A short story.
She felt her stomach cramp as the egg began to move downwards.
Sunrise leaked through the curtains, shadows blushing. Beside her, Luke’s sleep-sour breath soft on her cheek. She took the lube out of the side desk. She poured a cool, clear dollop onto her palm, pulled down her underwear and held her labia apart. The folds were dry and sensitive, and when she began to massage the lube in, she felt the tender skin recoil at the cold shock.
‘Do you want me to help?’ Luke said, voice small. His erection pressed against her thigh.
‘No.’ She tried to press her fingers in deeper but it was sore, the stiff muscle tensing as the cramps grew.
‘What if it cracks again?’
‘Please go back to sleep.’
‘You woke me. I’m just trying to help.’
‘I don’t need help.’ She removed her slick fingers from her hole, wiping them on the blanket.
The egg was coming; she grimaced at the building pressure. She pushed hard, clenching her fists. Her muscles spasmed and then the egg was moving through her, slipping down the walls of her cunt. The egg was full and firm but the stretch mostly painless.
‘Don’t forget to catch it,’ Luke said. Lisa rolled her eyes and moved her hand just below her opening. A moment later, the egg popped out with a small squelch, dropping into her palm.
The egg was a light tan, speckled with brown freckles. It glistened in the early morning light, drooling with lube. The greased shell felt warm as blood.
‘It’s getting on the blanket,’ Luke said. She stood and placed the egg in the incubation box opposite the bed.
‘Did you do your positive associations last night?’ he asked.
She thought about not answering. ‘You should go,’ she said.
She heard his silence, then rustling sheets. She tapped the egg with her finger. His lips on her shoulder. Brief, dry. ‘I’ll text you,’ he said.
She showered and dressed. After, she checked the incubation box, removing the lid.
The shell lay in splinters. In the corner of the transparent box, a fish thrashed, bashing its tail against the side. It was pink and had grown larger than the egg it had hatched from. When it saw her looking, it stilled. It lifted its neck and smiled, its mouth filled with large, square teeth.
‘You piece of shit,’ it said. Its breath smelled of cloves.
She hummed and stooped, checking for abnormalities. Instead of scales, a layer of skin, rosy as a newborn. One eye missing, three extra fins on its belly. She grabbed her phone and input the information into her cycle app. She put the lid back on and left for the call centre.
She came home late. The box was spattered with yolk. The hatchling lay unmoving. She sponged the box clean then disposed of the hatchling and shell, dropping them into the kitchen compost bin. She rinsed the dirtied sponge under the sink, watching the water run gold.
She opened Luke’s texts and waited seventy minutes to reply. He arrived within ten minutes, a loaf of bread cradled in the crook of his arm, rocking it back and forth.
‘I made it myself,’ he said, beaming.
‘I’ll bet.’ She took the bread and put it on the counter.
She had him get on his knees and eat her out at the kitchen table. She yanked at the roots of his hair and called him a good boy and let him cry against her leg after he came in his pants. He pressed his forehead to her knee, snot-nosed and panting. Eventually, he stood.
‘I should go.’ His eyes were red, his mouth swollen. He wiped his nose with the back of his hand and stared at a spot on the floor.
‘Cool!’ she said. She walked him to the door.
Before she went to sleep that night, she found a podcast for guided associations. She pressed play and closed her eyes.
‘Imagine a small, white cat,’ the guide whispered. ‘Imagine its fur on your skin. It is good, and clean, and it is yours. You are good, and clean, and your body is yours. You are in control. Imagine the cat. The cat is beautiful. You are capable of beautiful things.’
The cat that emerged from the egg on Tuesday morning didn’t have eyes. There were no sockets for eyes to grow in, just a furry flat plane on the top half of its face. It made a whining noise when she opened the lid. Lisa reached down to stroke it. The fur was matted, and infested with lice. It purred when she stroked it, but then it let out a low, masculine moan. She withdrew her hand and the cat chuckled. ‘Luke is as good as it gets,’ it said.
She forgot to listen to the guide that night but did watch The Phantom of the Opera (2004). On Wednesday morning the egg cracked and hundreds of flies emerged, swarming the box. They were lavender and collectively buzzed out the melody of Angel of Music.
She clapped when they finished. All at once their wings fell off and they dropped out of the air. One of the flies crawled to the glass and shook its tiny fist at her.
‘Your mam feels alone all the time,’ the fly said. ‘She is afraid to go to shops because of large crowds. Her heating broke and she is very cold and you told her you’d get someone to fix it but you didn’t. Her tits sag to her belly button and their heavy weight hurts her back and sometimes when she looks in the mirror she starts crying. You never call. She thinks about how you never call. She thinks about it all the time.’
She called Mam that evening. Mam told her about Pat from next door who had fixed her heating and about every member of the parish who had recently died. Lisa half-listened,
thinking about how she was going to tell Mam she loved her. ‘Are you seeing anyone?’ Mam asked.
‘How are your eggs? Are they still regular?’
‘Any abnormalities? Are you keeping up with the positive associations?’
‘I’m only asking. It’s important at your age.’
‘Yeah. I’ve got to go Mam.’ Lisa waited to hear Mam’s goodbye and then hung up.
She texted Luke asking him to come over. For twenty minutes the icon showed her that Luke was typing. She turned off her phone and went to bed.
She was late for work the next morning and lay the egg as quickly as she could, straining her muscles. She tried to piss after it was in the box. She noticed drops of blood in the bowl; it had been a while since she had ripped anything.
