Cynthia J. McGean
Bread of Life
a short story
by Cynthia J. McGean

	That last moment before they come through the door is sacred.  The house smells of hickory and cinnamon.  The fire is newly lit.  I settle into my gnarled pine chair, the one my grandmother built, its thick logs dotted with the scars of life.   The fire catches, flames tossing golden threads across the floorboards, shadows writhing up the walls.  The only sound is my old breath in my old lungs and the uneven trudge of my heart.  I rest my knitting basket on my lap.  Busy hands will give the tale room to grow. 
	The door opens.  One by one, two by two, three by six, the villagers cross my threshold, their faces eager, anxious, searching.  Flush from the long journey up the hill through the cold winter night, they jostle for a place at my hearth.  All through the warm spring months they frolic and dance, but when winter comes, they are mine.  
	I sift through the village news - betrayals, hardships, thwarted plans; arrogance and envy, cruelty and pity, lust and ache and quiet desolation - choosing my threads with care.  My mother was an apothecary.  They say she poisoned the baker’s wife.  But it was only an ill-chosen herb.  My choice seems much more harmless.  After all, no one has ever died from an ill-chosen tale, have they?
    	A pair of would-be lovers take up stations on opposite sides of the room.  They can’t keep their eyes off each other, so confident in the vigor of their youth.  A chubby little boy squeals as his stubby legs thump and rattle their way across the floor, dashing a pitcher to the ground.  His parents snatch him up onto a lap, stammering apologies. 
    Outside of the circle, apart from the rest, sits Hedda, the fattest, homeliest, slowest girl in the village.  In her hands, she clutches a hawk feather and a hazel twig.  The rest of them give her a wide berth.  She smells of cow dung and sweat.  She’s missing a tooth.  Her face is pockmarked, her nose askew, broken at an early age by her brute of a father, who plants himself now between her and the fire.  When they look her way, the beautiful young lovers stifle a grin.  And I choose my tale.
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BREAD OF LIFE copyright 2011 Cynthia J. McGean.  All rights reserved.