“So what are we going to call it?” His voice, coming from behind, makes me jump. I thought I’d been alone. I’d prefer it if I were.
“Call what?” I genuinely have no idea what he’s on about, and I just want to get away as quickly as possible. Imagine if one of my friends drove past. Worse, imagine if anyone else from school did. At least my friends would get it. Anyone else might think that there was something else going on.
“It,” he says, pointing at the lump in my backpack. He’s walking next to me now, and I cover my face as best as my ringbinder will allow as a car passes.
“Oh God no.” It comes out before I can stop myself, and I see his face turn a deep shade of red. It makes the pimples that cover his cheeks seem a lighter pink in comparison. It’s disgusting.
“Look,” I stop and turn to him so that we are standing face to face, so close that I can count the freckles on his nose and see my eyes reflecting in his thick-rimmed lenses. It serves a double purpose really. He’s a lot better at hiding me than a stupid file is. “I just want to get this over and one with. I couldn’t really care less about the… thing.”
“Euch. Can’t we just call it an egg?”
“Great.” I carry on walking, as fast as I can, hoping that he’ll take the hint and let me head home in peace.
“Eggy?” The voice is coming from directly behind me again and it takes every bit of strength I have not to turn around and slap him through the face.
“No. Not Eggy. Not Benedict. Not Scramble or Fry. This thing… egg… doesn’t have a name. It’s not a pet. It’s not a person. It’s nothing.”
“It’s an egg.” I hold in the scream that is begging to come out.
“Yes. An egg. That’s it.”
“Our egg.” I stop walking, close my eyes, take a deep breathe in and let it out slowly. When I open my eyes, I see that he’s stopped too, maybe three feet away from me. “Okay,” he announces, hands up in a mock surrender, “I’ll stop.”
We keep walking together in silence, me still wishing that he would get lost, him still wanting to talk about it. I can tell. Every now and then, out of the corner of my eye, I will see him slow down ever so slightly and open his mouth, only to promptly close it and speed up again to walk beside me. Maybe he’s just decided not to try his luck. Maybe he’s scared that I’ll snap at him. He should be. I have a tendency to snap. The pauses become more pronounced and more distracting, until eventually I can’t take it anymore.
“Spit it out then!”
He stops, stares at me as though I’ve just popped out of thin air before him and shouted “Boogedy Boo”, his mouth hanging open in shock. And then he closes it, clears his throat and announces it in as confident a voice as he can manage, and I can tell that it’s not a voice that he’s used to using.
“Can I come over this weekend?”
I stare at him, dumbfounded.
“And what on God’s green earth makes you think that’sgonna happen?”
“It’s my egg too. For the next few weeks at least.”
“You want to come over… and see… the egg?”
And now it’s my turn to be astounded. Did he just…
“So I’ll see you tomorrow.” It’s not a question. I’d say that it’s a joke, but there isn’t a hint of a smile on his face. In fact, he’s looking more than a little nauseous. But he steadies himself nonetheless, squaring his shoulders and walking away from me at a controlled pace. It feels like he’s going to crack and start running any second, and I stare after him waiting for it, but it just doesn’t happen, and he doesn’t turn around. Instead, I am left standing in the middle of the street, looking more like an idiot than ever, watching him walk away from me.
“So, honey, how was school?” She is refusing to look me in the eye. I can see why. The blue hue of her eyeshadow looks just a little too natural.
“Just fine?Nothing exciting happen?”
“No.” I keep my gaze focused on my plate, deciding to play along with her game. If she wants to live in denial, I am more than happy to assist.
“GET THAT SWEET ASS OVER HERE.”
“YOU EAT TOO MUCH!”
“I’M SPENDING TIME WITH MY SHELLEY!”
“Don’t bother.” It comes out as a whisper, but it’s loud enough for her to hear. She looks at me then, and there’s fire in her eyes.
“What did you say to me?”
“WHAT ARE YOU SAYING?”
“IT’S SHELLY, BABE.” She’s standing now, and I’m still trying my best to stare at my plate. “SHE’S TALKING BACK.”
“TELL THAT LITTLE BITCH TO SHUT HER FOUL MOUTH.” It stings, but not nearly as much as it used to. None of his words hurt quite as much as they used to.
“You hear that, Shelley. You’re pissing him off. You know what happens when he’s pissed off.”
I tear my eyes away from the plate and lock them with hers. I’m about to scream, about to fight, about to cause a hailstorm of shit that I know I won’t be able to take back. But I see it there. It’s hidden behind bruises and anger and blame, but it’s there. Fear. I can’t tell if it’s fear for herself or fear for me, but I recognise it, and it stops me in my tracks.
“Sorry, Ma. You know I didn’t mean it.”
