In the refrigerator: two brown eggs. The farmer warned of blood spots in the yolk. Now she can’t crack them.
On the porch: an enormous slug, luminous trail winking wherever the sun outwits the trees.
Inside on a stunning day. Snappish and hungry with a stocked pantry.
When the ex-husband calls, she responds: Splendid vacation! No rain, fresh produce, a bottle of wine every night. She doesn’t tell how an owl attacked her or that the scratch on her scalp hurts less than her lover’s words before he left three days ago. She says, “May I speak to my son?”
She waits between egg and slug in a chair facing a wall.
Her son’s no talker, but she keeps to the routine call. He knows enough words to consume thick paperback fantasies, never enough to reveal his inner life. Sometimes she fears that he, like his father, doesn’t have one. More, that hers stopped developing and she noticed far too late. If someone cracks her open, look—a great bloody spot.
“Tell me something about yourself,” she says, “something I don’t already know.”
“I’ve got hair on my toes. And I don’t have a middle name.”
“Yes, you do. My last name.”
“Exactly. A last name.”
“Then get rid of it. Like the toe hair. Shave off what you don’t want. So yesterday,” she tries again, “I saw a snow-capped mountain across the bay. Only it turned out to be a cloud.”
“Clouds move. Mountains don’t.”
“It was a beautiful illusion while it lasted.” She’d once believed slug slime was fairy dust.
“Mom, what’s the difference between a neurotic and a psychotic?”
“Say you don’t know.”
“A neurotic imagines mountains that don’t exist. A psychotic climbs them.”
“Jokes are supposed to be funny. When the psychotic reaches the top, he pulls out an assault rifle to pick off all those people who don’t believe in his mountain.”
“You know how I get when my blood sugar drops.”
“So I’ve been told.”
“Dad and I are off to shoot hoops before dark.”
“You’ll be back in another month. Six more phone calls. Six more things I don’t know about you—besides hairy toes.”
“I’m sorry about Phil.”
“He called me yesterday.”
“He called you?”
“Said he’s sorry he won’t be around.”
“Does your father know? Never mind. Tell him I don’t know the difference between a mountain and a cloud. He’ll get a kick out of it.”
“You don’t really want me to tell him that.”
“No, sweetheart, I don’t.” She hears crows fussing, wonders if the owl is back.
“Think of five more things.”
“I didn’t know you and Phil had exchanged numbers. So, five.”
Those two brown eggs remain in the refrigerator, each concealing a small, cold heart. She doesn’t have to crack them to know. By now the slug, more cloud than mountain, will be gone.