Emilio and Elizabeth first met at the bakery. He was from the nearby farm- a quiet, dark-skinned boy who liked to sit at the window and watch the customers walk by. She was from three counties over, sold along with her sisters for three cows, a wagon, and six hunks of cheese. Her lodgings were the back of the shop. Both preferred to keep to themselves and the company of a few, well worn friends. They hardly spoke until the day the fat lady came in.
She was large like a ripe peach. Every step she took threatened to punch a crater through the floor. Bundles of skin and veins and fat poured over each other, fighting for dominance and shoving out of the hem of her clothes. A basket swung at her hip like a loaded pistol. Atop her head flopped a wide brimmed hat, threatening to smack any unsuspecting pedestrians. Her name was Mabel Warm, and she was looking for some bread.
The baker smiled and told her their bread was the best in the city, and that she should have a look around. She roamed through the aisles, picking and choosing and inspecting loaves as she went, and rejecting each one. When she came to Emilio he tried to force himself to stop quaking. There's no reason to fear, he told himself. You'll be ignored just like everyone else. But when he felt her meaty grasp around him and the tap tap tap of her fingers against his crust, he couldn't help but begin to shiver. Later he would think back and decide that this was the reason he was chosen, and be happy he did. But at that moment, when he realized he was being lowered not onto the shelf, but into the basket, he only felt fear.
He sat in the basket and sobbed quietly to himself. The lady moved around the store, continuing to pick up bread, but none met her standards until the top of the basket opened and in fell the most perfect loaf he had ever seen. For a moment he forgot all about Mabel as he took in the smooth curves, ridges, and crusts of her body. She was a pale, fried brown color, with a thick and ovular body. Running down her center was a shallow valley, sided by two sharp ridges that bent slightly back. Her bottom was made up of hundreds of tiny pale bumps arranged in a smaller oval. She too, he noticed, was shaking with fear, and he felt the need to comfort her.
“Hello,” he whispered, and winced at the fear in his voice. “What's your name?”
She was silent. He repeated the question.
“Elizabeth,” she said. Her voice was also tinged with fright.
“Nice to meet you Elizabeth. I'm Emilio.” He tried to scoot across the basket to her, but didn't have any room to maneuver. He slumped against the wall. “Listen. We're going to be okay.”
“No,” she said. “We're going to be eaten.”
“We're not going to be eaten.” It was a clumsy lie. “I bet we can get out of this.”
Before she could respond, the basket slammed down. He heard Mabel ask for something from behind the counter, and the baker shuffling through the cabinets. The top of the basket opened, and the baker peered down at the loaves. He said a price to Mabel. There was the sound of coins bouncing. The top closed and the basket was lifted through the air. It swung, flinging the two loaves against its sides. Then there was stillness, and the clopping of hooves.
Emilio sat in the dark, trying to work up the nerve to speak again. Finally he said, “So, where do you come from?”
“Gamenia,” she said almost before he was finished speaking. He'd never heard of the place.
“I think I had an uncle from there,” he said.
“I doubt it,” she said. He tried to ask more questions, but she didn't reply. So he sat in the dark and rued his fate.
Of course, he had always known this would be how he died. But some small portion of himself had clung to the belief that he would be able to escape it somehow. That he would go stale, or be tossed out accidentally, or, against all logic, one day the baker would simply let him go free, just pick him up from the basket and place him on the doorstep to find his way through the world. But now reality was confronting him in the face. Thoughts of knives ran through his head, knives and cutting boards and cheeses and meats and sandwiches. The only comfort was that he would die with Elizabeth.
The sound of hooves stopped. The basket was lifted into the air once again, and began to move forward. A door slammed, and the basket was tossed down. The top of the basket was ripped open and two great hands thrust into it, grabbing the two pieces of bread and bringing them up into the light. There was the voice of the fat woman, and a man discussing a dinner party. They were tossed down, into a white bowl. The woman lumbered away.
The rest of the day passed in silence. A few times Emilio tried to speak, but Elizabeth never responded with more than a indistinguishable murmur. After three tries, he gave up, and began to look around the house. They were in a large, white room that he assumed was a kitchen or dining area. To his left were two windows overlooking a garden and small pond. To his right was another room, purple, with a couch, coffee table, and bookshelves. The fat lady was there, talking to a slim man in a black suit. Both were drinking tea.
Inside the kitchen there were several more bowls. Two of them likewise contained bread, but they were too far away for Emilio to call out to them. Three more had fruit, and Emilio already had enough of a headache to talk to them. The last, enshrined in the center of the counter, had vegetables. Emilio briefly considered trying to speak to them, but decided against it. Talking to vegetables never resulted anything but being looked down upon.
