Let the Diner Beware

The merchant’s new wife ate so little at meals, and that so slowly—one grain of rice at a time, delicately balanced on the blade of a knife!—that he began to worry. He tried to inspire her appetite with his own, praising how good everything was, suggesting she try this or that choice bit, but she was cheerful and set in her ways. He scoured the city for new recipes, prepared her lavish meals, filled her plate with his own hands, but she just smiled gently, and thanked him warmly, and ate one grain of rice at a time.

He brought in the finest chefs in the empire, men and women who had prepared food for sultans and kings, the most exacting gourmets, culinary artists renowned across the world for the subtle artistry of their spices, the transcendent delights of their desserts. He shipped in the rarest fruits from abroad, the most exquisite candies, the richest meats cooked in the sweetest of wines, but still: one grain of rice at a time, balanced on a knife’s edge, with neither hurry nor waste.

After several years of this he despaired, until one night when she rose in the darkest hour and stole out of their bedroom. Wildly curious, he slipped out after her and followed her through the winding streets of the city. She led him to the meatpacking district, and there, in a dark and lonely alley, fell to eating the rancid offal spilling from an overflowing dumpster with the greatest gusto. He made some small sound as she ate, and she looked up at him without surprise, wiped the jelly from her mouth with the back of a delicate hand, and smiled the same slow, gentle smile.

“Come,” she said, “everything is ready. None who are invited will be fed, and none who come will depart hungry.”