The girl takes the egg everywhere. She washes it at school because the water at home does not get hot. She washes it with a toothbrush that her Math teacher threw away. Sometimes, the other students stare at her as she brushes the egg. They gargle and spit in the sink next to hers, and they wonder aloud, “Why?”
The egg is the size of the girl’s head. It is the same color as the seashell-buttons on her school-uniform. She cannot keep the buttons buffed, but she can show the egg love.
A student tries to touch the egg in homeroom, and the girl slaps his hand without getting worked up. Their teacher half-smiles, but she looks at the boy in a way that says, “Do not keep doing what you’re doing.”
At lunch, the boy tells the other students that the egg is hot, which is true. The sophomores think the girl stole the egg from a freak-ostrich on a farm up north. Fellow juniors say the girl got pregnant by the freak-senior with the sharp nose and long fingernails. The seniors don’t say a lot about the girl.
No one asks the boy with the nose and the fingernails about it because he is always wearing headphones. Even the teachers don’t make him remove them. He also wears long sweaters instead of the proper uniform, yet doesn’t have to write lines as punishment.
At home, the girl sets her egg on a pillow on the floor between her mess of blankets and the wall. Her father sleeps on the bed in the middle of their one room and doesn’t like it when she hums during homework. He called her a slut even before she got the egg and the rumors started.
No one asks the girl about the egg directly because she has demonstrated that she will not reply.
When alone, she calls the egg Miri.
Her father gets very drunk and then gets very hungry and says, “Give it to me.” But the girl doesn’t. She shields the egg as it sits on the pillow. Eventually, her father grabs the frying-pan and threatens her seriously. The girl knows he will not hit her. She knows he will get sick and then fall asleep. Then he does and quickly dreams.
They have a small bathroom that is easy to clean because there is a drain in the floor. Everything is rinsed with the cold water. The girl boils water and splashes it on the bathroom’s floor and walls every Sunday because she thinks it’ll help keep away the mold.
She too is very hungry.
The boy from her homeroom tells her one morning to sneak into the Cluster Room with him and he’ll make it worth her while. She takes his money and his noodles first and then gets close and then smiles before kicking him between his legs because she is not someone who gives in in Cluster Rooms. She pays a bill at the ATM and buys apples and saves the rest of the money because when winter comes she might need something to keep Miri warmer than she currently can. She does share the noodles with her father.
The boy’s friends get angry and say the girl should pay for the injuries she caused the boy. They all have watches. They corner her when she is late walking out to the track for PE class. She is scared of what might happen to the egg. The boys touch her body in some places, but when it’s time for them to go for the egg, they all get cold feet and look at one another. Then there’s a whistle on the track and the boys take off.
The girl thinks all boys have watches, even if they don’t wear them.
That afternoon, she runs an errand for her Math teacher. She has to go to the senior building and deliver a message to a senior teacher. Next year, the girl thinks, she will apply to live in the senior dormitory, so that she can study better than she is able to now. By the time she takes the university entrance exams, she will be ready. Then they will start moving up, instead of sideways. The girl believes in the power of dreams.
The first time she sees the boy with the nose and the fingernails outside of school, it’s by the stream that cuts through the neighborhood next to hers. She goes north instead of south, which is where most of the students at her school live.
She is walking with Miri on the track by the steam and sees the boy practicing tennis against a crumbling wall. He is not the only one. The girl stops and some old women bump into her from behind. They are annoyed and tell her so. They scoff at the egg, which she’s carrying on her stomach, under her sweater.
The boy must not hear the shouting. He is wearing his headphones even now.
He hits the ball and the ball hits one of the tinier cracks in the falling-down wall. The ball jets off into some weeds that the city-cleaners apparently forgot about. There are some dragonflies buzzing above the weeds. The boy no longer has his back to her as he retrieves the ball. He still doesn’t see the girl.
One of the other tennis-players hits the same crack in the wall. His ball jets off, as well, this time in the other direction, where there are no weeds.
The girl learns for the hundredth time how easily the world’s things break. She understands wildness. A dragonfly strays past her. Yet another ball hits yet another crack and jets off. Then the girl continues walking, into wild air.
Notes from Guest Reader Erin Fitzgerald
‘The Girl with the Egg’ has familiar and fantastical elements. But those elements aren’t in service to each other as they often are, and the story expands in ways that are subtle and fierce as a result.