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A Collector

Story by Bess Winter (Read author interview) September 25, 2012

art by Sherwin Tjia

On their sixth date he led her into his soft-carpeted bedroom, made amber by sconces, past his bachelor’s bed and his night table greyed on top with a fine layer of dust and past the tamped-down cat pad in the corner by the closet, to an arts-and-crafts dresser with many brass-handled drawers.

Started collecting these in 1960, he said. He worked open a drawer. Inside were eggs, in dappled blues and greens and some in salmon pinks and splotches of brown.

Agnes recoiled. The dullness of them, fossilized and unchanging, nested into these tea towel-lined drawers: there was horror in the vision. It wormed into her gut. To gain her composure she reached out for something and took hold of her date’s shoulder, which was hard and crisper than the new button-down shirt he wore, that still held creases where a cardboard insert had shaped it out.

He stiffened. Then, lifted a long hand onto Agnes’s hand, patted it where it was plumpest. Momentarily he turned around and smiled at Agnes. She observed that his head was the dome-shape and grizzled-pink color of a buzzard’s, then, though she had never seen the top of a buzzard’s head. In fact, she’d never seen a buzzard in life. But she knew what one looked like.

He worked open a lower, larger drawer, revealing larger eggs.

Ostrich, he said. Bald eagle. Some are quite rare. He lifted a beautiful egg out of the bottom-most drawer. An opalescent egg. Nature’s loveliest commingling of green and darker green, of loamy browns and Mediterranean blues. Avocet, he said. My rarest. These’ve all died out. And he took Agnes’s hand from his shoulder and turned it palm-up, and he placed the egg in the palm of her hand.

Agnes turned the egg. The shell was cool, and bumpy in places. The egg’s elderly smell was cedar and mothballs and fusty sweetness.

And it struck Agnes all at once that she had just been handed a shelled corpse, a fossilized and curled bird, by this nice man who was now standing beside her, closing in for a kiss, lips already a white ‘O,’ eyes half-lidded like he was drifting into the sleep of old age.

The egg got heavy. It toppled off the tips of Agnes’s fingers and thumped the carpet and rolled underneath the dresser. Agnes waited, worried for the sound of breakage. But there was no crack: only silence.

The old bachelor gasped, forgot the kiss. He got right down on his belly. He went after the egg, cheek pressed against the carpet, one arm patting blindly the space between the dresser and the floor.

About the Author

Bess Winter’s work has been awarded a Pushcart Prize, illustrated in pen and ink, and adapted into musical numbers. She is finishing a short fiction collection and writing a novel.

About the Artist

Sherwin Sullivan Tjia is a Montreal-based poet, painter and illustrator. He is the author of Gentle Fictions, Pedigree Girls, The World is a Heartbreaker, The Hipless Boy, and You Are a Cat! A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style book from the point of view of a housecat. In fall 2012 he releases an illustrated collection of pulp fiction stories called SERIAL VILLAIN.


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