Prose: “Salt” by Campbell Sharpe

Camp Dogwood serves the kids ice cream for breakfast. Strawberry, Chocolate, or Vanilla. Your choice.

While they were supervising their kids, Scout (counselors are not allowed real names at camp to avoid there being 16 Sarahs) elbows Bucket (actually named Sarah) and points rather obviously at Salt (Jax) being escorted out of the office at the front of the mess hall. Salt carries their sleeping bag under their muscled arm and Noodles (Director Knoll) stands over their shoulder. Salt ignores the counselors’ looks of concern, frowning straight ahead. Their duffel, with its Nirvana pins and pride patches, already sags beside the gravel road awaiting its ride back to a world with indoor plumbing and Culver’s kid’s meals.

     The kids don’t notice (there are a lot of things they don’t notice at camp). They were getting ice cream.

     “They just couldn’t take it anymore. Rolled up their sleeping bag and left the tent,” Scout says. “Noodles had them covering our breaks in addition to their shifts in the kitchen and now the oven’s broken, too.”

     Salt lets the door shut behind them. Still, the counselors track them through the dusty window, watching as they pull out their cracked cellphone and call an Uber. They do not text anyone first to the counselor’s disappointment.

     “Everyone loves Salt, though,” Bucket says. “My kids were calling them ‘Saltshaker Supreme’ after fifteen minutes of field games.”

     “Salt didn’t sign up to work with kids. They weren’t even CPR certified.”

     Noodles announces to the dining hall that a frog had jumped into the pool filter and they will all be running through the sprinkler instead of swimming today (and for the rest of the week, or until all the frog blood dissipates). The kids cheer. They are special.

     “What’s the worst that can happen in two hours? Death? If I don’t get my break, I’ll strangle one of these little angels myself.”

     “But you can resuscitate them,” Scout says. 

     Bucket scoffs, “Please! I was up at dawn scrubbing mold from under the fridge the day we were certified. I slept through CPR training.”

     Another table is called to join the line, and the counselors watch the stained and sticky children stumble across the mess hall.

     “Walk,” Scout reminds the herd, checking to see if Salt notices her good counseloring from outside. They don’t. 

     “Anyway,” Bucket continues. “Pug isn’t certified and she’s given a group of kids every week.”

     “Okay, but my kids don’t like Pug. Pug’s kids come to me for band-aids.”

     “As they should. You’re certified.”

     “I’ve been out of band-aids for five weeks now. I just tell them to rub some dirt on it.”

     Bucket grabs a tray. “Have any of them done it?”

     “No. I did have a kid try to make a bandage out of grass, though. Like, I have bandages. I have gauze and slings and EpiPens. I just don’t have band-aids.”

     “Were you the one who had the kid who ate grass?”

     Scout scooches down the line. “No, that was Pug. I had the group that played strip poker.”

     “Aren’t you with the little ones?”

     “Yeah. That was the problem.”

     “What’d you do?”

     Pug (also named Sarah) drops a scoop of strawberry ice cream on Bucket’s tray. “Did you hear about Salt?” she asks. She lets loose a fistful of sprinkles.

     “Can’t blame them,” Scout answers, craning her neck to see if Salt is still on the side of the road. They are.

     Pug gives them both two waffle cones (she knows about Scout and Salt. She also knows about Bucket and Salt). “If I found out two counselors had obsessive crushes on me, I might leave too.”

     “I think the unhealthy working conditions were what did it,” Bucket says. “Speaking of, we named the wasp colony in porta-potty ‘Jamestown’ and the one in the boathouse ‘Plymouth.’”

     They share a nod of approval before Pug continues, “But now they’ve got the health team in the kitchen. No one is watching my kids while I’m stuck here serving melted ice cream to a hundred pains in my—”

     Noodles announces that everyone will be sleeping under the stars tonight in the parking lot. It will be an all-camp sleepover (so the camp would not be breaking the legal camper-to-staff ratios). The children start to play Spin the Waterbottle at their tables in preparation.

     “Salt liked sleeping outdoors,” Pug muses. Outside, Salt’s Uber arrives to take them back to civilization and their alt-punk-anti-capitalist-indie band.

     “Yeah,” Scout and Bucket sigh together.

     Pug slides them amused looks and their bowls of ice cream. The two counselors turn from the buffet and follow the hip-high current to the condiments table. Grabbing wads of napkins, they watch as Salt’s self-shorn undercut ducks into the backseat and their gorgeous arms shut the door behind them. The car grounds away, polluting its white sheen with gravel dust.

     Bucket, Scout, and Pug (though no one suspects her) each promise herself that she will reach out to Salt during her break. (Jax had a way of pulling tears and trauma from the lips of tired women. They would stoke a memory of a working father until it loomed, unavoidable and unconquerable. A missed soccer game (or tennis or basketball) could only mean no man could ever love her. Then, they would hold the girl close and tell her it would all be okay. Only with Jax would it be okay. Only their arms could protect her from the mind-numbing effects of late-stage capitalism and a future where all her firsts are claimed by frat dudes. With Jax, she could break down without trying to build herself back up again.) In the minds of the counselors, it was only fair for Scout (or Bucket or Pug) to offer Jax the same comfort in their hour of need. And maybe they would want to meet up at the Denny’s this weekend to really talk it out?

     “So what did you do about the strippers?” Bucket asks (changing the subject before Pug could betray that Bucket and Jax spent a night entangled in the meadow off the green trail).

     “I gave them my band-aids to use as chips,” answers Scout (remembering her own night on the green trail which occurred a week before Bucket’s but only a day after Pug’s).

     “Whatever works.”

     “Whatever works,” Scout repeats. “They’re here for one more week.”

     “Six more days.” (Unless Sarah (Bucket) quit sooner. Jax was just so emotionally mature it was hard to believe they could make a wrong decision).

     The children, faces smeared with pink cream and chocolate sauce, beat their fists against the tables for more.

Campbell Sharpe is a Creative Writing student at Washington University in St. Louis. A native Chicagoan, her writing parodies the oddities of her midwestern life. She enjoys late-night trips to Target, vintage prom dresses, and finding fairy circles in the woods. Now,  after ten years of sleep-away camp, she has had one-too-many ice cream breakfasts and will spend the rest of her summers inside.