It was a stupid plan to begin with, really. But the alternatives were stupid too. It just ended up being a battle to pick the lesser evil of the many. Charlotte viewed life as something like that, and so did Renee. Both of them were still young, with years and years stretching ahead of them like a gigantic salt flat. It was just a big, flat, empty and devoid mass that was complete suicide for anyone that attempted to cross it, unless one had the right provisions and a lot of luck.
Charlotte and Renee were both newcomers to this foreign land, where there was little else besides salt and outlaws. Everything in Reactava tasted of salt, and smelled of salt, and had the feeling of salt. The dust was a chalky, wry white mixed with a dry, shriveled gold color of the earth. There were few trees around Reactava, very few growth in general, mostly because of the thick salt. One grew tired of salt eventually, with it's encompassment of everything. But it was precisely the salt that brought in the only thing that could possibly change the flavor of the town, the criminals.
Salt was still an important and very valuable commodity at this time, and this attracted those with a mind to make a fast fortune. Reactava was the perfect place for this. Everyone from robber barons to mafia bosses to pickpockets flocked to Reactava to make their fortune. And of course, this bred an inumerable number of sinful organizations and institutions that nearly made the priests call the town hell and give up to go elsewhere more Godly. But the faithful multiplied as the nefarious groups began to turn against eachother and the dust of the earth was watered with crimson blood many a dark night. The hammock strung in a doorway holding a dozing figure with a rifle became a common symbol of the damnation Reactava had called upon itself. The war for the salt money soon turned into a war that was gringoes vs. mestizoes vs. the indians. Everyone and everything was suspicious and any day could be your last. But the lucky survived and as the misfits poured in to replace the dead the town continued to prosper. Every night the preists would kneel at their empty altars and pray for another day.
Charlotte and Renee were lucky gringoes. Both had near-death experiences, but neither had even received a scratch. Charlotte had begun life as a small child in the crib of luxury, raised with gilded toys dangling in front of her hands. But several unfortunate circumstances had reduced her to this, a sniveling wretch that begged for money from her pickpocket sweethearts who had nothing better to do than to waste a night and a dime on cheap love. Renee was much more daring and dashing, a woman of high spirits and deep streaks in her soul. Renee had been raised in a convent when her child mother set her on the doorstep to her fate because she was a disgrace in the congregation. Renee had heard about the example of Sister Manuela and stole a kitchen knife at dinner time to hack her way through the shutters on her cell window out onto the street lit by a flickering lamplight and cooled by forgotten and ill-ended passion infused with the tears of Spanish heartbreak. Renee's bare feet slapped against the pavement where she flew to a ship that garunteed her stowaway passage by way of a throw-away lover. Renee was a passionate woman like that, her life was ruled by a gypsy Id that siezed her hand and forced her to run and pant wherever she went. That was the difference between Charlotte and Renee. Renee ran with the wind, and Charlotte was afraid to even feel the wind's bite or caress. But they were both prostitutes. And August 16th was each one's last night of sweat, aching limbs and crumpled bills exchanged with shaking hands as the sun began to prod the town asleep to see the sinners late hurrying home in the shadows. As the sun stared at Renee's sweaty form hunched over on a pile of sheets on her hammock smoking a mule driver's cigar Charlotte couldn't help but to remind Renee.
"Are you sure?" she asked quietly. Renee took the lit end of the cigar out of her mouth and blew out a whole pile of smoke.
"Do you want to come back to this every day?" Renee asked, her voice edged with slight annoyance. Charlotte bowed her head and closed her eyes, as if she were praying for a second. Renee stood up and hit Charlotte's shoulder.
"What're you doing that for? Do you think Providence has time for whores?" she asked. Then she threw back her head and laughed, walking to the cabinet and taking out a summer dress that barely covered anything. She threw it over her head and swept her sweat-tipped hair to the side of her head. Renee picked up the damp sheet and wrapped it around her shoulders as a sort of cape. Then she looked Charlotte square in the eyes.
