By Jennifer Taylor
“Eggshells” placed second in Southern New Hampshire University’s 2020 Fall Fiction Contest.
One day in the June of her eleventh year, I awoke to find the whole world blanketed in white. Eggshells …everywhere. I had been warned this is what would happen with a girl child. One night, I would go to sleep having been her momma for all her days, then wake up the next morning having become her mortal enemy, for no particular reason. It had happened. I couldn’t take a step now without causing damage of some degree. We shoveled the stuff out of our way so we could drive to school in the morning. We blew shards off our dinners only for me to crush a few on my way to putting the dishes in the sink. Often, being so ginger grew tedious, so we would fling ourselves backward into great piles of them, flap our arms and legs to create impressions of angels, always emerging with dozens of tiny cuts.
By her sixteenth year, she had started to find corners of the Earth where she could hide, where no eggshells existed: a boyfriend’s house across town, managing social media for a real live gold miner in Colorado, working for the carnival with her girlfriend. When she lost the carnival job and was stranded, she called her grandma to save her. I invited myself to her grandma’s house as soon as I knew she was there. In ways like this, I could continue to cross paths with her as the years went on. But always, I would arrive where she was with a suitcase and a trunk full of eggshells, as if they had just jumped in for the ride. I would invariably tread too heavy and things would end in shouts or tears, and she would run away from me again. It was my fault, then, when she ended up in dangerous circumstances, halfway across the country. The last and worst time this happened, she was driven to Tennessee by her girlfriend’s brother, on icy roads, while he was on a meth bender. My fault.
But today, my phone buzzes in my lap and her beautiful face lights up my screen. I answer it, delighted, “Hi, babygirl! How are you?” Her best friend since fourth grade, who had been a permanent fixture at her apartment, has died. I ask, “What?! What happened?”
She had been sent by his mom to check on him. His apartment door was partially ajar, and it took her a couple of minutes to understand what she was seeing, as his apartment was a mess, and he was just laying tummy-down on the floor, in his underwear, blending in with the fast food trash and liquor bottles, his skin a color that she did not recognize as him. She tells me how his back was covered in black blisters, how something blood-like was seeping from his mouth and into the carpet. She explains how she immediately called his mom, so the news would come from her, not the police; how as soon as that was done, she ran outside so she could breathe, but that didn’t work. She describes dropping to her knees on the gravel driveway and crawling toward the sound of the sirens that were on their way, impossibly quick, yet too late. An older woman, one of his neighbors helped her up, hugged her, kept replacing the oxygen mask on her face, at the EMT’s behest. My baby tells me it took almost four hours for her boyfriend to get home from working out of town. Almost four hours. Almost four hours, she was alone on the worst day of her young life, and she did not call me for comfort. She only called me to inform, after she had someone else there to support her in the task. I am fixated on a few shards of eggshell that have manifested near the toe of my shoe.
Please, please go away! If I say the wrong thing this time, I could ruin us.
“I’m so sorry. I know you loved him.” This is an insane thing for her to say to me. She is the one who is suffering unfathomable loss. I hear a tightness in her voice that is alien to me. The words just pop out of my mouth. It is the only thing I want to know. “Do you want me to come?”
I pack as quickly as I can, leaving room for the requisite eggshells, and drive the two and a half hours to her, which may as well be a continent and an ocean. She answers the door and I pull her into my arms. She cries quietly. She is cut marble, all hardened edges in my arms. She quickly catches herself, swallows, straightens her clothes, stands up a little taller, swipes her eyes with the sleeve of her cardigan. She goes about plating dinner. She talks about her friend in clipped tones, just the facts, a report on his mother who seems to be reacting in much the same manner as she. She lists his t-shirts that she wishes to keep, one with a picture of Underdog of whom he also had a tattoo; several band t-shirts, concerts they had attended together. She had stocked the guest bedroom and bathroom just for him, with toiletries, linens, and books for those nights he drank too much to drive and needed to go to work the next day. This had happened often. Today, his toothbrush has been unceremoniously tossed into the wastebasket.
Two days go by awkwardly. I try very hard to convince her there is no need for her to feed me or entertain me, but I thank her too much for the cups of tea she makes. Friends come to check on her. I do not know how to join in their conversations. I am still terrified I will say the wrong thing and she won’t allow me to be there for her. On the third morning, she comes into the guestroom to wake me up. I hadn’t slept well, and so I have stayed in bed too late. I say, “Good morning. How is today?”
“I’m not doing so well…” Her face crumples just a little before she catches herself again, straightens up, swipes at her eyes with her sleeve. Instinctively, I scoot back in the bed and lift the corner of the comforter. She crawls in beside me and I wrap the covers around her like I used to, back before that fateful June of her eleventh year. She shakes with sobs and her curls tickle my cheek. Her forehead feels feverish as she nestles it into my neck. She finally relaxes, lets loose great gulping sobs as though she had been dying of thirst. I hold her tight so there is no misunderstanding the completeness of my presence there, and as I do, I pluck the very last of the eggshells from her hair.
Category: Competition, Featured, Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Student