Pass the Salt, Brianne Battye
Pass the salt, I hear my voice ask and you ignore it. The chicken-shaped shaker stares at me from across the table, unmoved.
You glance up and I nod. You were right. It wasn’t me.
You can have the last one. It’s your voice now.
I freeze, the dinner roll about to slip from my hand and back onto the plate between us. You shake your head in confirmation. It wasn’t you. I take the roll anyway. I don’t want it anymore but putting it back will let the voice know it got to me. I have enough defiance left to eat a dinner roll. I rip the roll in half. I don’t bother with butter. The roll is dry. It crawls haltingly down my throat.
I don’t know where the spell went wrong. We poured the bones down the well. I drew a circle in salt, I said the words. You were the anchor. Just like we practiced. But the bones mixed and merged and seeped back into the walls. They became our voices, trapped here in the house with us.
We could leave, your voice offers, dripping with devil-deal enticement. It knows it got to me. Move somewhere new. A fresh start. You deserve it.
But we can’t go anywhere, and I deserve nothing. Because the binding’s imperfect. Because I only think I bound them to the house. Because if I’m wrong and I leave and they follow, what happens then?
I know why that’s impossible, my voice answers yours. I know what went wrong.
And maybe I do know where the spell went wrong, where it all went wrong. It’s me. It always goes wrong with me. This was my mistake. Your mistake was that you didn’t run. It’s that you’re not running now…
You know and won’t tell me, your voice chimes in.
You reach across the table and take my hand. The touch pulls my eyes to your face. So I can see your lips move when you say: “You don’t know what happened. And neither do I.”
I’ll never tell… I see your lips move when you say: “Not everything bad that happens is your fault.”
I’m scared, my voice says, and I shrug because it’s not a lie.
“I know,” you say.
Our stolen voices keep talking, but I keep my eyes on your lips. Watch them form words. We can try again. I can try again.
With my own voice, I say: “Pass the salt.”
The chicken-shaped shaker looks up at me with clear porcelain eyes. And we march outside to the well.
Brianne Battye (she/her) is the author of the chapbook wholehearted (845 Press) and contributed to the short story anthology, Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights (Tor). Brianne likes to write in a cozy corner nook. Her cat likes to look for ghosts in the walls.