“Sour Dough” Dark Fiction by Kate M. Tyte

“Sour Dough” Dark Fiction by Kate M. Tyte, The Chamber Magazine

Three months after we inherited Millford House from Pete’s uncle we rented a transit van, packed up our things and headed south. We left the motorway and drove down smoothly-surfaced winding roads. Enormous hedgerows narrowed down the world to a suffocating green tunnel frothing with flowers. At intervals the hedgerows dropped away and we passed through villages where jewel-coloured flowers rampaged in the front gardens of houses that were so old they looked like they’d mushroomed up out of the earth. Signs for ‘The Cricketers’ Arms’ and ‘The Saracen’s Head’ creaked on their chains, and the front doors gleamed in the same few shades: green-ish, blue-ish or grey-ish.

‘Do you think the mortgages come with a colour chart?’ I asked.

Pete laughed. ‘Farrow and Ball,’ he said. I didn’t know what that meant, so I shut up and watched the scenery. This was the England they showed in the movies. It was like a foreign country.

In the afternoon we arrived at Little Ford and parked outside Millford House. The house was a square biscuit-coloured box with four neat, regular windows on each side. The lane passed by the side of it and disappeared under a river. The first time I saw it I thought there’d been an earthquake or something but Pete explained that it was the ‘ford’ in Little Ford. In the old days they literally couldn’t be bothered to build a bridge, so you just had to drive through the river, and now it was a historic feature, so they still hadn’t built a bridge. Clouds of insects hovered around the edge of the water and long ropes of bright green weed floated downriver. Behind the house it was just fields full of cows.

Pete’s parents were waiting for us. His dad grabbed one of my big plastic bags.

‘What’s all this?’ He said.

‘Coat hangers,’ I replied.

‘Cooowwwt hang-guuurs,’ he said, imitating my accent.

I felt the blood rising to my face but Pete caught my eye and gave a barely perceptible shake of the head.

‘I shouldn’t think you’d be needing any coat hangers dear,’ said Maureen, emphasising the correct pronunciation, vowel sounds clipped into nothing, the ‘g’ barely perceptible, the ‘er’ truncated into a tiny sigh. ‘There’ll be lots of the house.’

She meant uncle John’s old things, but I wasn’t going to keep any of that.

‘I wasn’t sure what we’d need so I’ve brought everything,’ I said.

‘I can see that,’ said Maureen. ‘Let’s leave the men to it and put the kettle on, I expect you’re gasping. I’ve made sandwiches. They’ve got some lovely sourdough bread now up at the beehive café, they make it themselves. They gave me some of this starter stuff, I’m going to try baking my own. And I got you some of those oaty crackers you like, they say suitable for coeliacs.’

‘Thanks Maureen.’ I was startled to feel tears pricking behind my eyes. I thought she’d forgotten.

It was a beautiful day so we took our food outside near the overgrown shed. I sat down on a large, round stone with a hole in the centre. I ran my hand over its grooved surface.

‘What was this, originally?’ I said.

‘It’s the old millstone,’ said Pete’s dad. ‘You know, for grinding the wheat. The river was deeper back then…’ He droned on with his local history lesson. I held my hand in my lap like a poisonous spider and concentrated on counting my breaths to push down the anxiety. That stone had been covered in flour for centuries and centuries, and I’d rubbed my stupid hand all over it. I was dumb, I really was. Why hadn’t I realised that Millford House was a flour mill. We’d have to get rid of everything. There would be flour, ancient flour, seeping out of the walls.

‘Holly,’ Pete said, ‘why don’t we make some more tea?’ He steered me into the bathroom where I washed my shaking hands.

‘Nice slow breaths, remember,’ he said.

*

When we’d done as much as we could at the house, we walked up to The Royal Oak. The day was oozing into evening, our shadows stretching out on the road before us like they were eager to get there first. I made an excuse and went to the toilets. I needed to check that I didn’t need a door key and they weren’t out of order or anything, so I wouldn’t get caught out. When I got back to the table I scanned the menu: cod and chips, chicken and chips, vegetable lasagne. I went to the bar to place the orders myself: better safe than sorry.

