We’ve had Addison and her egg all week. She named it Molly and drew its face with permanent marker: two gaping eyes and a mouth like a sideways capital D. It’s for a kindergarten class project on parenthood. At night Molly sleeps in a cardboard bassinet in the refrigerator.
“How does that teach her about parenthood?” says Jennifer, Addison’s mom, with a snort. “I didn’t get to keep her in the fridge all night after she was born.”
We were only dropping Addison off at the lake house, but Jennifer insisted we stay for a drink. I asked Jake if my being here would be a problem, but he said everything’s cordial with them now. Jennifer’s seeing someone herself, a Unitarian pastor who plays the guitar.
“They need an egg that wakes up and screams every hour,” Jake says, pouring us each a glass of white wine.
Addison sits on the pier and dresses Molly in a paper tutu. I tell her Molly looks pretty.
“Want to do her hair?” Addison asks, handing me a tiny plastic comb.
I say sure and pretend to style the egg’s bald head.
“That’s not how you do it,” Addison says. “Here.”
“They had us carry around bags of flour in middle school,” Jennifer says. “To scare us out of getting pregnant. Isn’t she too young for that?”
“There’s no birds and bees stuff,” Jake says. “They just learn to be nurturing.”
“Give her back,” Addison says, and Molly slips from my grasp, landing in the water with a plop. Addison screams.
I dive in. Through the murky water I see the egg drifting away. I reach out and close my hands around it carefully. When I surface, Addison is weeping.
“She drowned her, Daddy. She did it on purpose.”
I say Molly’s okay and pretend to do CPR.
“It’s too late,” Addison wails. “Her ghost is coming out.”
“I think someone’s tired,” Jake says, scooping Addison up and carrying her to the house.
“Poor you, you’re soaked,” Jennifer says. “You can borrow something of mine.”
We go inside, and I change into Jennifer’s jeans and charity 5-K sweatshirt, nothing else. I draw the line at borrowing her underwear. I follow Jennifer around the kitchen while she hunts down a plastic bag for my wet things. Molly sits on a doll chair on the counter. I hitch up the jeans, which are loose around my hips, and try to avoid Molly’s stare.
“Sorry I don’t have anything that doesn’t swallow you,” Jennifer says, with a shrug. “So do you two have exciting plans?”
I say we might get takeout and watch TV.
“He can do better than that. On a Saturday night?”
I smile, unsure how to answer. I wonder what she considers exciting plans. Dancing? Box seats at the theater? Jake mentioned once that Jennifer likes “fancy-schmancy stuff.” That’s how he put it.
Jake comes out of Addison’s room and says we should get going. As I turn around, my elbow knocks over Molly’s chair. I pick her up and apologize, but I can’t salvage anything. Raw yolk covers my hands.
“I’ve got more eggs. Get me a pen,” Jennifer says.
We watch as Jennifer draws Molly’s face onto a new egg.
“Perfect,” Jake says. “That’s putting the old art degree to use.”
“Think she’ll guess?” she asks, squinting at her work.
“We’ll deny everything.”
They admire the egg cradled in Jennifer’s hand, and I picture them in the hospital after Addison’s birth, smiling and cooing, counting tiny fingers.
“Perfect,” Jake says again.
Jennifer puts Molly II in her bassinet and offers me a washcloth.
“Out, damned spot,” I say. “Ha-ha.”
She gives me a closed-lipped smile and waits for me to finish wiping my hands. I apologize some more. I can’t stop apologizing.
Jake rubs my shoulders, and I try not to think about him touching this same shirt back when it was on Jennifer. I lean back and breathe in his scent, like I did that night the whole office went to happy hour and I gave him a little hug before leaving. Not meaning anything by it, not really.
“It’ll be fine,” Jennifer says. “It was an accident.”
Notes from Guest Reader Tara Laskowski
It’s refreshing to read a story about ‘the other woman’ without the usual stereotypes. The dynamics between these people feel so authentic and complex–as fragile as an egg shell on the surface, but with so much density underneath.