, degenerated into something far more deadly than its original form, the familiar desire for revenge. Small-time salt farmers showed up every few days to offer Zola a thousand dollars for a few samples from a mother who'd lost her adult son. She sent them away with a sneer of hatred in her eyes. Clive, to set himself apart from the riffraff, produced a unique calling card, the silver framed picture of Jake and Myrna, a present from the young man meant to celebrate their engagement.

Myrna had called Clive three times in the past month. She wanted protection. She gave him her new address, in Maine. Another condo. She would only rent the place if they had a pool, but she never swam.

She sat on her little porch, with the one potted plant that remained a constant in her life of change, and stared into the blue water. She daydreamed for hours toward the soft chlorine current generated by the lightest spring breeze. Her mind traipsed around her sordid twenties, faces of the men, their families and pets and favorite things to eat. She killed them when they proposed. The glimmer of a ring excited her. It caused within her the desire to kiss them and put her arms around them, to accept their offer of a lifetime shared. She knew it would hurt more at this point than any other time. These were her happiest moments, followed immediately by her unhappiest moments. Her salts were powerful.

Myrna's current of memories overtook her most basic senses. Two hands would've had to grab her thin shoulders and shake her to bring her back to the present. Zola's two hands did shake her. They braced the girl's shoulders, her thumbs digging in as Myrna's head whacked against the brick outer wall of the condo. The pool had no swimmers today.

The now twenty-seven-year-old Myrna, originally Nina from Texas, the product of a flawed foster care system, recognized Jake's mother by the elaborate cross that hung around her neck. It swung now like a pendulum, swatting the woman's chest, then hanging weightless in the air with the thrust of the woman's muscular arms as they bashed Myrna's skull into the wall the same number of times Myrna had driven the rock into her son's brain.

Myrna did not live long enough to see the alcohol wipes extended to Zola by the hand of Clive. He walked her through the process of harvesting the tears, the same as he had done for Myrna seven years before, after her first kill.

"I feel sick." Zola's tears streamed from both eyes in rivers of profit. "It's not like what I thought it would be."

Clive nodded. He expected this.

"Who would want to feel this?"

He handed her a bottle of water to stay hydrated.

"If you had felt this an hour ago, would you have killed her?"

She shook her head as he collected the tears.

Thirty-seven revenge kill flavored tissue squares were soon locked inside Clive's white clamshell case. Every one of them on back order.

8 comments:

  1. this is absolutely first class and original. so well written, i can see a film in this.
    Great

    Michael McCarthy

    ReplyDelete
  2. An imaginative subject, realistically and horrifyingly portrayed.
    Beryl.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I completely agree with Michael and Beryl - this is both imaginative and original!! Nicely done with just the right pacing and edge of suspense.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I absolutely love this Tim!! What a great job you have done! Would definitely make a great film!


    Ashley Bolze

    ReplyDelete
  5. I love the idea of criminals profiting off of sorrow. Beautiful theme.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Reads like a modern fairy tale, in the Grimmest of fashion. Imagination and transformed well through the end.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Excellent story, very well paced. You had me from the beginning.

    C.H. Wise

    ReplyDelete
  8. Very original concept. I loved it!

    ReplyDelete