‘I’ll have the salad please, but no croutons and no dressing.’ The woman behind the bar raised her eyebrows. Well, you can’t trust chips – sometimes they’re coated in flour – you can’t trust chicken, and you definitely can’t trust dressing. You can ask, but you can’t trust the answers, and it’s not really worth the trouble.

It took them seven years to diagnose me. Seven years of agonising stomach cramps and humiliating dashes to the toilet, and people mouthing ‘IBS’ and rolling their eyes. One time the girls at work gave me a roll of toilet paper for Secret Santa. I laughed weakly, but the next day I started looking for a new job. When I was bad in hospital, down to six and a half stone, mouth ulcers seeping, horrible red sores all over, drip in my arm, I overheard auntie Linda telling mum I was anorexic. She said I was punishing mum because she never breast fed me. I was terrified of dying, but even my own family thought I was making it up. I might have died if it had gone on any longer. I imagined all my insides gushing out of me, on and on, not stopping until there was nothing left of me but a deflated bag of dried up skin.

A large glass of white appeared in front of me. I poked at my lettuce while they all stuffed themselves.

‘You will be careful won’t you, Peter, now that you’re working in Bristol? Only I do worry.’

‘Worry about what?’ I asked.

‘Bombers, dear. They’re not going to blow anything up in Birmingham, are they? All their relatives live there. But anything could happen in Bristol.’

I lifted my glass to my mouth and tipped it all the way back. It was empty.

‘I’ll be careful mum, I promise,’ said Pete.

After his parents left Pete went to the bar and returned with a whole bottle.

‘They mean well,’ he said, squeezing my hand.

When we left the pub the air was cool and I was engulfed in shimmering drunkenness. Twilight bleached the colour out of everything. There was no sound except the rushing of the river.

‘Let’s cut across the fields,’ I said.

‘You’ll ruin your shoes,’ he warned.

‘I’ll get wellies,’ I said. I leaned in close to his ear and whispered ‘really tight ones, Pete, so tight you’ll have to ease them off me.’ The thought of me, in wellies, made me cackle out loud, and I ran over the grass, stumbling over long tufts and squelching through cow pats. Pete ran after me, laughing.

‘You’ve gone the full country bumpkin!’ he called.

I pushed through the gate in the hedge and waited for him. Some living thing scuttled away from me into the undergrowth. We kissed over the top of the gate and I pushed my tongue into his mouth.

‘You’re drunk,’ he said.

I took his hand and pushed it under my skirt, inside my knickers, to touch my smooth cleft. ‘I’m going to grow a big hairy bush and stop shaving my legs. Then you’ll be sorry you brought me to the middle of nowhere.’

‘Oh Holly,’ he said, in his soothing-exasperated tone, ‘you know I’m not bothered by all that. I love you just like you are.’

‘Let’s do it out here,’ I said. ‘No one will see.’ I pushed my hands up under his T-shirt and we kissed some more. I pulled the gate open and let him pass.

‘You lie down on the grass and I’ll get on top.’

‘What? Why’s it me who has to lie on the ground?’

‘Because I’m going to be the queen of Little Ford and you’re just a peasant, you know?’

I got my own way, as usual. When we set off down the hill again I stumbled once and nearly fell, and he steadied me. ‘Did ever you think,’ I said, ‘when you were a babby, that one day you’d come back and do it in the bushes with a girl like me?’

*

The next morning, fuzzy with my hangover, I decided to stop drinking. I wanted to start the next stage of my life as soon as possible. Why wait, I thought. I threw away my pills. I started on vitamins but I had to go to the doctors to get my folic acid prescribed. He raised his eyebrows when I told him I needed five milligrams a day, because of my gluten-free diet, so I pushed a leaflet from the coeliac support society over the table at him. Doctors can be difficult. They don’t like to acknowledge that the patients are the real experts.

