• Vol. 09
  • Chapter 01

The Salt King Speaks

Father tends to the flames in the yard, feeding it the last few unclean things – a jumper, batteries, his old brown loafers, a Bosch print discoloured by the sun. He is stained by the smoke, his white shirt soot-black, his green eyes all-pupil from the light. We stand and wait to be called.

Dishrags. Carpet-cleaner. Back-issues of The Guardian. The Uncleanness could be anything, he said to my sisters and I from his make-shift pulpit. That is its great trick. To make itself commonplace, to insist itself upon the memory so that it might spread like mildew.

Very few things are truly commonplace, he said, kneeling before the pillar of salt in our kitchen, Pussycat curled up beside him.

He told us stories of other villages down the way, where Uncleanness had gone unchecked. Cobblestones conspiring with each other in the night. Jam jars breaking themselves into stabbing points below the feet of little girls like us. Great floods of living cider, freed from their casks and foaming through backstreets in the shapes of wolves and bears and hairy black feet. Things revealing themselves for what they are. Unclean mothers and daughters unspooling like yarn, disappearing down living pipes into the great, fetid heart at the centre of everything.

Very few things are truly clean, he said, and we nodded like good daughters, only teasing him behind his back like mother had taught us.

But my littlest sister and I listened. We were clever.


The Salt King Speaks

When the time was right, our king spoke to my father through the pillar of salt. He said that things we thought we knew, people we thought we had always known, were only stains upon our Unclean minds. It had already begun.

He armed us in the night, eight little girls with pitchforks and rope. We went through the village like locusts, like a righteous plague, finding those things which seemed out of place, those people who seemed too good to be true. When we threw them to the fire, father told us what he saw – wristwatches and cabinets and Mr Cormac from over the road growing mouths with which to curse us, sprouting millipede legs with which to run. He whooped as they struggled and spent.

We made mistakes. Some folks burned who shouldn’t have burned. But it is important to accept our mistakes and grow past them, father says.

On the second night, we burned the Mendelsohns and the Williams. On the third night, we burned our dog, our bedspreads, our mother, our untrue sisters.

Tonight, there are only these last few things – my littlest sister and I, Pussycat, a wooden paddle, and a small bowl in which my littlest sister hides her mouse, Beau. She cannot hide him much longer, but I want to allow her this one thing. This one small thing. Our father calls us from outside, and we go to meet him. Pussycat slinks around our legs – bonfire-light in his eyes.