by A.E. Kulze
In the waiting room, an ancient Cooking Light in her lap, her salty palms sticking to it, she remembers this story:
She was eight and at the neighborhood playground when she spotted a robin’s egg in the mulch. It stuck out like an eye, was no larger than a quarter, and its blue she recognized only in the box of crayons she kept in her cubby at school. She picked it up, startled by its delicateness, which was unlike anything she'd ever had the chance to hold. She took it home, cradling it in communion hands the whole way, making sure to pick up her feet where the oak roots had ignored the sidewalk and saying, I got you, I got you, I got you.
That evening she built it a nest in the crepe myrtle outside her bedroom window. She gathered some of the pine straw that she'd helped her parents disperse the previous weekend and collected a few small sticks to give it structure. She remembered that her mother had once described bird’s nests as “nature’s wombs,” which she disliked; believing that sounded like a place one went to die. She filled her nest with cotton balls to make it comfortable and arranged three brown chicken eggs around the robin’s, so it wouldn’t feel alone. She placed a plush duck on top of the nest to keep it warm, though she intended to parent the bird herself once it was born. She checked the egg twice daily, before and after school, peeping underneath the duck to inspect the shell for signs of awakening. Some days she sang it songs by Elvis, switching to a hum whenever the lyrics left her mind. She spent her daydreams fantasizing about the future, imagining herself as a robin mother, cooing her chick to sleep in the little bed she would make for it in her underwear drawer. She imagined herself feeding it beetle grubs and blueberries while her mother cooked supper downstairs. She had the vague suspicion that the task of caring for something would make the rest of her little life seem petty and blank. Later she would become far more fearful of this than the pain of a small human slipping out of her.
Weeks went by, and the egg still had not hatched. She took it down from the nest to inspect it, holding it up to her ear to listen for something stirring beneath the shell, gently rolling it around in her hands to let it know that it was ok to come out, that she would love it like you were supposed to love a child. Only she wasn’t gentle enough, and it cracked. She felt the yolk first, thick as spit, and then the entire egg came apart in her hands. There was a clot of blood like a piece of string and a warm, still thing with a beak as bright as a dandelion. All of this she understood. She quickly dug a shallow hole with her heel and deposited the egg and its contents inside, noiselessly crying as she covered it up. Years went by before she realized that the egg had been dead since she’d known it.
Still waiting, she opens the Cooking Light, hoping to put the story out of her mind before they call her name.
A.E. Kulze is a writer from Charleston, South Carolina. She worked as a journalist in New York City for four years before attending the University of Wyoming where she is currently an MFA candidate in Fiction. Her work was selected by Claire Vaye Watkins as the winner of the 2016 Tennessee Williams Fiction Contest and is forthcoming in Louisiana Literature and The Masters Review anthology of "today's best emerging writers" as chosen by Amy Hempel.