Thursday, June 13, 2013

Egg Treasure

So about a month ago, I heard the new prompt for Round 11 of NPR's Three-Minute Fiction contest: write a story in under 600 words in which a character finds something he or she has no intention of returning. Due to the contest rules, I couldn't publish the story until after a winner was chosen, and now that that has happened, I can share my own story here. I worked very hard and continuously on it for three days, even printing it out and bringing it to work with me so I could edit it on my break. I had a lot of fun and will definitely enter future contests if those prompts inspire me as well. Disclaimer: Blogger doesn't allow the formatting to make this story actually look the way I wrote it (with line breaks and indentations), so if interested, I have the original .pdf that I can show. Thanks for reading!

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I was walking, following little shreds of found objects in the dirt. Strips of newspaper and magazine pages, bits of colored thread and yarn, a discarded trail of human material left for the birds. My neighbor collected these things in shallow dishes placed around her yard: tiny pieces of shredded denim, leftovers from knitted socks, even locks of hair she pulled from her combs. She sat on her deck on Sunday mornings, offering me sweet tea when she caught me watching her. I watched her studying her birds, the orioles and robins that browsed through the ingredients she left for them. I watched her beaming at the new nest taking shape in the tree above her chair. She was so proud, and I so lonely.

One Sunday, just before noon, she called me over, quietly, in hushed excitement. Her mouth was opened wide and dumb and she was flailing her hands, almost spilling her tea.

“Come here,” she implored, “come see!” Still swinging her tea with one hand, she pressed the other to her lips and, signaling silence, she called out another stifled plea, more sounds than words. Her eyes were wide. I stood up out of the shade and walked to her fence, stepped over it lightly and waited at the stairs by her chair.

“Come up here, there's an egg, look at the egg!” She could barely sustain the effort to keep from squealing. Her gardening stool was next to her and I stepped up on it to get a better view. Tucked in among the wool and fragments of Reader's Digest, it was there. Small and white, with dark drops of brown and black speckled across its poles. It looked warm and alone, and I didn't want her to have it. I wanted it in my hands only, cupped in my palms and moving slightly. I wanted to hold my breath and see if I could feel its heartbeat.

It was dark and still and my neighbor was asleep in her room. I was walking, following little shreds of found objects in the dirt, the discarded trail of human material left for the birds. Like breadcrumbs, I followed them up the stairs, climbed up on the stool and was met with the face of the mother bird looking back. Black eyes I could see in the dark, reflecting the moon glow off the clouds and staring at me in recognition or in anger. She shifted her weight and I could see the egg there under her wing, even whiter in the absence of daylight.

“I will have that egg,” I breathed, hardly moving my lips as I exhaled my promise. She bit and flapped at my hand, scratching across my knuckles with a shrill scream. It was easy to take that egg, easy to ignore the mother following me down from the stool, down the stairs, pecking at my hair as I stepped over the fence, cradling the little egg in my hands like a pearl. I could feel the movement inside it, the vibrations of insects trapped in a jar. The mother left me, and I curled up alone and happy with my egg treasure, a living jar with a child inside.

My neighbor remained sad that spring and her sweet tea tasted like salt. The nest above her chair was abandoned and her dishes of paper and fibers were full, but ignored. While thinking of the egg I stole, I skipped into her yard, smiling, and took a seat on her deck next to her chair.

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