The salt shed is a room that I sleep in. But it is not my room. The city waits for storms and while it waits, I sleep. Among the piles of salt. Among their density and their mass.
In the salt shed, while I sleep, my pulse throbs against the sounds of the city. I am periodically awoken by the noise of this in my ear. I wake to the sound of my pulse lapping against the many grains of salt. And then I hear car horns, and rain noise, and I hear bus tires rolling against the road.
These are the noises of the city throbbing. Which is also the noise of my throbbing. Throbbing is a thing that I share with the salt piles and the city. Throbbing is a thing that we share.
When I’m awoken by this throbbing I am not alarmed. I open my eyes and find myself lit dimly from above, just as I was when I fell asleep. The salt shed is always lit in anticipation of the next storm, which could come at any time. The lights in the shed were manufactured by the city, in the same facility that manufactures street lights. Under their glow the salt piles look orange and hum in municipal waiting. It is easy to fall back asleep in the nest of this hum. My pulse pounds against it. It is the sound of throbbing. Our throbbing. The city allows me to sleep.
The salt shed was built on the edge of the estuary, which pulls at the city during low tide. During high tide, the estuary floods and water seeps in through the salt shed’s walls. The walls are made of cinder blocks and are easily permeated by the estuary’s cold flow.
When the estuary seeps in at high tide, its cold flow touches the salt piles softly and creates a brine on the floor. When this happens, I’m often awoken by a crackling noise: the sound of salt dissolving beneath my sleeping skin. The brine is a fluid that throbs against this room, an arterial place. I listen to it gather; it deforms the salt piles’ edges and slowly, imperceptibly, the salt piles sink.
When the tides pull back and the cold flow of the estuary recedes, the salt piles are left in a reduced state. Although their degree of reduction is barely perceptible from the top of the piles, where I spend my sleeping hours, evidence of their diminishment is abundant at ground level. The floor of the salt shed is made of smooth concrete. After the cold flow recedes and the floor of the salt shed dries, this smooth concrete becomes disfigured by the coarse remains of the piles’ dissolution. Striations of salt, displaced from the piles, mark the former flows of the estuary’s comings and goings. The floor of the salt shed looks like a river delta. It is an archive of the estuary’s intrusions, inscribed by the rhythmic wanderings of the cold flow.
Recently I awoke to find a city employee gathering salt residue from the floor. She was wearing an orange work vest and was scraping the floor with a large, flat knife, pulling the displaced salt from the smooth concrete. After pulling up salt from the floor, she weighed it with a plastic scale. The scale displayed numbers and figures on a small, green-lit screen. She read these numbers and figures silently, mouthing them slowly with her lips.
When she finished her work and began to pack away her things, I asked her what she was doing. At first she seemed surprised by my arrival into what she’d assumed to be a solitary moment. But then she adjusted, and after gathering herself, responded:
“The city is conducting an audit of the salt shed. They believe that we are losing too much salt to the high tides of the estuary. They want to understand the rate of dissolution and determine if it would cost less over time to build a barrier to stop the intrusions of the cold flow. They have used the word ‘hemorrhage.’ As in, ‘we are hemorrhaging salt.’ I am here to measure the rate of dissolution of the salt piles.”
She did not wait for me to respond. She continued to pack her things, silently, as though I hadn’t interrupted her. She cleaned her instruments and put them in her bag. And then she walked toward the exit, finished with her work.
As she opened the door to leave, she turned to me, briskly, and said: “Snow storm in the forecast. They’ll be taking the salt soon.”
These are piles of salt and I lie among them, throbbing, waiting with the city for another storm. During storm times they will clear out the salt and I will have to go with it. I will go with the throbbing salt and we will flood the snowy streets. The city will swell and its streets will become the headwaters of new, temporary rivers. The waters of these floods will fall through the city’s storm drains and gather below buildings, where they will flow, accumulating, towards the estuary, which has always refused to contain the city’s floods. The estuary will swell, too, and the walls of the salt shed will again be overcome by the intrusions of the cold flow. The floor of the salt shed, emptied of the piles, will be bathed in cold brine and the brine will wait there, in the municipal lighting, until the estuary’s low tides pull it back towards the sea.
When the storm passes and the salty river streets dry up to let traffic resume, I will return to the salt shed and await the arrival of the next shipment of salt.
In the empty salt shed, I will lie on the salt stained floor and I will try to sleep. I will look up at the municipal lighting and in my body my rushing blood will pound.
The city will also be pounding inside of itself. And the city, lit yellow, will try to find an easy sleep.
Sleep is a kind of erosion. A kind of coursing blood.
In sleep I find my body overwhelmed and throbbing.
I am often awoken by the taste of salt on my tongue.
Perhaps my body is waiting for something else to form.