Then I told myself I was living the dream. I saw my husband off to work every day with a naughty note hidden in his jacket pocket and messaged him pictures of lingerie peeping out of the bag, with promises that he’d see more as soon as he got home. At the end of the month I was late. My breasts ached. I felt all swollen up. I was so happy I went about humming all the time. I bought pregnancy magazines. I scrolled through images of nurseries. On day thirty-four – I waited like a good girl – I peed on the stick. Negative. I couldn’t believe it. Soon afterwards I started bleeding. I curled up on the bathroom floor and cried. Pete hugged me and said ‘next month.’ I got off the floor and started cleaning again. I knew it was irrational, but I couldn’t help thinking that if Millford House was contaminated with flour, I might not get pregnant. I’m paranoid, I told myself, and in the same breath, you can’t be too careful.

*

Pete and I did our bit to integrate into the village. We dutifully went to fundraising quizzes and things at the village hall, where everybody stuffed themselves with homemade cake. Sometimes people said ‘gluten free,’ and looked very pleased as they pushed their offerings towards me. I nodded and smiled and took the cakes home for Pete. People get offended if you explain the risk of cross contamination. I’d worried that going home to the village might be bad for Pete, that he might creep back into the shell I’d spent so long coaxing him out of. But all that home baking really fattened him up, and as his belly swelled he got more assertive and made jokes about being the sole breadwinner of Millford House, as though self-confidence was simply a case of entering the room stomach-first. I felt cheated out of all that effort I’d put into telling him he was good enough. And I was jealous. If only my belly would ripen like that.

I started going to church on Sundays, hoping to fit in. I liked the cool musty smell, the tuneless droning hymns and the cocooning sense of centuries of tradition bearing down on me. ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ I murmured, along with Maureen and a handful of dutiful families. When we prayed I felt a great surge of longing and imagined my future children tumbling about on the lawn on a nice new swing set. I could picture their chubby little bodies, the softness of their hair, snuggling up in their nice, clean, warm beds, with a room each. Each month I watched for signs and I would think – this is it! But then I’d be wiping blood off myself, same as usual, and empty desolation would sweep over me.

*

One day Pete strolled back from his mum’s place with a pot of goo. ‘I’m going to start making my own,’ he said.

‘Making your own what?’

‘Sourdough of course.’

I was so angry I could hardly speak. I’d spent years educating him about my health problems.

‘Why keep on buying bread for toast and sandwiches when homemade is so good? And the crust is so delicious. You really have to chew it. It’s good for your gut health, all that chewing.’

‘Good for your gut health,’ I said. ‘What if I get contaminated?’

‘Oh Holly! We’ve been over this before. Gluten doesn’t fly through the air you know. I’ll use the shed out the back. I’m going to convert it into a separate kitchen. I’m thinking of getting a proper pizza oven. And maybe a really good barbecue.’

‘A man kitchen?’ I said.

‘Exactly.’

‘Alright,’ I said, relieved he hadn’t gone totally crazy. ‘But you have to be really careful not to bring any flour inside.’

*

The next day was Sunday. I sat on the hard wooden pew next to Maureen and thought, by the winter I’ll be too big to squeeze in here. By the spring I will be two people. We’ll have a christening, I thought. Our baby deserves to have roots. Maybe I should be christened too. Then we can really belong here. After the service I hung around the church door in the damp breeze until everyone had left.

‘Reverend Greenfield?’ I asked. ‘How do I become a part of the church, like really a part?’

He started mumbling something about doing a course, said I could look it up on the Church’s webpage. I think he wanted to get back for his lunch.

‘What about communion?’ I asked. ‘Could I do that? Only the thing is, I have to have gluten-free.’

He gave a bark of laughter as though I’d asked if dogs can go to heaven.