She returned to her bedroom. Inside the box sat a baby.
Lisa touched her stomach. ‘I’m not pregnant,’ she said.
‘No, I’m not a real baby. Just a hatchling, don’t worry!’ he said. He had a crisp, rich accent, like a presenter on the news.
‘Oh, that’s good.’ Lisa sat down on the bed, looking at the box. The baby smiled at her. He tried to sit up but his head lolled to the side, unable to hold its weight.
‘Can I come out?’ he asked.
‘I don’t think I’m meant to. It’s bad for cycles.’
‘You’re probably infertile. And you’d be a terrible mother. You’re a bad person. You are deeply selfish and fundamentally lacking in the generosity and depth of character needed to love another. So, you may as well.’ The baby winked.
She took him out. He was a beautiful baby, blemish free, but his skin was sticky with yolk and left a slimy layer on her fingers.
She lay back down in bed, holding him in her arms. ‘I don’t even like children,’ she said. The baby hummed and nuzzled into her chest. His skin left a yellow stain on the white of her pyjama top.
‘That’s not really the point though, is it?’
‘No,’ she said.
She realized the baby’s movements were growing slower. He cocked a fair eyebrow at her. ‘Want to put me back in the box?’
She shook her head. He gurgled and grabbed at her hand, beaming. She let him clutch at her finger. Eventually, his grip relaxed.
She lay there for longer than she should have then went to work, leaving the hatchling in the bed.
For the first hour, she felt fine. In the second, she felt lightheaded. Her stomach began to cramp while on a call. She took a breath as the pain hit her abdomen. She closed her eyes, focusing on her breathing. The pain shifted lower as she listened to the customers complaint.
She felt a pressure in her groin. Her eyes snapped open as she realized what was happening. She stood, dropping the phone. She took a step, hoping to get to the toilets, then she felt something crack.
She froze. She looked down at her crotch. The grey of her trousers had darkened. In the wet patch yolk seeped through, gold globs oozing down her inner thigh.
‘Lisa,’ someone whispered.
Someone laughed and someone else made a hushing sound. Someone sighed; it sounded like her mother.
Her manager called her into his office. ‘This is very inappropriate,’ he said. ‘I mean, in public. Really, Lisa.’
‘I didn’t mean to. I already had one this morning.’
‘Oh. Is this, uh,’ he said. He clicked his pen and looked down at his desk. ‘Usual? For you?’
‘If you’re feeling unwell, management should know. We’re here to support the mental health of our employees. Positive mind, positive eggs, all that.’
She stared at him. He continued to look down at the pen, clicking it rapidly.
‘Fantastic,’ she said. ‘I’m fantastic.’
She turned to leave and felt the crunch of a piece of shell inside her as she moved.
She finally opened Luke’s texts. The word ‘aftercare’ was used, the word ‘unfair’, the word ‘selfish’. Then there were several apologies, a plea to come over, a picture of his erect cock. She sent a thumbs up. She cleaned up the box and disposed of the hatchling.
She stayed up all night watching YouTube compilations of positive eggs. Fat, large-eyed rabbits, quivering tails on rounded rumps as plump and soft as a fuzzy peach. More ambitious creations: sleeping unicorns the size of teacups, miniature dragons with flames that blew no hotter than a mellow summer breeze.
‘It’s all about focus,’ one of the women said, holding the dragon on her palm. ‘Self-control. Positivity. Not that hard!’ She laughed as the dragon did a cartwheel around her fingers.
She didn’t realise it was morning until she felt the cramp. She considered soiling herself. Instead, she took out the lube and began to prep. Pieces of shell from the last egg were still inside her. She picked them out gently. The yolk had dried on the folds of her vulva and smelled rich and sour.
When the egg was out and in the incubation box, she got a makeup wipe from the bathroom. She wiped the yolk from her crotch and then came back to check the box.
The egg was split down in the middle in two halves, unnaturally symmetrical, and the box was empty.
She lifted the egg, dipping a finger in. The shell was dry, fragile, and entirely clean of yolk. She pressed the halves against her cheek, feeling for warmth.
She placed the shell down on the blanket as gently as she could. She thought about calling someone, but she didn’t know what she would say.
She got toilet paper from the bathroom and rolled it around the shell, layers and layers of white swaddling to keep it safe. She picked it up, clutching it loosely in one palm so as to not crush it.
She went down to her car and got in, placing the wrapped shell in the passenger seat. For a brief moment she thought about putting the seatbelt around it and then she started laughing at the ridiculous thought. Then she couldn’t stop laughing and then she couldn’t breathe and her chest hurt so badly that she thought she might just fucking die. She drove to her Mam’s house, being careful to not go too quickly for fear of knocking the shell about.
She knocked on the door, but there was no answer. She pressed the doorbell for a few minutes before remembering it no longer worked and that she had said she would get someone to fix it. She looked through the front window. The light was off, and the shadows distorted the room; she couldn’t recognise any of the faces in the framed photographs and the furniture seemed menacing and wrong.
She sat down on the front step, placing the shell on her lap. She was glad she had wrapped it up before she left; the sun hadn’t risen yet and it was so cold out that she could see her breath.
She flexed her fingers to keep them warm. She wanted to tighten her hands and arms around the small, soft parcel but she wasn’t sure how to hold the eggshell without cracking it into pieces. She kept her hands by her side, waiting in the dark for someone to come home.