Valentine’s Day Fiction: Pink Salt

“We’re not sure why the pond turns pink; I mean, there are theories,” Zed said, right hand forcefully punctuating his words, left hand on the wheel.

Ava tried to listen while occupied by thoughts of staying alive. Zed was so engrossed in his dissertation on possible theories that he was swerving all over the road.

“I mean, it could be sulfur bacteria, it could be a form of algae bloom, it could even be fungi. I can’t wait for you to see this, it’s such an incredible scientific event.”

He was cute in a serious kind of way, which is why Ava agreed to go out with him. She was pretty sure this was a date, but it was hard to know. They worked together at the university; he a research biologist, she a financial analyst for the Natural Sciences Department.

His dry scientific style and her precise financial mind seemed to hit it off. No poems of love or passionate artistic declarations for these two. He impressed her with his meticulous charts and graphs; she wooed him with her crisp white shirts and no-nonsense outlook.

It was somewhat ironic, then, that on Saturday, February 13th, he invited her to join him on Herbert Glacier Trail to see the mysterious pink ponds. A more imaginative couple might find the romance in their journey, pink being the color of love.

For Zed, pink was the color of “microbes that form in filaments feeding from brackish runoff” that would be best studied under the lab’s new high-power microscope. Ava knew the microscope was a capital asset costed out at $242,000, including shipping. She was still emailing with the supplier over the incorrectly applied taxes on the invoice.

They approached a ranger station and stopped in a line of cars. When the ranger approached, he greeted Zed by name. 

“Busy day out there, watch for the tourists. These numbskulls keep swimming in my water, and the microbes don’t like it. You’re at pond six; look for your reserved sign.” 

“Got it,” Zed replied. As they drove away, he said, “I guess people are attracted to this unique event. And they say the sciences aren’t interesting.”

“Or maybe Valentine’s Day?” Ava said, quietly.

“These ponds are fascinating from a scientific perspective but meaningless emotionally,” Zed said, with no trace of humor.

Ava laughed anyway. 

Startled, he asked, “What’s funny?”

“Oh, I thought you were making a joke.”

“Science isn’t a joke, Ava.”

Which just made her laugh again.

After a short ride down a dirt road made lumpy by snow and rain, they found their sign: Pond 6 – Reserved – U of A, Department of Biology

Zed turned and bumped down something hardly called a road, tree branches scraping the sides of the truck as they slowly made their way. They finally crested a small hill and there it was.

Ava gasped. It was gorgeous, the brightest of pinks. The color of the pinkest tourmaline. It softened something in her financial heart. The pond was even vaguely heart-shaped. She felt giggly and inspired.

“Pretty cool, huh? I call it Pepto-Bismol pink. Gary in the lab says it looks like a Care Bear threw up,” Zed said, laughing, a short bark that felt unfamiliar in his throat.

“I think it’s beautiful,” Ava said.

“Come on, let’s get the sample kits!”

Ava ignored him. Mesmerized, she walked to the water’s edge, leaned over, and swirled the pink water with her hands. It was magical. She brought a handful to her face, then “Urgh! Gack!” She dropped the water and shrank back.

“Sulfur!” Zed said. He’d gotten into hip waders and carried several collection jars, ready to do science. “Here, take two of these and go around the other side. I’ll collect from this side. We need to establish dispersion, effect of sunlight, and point of runoff.”

He was in his element and whether the pink water or his infectious passion for his work, Ava couldn’t help sneaking glances to admire him, while he completely ignored her in return.

After several hours of collecting samples from a predetermined radius across the pond, making thorough notes in a lab book with numbered grid pages, firmly securing all tools and jars, Zed turned to Ava and said, “Fine work today. How about some lunch?”

Ava nodded and Zed brought out a picnic basket from the back of the truck. He chose a shady spot under a tree, spread a checkered blanket, and lay out a spread of cold fried chicken, potato salad, and even a nice bottle of rosé, which they used to toast a fine day’s collection. 

It was almost…romantic, if someone were to think about it that way. They did not.

When they were done eating, they cleaned up their plates, loaded the trash and picnic basket back into the truck, neatly folded the blanket, and got back on the road. 

They talked of other research projects and world events. They discussed changes at work and how lending rates seemed to favor Zed’s plan to buy a house. Their talk was simple, simpatico, and easy.

Pulling up in front of the biology building, Ava hopped out and came around the truck. Zed busied himself with collecting his gear. “Well, I better get these into the lab. I want to store the samples at the correct temperature.”

Ava nodded. “Thank you for a nice day,” she said, putting her hand on his shoulder and giving him a hearty squeeze.

He nodded curtly, turned, and went inside. She smiled to herself, then found her sensible white Toyota Corolla in the lot and drove home.

Blame it on the salt, the microbes, the sulfur, or the fungi, but that day quietly and quickly changed the course of two lives. 

A simple wedding, a modest home. They named their first son Michael, a good sturdy name. Their second son James, after Ava’s dad. The little girl was named Madeleine. And they lived happily, scientifically, fiscally conservatively, ever after. 

About the author

Born with the eye of a writer and the heart of a story-teller, Karen Fayeth’s work is colored by the Mexican, Native American, and Western influences of her roots in rural New Mexico and complemented by an evolving urban aesthetic. Karen has been published in New Mexico Magazine, Switchback Journal, SLAB, Gloom Cupboard, and more. Now living in the San Francisco Bay area, she can be found online at karenfayeth.com.

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