‘We many are one bread, one body: for we all are partakers in that one bread,’ he said. ‘One Corinthians, ten seventeen.’

‘But it’s just symbolic, isn’t it?’

‘It’s a slippery slope,’ he said. ‘Soon it’ll be Ribena for the alcoholics and individual plastic cups for hygiene reasons. We’re a traditional village church. Where’s the dignity in that?’

‘There’s not much dignity in me sitting on the toilet for hours either, father,’ I said.

He drew in his cheeks like he was sucking a lemon and walked away.

‘Man shall not live by bread alone!’ I said desperately at his black retreating back.

*

Summer faded into autumn and still there was no baby. One of the Church mums had a big round belly – how hadn’t I noticed it before? It wasn’t fair, I thought. She already had two little ones, one in a push chair, one clinging to her legs. The toddler took a step towards me, waving a soggy, half-chewed biscuit in his little star-fish hands. I supressed a gasp and took a step back.

She gave me a strange look and said ‘Now Tristan, you don’t want to spoil Holly’s nice clothes, do you?’

*

I bought an ovulation prediction kit and started taking my temperature. It took all the fun out of it. Pete started giving me heavy sighs and spending more time in his man kitchen. I’d tell him ‘I’m ovulating, we can’t miss this chance,’ and make him shower properly in the downstairs bathroom and clean his teeth, just in case, before we did it.

*

The cause of coeliac disease was discovered during the Dutch famine. During the winter of 1944-1945, the Germans cut off supplies of fuel and food to towns in the Netherlands. They called it the Hungerwinter. The canals and rivers froze. In Amsterdam the rations dropped to 580 calories a day. The black market ran out of food. The rations dropped to one kilo of potatoes and 400g of bread a week. The gas and electricity were turned off. Four and a half million starving people prayed as one: give us this day our daily bread. They dug up the tulip bulbs and ate them. Twenty thousand people died of hunger. The elderly died and the children died, all except in one place. In the coeliac ward of the Juliana Children’s Hospital the death rate dropped from 35 percent to zero. There were photographs of them. Before: the skin stretched thin over their distended bellies, rising up beneath the undulating wings of their rib cages, skin crusted with angry red blisters, skeleton limbs like an afterthought, glazed eyes. After: skinny babies. For coeliacs, starvation is better than bread.

*

During the winter Maureen helped me hang some heavy curtains to keep the cold drafts out. As she left she extended her face towards me. Was it my imagination, or was her face plumper, doughier? I moved to kiss her but she had a smear of white powder on her cheek. Was it flour? With all the bread she’d been eating, it could be. I turned my head sharply and the kiss became an awkward hug. The minute the door closed I ran to the bathroom, turned on the shower, peeled off my clothes and shoved them in the washing machine straight away.

*

One Saturday I heard the slow, artificial jangle of the teddy bears picnic tune coming from outside. ‘If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise…’ I’d never understood why they chose that jingle; it was so sinister, like an advert for paedophiles luring kids into the woods.

‘Ice-cream van, out here, in winter?’ I said. I was already imagining laughing to my kids about the creepy music as they rushed out to buy ice cream. It was nice, that some things didn’t change, that we’d have that connection.

‘It’s Ed the Bread,’ said Pete.

‘What?’

‘You know, he delivers. Like a milkman but with bread. Got any change?’ Pete rummaged in the china swan on the dresser, fished out a few coins and dashed outside. He pulled on his wellies and waded across the ford. I watched through the window. Lots of our neighbours were out there standing in line, laughing and shoving bread rolls in their mouths. After a while Pete came to the front door cradling a round, flat loaf to his chest. It was the kind of hand-made bread that had flour all over the outside. I could smell the tangy, yeasty stink of it, even through the door. I missed the old days when bread was white and sliced and sealed in a plastic bag and didn’t smell of anything. I motioned to him and said ‘go round the back.’