The fat lady got up from the couch and waddled into the kitchen. From the fruit bowl she picked a bushel of grapes and a green apple. Ignoring its laughter, she lifted the apple to her lips and bit down. Juice ran down her face as she walked back to the living room. She handed the grapes to the man, who thanked her, and bit into the apple again. Its laughter swelled, filling the entire house, but they either couldn't hear or didn't care.
Emilio shuddered. That would be their fate soon, ripped open and passed out to be used as a delivery mechanism for spreads at the dinner party. His mind flew through the possible courses of action. There had to be something, some way to escape their doom. He just needed to think.
“I know how to get out of here,” said Elizabeth.
“What? You do?” said Emilio. He tried to shake himself around to get a more direct view of her.
“Well, what is it?”
The guests had arrived. The table was lined with food- roast pig and barbequed duck, sweets and cakes and pastries, fruit and vegetables, fine meads, wines, and ales, and, most important of all, the bread. To his relief, Emilio and Elizabeth had not been split up. Both were positioned on the right end of the table, in front of hungry looking raccoon and his wife, who were discussing the latest decree outlawing the sale of non-denominational clothing.
Emilio glanced over at the vegetables. They had been placed in the fanciest possible bowl, and seemed quite content with the current situation. It didn't seem to have occurred to them they were not guests, but the final course. He hoped that was the case. If the vegetables knew about their fate and were, for some reason, going along with it, all hope was lost.
The hostess stood, glass raised, to give the traditional pre-feast blessing. With all eyes, ears, and noses turned towards her, Emilio made his move.
“Psst,” he whispered to the vegetables. There was no response. He was getting tired of people ignoring him. “Psst. Hey. Leafers. Over here.”
A head of cabbage stirred. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me.”
“I don't think we heard you right,” said a carrot, “because I don't think you'd be stupid enough to say that.” He turned to the cabbage. “Did I hear him right.”
“I think you did,” said the cabbage. “Seems like we've got someone lacking a proper respect for authority.”
“I think we need to teach him some manners,” said an eggplant.
“Shut up,” said Emilio. They stopped talking. It was probably the first time anyone had ever spoken to them like that. “If you don't listen to me, you're all going to die,” he said before they had the chance to get indignant.
“What?” said the carrot.
“Who do you think you are?” said the eggplant, “Threatening your lords. The nerve!”
“I'm not threatening anyone,” said Emilio. “They're the threats.” He nudged in the direction of the diners, who were still enraptured by the speech. “They're planning to eat you.”
“Eat us? Eat us?” said the cabbage. “Do you not recognize guests of honor when you see them?”
“I recognize food when I see it,” said Emilio. “Look at where you are! If you were guests, you would be seated at the table. You're in a bowl, next to breads and meat fruit! Who puts a guest next to fruit?”
There was silence as the vegetables considered this. Then the cabbage said, “You're lying.”
“I'm not lying, and if you want to survive you're going to have to break out of here.”
Another silence before the carrot spoke up. “I think the bread might be right.”
“He's not right!” cried the cabbage. “It's a trick! He's trying to make us look like fools in front of the hosts.”
“I don't know…” said the eggplant. “Why are we on the table?”
“Because you're going to be eaten!” said Emilio. “Why is that so hard to believe?”
“We're royalty! Who would dare eat us?” said the cabbage.
“Maybe they like the thrill of it. I've heard of people like that before,” said Emilio. “We can figure out reasons later. What's important now is that we get out of here.”
There was a long silence. The hostess finished her speech and sat. The other guests followed suit, and picked up their for forks. They began piling food onto their plates. The raccoon reached for Emilio. “Hurry!”
The cabbage was lost in thought. The raccoon picked up Emilio and began to pull. He felt his crust starting to crack, his innards being loosened and drawn apart. “Now!”
“Very well,” said the cabbage. “But you'll be held accountable if this is mistake.”
The cabbage scrunched up in concentration. There was a hissing noise. The guests grimaced and screeched as the vegetable's consciousness began to burrow its way into their own. Blood poured out of the hostess' nose. The tearing on Emilio's insides stopped. Then, in unison, each person at the table slumped down, dead, and dropped their food. Emilio rolled across the table. A half eaten pear bounced on the cloth and came to a stop in front of him.
“Wheee!” it said, “I wanna go again!”
Emilio breathed a sigh of relief.
