This is a true story. …There was the day that I found the egg, lying hidden in the grass, in the woods near our house. Not really the woods, and not really a house. I was seven years old.
…Not really the woods, and not really a house. It was more a collection of broken shrubbery, and a few trees, slim and scattered, yet hopeful, near the dingy apartment complex where we lived. I was seven, as I said. My mother was a single mother. We were kind of poor. My father had left us due to drinking. I had visited him once in his bachelor’s apartment, his bachelor’s pad, depressingly unfurnished, single everything — single table, chair, lamp — everything single, but then with a neat row of non-single, perfectly clean whiskey bottles, placed in perfect order, like moonlit candles leading the way to a lover’s retreat; the row of whiskey bottles leading down the hallway that opened out onto the window that led to the huge heavy iron fire-escape. I loved my father and missed him, but I did not see much of a future in visiting him. My mother would ask afterwards how these visits went. “It was fine,” I would say, a bad actor reciting lines in a terrible play; a play that would never see the light of day, that would never make it past the reviews, the terrible opening-day reviews. “His apartment is very nice,” I would say.
I found the egg hidden in the grass at the edge of our non-woods.
It was a speckled blue robin’s egg. Very pretty, it was. I nearly stepped on it before I saw it. I wasn’t sure if it was a robin’s egg or not, but it was speckled blue and then sort of an off-pinkish color, and it was very small, not much bigger than a quarter. It must have fallen out of the nest. I can’t remember what I was doing there, in the not-quite-woods. I was bored and wandering and hitting things with sticks probably, or throwing small sticks, or small twigs. Back then, the days seemed aimless and endless. I was a latchkey kid, and there was a long, long time — a long interim between me taking the bus home from school, and my mother coming home from work. It seemed very long, at least.
I picked up the egg. No one was around. You might be worrying now, at this point in the story, that I am going to crush the egg, or do something horrible, but I never would have done such a thing. Never in a million years.
I very carefully carried the egg back to our cruddy apartment. I very carefully put the egg on the dining table. What to do? It had fallen out of the nest. Out there, in the non-woods, I had scanned the trees, looking for the nest, but I didn’t see one, and even if I had I would have been unable to climb the trees to replace the egg in the nest.
What to do. My mom was at work. She was a social worker. She worked with troubled teens. There was no hope in calling her. I would just get the switchboard or an answering service. Maybe I could call my father, the drunk. What would he say? “You’re calling about what,” he would say. “Wait for your mother to come home,” he would say.
I went to an alternative school for genius kids; genius kids who would later on get beaten up when they transferred to regular high schools.. You were sort of allowed to do whatever you wanted at our school, as long as you were learning. If you felt like sitting in the library all day and reading books about Indians, you could sit in the library all day and do that. If you felt like learning how to weave (we had a loom in our school) you could get a book out and learn how to do that. If you felt like making clay models of dinosaurs all day, you could do that, so long as you were actually also learning facts about the dinosaurs as you did so. Mostly I read in the library, books about medieval history. Joan of Arc, she was burnt at the stake. The Hundreds Year War actually lasted one-hundred and sixteen years. If a knight fell off his horse in battle, he was in trouble. He was too heavy to get back on his horse again and just lay there until he was slain by a yeoman. I liked learning stuff like that.
In our progressive school, we had an incubator. An incubator for eggs. We had actually hatched a chicken egg in it once — this was part of our learning about science. The warm glow light shone on the chicken egg for days and days until it hatched, the baby chicken a sort of strange lizard-like-looking thing.
So that was that. I could put the egg in the incubator tomorrow. The baby bird would be saved.
But eggs, I knew, should be kept warm. I went back to the dining table. I stared at the beautiful blue-speckled egg. I got a very small throw pillow from the couch, and put it gently on top of the egg. I doubted that this would be very effective, but it was all I could think of.
Then I made a mistake. I continued to stare at the egg.
There was nothing on TV. I sat on the sofa. I flicked around on the channels. Reruns of Hogan’s Heroes and The Price Is Right. I fidgeted. I kicked my legs against the legs of the sofa. I looked at the egg.
A few years back, when I still had stuffed animals, I had ruined my favorite stuffed animal — a stuffed bunny named “Bunny” — by putting him in the washing machine. I had thought he looked dirty. I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I ruined him. I cried.
I looked at the beautiful blue egg. In school, we had learned of ancient people. Ancient people thought that the night sky was just a big black dome, with stars painted onto it, or with stars hanging from it, attached to the dome. I wondered if that was what the not-yet-bird thought of the egg. The baby bird couldn’t be anything yet, but who knows what thought, what could think, and whether it could think. For it the egg was an egg bigger than the whole wide world, than the whole universe, an egg maybe with infinite stars hanging from the interior black dome.
The egg looked dirty. There were small pieces of grass and bits of dirt still clinging to it from when I had picked it up.
I stood up, removed the pillow, picked up the egg, and carried it into the bathroom. I washed the egg very gently under the faucet, picking off tiny pieces of dirt and grass, the egg so small and speckled, barely bigger than a quarter. Then was when I cracked the egg, and in my terror, my horror, I tensed my hand up even more, and cracked it even more, and the tiny yellow yolk slid out into the sink. Death.
Feeling stupid and numb, I washed the yellow yolk down the drain, the yellow yolk smaller than anything. No stars on the inside of a dome now. I carefully washed the two piece of shattered eggshell and set them down by the side of the sink.
I checked the clock. Hours still before my mother came home.
Shattered and numb, I sat down on the floor of the bathroom, cross-legged, Indian-style, the way that we sat in school. I couldn’t cry; I understood that now. I sat there on the floor. “Mom,” I said, and that was all. I sat there and waited for her to come home from work, and I had an understanding — a very small understanding — of how hard life was going to be for me from there on in.