"I don't want to go." Charlotte stammered. Renee bit down on the edge of the cigar.
"You liar. Didn't your mother ever teach you not to lie? Come on, get your skinny little a** over here to get dressed for once. And make yourself look nice, this'll be your final parade through town. You don't want the people to remember ill of us, do you?" Renee asked. charlotte bit her lip hard.
"Please, Renee, I have been humiliated enough tonight." she pleaded weakly.
"Shut up and let's get the hell out of here." Renee said with a laugh.
The pair paraded through the barely stirring town early enough, with Renee gracefully striding forward with her chin in the air as if she were the Queen of Everything she saw instead of a dirty woman with no where else to turn. Charlotte flitted alongside her, looking around with the wide eyes of a newborn animal. Their white garments stirred up the dirt behind them and flapped in their wake like the flags of a powerful country's flag of surrender...but with much dignity and grandeur. All around them the old women who ran shops or looked for food with which to prepare breakfast for their men regarded the pair of fallen women with wrinkled racoon eyes. They judged the women's deed versus their dignity and pride and found that even though they did not support their sins they had to bow before the unbending stubbourn earthly pride exhibited in the first woman. But the second one, she was full of soft spots like a melted sugar candy on the floor of an adobe house. One of them with more courage and less pity than the rest raised her withered hand and squinted her eyes.
"You're going to hell, you know!" she cried out harshly. Charlotte turned to look at her with eyes that grew soft and curiously shiny as tears began to tear at her eyes. Renee looked at the woman's beady little eyes and hunchback form.
"Well perhaps the flames will roast the misquitoes and fry off the tongues of hypocrites." Renee replied sharply. The woman shrunk back, and Renee turned on her bare heel to continue walking. Charlotte followed dimly behind her. They approached the salt flats quite quickly, and there they lay out before them. Stretched like a never-ending hand to the mountains in the distance. They were dry, and cracked like erratic lines drawn by the hand of an old blind beggar and bleached white like a dreamland dyed by the sun's unforgiving glare. Renee stopped where the the dust began to phase out into pure salt. She turned around, and bowed gracefully to the rest of the sleepy town of Reactava.
"Applaud! The Comedy is almost finished! Aha! But you will not see it end, unless you wish death upon yourself. So applaud now, so that the performers may know that you appreciate their work!" she cried out. Charlotte just stared on. As Renee began to march onto the giant salt field, she looked between the surreal and the damning, and judged her fate in each. Which was worse? Certain death or eternal humiliation and suffering?
Renee walked and walked until she couldn't see Reactava anymore. What had been a town of everlasting saltiness now turned to a speck of dust on the ground. Renee knelt down, looking around her. It hurt to stare at the bright white in contrast with the blue skies. The sun was like the iris of the eye of God. Dialated and blank it watched Renee's every move, surrounded by a sea of blank blue. The sky would be beautiful if it weren't for everything around it.
So Renee licked the salt. There was no big deal to it...she was going to die and she had licked more despicable things than the ground before in her life. The consumption of salt would only dehydrate her and make her die faster. She felt the wry feeling scorch her throat and slide down her throat. She kept ingesting as much as she could, licking it until she could no longer wet the dust.
Renee wandered around the white expanse of the salt flat for an imeasurable time. She didn't even open her eyes, it was the same thing wherever she turned. If she had even the slightest desire to return to Reactava, it would be impossible now. There was no way or possibility she would be able to find her way back. It was fortunate that she felt as damned as she was.
She began to get tired. As she stumbled about, she fell onto her face, laying on the baked salt expanse. She edged her eyes open, staring at a field of green. A static plant sprouted before her, wrapping it's cool arms around her head and cooling it. It provided a tad bit of relief to her troubled soul, but then she went to lie back down and it was all gone, every bit, even the field of green.
Why? Why? Why? Renee asked. But then she laughed, and lost all claim to her soul.
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