“They didn’t have oranges,” Jonathan announced, confirming my suspicions that I couldn’t rely on him to do the simplest of chores. I’d only asked for a dozen eggs, a roll of generic brand paper towels, and three oranges. Simple enough requests for him to he’d feel like he was helping out and get him out of the house for a little while. It would do us all some good.
“Really? No oranges?” I asked, trying to tamp down my incredulity as I finished washing the baby bottles.
“Apparently, they were out,” he said, and pulled out a roll of paper towels with image of a smiling manly-man wearing a plaid shirt bursting at the seams. They were not the generic ones I’d asked for but I didn’t mind, he was smiling too, like the paper towel man, and in a better mood than I’d seen him in weeks. The errand had worked. “These were on sale. Says they’re super absorbent.”
“It’s no big deal. Thank you for going,” I said, drying my hands and walking over to kiss him softly on the lips. “Did they at least have eggs?”
That’s when he extracted a small carton of eggs in a recyclable paper carton with ORGANIC stamped in official-looking block lettering. He passed the container to me with both hands and a slight bow like a Japanese businessman might offer a gift, although it wasn’t even a full dozen as requested.
“These are free-range, organic, and have extra omega-3’s. Healthy eggs from happy chickens.”
“Happy hens, huh?” I murmured. “How much did these healthy eggs cost?”
“Just look inside,” Jonathan said, suddenly giddy.
I unlatched the egg container, and my eye was immediately drawn to a hefty and lumpen egg with an ivory sheen. Nearly twice the size of the others, it was marked with strange ridges and barely fit in its slot. I’d never seen anything like it, and although I was slightly annoyed that he didn’t get a dozen, I was heartened to see him seem happy again.
“Pretty cool, huh?” Jonathan said checking my expression.
With some effort, he dislodged the enormous egg from its slot, and held it in the meat of his palm. Then, he rotated it, running his fingernail tenderly over the giant curve of the shell, tracing the strange vein-like striations that looked like stretchmarks. It appeared that the shell had expanded to accommodate the extra-extra-large contents.
“What d’you think’s inside?” he asked.
Poor Jonathan. He’d been out of work for nearly three weeks the day he brought home that egg. The poor man didn’t know what to do with himself. He still woke up early, fed and walked our schnauzer, took his morning run and did fifty chin-ups, and sent out résumés, only to realize he still had a full day ahead of him. He’d already re-organized the garage, taken things to Goodwill, and put together an Ikea bookshelf for his architecture-related books and models. He stalked the hallways looking for more assignments.
He’d been at his firm since we’d graduated from UT nearly a decade ago. Jonathan nurtured several projects, was known for mentoring younger staff, and his ability to calm the orneriest neighbor in a community outreach session. With the birth of our daughter, he’d wanted to be present, take some time off, so we could all bond as a family. The partners said they were on board. We’d even applauded their progressiveness and they talked about instating some official paternity leave. And so Jonathan took the leave, only to realize upon his return that his role was diminished. Months later, he was let go.
“Enjoy your time off,” I told him, early on. “This could be a blessing in disguise.”
“What if I don’t get another job?” We were outside. Jonathan prepared the grill for dinner as I sprinkled more jerk seasoning on the chicken thighs.
“Then, I’ll go back to the hospital,” I said. “You can stay home, and be Mr. Mom.”
“Or I could just be Dad.” he said, wounded.
“Of course,” I said, rubbing his arm. “I didn’t mean anything by it.”
We paused to watch Anna as she crawled on the thick, glossy Bermuda grass reaching for our schnauzer, Shatzi, who was staying just out of reach.
“I don’t want to be the kind of father my Dad was. He never played with us or even seemed interested in us. He went to work and came home and sat in that awful plaid armchair and drank scotch all night. I never saw him help my Mom. He only knew how to heat stuff up for dinner and check out math homework. Pretty stereotypical.”
“You’re not like him,” I assured him as I passed him the chicken to put on the grill. I remembered the dynamic between his parents when we’d visit. His mother insisted on doing everything herself. We couldn’t do our own laundry or even make our own coffee. It was like walking on eggshells, and it was decidedly her domain. I wasn’t sure if Jonathan’s father was even allowed in the kitchen. Although, on some level, I could understand where his mother was coming from.
