You’ve come to cherish the fragility of snails, come to love them in a small sort of way. When you see one attempting to cross the sidewalk, you pick it up—and it shrinks from you—and you move it to the other side. When it rains, you become more careful, you walk home with the light on your phone on. When you step on a snail in the dark, the shape and timbre of that sound taps something deep within you, and you imagine paying someone to take a needle and ink and carve colored lines into you, marking your own skin with a rendering of a snail as a sort of penance for all you’ve crushed. You think about what meaning could be assigned to a snail shell: home, vitality, retreat. You imagine a snail your own size, and wonder how strong the shell would be then.
Your parents have a corner lot with a sizeable yard, on which for years they’ve grown fruits and vegetables. You had corn when you were young, blueberries too, and raspberries, cherries, squash, and grapes. Many of the plants and trees had to be wrapped in black mesh so that the ever-present birds, snailkind, and deer wouldn’t make off with everything.
You’d heard, likely from someone at school, that salting a slug or a snail would cause it to shrivel and vanish, and you wanted to try it—not out of maliciousness, but because you are, always have been, insatiably curious. You knew nothing of the chemical properties of salt, and that you could pour salt on something in the world and cause it to disappear seemed a form of magic, a formula that tapped into something hidden about the rules of existing. Likewise, for some time as a child, you thought that spraying water on wasps would kill them, extinguish them as though they were flame, but you discovered one summer that this was untrue.
Once, when your mother was working in the beds behind the house, and she’d removed a slug or a snail from a plant, you asked if you could salt it.
She said no, and reminded you that salting the slug or snail would kill it. You hadn’t considered the implications of ending a life, that snuffing out a being so small and inconsequential was still killing, and her response stopped you short.
You’ve never salted a slug or a snail, but you imagine them bending in upon themselves, as might someone in the throes of vomiting, shrinking, becoming less pliant, contorting like a receipt tossed into a fire.
You think of your manager, the one who’s vegan and has a pupil shaped like keyhole. You think of how he was heartsick for so long when they couldn’t get the baby bird out of the walls of his office, couldn’t lure it down through the air vent. You think of how he told you about an injured animal he picked up on the side of the road—a blackbird, or a raccoon, you can’t quite recall—and you remember how he’d been quiet one day because the sanctuary had called to say the animal didn’t make it, that it had died, and even he was surprised at how broken up he was. You think of how you asked him about the shape of his pupil, and you even had the word ready, coloboma—a word, incidentally, that appears in a story by one of your instructors, a story you return to again and again, even-though-slash-because you’re convinced you’ll never understand all the pieces in play, a story that you’ve had your own students read—but you come to your manager armed with this word, and he says no, that’s not it at all. He tells you about how he was wilder in his youth, how he and some friends had been on the banks of a river, when one of them lobbed a beer bottle from a distance, and it struck him in the face, exploding on impact. Your manager has scars on his forehead, and a nose that never straightened out. He tells you that some of the glass entered his eye, and he had to be awake when the doctors attempted to remove it. Each time the surgeon brought the utensils up close, his eye twitched instinctively, seeking escape, trying to evade being touched. The cycle repeated once, twice, again, until finally the surgeon told your manager to quit fucking moving his eyes unless he wanted to go blind.
Your manager, who was nearing fifty when you worked for him, had an older brother who died in his twenties. It might’ve been suicide, it might’ve been a drunk driver—another thing you wish you could remember. But his brother was involved in theater, like your husband, and your manager tells you that your husband reminds him a lot of his brother.
You saw Alejandro Iñárritu’s film Birdman with your husband, and when it was over, you looked at him and said, Don’t ever do that to me.
You bought a shirt recently and a pair of jeans, both massively marked down. One tags reads Made in Madagascar, the other Made in Indonesia. You think of a conversation with your brother about the $6 H&M t-shirts advertised as being eco-conscious, made with organic cotton, Made in Malaysia. Your brother says something like, Mmp, yep, child fingers made that.
When you were younger, but old enough for your parents to leave you and your brother at home unsupervised, you went to one of the cupboards and took down a repurposed butter tub filled with salt. You carried it through the house to your brother’s room, and said, Look, I found sugar. He licked a finger and dipped it into the white mass, stuck it in his mouth.
Years later, he still brings this up.
Your husband won’t touch pecan pie. Hasn’t since he was a child, when his grandfather made one and substituted the sugar with salt by accident. Your husband and his sister complained, said, This doesn’t taste right. Their grandfather was furious and forced them to finish their pie. He was a man steeped in the belief that food on a plate is a contract: you finish what you take, you finish what you’re given. When your husband tells you this, he says, Because that’s a great way to teach a child about obesity. There are things you sometimes forget about your husband: that he was not as slim as he is now, that there are years of his childhood he’s blacked out.
Your husband’s grandfather cut himself a slice of pie, ate one bite, and threw out the rest without saying a word.
A member of your cohort tells you no, you’ve got it wrong, salt doesn’t dessicate snailkind, just the opposite—they bubble up, boil over, and melt.
In a way, both are right: as salt removes the water from the body, a snail emits a slime in order to protect itself. The bubbling, the boil—that’s the air leaving as the snail shrinks, compresses, has nowhere else to hide.