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Flavia Brunetti

I’ve been lying in the dark for days. It will help you breathe better, comes a voice from the corner of the room. A honeyed light blooms quietly, and the shadows vanish. My eyes scrape open. I do not want the shadows gone. I try to remember the last time I slept in swathes and not in fits and starts. I move my neck slightly to take in the voice, and the lanky frame of my oldest friend comes into view. When she walks over to show me how the switch works, her eyes are full of worry. I pretend not to notice. It will protect you.

Just like that, a salt lamp guards my sleep. I imagine it spewing particles of safety into the air, and when I look at it some nights, I wonder if it will keep the nightmares away. Not of the funeral, but of the after. When the affairs have been put in order, when you’re expected to rejoin the rest of the world in its constant forward movement. That is what’s appropriate. What if I have no forward motion left, I whisper under the blankets, only to myself.

Salt scrubs help, I am told, so I scour fiercely in the shower, trying to remember what my body feels like under all this. If there is still something smooth under the coarseness, if I am still me underneath the dead skin. There are still granules on my body after I am dry, hours after I’ve stepped out, dripping water I’ve infused, made into oceans.

I tell the smoky mirror in my bathroom the old credence that salt protects you, cleans and heals wounds, but the secret is I know that I am haunting myself. I scoot up closer and when I can see the tiny details of my face—my pores open even in all this loss, hair already curling around my forehead—my lips form the words. You’ve built a beautiful world to hide in, but you can’t stay here.

Once my skin is new, there’s the ink. You would have disapproved, but maybe not like this. Entwined with blood and color, embossed on raised skin, per sempre, because you could not stay and I, I am adept only at losing things, so now I collect what I can’t scrub off.

Rolling the leftover salt in my hand a memory rises unbidden, though I wish it wouldn’t. Not yet. A flash — how you used to tuck little plastic packets of salt in my pocket when I was leaving for countries you weren’t sure I would be safe in. I thought you’d bought them somewhere, but once when I came home, I dumped my suitcase by the door to find you sitting in the living room, Scotch tape in your lap and dozens of tiny pieces of paper you’d cut out yourself. I worried about the scissors because your hands shook by then, but there you were. You know we can just get some single packets, I tried to say, and you looked at me with eyes still bright green, affronted. Not the same thing, you scoffed, and stopping your creation felt like a mistake somehow. So, I watched you fold up, fill, and carefully seal coin-sized packets one after the other. Just in case, you said, patting my hand.

I look around for those packets now, but I don’t know where any of them have gone. While I search, I know I should have thought to tuck some into your pockets too, should not have been fooled by this mortality I genuinely thought you were not subject to.

It is salt I cling to in these first days of tired despair, of the cleaning of wounds, just in case, washing the bottom of my feet with clear water and the prayers of everyone I am lucky enough to have love me.

I go back to my lamp, the ink on top of my bones, the knowledge that you loved me enough to sit, closing tiny particles of a mineral into a little space so that I could be safe no matter where I went. The thought that not once, in all those years, did you ever ask me not to go.

And though tonight I am scrubbed raw, slowly, slowly, instead of nightmares, I know there will be nighttime dreams, made of whispers and silver, moonlight gilded.

Flavia Brunetti (@whichwaytorome, has lived all over but came home to her city of Rome, Italy to find the perfect espresso and search for stories. She writes novels and flash pieces often exploring time, place and belonging, and more recently grief and subsequent hope. She is the author of the novel All the Way to Italy.

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