01 Sep The Desalinator
“I hate the smell of salt. I feel like all I do is look at salt, feel salt, taste salt, smell salt. I feel like I’m gonna metamorphose into a big, salt butterfly. Oh, fuck…” I trailed off.
“What?” Amber looked at me over their knitting needles from a cross-legged position on the roof of my car.
“Nothing. I just burned myself,” I muttered.
I hopped off of the hood of my red Toyota and tossed my cigarette butt to the ground.
“Jesus, Pep, you’re gonna set fire to the campground. Stomp it out well, alright? Besides, you shouldn’t be smoking, anyway. It causes cancer,” Amber said with raised eyebrows, gesturing at me with a needle.
“Yeah, well, thanks to Big Oil and Big Idiots in Power, everything causes cancer now. Might as well speed up the process,” I snapped.
Amber looked down at me with widened eyes, shocked. I staggered backwards a couple of steps. I felt like an A-Bomb just detonated in my core, emitting high-pressure waves of pure guilt. I quickly removed my lace-up Doc Martens, stepped onto the hood of my car, and took hold of the roof rack to hoist myself up to where an aghast Amber was perched. With tears in my eyes, I brushed my hand over their cheek.
“God, I’m so sorry, Amber. That was uncalled for. It won’t happen again, promise.” I shut my eyes tightly and drew my knees towards my chest.
Amber, softening, wrapped their arms around me and rested their head on my shoulder, saying nothing. I felt a wave of gratitude for my partner.
I love you, I love you, I love you, I do, the one I love, dear Amber, is you! I thought to myself. I embraced them.
“I love you,” I whispered.
“I love you too, pretty girl,” Amber whispered back.
“What’re you making, anyway?” I wiped my nose on my Patti Smith t-shirt I got on my 20th birthday last year and waved at Amber’s rainbow-colored creation.
Amber kissed my cheek and grinned. They picked up their lopsided, soccer ball-sized knitted jiggambob featuring three, separately-sized sleeves, and thrusted it into my hands.
“It’s a cover for our portable desalinator!” Amber replied, eyes brightening. They pointed at the short, large sleeve. “This one fits over the filter cap—,” they flipped the mass over in my hands— “that one’s for the ocean-water-insert-tube part, which is why I knitted this section with blue yarn…”
I smiled to myself. They’re so cute.
“…Aaand, this one is for the water spout! I still have to work on it a little bit more, but it’s done enough for me to show you how it fits. I’ll be right back.”
Amber abruptly got up and hopped off the back. In their excitement, they slipped and fell on the plastic garbage bag fastened to the rear of the car from when we were cooking dinner.
“Amber! You good?” I exclaim, looking down at them from the roof.
“Fine, fine!” they laugh, and opened the trunk to retrieve the desalinator. With a grunt, they lifted it and passed it up to my outstretched arms. They wiped the dirt from back of their legs and climbed back up to me.
The desalinator works like this: you pour the ocean water into the largest tube, turn on the machine, wait a few minutes, and bam! You can pour the now-fresh water out of the spout. It doesn’t taste quite as good as normal water, but there’s no use in complaining. We’re not legally allowed to drink large amounts of freshwater, anyway. I guess it’s too much of a waste if we now have government-subsidized personal desalination and mineral-insertion technology. Depending on the size and quality of your machine, and how much water you desalinate, you have to empty the salt filter one to eight times a day. I usually just dump the salt into a big bucket in the back of my car, and eventually, when I’m not feeling lazy, I take it to the nearest salt waste facility. I’ll have to do that soon, I thought.
“Close your eyes,” Amber commanded. “Okay, now…open!”
Amber was holding the now-clothed, now-rainbow desalinator. They had even stuck little googly-eyes on top.
I brought my hands to my face and squealed with glee. “Oh my goodness! It’s so cute! It looks like it’s dancing—the spout and the water-entry-tube-thing are the arms.”
“That’s what I was going for!” Amber raised their voice a couple of octaves and shook the desalinator like it was a doll. “Hi, I’m Sally the Desalinator! Water you doing today? Let me sea how I can kelp you!”
By this point, it was all over. I was laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe.
After some time, Amber bit their lip and said to me, “See? As soon as you start to view all the world’s chaos and plights as opportunities for arts and crafts, things seem to get better.”
I leaned into them and smiled. “You’re right. I think that…”
I was suddenly interrupted by the sensation of a cool burst on my right cheek.
“Oh my god, Amber—is that rain?”
I felt it again.
“Amber! It’s raining! It’s really raining!”
Amber looked at me, alarmed. Sure enough, the drops started to fall faster and faster and, within 60 seconds, we were experiencing full-on downpour. When was the last time it rained? Over a year ago? Less? More?
“We need to get into the car, now!” Amber yelled over the roaring noise.
We hopped down and I hastily grabbed my boots and the garbage bag. As we rushed inside, I thought about stories my mom told me about long, barefoot rain walks she used to take, soft mud between toes, moist skin, and the visceral melodies that would emanate from her dancing body into saturated air. She told me stories of times she’d tilt her head upwards towards gray skies and allow the rain to fill her open mouth and spill onto her chin, neck, and chest. She’d describe a euphoric era of pure and clean water, back when existence itself wasn’t a biohazard.
I looked at Amber from the driver’s seat.
“I want to dance in the rain,” I told them.
Amber was in a trance, gazing dreamily at the texture of the water as it fell in thick sheets over the windshield.
“Oh, Pepper. You know we need to be careful nowadays. We don’t know how toxic this water is,” Amber breathed, detachedly.
Neither of us said anything for a moment.
“I have an idea.” I grabbed the garbage bag and turned it inside-out, emptying its few contents into a neat pile behind the passenger seat.
“What are you up to?” Amber laughed, glancing away from the windshield.
I pointed at the roll of bags by Amber’s feet.
“Here, grab one for yourself,” I instructed.
Amber looked at me blankly. They had been with me long enough to be able predict my crazy plans, and I had been with them long enough to know that they were deciding whether to comply.
“Screw it,” they said. They pulled out a second bag as I, grinning from ear to ear, slipped mine over my body and took of my socks. Amber followed suit.
“Just don’t suffocate on me, okay, Pep?”
“No promises!” I laughed, and we stepped out into the storm. I grabbed their hand through the bag and yelled, the storm drowning out my voice:
My mom was right; the wet earth did feel good underneath my toes.
We danced and sang and swung our limbs frenziedly, we chased each other around the campsite with bare feet, we spun in circles until we were both disoriented and out of breath. Amber pulled me to the ground and we laid on our backs, sinking into mud, the lantern light inside the car a scattered smudge through the wet plastic. Amber yelled something, but I couldn’t hear them over the sharp, pointed thwap thwap thwap! sounds the raindrops made on my bag. I turned on my side to face them and began laughing and crying at the same time, exhilarated, completely overwhelmed by feeling.
We stood up and I removed my bag to join them in their’s. I could again see their face clearly (or, as clearly as I could from the dim lantern light). I took their hands in mine and kissed them underneath the last rainy sky for what could be a very, very long time.
“I love you, Pepper.”
“I love you, Amber.”
We laid back down inside our shared rain protection, Amber’s head resting on my arm. We remained still until the showers halted and we were ready to sleep under the few stars that remained visible.
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