‘Don’t be silly.’ He reached for the door but I put the chain on. ‘There’s flour all over that,’ I said. ‘Go round the back. Bread stays in your own kitchen.’

Peter sighed, as though I was being unreasonable, and slumped off round the side of the house like a teenager. The house was my safe space, my only safe space. Why couldn’t he respect that? He’d got worse since we came down here. I suppose the country is so dirty, he was falling back into bad habits. Maureen’s house was often in a state, dog hair and muck all over. ‘Good clean dirt,’ she would say, approvingly. Why did he need more bread, anyway? He ate so much of the stuff. I’d have to talk to him about the size of his belly.

*

When spring finally arrived I was exhausted. I had to sit down and rest halfway up the stairs. When I opened the window I could smell the constant pub carpet stink of Pete’s bread kitchen, and slurry on the fields from far off and the faint metallic tang of petrol from the main road. An acute sense of smell is one of the signs, I thought. Maybe I was finally pregnant. I cradled the secret knowledge gently to myself like a precious egg. If I shared this, even with Pete, it might break the spell, that trembling, tenuous bond. This secret was just between the two of us: me and the microscopic ball of rapidly dividing cells I hoped I carried inside.

That night I was full of nervous anticipation. It felt different from all the other months. I was half-asleep when I heard the soft, snuffling sighs and gentle breathing of a sleepy little creature. I wandered after it. There was something in the airing cupboard. I could smell it. It had the scent of a childhood camping trip, crushed grass, my brother wiggling about in his sleeping bag, his innocent baby animal smell, my parents drinking beer and murmuring outside by the fire. ‘Mummy… mummy,’ it whispered, ‘I want cuddles.’ I reached into the cupboard and pulled out a basket and held it in my arms. ‘Mummy’s here,’ I mumbled. The soft, pliable little form shifted under its cloth and settled cosily. Reassured it was safe, I went back to sleep.

*

I woke up early. Sunlight was pouring in through the window. Pete’s side of the bed was empty. It was May Day, the morning of the village fete. I’d suggested a face-painting stand for the kiddies, then immediately regretted it because spending all day surrounded by toddlers was bound to be painful. I needed to go to the supermarket to get some supplies and stock up on a bit of food. But something was wrong. It was the smell. Everything was permeated with a warm, yeasty smell. I wondered if it was real, or if I was still dreaming. I could hear Pete moving about downstairs in the kitchen. That’s nice, I thought. Breakfast. I waited for a few minutes. The constant stench of bread would be smothered by the smell of coffee, any second now. I rubbed my eyes and noticed that my fingertips had some kind of beige residue on them. I rubbed them clean. There was an unpleasant noise coming from the kitchen: scrape, slap, scrape, slap. What was he doing down there Why did it smell so bread-like? Well, I couldn’t lie in bed forever. I got up and got dressed and went to the bathroom where I quickly did my face and put my hair in a ponytail. That would have to do. I went down to the kitchen. Scrape, slap, scrape, slap. Pete was kneading bread on the counter. I staggered back. I clung to the doorframe, shaking and gasping for breath. I put my hands over my mouth.

‘What are you doing?’ I said.

‘Bread,’ he said.

‘But this is the safe kitchen!’

‘Oh Holly! It’s a lovely sourdough. It’s not poisonous.’

‘It is to me!’ I turned my back on him and fought back my tears. My strange dream… was it just a dream? I turned to look at Pete, contentedly kneading dough, flour over every surface, and doubt nagged at me. ‘Pete… you’re not putting dough in the airing cupboard are you?’

Pete shrugged. I went upstairs again. Slowly, slowly. My heart was pounding. The stairs seemed to go on forever. I took a deep breath and snatched open the door. The towels and sheets had all been pushed to the back and stacked up around the boiler were basket after basket of cloth-covered dough. A wild, stabbing pain shot through my chest. I turned and went downstairs again, leaning heavily on the bannisters. I stood in the kitchen doorway. Pete was humming gently as he went on with the bread: scrape, slap, scrape, slap.

