Salt Of The Earth

Vi Khi Nao

Sleep is a place where the soul goes to die.

And, sometimes it gets lost on its way to its own funeral. And, this is why we don’t always wake up.

The passenger has recently given a five-star rating to a relatively young Asian man an Uber review, “On time…very nice car…salt of the Earth!” And, half of his life, his sisters did not know that he has always been salty, can’t consume salt, can’t dance in the rain with salt. The brother has atrial fibrillation and has five years to live. After his application for disability had been disapproved, his youngest sister took upon herself to employ him. She took half of her annual check bonus and brought him a relatively brand-new white car. His old car was rusted and old. After he got out of the hospital, he purchased the old Nissan for a grand from the winnings he got at a casino during a family vacation in Florida. Every day he texts his sisters his earnings. In his free time, when he was Ubering people around, he spends his time babysitting his stepbrother. He even got a certificate from the National CPR Foundation for his CPR/AED/First-Aid qualifications. The certificate is valid for two years, which meant, with a life expectancy of five years, he would need two more renewals. His oldest sister lived far away, near a black mountain in the middle of the desert. Once in a while he would send her a link to a few jobs in the vicinity of where he lives. Mainly, jobs that she wouldn’t be qualified for such as being a principal. She has never been around kids and certainly she didn’t know how to be a leader of a specific community nor how to supervise janitors, teachers, students, babysitters, or develop any curriculum. But, he wants her close and she is afraid to be close to him. After all, of all her siblings she felt the closest with him. His mind works differently than the rest of the world: almost like a car that could move or drive backward. He could see the world through the rearview mirror. He could see his whole life behind him and before him. The angle is fixed and steady. Yet, he never academically excels in school. His intense dyslexia makes reading difficult and painfully laborious. Language becomes a jigsaw puzzles except all the edges have been eaten away by an algorithm of shyness and hesitancy. For a long time, he used to be a semi-driver, hauling raspberries and lemons from a distributor to Walmart. His sisters used to ask him about his life on the freeway and how he copes when the road was icy or windy or deadly. He replies, “I hate driving in California. The traffic! The load would take forever.” His sisters asked him once if he liked transporting goods in New York and in hindsight, he couldn’t recall how he responded. He recalls brushing his teeth once. But then ten minutes he would brush again. He doesn’t want the passengers to think that he was not hygienic as his high ratings were very important to him. He is the most on time person he knows.  Not too long ago, his father told his little sister, the one who got the car for him, that she should eat more vegetable and the sister responded to their father with a cold shoulder. Later, in private, he turns to his sister and says, “Out of water, a fish that doesn’t sleep in salt will become spoiled. Just like a child who doesn’t listen to her parents will as well.” And, his sister who has a firm grip on life and its consequences turns to her brother and retorts, “But, I am not a fish. I am bicycle.” Years ago, she used to ride on his back like a bicycle. Her small, chubby legs kicking back and forth, rubbing the shirt of his sides, creating a tenderness that makes him fond and fonder of her. As it seems it is easy to be fond of her. She is kind and generous and understands the law of inertia and the law of commerce really well. Rarely does she fall into the trappings of poetic poise or impulse, which is not fiscally sustainable. Members of his own family may know what salt may mean, but he understands it in a way that makes him want to be a fish grilled from a charcoal smoker: salt and ash of the earth. 

Vi Khi Nao’s work includes poetry, fiction, film, plays, and cross-genre collaboration. She is the author of the novels: Fish in Exile and Swimming with Dead Stars (Spring, 2022) and the story collections: The Vegas Dilemma & A Brief Alphabet of Torture (winner of the 2016 FC2’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize) and of five poetry collections: Bell Curve Is a Pregnant Straight LineHuman TetrisSheep MachineUmbilical Hospital, and The Old Philosopher (winner of the 2014 Nightboat Prize). She was the fall 2019 fellow at the Black Mountain Institute.

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