Gladys comes into the office holding a carton of eggs in her hand. Our office is very modern, all the walls are painted happy shades of yellow and white, and the furniture is pale blonde. Gladys is not pale blonde, she is dark mahogany, and her figure is very trim. She wears cotton skirts and cute button up blouses. The effect of her walking across the tastefully gray carpet towards my desk is very neat and professional. Except for the eggs.
She puts the eggs on my desk, and I can see they are larger than chicken eggs, very large in fact, and cracked all over. “You need to take these,” she says, and it is not a request. One of the eggs shakes a little, quivers on its axis in the plastic carton. There is a new crack. Something is moving around.
“What is it?” I try to remain calm. Everything is always a crisis around here.
“Deer eggs. I found them in my backyard, and I can’t have them in the house, Gary will go apeshit if we get deer. He loves his chrysanthemums.” She stands there with her perfectly formed hands on her trim little hips, and for a minute I am consumed with hate for neat little Gladys and her neat little yard and her neat little husband who gardens and has the same first initial as her. But it’s fleeting. I actually like Gladys a lot. I just wish she wasn’t so pretty.
“What am I going to do with them?”
“I thought maybe you could take them out to your mom’s farm. Let them live there. They’re mostly deer eggs, but I think there’s a few chicken in there too. Doesn’t your mom have chickens? And I mean, I thought if you didn’t want them, Gina might, ‘cause she likes to cook with weird stuff. ”
Pushing aside the absurdity of the situation, the fact that Gladys has just brought me a tray of living, breathing, about to be born animals and that she brought it as casually as one might bring in a jello salad to the company picnic, my nurturing sucker instincts take over. If there are chickens in there, they need heat, and to be saved from Gina’s fad diets. I pick up the tray and position it under the small sun lamp I have for my cactus. Gladys seems satisfied that I’ve taken ownership by my act of touching the damn things, and walks away.
I’ve never heard of deer eggs. I sit there in my office chair for a minute studying them, the lights and computers humming around me. They are large, almost the size of ostrich eggs. I pick one up carefully with two hands. It is hot and disturbingly smooth, like a child’s hand. It gives a violent shake and I almost drop it, so I put it safely back. But they will need to be moved. I have a bread basket on my kitchen counter, I think I can line it with a towel and that should do. It is impossible to work after that. I try to type, but the slightest movement of the eggs distracts me. I google “deer eggs” and find nothing. I feel a fear building in me, a worry, I have no idea what’s actually in those things. Are they hawks? Ducks? Platypuses? Obviously I know it’s not deer, I’m not an idiot, I know how mammals work. But it’s hard to fight the instinctual excitement of something being born.
Whatever’s in there, I want them to survive.
Finally the day is over. I drive home carefully, the eggs cradled in my coat on the front passenger seat, my hand hovering over them in case I have to stop suddenly. I feel infinitely relieved when I get them upstairs to my second floor walkup and they are established safely in my smallest laundry basket, the bread basket being too small after all. They sit there, on my kitchen counter under the sun lamp for the rest of the night. I lock the cat up in the second bedroom. I drink a beer and sit there on my only stool, watching them, gently touching, tracing the cracks with my fingertips. I can tell which ones are the chicken ones, there are two of them and they are much smaller. They don’t move nearly as much as the four larger eggs and I worry they are dead, but maybe they are just not ready to come out.
My neighbor stops by, beer in hand. We sit on the porch as he drinks. The kids in the neighborhood are running around on their bikes after dinner. Bill is of the opinion we should just eat them, the eggs, even though we don’t know what they are.
“I’ve eaten all kinds of eggs,” he brags, “ ostrich eggs, pigeon eggs, fish eggs.”
“That’s just caviar,” I point out. “They’re not fertilized.” But then I get genuinely sad thinking about the mama fish, all her eggs cut out of her.
“Do you know mama octopuses will sit on their eggs and never leave them and die of starvation when they hatch?”
“That’s fucking stupid,” Bill says, “What a stupid thing to evolve to do.”
The next morning when I wake up, I’m ecstatic to see one of the chicken eggs is cracking too. All of them are moving like crazy, it shouldn’t be much longer. I remember something about turning the eggs, to make sure they are coming out right side up. Sticking my hand in the basket to gingerly move them is the same as sticking it in a basket of scorpions. I recognize there is now a terror weight in my chest, a large beast breathing slow hot air into my cheeks, which are vivid and red. I call off work, tell them I have a fever. I have a little fantasy while I’m eating cereal that Gladys wonders why I’m not there, wonders if something happened. But better that it be me, the girl living alone with no husband or kids to worry about. I start to feel more charitable to her, but only a little.
It’s a beautiful warm sunny day. I take a book with me to the backyard, and the laundry basket. We lay in the sun. I’m vaguely aware that an actual mother would never do this because of hawks and vermin. “Lucky eggs, you. You landed in the arms of an apex predator, ” I whisper to them. They are being still at the moment. It must be hard work, hatching. Especially if you’re a little deer, trying to kick out with your spindly little knocky knees all tied up in knots. Someone close by is cutting the grass, and it smells warm. I fall asleep briefly.
I dream visions of making out, of the pulsing red beats of life, of the color of your thumb when you hold a flashlight to it, of the spark of life-savers in my mouth late at night around a school trip camp fire. I dream of falling off my bike, and first dates.They are dreams of being afraid and full of awe at the same time, an ignorance of the universe’s laws and regulations. They are mothering dreams.
When I finally open my eyes, my body is cold and stiff. The sun has gone down, way down, and the yard is night-time dark. There are crickets chirping in the blue shadow leaves, and the memory of the sun still lingers but the air is chilly. I sit up. Even the grass feels sharper. Looking down by my side, I can see the eggs are lying broken, empty.
They are stumbling in the weeds, a few feet away. Tiny, delicate, and awkward; only a few inches tall and glowing a faint, moonlight green. The hooves of their stumbling glass feet are smaller than my fingernail. My eyes trace the contours of their arched necks, their pointed fawn ears laid back in confusion, their big dark eyes wide with introduction. The babies stumble and climb up unsteadily again, the strong ones are fairly walking already. Among the stalks of grass that are barely taller than their heads, the light from their bodies sparkles and drifts, interrupted like glitter. I stay still, and barely I catch the soft high pitched squeals and murmurs. It sounds like pieces of chandelier crystal knocking against each other.
Then I catch a different sound, a very ordinary cheep, a chirp, from a little closer. By my knee, the one little chicken to survive. She is shivering in the evening air, curled up against a fold in the blanket. I reach down and cup her beating, weak body in my hands, hold her up to my cheek. She settles into me immediately, and falls asleep. I think to myself that I’ll give this one to Gladys in the morning, she and Gary can take care of a chicken, they’ll probably like that. A pet chicken playing among the chrysanthemums. The chick and I watch the deer, keeping each other warm.
Bridget Callahan is a writer and comedian from Cleveland, Ohio. Her writing has been featured in Monkey Bicycle, Sheriff Nottingham, the Tusk, and Belt Magazine, among others.
Featured image by Jona Fine.