Salt

by Cathica [Reviews - 12]

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  • All Ages
  • General
  • Angst, General

Author's Notes:
I'm not sure where this story came from; I just really wanted to write. The verse quoted is from Sandra Kasturi's poem "Lying With Wolves." You can find the whole thing in her chapbook "Pursuits and Conjurings; Horrors, Guises." I don't own any of these characters. I'm just playing in RTD's toy box.

What passes for clutter in a small room in the heart of the TARDIS:

Charcoal sketches done with a sure but careless hand, as if the artist was dreaming about something else. Someone else, Rose thinks. She isn't a hundred per cent sure (in this particular life nothing ever is a hundred per cent sure) but she thinks they were done by DaVinci. Flying machines like skeletal birds that look as if they're about to fly off the page, would be, yeah.

Brass chimes that tingle sweetly, even though there's no wind. They remind her of Maddy Walker's chimes in Body Heat , and the thought makes her tingle sweetly herself. Then it occurs to her they might be surgical instruments for a species with segmented lungs. Because it's more likely than not. With the Doctor you never know.

Sheet music, penned in a neat but hurried script. "Prelude from Suite No. 1 in A Major for Cello." One of the most beautiful pieces ever written, she's sure. And it would still have been lovely, but quite different, if not for the Doctor. She recalls sitting beside Bach as he played it for the first time, humming to himself, pausing for a minor revision--and the Doctor saying, "Oh, that's nice, Johann, but...oh, I don't know. How would it sound in G?"

One small pot, hand-thrown, painted in bands of red and peach, lifted in passing from the ruins of Pompeii. Still a faint dusting of ash inside. Volcano Day , she thinks, and drains her wineglass too quickly.

A heavy gold bracelet set with pigeon-blood rubies. A fine piece of jewelry. Or it could be part of an alien internal combustion engine.

One twenty-year-old blonde who, tonight, feels as if she has too much in common with the Doctor's stash of memorabilia.

And, of course, there's the statue.

She fascinates Rose, this woman does. Because that's what the statue is--a far-too-lifelike carving of a woman in mid-step, head half-turned, robes fluttering as if caught in a slight wind, her hand frozen in mid-reach. Rose has spent hours wondering who the artist might be, and why he chose to sculpt her in delicate quartz. But she doesn't ask the Doctor. She's never told him she comes here, although maybe he knows and doesn't care.

But Rose has come here often enough, to daydream and hear herself think, that she considers this her room.

She's going to miss it.

She pours herself another glass of red wine, a vintage she'll never be able to afford when she's on her own, and raises it in a toast to the statue.

"See, thing is, I'm leaving tomorrow," Rose tells her. And falls silent, as if stunned to hear the words out loud. She realizes her hands are shaking when she tries to take a drink and misses.

"I haven't told him yet. And I don't know how I'm going to. Or if. I mean...maybe it would be best if I just walked out on him, because more than likely that's what he'd do to me."

Rose settles back on a blue velvet fainting couch that might have come from a grand Victorian mansion. Or maybe it's from a grand Victorian brothel and was used for everything but fainting. She drops her head onto the armrest, hair gold on cool fabric, tears silver on cool skin.

"And how often have I told you this?" she asks. "How many times have I come here and said I had my bags packed and meant to leave in the morning?" The statue has no reply. "It's true, though," Rose says softly. "It's been true every single time."

*********************************************

More wine. More tears. More wondering how the Doctor managed to install an art deco stained glass window in the ceiling. More idly tracking the flight pattern of the hundred origami cranes hung from its frame.

She especially likes the books, thousands of them, stacked in dog-eared rickety towers. She grabs the first within reach and reads at random:

But the love of a wolf is a rough thing
for all that it is loyal and steadfast
and truer than a jawbone--
the love of a wolf
can wound you
can wind you
into a knot,
a knot of hair and blood,
a conflagration of desire.


Rose steadies the book back in place and wipes her eyes. Graceful words, she thinks, knowing they bother her without knowing why. She could stay in this room, she decides. Stay here and quiver with pleasure every fifty years when the Doctor comes by to dust his castoffs.

"I really should go," she tells the statue. "It's not that I don't love him. I do. And I know he loves me. But...some days it's harder to trust him. And sometimes his love feels a bit like contempt. And I get out of bed knowing today I could die by some alien's hand, and it might be his. So I'm leaving.

Or not..."

Rose sways to her feet and looks the statue in the eye. And doesn't feel silly doing it: the stone eyes do indeed seem to look back.

"And why am I telling you this?" she asks. "Why do I always come here and pour my heart out to a lifeless piece of rock? What do you know about anything?"

She laughs at her own bravura. "Oh, I'm talking to a rock. You're lovely, mind you, and you listen well, but--You're a bloody rock!" She sets her empty glass on the armrest, her lip print still moist on the rim, and lays her fingertips gently on the stone woman's cheek.

"And you know what? I'm still going to miss you."

She's had just enough to drink that kissing those gravestone lips makes sense.

*********************************************

It begins then, like so many of her hardest-learned lessons: with tears and wine, and a mouth she has no business kissing.

Rose tastes...salt. For a moment she thinks nothing of it--she's been crying, after all. But her eyes are clear now. Her lips are dry.

She tastes salt.

Oh.

Suddenly, horribly, sober, she draws back from the stone woman slowly, finally seeing her for what she is. Knowing why she glitters in even the dimmest light.

Oh.

Rose thinks this is a woman who knows the meaning of Run for your life. This is a woman who knows the taste of tears. Why did she think the statue knew nothing? This woman understands what it's like to see your life crumbling.

Lot's wife knows all about running away.

Rose considers giving the fainting couch a test drive; and then her anxiety fades as she looks down at the statue's hand. She curls her own fingers into a similar pose and nods in sympathy. Their posture is familiar to her: Rose knows about reaching forward and looking back. Painful, in many ways.

"Whose hand were you reaching for?" she asks.

No reply. No surprise. The salt woman is inscrutable.

Rose is an apt pupil; she takes her lessons as she finds them. Long ago she learned that not every question has--or should have--an answer. Time is full of secrets.

She keeps her own now. Some she keeps even from herself. Tonight she leaves this cluttered room, body surfing over the roll of rare Qalian silk that still blocks the doorway, not knowing herself what will happen in the morning.

Knowing only that she wants to leave and certain she doesn't. Knowing she can't remain frozen in mid-step anymore.

Knowing that tomorrow, finally, she'll run for her life, but not sure which way that is.

But sure she'll go with the taste of tears in her mouth.

And knowing that this time, she won't look back.