I didn’t want to be that kind of partner, but sometimes, it was just easier to do it myself. I knew Jonathan needed to keep busy and while I started looking for openings at hospitals in the area, I began to delegate some of the household chores, but one day in the second week, I’d just come across the clothes I’d entrusted to him from the dryer when I let out a long sigh. I was going to have to re-fold each and every piece. Even the socks which were twisted into strange formations. Also, I would have preferred to do it when they were fresh from the dryer. He’d waited too long and the wrinkles had set in.
“What?” he asked, hurt mingling with pride in his eyes. “Did I not do it right?”
“No, it’s fine,” I said, trying to sound convincing. I was doing my best not to shake out my T-shirts and fold them into neat stacks instead of being satisfied with the crumpled lumps before me. Luckily, Anna screamed from her crib. Jonathan, quick to show his utility, spun on his heels, and hurried to her room. Shatzi trotted behind him.
“Daddy’s coming!” he sang out.
I took that moment to quickly refold my shirts, but he came back into the room as I’d finished my last one. Guiltily, I closed the dresser drawer. It seemed to echo in our bedroom.
“I thought they were fine,” he said.
Shatzi sat down between us, as if to referee the debate. Anna continued to cry, squirming in Jonathan’s arms. He jiggled her and jostled her, and tried to distract her with kisses to her chubby neck, but she wouldn’t be consoled.
“I’m not doing this right either, am I?”
I didn’t say anything, but it was written on my face.
“What? Just tell me.”
“She doesn’t like to be on her back. Just hold her against your chest and hum.”
He tried, but she was still fussy. Shatzi pawed at his leg and gave Jonathan a disappointed stare.
“Let’s try a group hug.” I suggested, and enveloped Jonathan and Anna in my arms. He was tense at first but gradually relaxed. Anna’s howls slowly transitioned into little hiccups. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that the top sheet was hanging out, almost touching the carpet on one side of the bed. I was going to need to re-do that as well.
“I just want to help, but I feel like…” he trailed off. “I don’t have a place.”
“You do. You’re the man of the house. You’re her father, my husband. You’re amazing…and you’re going to get a job soon. We’ll figure it out.”
“Babe,” Jonathan asked me again, patting the giant egg softly. “What d’you think’s inside?”
When I said nothing, he gingerly placed it atop a quilted pot holder on the kitchen counter. He bent over, and inspected the egg, peering so intently as if he could see through the shell.
“It’s an egg,” I said. “I’m guessing a huge yolk and lots of albumin.”
“Albumin,” he repeated as if that were ludicrous.
“Maybe it’s rotten,” I said, suddenly irritated. Not only had he been unobservant enough not to find oranges, but he’d gotten expensive eggs and the wrong paper towels.
“You’re the one being a rotten egg!” he shouted like a child.
“If you’d just gotten what I’d asked for…”
“But this, this could be something…the beginning of something.”
“A giant mutant egg?” I asked.
“What if there’s a chick inside?”
“There’s not going to be a chick, honey. There’s no way. It’s been pasteurized. An embryo couldn’t survive.”
“Let’s wait and see,” he suggested.
He carefully placed the egg back in the container, and hesitated at the refrigerator door, and asked, “Should I keep it warm?”
I shook my head at him, but part of me was happy that he had a new project. “I’m taking Anna and Shatzi to the park. Did you want to come with us?”
“No. You girls have fun. I’m going to do some research about eggs.”
Days passed and then a week where Jonathan did not ask to help with the laundry or dishes. He did not attempt to make the bed or help change Anna’s diaper, but spent hours researching egg anomalies on-line. One day, when I came home from a Mommy and Me yoga class, he was on the phone speaking in hushed tones.
“That’s was a chicken farmer. He told me that it was probably a double-yolker,” said Jonathan, sadly.
“It seems big enough to contain two yolks,” I said, lifting up Anna to blow a raspberry on her little tummy. She squealed and drooled with delight. “A two-fer.”
“What would you know?” hissed Jonathan, and stormed out of the kitchen leaving Anna and I both confused.
Later, I came upon him watching a cooking show, his egg rested next to him on a throw pillow. Every now and then, he’d place his palm over the egg, caressing it. Shatzi looked on with a frown from her perch at the opposite end of the couch.