“Yeah…” I can see her losing steam already, her body folding in on itself, her usual submissive demeanour taking precedence over her anger at her daughter’s defiance. “Well… it had better not happen again.”
“What the hell is going on in here?”
He stands in the doorway, observing us, and for a second I can see us through his eyes. Useless, weak and pathetic.
“Nothing, hon.” She strides over to him, all sweetness and smiles now, but it isn’t fooling him in the slightest. She leans up to kiss him, her hands on his arm firmly, trying to hold him back without really forcing him to do anything that he doesn’t want to.
“You going to let your girl talk to you that way?” A look of disgust plasters his face, and when he turns to spit on the floor, we both know that it’s got meaning behind it.
“It’s fine, sweetpea. All sorted now. Isn’t it, Shelly?”
I keep eating, trying to ignore it. I know that whatever I see will be seen as talking back, so rather not talk at all. But even that is problematic.
“You answer your Ma when she’s talking to you.”
He’s standing beside me now, with her in the doorway, her eyes begging, pleading with me. I can read their language. Don’t cause any more shit. Don’t make things worse. But it’s gone too far now. Nothing that I can do will stop him. I’ve just got to close my eyes and hope for the best.
I’m sitting on the porch when he arrives, soaking up the sun as best I can and gently rocking it back and forth on the ground with my bare feet. The shell feels cool and smooth against my toes. Every other inch of my body aches, but my toes are safe, and the movement is calming, peaceful, in stark contradiction to everything else that I am feeling right now.
He comes early, and I watch unseen as he walks up to the postbox, only to turn around again and walk the other way. He doesn’t get very far before he’s at the box again, this time even coming a little way up the path to the front door before retreating back to the street. As he turns back a final time, I can see the resolve in his face, his glasses pushed hard against his nose, his stance of power taking over. He walks past the postbox, past the dead roses that line the path, right up to the front door and knocks hard once, slightly softer a second time and, his confidence quickly fading, barely raps his knuckles against the door a third and final time.
He turns to me, a scream frozen on his lips, fading as he sees my face break into a smile. He quickly composes his into one too. It breaks the tension a little and he comes and sits beside me on the wooden floorboards, not saying a word, but just staring, hypnotised, at the movement of my feet. For a few minutes, we sit in silence. I don’t know what runs through his mind, but my hand rests on my stomach as I picture a future of joy and beauty and happiness. It hurts. A tear travels down my cheek leaving a riverbed in its wake, and I flick it away nonchalantly as she opens the door and looks down at us, sitting together. I can see the thought jump into her mind: What the hell is Shelley doing with him of all people. But she’s quick to dismiss it.
“You kids want breakfast?”
He nods enthusiastically and stands up, wiping the dust from his hands onto his jeans and opening the door for me expectantly. I consider ignoring breakfast and sitting out here all day with nothing but the sun, the wind and the gentle rocking of my foot, but he’s watching me, waiting, and it’s ruining my fun. I brace myself for the pain and let my wrist take all the weight as I push myself up. Even though I’m expecting it, the intensity of it still catches me off guard and I let out a whimper of pain, not loud enough for anyone inside to hear, but too loud for him to ignore. He looks from my face to the swollen wrist, and it feels like he is really taking me in for the first time. I see his eyes widen as he notices the blotchy skin, my attempts at covering it up, and the faint shades of blue, green and yellow that lie beneath in different phases of healing.
“Please,” I whisper, my eyes meeting his, pleading. I have no idea what it is that he is thinking for a change. Usually I’m good at reading people, I’ve had to be with the life I’ve led, but a range of emotions is crossing his face, and all of them are unfamiliar to me. I step towards him and place a hand softly on the fist that has formed at his side. I feel his whole body tense at the touch.
“Please,” I repeat softly. I keep staring into the eyes of this person I hardly know, the only person who has come to realise the secret I’ve been hiding. The last person I would have told. The tension subsides slowly, and his fist releases to twine between my fingers until he is holding my hand tightly. His eyes never leave mine, and he nods his head ever so slightly before looking away and releasing my fingers from his grip. My hand tingles and the feeling spreads up my arm. I smile, a silent thank you, and walk through the still open door.
I take a seat at the kitchen counter, and he stands beside me, my scrawny bodyguard, but I don’t let that fool me. I can tell that in the state he is in right now, not even he is a force to be reckoned with. He doesn’t want to let his guard down for long enough to sit. She looks us up and down trying to figure out what is going on, but eventually shrugs and goes back to the cooking.
“Shelley, hon, pass me that egg?”
She holds out her hand without looking at me, and I hesitate, rubbing my finger over the smooth shell. Softly, he takes other hand, gently squeezing it as he takes the egg from me with the other. This time, he won’t let go.
“M’am, I’m sorry, but this is one egg that you can’t break.”