The vegetables made a hasty retreat. The fruit stayed behind, apparently hoping the guests would rise up and resume their feasting. Emilio and Elizabeth, having only the most rudimentary means of locomotion, set to work trying to leave the house. After six hours of fevered inching across the ground, they made it to the back door.
“Well,” said Emilio, “that was exciting.”
“Yes,” said Elizabeth.
“That was a good plan.”
“I suppose this is where we part ways.”
Emilio thought. He didn't really want to leave. Yes, they had known each other for only a few hours, but he felt closer to Elizabeth than any he had any other bread. He just couldn't figure out how to say it, and soon his only chance with her would be gone.
“We don't have to leave each other.”
What? Had she really said that? He had thought she had hardly noticed him, just thinking of him as a way to enact her escape.
“Oh. Uh. What do we do then?” It was a stupid question. He already knew the answer.
“We could go somewhere together.”
“Right.” He tried his best to sound suave. “Of course. That would be great.”
Blustering goddamn idiot, he thought to himself.
When she was very young, Elizabeth had decided to never fall in love. In a world such as this, she had decided, where you could be eaten at any time and the common folk suffered at the hands of the rich, love was a silly thing. She had held fast to this rule all her life. There had been brief flings, here and there, but they were nothing more than temporary things to help ease the loneliness for a few moments, never intended to last. Now she didn't know what to think.
She had seen Emilio a few times at the bakery, and been impressed with his calmness and the ease with which he talked to people. She had her own friends with whom she was comfortable, but speaking had never come naturally to her. With him it seemed as normal as breathing. Though he, like her, had a few close friends who he preferred the company of, he seemed to know and get along with almost everybody. She preferred the solitude. Still, she sometimes felt the desire to go out and be more sociable, which she quickly suppressed.
And then this had happened. She was alone, far away from the bakery, with no other bread but Emilio around and a recent bonding experience. A lesser loaf might view this as a blessing. She was not a lesser loaf, and should have left him to find her own way. But, against her best instincts, she found that she had enjoyed her time with Emilio, terror filled as it was, and didn't want it to end. So she asked him to stay.
The first night they spent on the street was the best and worst of her life (and though he wouldn't tell her until much later, Emilio thought the same). It was dark, cold, and they had no shelter. They inched along determinedly, looking for a place to rest, but found nothing. Dogs barked at them. Birds pecked their crusts. Midway through, it began to rain. It was only a drizzle, but even that could be harmful to an unsheltered loaf. The fear of being somehow caught and swept back to the table loomed over them. But as the moved, they talked, and the danger faded from their minds.
They discussed almost every topic imaginable. He told of her of his life at the farm, before the bakery, and she told him about Gamenia (he admitted he didn't actually have an uncle from there). She told him of her family, and how she had been traded for cheese. He confided in her his worry for the loaves he had left behind at the farm. The night snuck past them. The sun crept into the sky.
A crate of discarded oranges was found and chosen for shelter. After two hours of coordinated effort, they were able to lift it and place a rock under its rim to allow easy access, before slipping inside and immediately falling asleep.
Elizabeth woke first, after almost a day of rest, and prodded Emilio until he grumbled out of sleep. They had slept through the day, and the inside of the crate was now too dark to see anything. After shuffling outside they began discussing what to do. Emilio wanted to stay at the crate. Elizabeth insisted on trying to find somewhere safer, not so exposed. Finally he relented, and they moved on.
They kept to the alleys as they traveled. The weather was mostly fair. At the very least, there was no more rain, though large clouds circling overhead threatened to release a deluge at any moment. At night they would stop in abandoned crates or bags or bins, and during the day inch along, talking relentlessly about a variety of subjects.
Permanent shelter came in the form of a broken dresser. It had been left overturned by the side of the alley, outside of smokey, grimy apartment. A hole had been punched through one of the sides, allowing the travelers to easily get inside. It was spacious, comfortable, and protected. The perfect place for them to stop. After coming to the consensus that they should stay there, they began to pull in decorations from alley. It took them almost two weeks to get it to their liking. Once they did they were able to, for the first times since escaping the bakery ages ago, after triple checking for any dangerous animals or hungry pedestrians and covering the hole with a steel sheet recovered from a trashcan, rest. It was a pleasant experience, and one they had dearly missed.
Life passed by quietly. A routine soon developed between them. At the start of the day one would wake up and brave the outside alley, looking for any useful garbage that might have been thrown out the night before. If anything interesting was found, it would be dragged back to the dresser for closer examination. If judged useful, it would be kept. If not, it would be quickly pushed outside the door and forgotten. The rest of the day would be spent talking, and playing with the many objects they had accumulated. When it got dark, they would go to sleep.
