Bread and Salt

by Alyssa Jordan

As a rule, you consumed everything laid before you.

It started with a middle-aged woman in a small apartment. Her hair was frosted, her skin cracked. She cleared her throat while preparing a pot of jade tea. When she uncapped it, fragrant steam rose through the air.

You dipped your head in thanks.

The large, oaken table swelled with moisture. It held wafer-thin slices of meat still crackling from the pan. Pink rice dotted with red flakes. Mushrooms and peppers and balls of white cheese. Fried maple blossoms draped over custard. Alongside it, thimble-sized cups of the darkest, smoothest coffee, so intense that you let it sit on your new tongue.

She would not meet your eyes as you ate.

After you swallowed the last morsel, she surveyed the empty pots and dishes, her pale eyes sightless.

“Will it hurt?”

You stared at her. “I don’t know.”


On a balcony overlooking the ocean, you carefully stabbed slivers of red plum. A thirtysomething man had packed your plate with nutty bread, jewel-toned fruit, and speckled eggs.

From the top of a steel pantry, he procured orange-blossom preserves and a silver flagon that smelled like smoky, bitter coffee.

You were not there for him but the twentysomething man that sat beside you. Clothes hung on the sharp jut of his ribs. In his lap, fingers protruded like blades. The eyes that met yours were bright and alive.

“What happens after?” His voice had thinned to a whisper.

“You will go to a better place.” You lifted your facial muscles, hoping they formed an approximation of a smile. “Everything will be alright. You will be okay. In a moment, it will all be over.”

The man snorted. “You’re new at this.”

“Excuse me?”

He rolled his burning-bright eyes. “Don’t overpromise. Classic sign of a liar.” A coughing fit rattled his lungs. Behind them, waves thundered against the shore.

“Take it from someone who made a career out of it,” he rasped. “I guess you do, too.”

Your eyes fell to your plate. It was a quarter full. Piling on more food, you ate slowly, trying to delay each bite. The tanginess of the candied rinds burst like a blood vessel. It cut the roof of your mouth, but you shoveled more inside.


Something in you felt hollow, but you didn’t know why. It didn’t fill when the man sagged at a touch from your hand. The ache only grew as you hovered near his mouth. Gently, deliberately, you extracted his soul, tugging it through his lips and inhaling deeply.

Pure energy enveloped your temporary mouth. It singed your taste buds and melted your gums. More than a few teeth shattered.

In front of you, the husk watched with open eyes. You averted your gaze as you swallowed him down, feeling the sun briefly from within.


Over the years, you came to reap many lives. Some fought, but most accepted their demise. A handful welcomed the end, impatiently watching you devour soaked dumplings or bluish steak or links of blood sausage.

The emptiness inside you burrowed deeper.

Each time, you ate their food, bowing your head in supplication. You hoped it built something tentative between you.

After a night of dining on shelled shrimp and fried squid, you tackled several sushi platters. An older woman stood to the side, her hands knotted in a tea towel.

Fresh burns bubbled along her knuckles. She glanced at the photograph that hung above your head.

“Will he have enough to eat?”

You met her eyes. “Yes. He will be fine.”

As her shoulders sagged, the kettle began to whine. You watched her stop-start into motion. Like an automated machine, she performed this daily ritual, carrying out each task with precision and grace.

Afterward, you marveled at the quiet. Her stillness felt so unnatural.

Like every other time, you wondered where she had gone. What would become of her.


One day, an elderly woman tried to throw out the meal.

She had grimaced at the sight of smoldering chicken and cabbage. With turmeric-stained fingers, she cooked yellow curry in a pan, only to set off the smoke alarm twice. The dainty cottage smelled like something rotten.

You ate every bite.

The hard curry split your newly healed gums. After a while, the chicken-jerky softened, and the cabbage became charred pulp. Your jaw protested from the rigorous chewing. In the back of your throat, a piece of flesh stuck.

Wide-eyed, the woman passed you several glasses of water. You declined her many offers to fix something else. It wouldn’t make sense if you attempted to explain, to find the right words.

“That must have been awful.” She laughed. You startled at the sound.

No one had ever smiled at you.

“It’s hard, isn’t it? To feel so much.” Her expression turned sad. Through the kitchen window, a milky ginger glow lit her profile.

She tapped her chest. “I don’t envy you.”

Your hand hovered over the space where your heart should be. You didn’t know if they had given you one, if it was necessary to walk this path. All you knew was the burn or slide of the souls, the breaking, and the process starting again, your body knitting together for the next death.

When she opened her arms, you folded into the embrace.

She would be gone at sunrise.

Alyssa Jordan is a fire sign living in the United States. In her spare time, she pens literary horoscopes for F(r)iction Series. You can find her on Twitter @ajordan901 or Instagram @ajordanwriter.
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