‘I don’t know why you’re doing this,’ I said, keeping my voice even, ‘but I want it all gone, all of it, and I want this kitchen bleached everywhere, the insides of the cupboards, everything. And the airing cupboard too. Everything goes back to your outside kitchen, everything that’s had flour on it. Listen, I’m going out now and I want everything cleaned up before I get back.’

‘Mmm-hmm.’

‘Pete! I’m serious.’

‘Alright, Holly. Alright.’

I stood there uncertainly for a moment longer. He didn’t seem concerned at all. He’s gone crazy, I said to myself. Then I wondered if I was crazy. Or maybe this was his way of saying he wanted a divorce. Each explanation seemed more horrifying than the last. I was on the point of asking him, but I decided I didn’t want to know, not now. When I get home, I said to myself, all this will have gone away. We can pretend it was all just a bad dream.

*

I parked my car and took a small trolley. ‘Excuse me,’ I said. There was a woman coming out of the supermarket, blocking my path. Her trolley was completely full of bread. Rolls, baguettes, long loaves, round loaves, loaves with seeds and without, all different colours and sizes and shapes. She was holding a baguette in her hand and she’d bitten the end off and she was chewing on the thick crust. Her toddler threw its head back and wailed. The woman broke off a piece of bread and stuffed it into the child’s mouth and the child’s jaws started to grind mechanically. I shuddered.

As soon as the automatic doors opened I was hit by the smell of bread. They pump a chemical bread smell out around supermarkets to make people feel hungry and want to spend more. Everywhere I went I was reminded that I was an outsider, that the things that made other people salivate made me tense with anxiety. I walked past the magazines and flowers and cards, past the huge bakery section with its banner saying ‘Try Our New Sourdough,’ to the free-from area at the back of the shop. There was another woman there, hunched over nervously peering at labels. I looked for my usual things: oat biscuits, rice crackers, gluten-free cereal and pasta. But everything looked different. There were all sorts of packet bread mixes there. I picked one up and looked at the label. It was made of wheat flour: it wasn’t gluten-free at all. I put it down quickly. There could be flour on the outside of that packet, I thought. I’d have to have a shower again when I got home. I started checking the other packets. It was all mixes for normal wheat bread. I exchanged a look with the other woman, who shrugged.

I found a member of staff. ‘Excuse me?’ I said. ‘There’s been a mistake with the shelf-stacking. There’s lots of gluten in the free-from section. And I can’t find my usual gluten-free foods.’

‘I’m sorry madam, we’re reorganising,’ he said, without looking at me.

‘Where can I find my usual products, then?’

He shrugged.

A wave of exhaustion swept through me.

‘Forget it,’ I muttered and pushed past him. I was tired, so tired of all of this. If even my own husband didn’t care about poisoning me, why should the supermarket? The automatic doors parted smoothly before me as though they sensed my mood and were getting out of my way.

I got into my car, wiped my hands with several wet-wipes and rubbed them with hand sanitiser. Then I just sat there for a moment and closed my eyes. It’s ok, I told myself. I’ll go to another supermarket. I’ll make an official complaint. I really didn’t feel well. I started going through everything I’d eaten in the last twenty-four hours, checking for anything that might not have been safe. It was probably Pete, I thought, contaminating my kitchen. Life would be easier if I just gave up, I thought, if I just ate gluten and got sick. I sank down into futility and self-pity and cried, leaning my head on the steering wheel.

When I got home Pete was out. The house still stank of bread and he hadn’t cleaned the kitchen. It wasn’t a nightmare then, it was real. After my cry I felt scoured on the inside, empty and hollow like a carved out pumpkin. My anxiety had receded to a dull throb. My stomach was churning and I realised I hadn’t even bought myself any food, or re-stocked the face paints. I packed up the things I had anyway and went over to the village green by the church. If I was contaminated, if I was going to have symptoms, there was nothing I could do now. I’d get through the day, make sure the kids had a nice time then I’d have a serious talk with Pete. I’d tell him that this time I really might be pregnant, that it wasn’t only my health on the line, but our child’s.