Not long after that, he began bringing his egg everywhere. He kept it on a pillow while he read in bed, at his desk when he tweaked his cover-letters and résumés. He brought it into the bathroom with him. I even I heard him singing to it as he ran water for a bath. At night, it slept in a cushioned bed of washcloths atop Jonathan’s bedside table.
“I think I’m going to make a little crib for my egg,” he said a week after bringing it home.
By the second week, his egg’s glossy sheen had dulled to a sickly alabaster making the ridges seem even more grotesque. Also, it had begun to smell.
“It doesn’t smell!” he insisted.
“Do you think I’m crazy?” I asked him, realizing it was he who I’d overheard earlier singing Baa Baa Black Sheep to the egg in its tiny cradle. “You think I’m making it up?”
I had to get rid of this egg.
Later, when I put Anna down for a nap, I joined him for lunch in the kitchen. I asked him, “Baby, what do you think is inside that egg?”
“You wouldn’t understand,” he said dismissively.
“I bet I would,” I said, hating the patronizing edge of my voice. I fiddled with the baby monitor.
“You’re not the only one who can nurture, you know,” he said grabbing the baby monitor and giving it a quick listen. There was only familiar crackle mixed with Anna’s easy snores.
“I never said that. I think that you’re a wonderful father.”
“She only cries when I hold her.”
“It’s just a stage. I’m so happy that you have this time with her.”
“This is all I have.” He pointed to the egg, its shell taking on a mossy undertone in the unforgiving kitchen lighting. I caught a whiff of a putrid sulfur decay.
“Jonathan, I know you’re going through a tough time, and I’m sorry that I made you feel like you were doing things wrong. That was crappy of me. Laundry, diapers, that stuff doesn’t matter, what matters is that we’re a family. But that egg…”
“What about my egg?”
“That egg is just an egg. There’s nothing inside it, but probably two yolks. It’s never going to develop into anything.”
“That’s a classic micro-agression! You’re jealous.”
“You’re jealous that I have something that’s completely mine. You want the nurturer role all to yourself, don’t you?”
“Look at it! Those gross veins. It probably has a dead deformed chick inside,” I yelled, wondering where this meanness was coming from.
Shatzi ran into the room and barked at us to stop.
“I’ve been keeping it warm. If it was dead, I’d know!”
“You’re crazy!” I grabbed for the egg, but he blocked my hand and the egg rolled off the table in lumbered revolutions and fell onto the floor with a dull thud.
I smelled it first. The rancid and foul smell snaking up my nostrils made my throat convulse. I looked down, confused at the lack of a runny mess, Shatzi moved forward quickly to investigate. She poked her grey snout into the fallen lump on the floor and then tapped it with her paw.
“Get back, Shatz!” Jonathan barked as he fell to his knees beside the broken egg.
Dark orange sludge oozed from twin wounds of the shattered shell. Jonathan frantically tried to piece back the broken shards of shell. I knelt next to him to help, and helped him gather the pieces. Tiny chips of ivory. We were both crying.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“No, no, no!” Jonathan cried and Shatzi looked at us both with her signature frown and backed out of the room.
Our eyes moved from each other’s expressions to the egg and then back again. Then we both began to laugh. Loudly, luxuriantly, with near hysteria. There was only a little relief in it. Jonathan sputtered like a lawnmower starting up, and I grabbed at a stitch in my side as I cackled.
The egg white was almost firm. There was very little translucence.
“Did you…cook this egg?” I asked him.
“No…I mean…I guess I did take it in the tub with me.”
But when the laughter was over, we both began to cry again, this time softly, heads bent like a strange scrum of two. We paused for a moment when we thought Anna might be waking up, but it was a false alarm. Jonathan melted his body into the floor and curled up into a fetal position.
I ripped open the new package of the heavy-duty paper towels that Jonathan had bought. I tore straight through the image of the man, stretching his smiling face into an open jag. I slowly and carefully wiped up the area. I wrapped the broken egg in a few more lengths of paper towel before laying down, and fitting my body to his. I passed him the bundle, and when he took it into his hands, I held him tighter. We stayed like that for a long time.
© Laura Corrigan
About the Author: Laura Corrigan is a writer, photographer, and wine lover. She grew up in Louisiana, Texas, Dubai and Rome and loves to travel. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, and enjoys hikes with her husband and miniature schnauzer and visiting wineries. She collaborates on a wine-related podcast, Bottle Share, and is currently working on her first novel.