For the first two weeks they slept separately. It was on the third, during a rampaging thunderstorm that hammered against the top of the dresser and threatened to collapse the roof, that Emilio made his way over to Elizabeth and lie down next to her.
“Hello,” she said after a long silence.
“Hi,” he said.
They spoke no more, only listened to the rain as it drummed above them. Elizabeth inched closer to Emilio, until they were just barely touching. He said nothing. The night sailed on. They never slept alone after that.
Some time after that (they had lost track of the days long ago), they were staying awake talking when Emilio said, without warning, “I think I love you.”
“I love you too,” said Elizabeth. And that was that. They both knew it was true, and there was nothing more that needed to be said. The discussion returned to philosophy.
Life was good.
Elizabeth was inside, reading through a scrap of newspaper, when she heard Emilio scream. She was near the door, and able to get outside in two minutes. When she saw what was happening, she too screamed. A pigeon had landed a few feet away from the dresser. It had seen Emilio gathering trash, and had him on the ground underneath one leg. It was ripping through his crust, tearing out the inside fluff and devouring it. It cocked its head to the side and stared at Elizabeth.
She yelled again, and hopped forward. The pigeon took a step backed. She hopped forward and yelled louder. The pigeon flapped its wings and soared into the air. Elizabeth rushed over to Emilio. He was lying on his side, moaning in pain. A gaping hole had been drilled through his crust. The ground around him was strewn with crumbs and clumps of white innards. He gave a weak laugh when she arrived.
“Thanks,” he said.
“Oh god…” said Elizabeth.
“Heh. Don't worry. It hurts worse than it looks.” He gave another, more strangled laugh. “Good job with that pigeon.”
“I'll get you inside. We can patch you up with something.” She started pulling him towards the door.
“No. Stop. Stop!” She stopped. “Just- just listen. I'm going to die.”
“Listen. I'm dying. You can't stop that. We don't have anything that could. You probably couldn't even get back to the dresser in time. So I want you to do something for me.”
“I want you to forget about me. When I die I mean.”
“What? No! What are you talking about?”
He shuddered, and a few pieces of crust broke off and fell. “I want you to move past us. I… I want you to be able to live your life. When I'm gone, don't limit your happiness because of me.”
“No!” she cried. She started pulling him, centimeter by centimeter, towards the dresser. He gave a long moan. “You're not going to die.”
“I'm going to die. And I want you to move on when I do.”
“Please… no…” She wasn't sure whom she was speaking to.
“Elizabeth, I love you.”
“I love you too,” she said through tears.
“I know,” he said. A shudder ran through his body. “Mom,” he said. “I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to break it.” Then, with a sigh, life left him.
Elizabeth sat next to him and cried for hours before going back inside. She took his body in with her.
She gave him a traditional bread funeral- cutting the body into slices and arranging them in a circle around the dresser. For the next four and a half weeks, she never left. Everything seemed hollow. Occasionally she would pick up on the bits of garbage littering the dresser and make a show at using it, but would always put it down quickly and retreat back into the comfort of the corner.
One day, as she lay in the dark, the dresser jolted. She hardly noticed. Then it gave another great shake, and flew up into the air. It flipped over, and she was tossed against the wall. She clung to the side, trembling, as it soared. Then, just as quickly as it had lifted up, it fell. When it hit the ground it burst. She was sent bouncing away, and lay on the ground in the daze. When she recovered her senses and looked up, she saw that she was in a landfill. A garbage witch was flying away above her. Moving towards her was a group of assorted foods, all dirty and rotten- fruits and meats and breads and candies. She scrambled back. They kept advancing. She shut her eyes and waited for the inevitable.
It didn't come. The foods, it turned out, were friendly. They welcomed her into their fold as another abandoned edible. They were, she learned, like her. Outcast food, consigned to the garbage and forced to eke out a living. There were hundreds of colonies like this in the landfill, forming a massive community that almost rivaled that of the surrounding city, only this was a safe haven for all food. They took her in, finally gave her a permanent home. She made friends with the other food, entrenched herself among them, and though she wasn't exactly happy, she felt something other than emptiness for the first time since Emilio's death.
There was another loaf, named Andrew. He was charming, intelligent, and handsome. Several times he tried to make an advance at her, and each time she rejected him. Despite what he had told her, she still had not forgotten Emilio.
The years went on. She grew closer to Andrew. Eventually she came to love him. They lived together in a desk on the outskirts of the community. They grew old.
She was happy.