Salt and Light

Salt and Light by Gabrielle Hovendon

A bar. I haven’t been to a bar in years.

Inside, there’s no one carding. Everything is hot and loud and urgent. Smoke saturates the walls, the dated beer signs, the faded photos and graffiti. All the men have lethal scowls; all the women are cold and fearless and stunning, tattooed and studded with jewelry, sanctified by their own beauty and the ruthless new world they’re creating. If these people go, they will be wreathed in light, haloed madonnas, effulgent. If I go, I figure it’ll be with the sizzle of a Zippo running low on fuel.

I spot Sister Mary Gloria across the bar. She has a glass in her hand, and she’s talking with a group of people who don’t look like nuns or priests. They’re all drinking phosphorescent cocktails, drinks that leave pale, glowing rings around their mouths. Brother Joseph leans in close to whisper to one of them, resting his hand at the small of another’s back. I can hardly believe my eyes.

I’m starting to attract stares with my plain brown dress, my black orthopedic shoes, but I don’t announce myself to Brother Joseph or Sister Mary Gloria. Instead, I move at a tangent to their group, trying to get close enough to hear their conversation.

They’re bragging to each other about their exploits, talking about risks taken, routes avoided. It’s clear that these are guides, people who claim to lead others safely out of the city.

“—done it without Brother Joseph,” Sister Mary Gloria is saying to a young man who looks like the leader of the group.

“Nonsense,” Brother Joseph says. “I’m just a contact. It was wrong to keep you there against your will.”

“You want to start checking your bags, make sure you have everything,” the young man says to Sister Mary Gloria. “We’ll be going in a few minutes.”

She drains her glass and slides off the barstool. “Okay,” she says. Flecks of light illuminate the gap between her front teeth. “Let’s go.”

She and Brother Joseph and several others head to the back of the bar and out the emergency exit door into an alley. I follow.

Outside, backpacks and provisions are stacked in the alley. Sister Mary Gloria, stooped over what looks like a car battery, turns at the sound of the emergency door shutting behind me.


All eyes turn to me.

“I saw your flashlight,” I say. “I didn’t know where you were going, so I followed.”

Up close, the guide is stubbornly young. There’s a spray of pimples at his hairline and a dark lattice of tattoos across his wrists. Sister Mary Gloria stands next to him, a hopeful look on her face.

“Did you change your mind?” she asks me. “Are you coming with us?”

Brother Joseph is watching me, all of them are watching me, and I almost reach for a backpack. I almost say yes.

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A graduate of the MFA program at Bowling Green State University, Gabrielle Hovendon has taught in New York, Ohio, and Spain. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Pinch, Cincinnati Review, Southwest Review, Redivider, Tupelo Quarterly, and Ninth Letter. She lives and teaches in Athens, Georgia.