It was strangely quiet on the green, and there weren’t many stalls set out. One of the church ladies waved at me uncertainly from behind a table piled with bric-a-brac. A limp string of bunting slithered off her stand and flopped to the ground. Most people seemed to be gathered around a van parked outside the entrance to the village hall. Probably unloading things or having a briefing. I recognised Pete’s back in the same too-tight, pale-blue shirt he’d had on earlier. He had flour all over him. I stood next to him but I couldn’t bring myself to touch him. I said ‘Pete you mucky pup, people will think I don’t look after you!’ My voice dropped in the quiet like a glass breaking in a restaurant and the blood rushed to my cheeks. ‘Sorry,’ I whispered. Why were they so silent? Then I noticed that they weren’t silent, not exactly. They were making a faint, wet, sloppy noise. I looked at Pete, but his eyes were glazed and he didn’t seem to see me. He swayed slightly. His jaws were moving rhythmically round and round. 

‘Pete?’ I said.

He thrust his hands out, they all did, letting out a low moan of longing, and Reverend Greenfield leaned out of the van with a loaf of bread in his hand. He handed it out, and then another, then another. The villagers passed the bread amongst themselves. Pete took his loaf and sank his teeth into it and chewed.

‘What’s going on?’ I asked. ‘Maureen,’ I said, spotting her, ‘you said you’d help me with face-painting, why don’t we go and get set up? It’s time to start.’

Maureen turned to look at me. Her hair was standing up on one side and she hadn’t done her make-up. Her face was slack and pasty. ‘The kids don’t want face-paint, Holly,’ she said. ‘They want bread.’ She ripped off a hunk of bread with her teeth and chewed. I looked around. Nobody looked at me. They were all chewing and chewing.

Reverend Greenfield came towards me, cradling a loaf against his chest like the baby Jesus. ‘We are one body, one bread,’ he said. He held the golden loaf out towards me in his two arms. I had a flashback to running to the bathroom, doubled up in pain.

‘I can’t eat bread,’ I said, backing away.

‘We’ve all broken bread together, Holly,’ Maureen said, thrusting a loaf at me. ‘Why don’t you break bread with us too?’

‘I can’t,’ I said, and she lowered the bread sadly.

‘Pete,’ I said, ‘I think I’m finally pregnant. Let’s get away from here.’ I tugged on his floury arm.

‘You’re not one of us, Holly,’ he said.

He turned away from me to join the others and they went on quietly chewing and chewing. I couldn’t bear it any more. I turned and ran. I ran across the fields and I ran until my lungs were burning and I had to stop. I grasped hold of the gate and doubled over with a stitch in my side. Nausea swept over me and I vomited onto the grass. Was it morning sickness, I wondered, or was it gluten? Finally I straightened up and wiped my mouth. This was where Pete and I had shagged on the ground, that first night in the village. That was a long time ago. The field rippled down towards Millford House and the river. It was rich and green, so green, full of beautiful new plant life, optimistic and hopeful. This field was normally just full of scrubby grass and cows. When had it changed? I looked closer. The plants had seeds at their tips nestled together like ropes of plaited hair. There was a breath of wind and the plants bobbed their heads to me in greeting. It wasn’t grass, I realised. It was wheat.


“Sour Dough” first appeared in the Anthology Ghastly Gastronomy in 2020. 


Kate M Tyte’s essays have appeared in Slightly Foxed, and her fiction in STORGYRiggwelter; Reflex Pres; Idle Ink; The Fiction PoolPress Pause Press; Ghastly GastronomyLiving, Loving, Longing: LisbonStrange Spring  and on The Other Stories podcast. She is a book reviewer for STORGY and The Short Story.


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