by Cristina Vega
The eggs still had color to them, and were scaly and firm like pebbles. She jerked them in the pot so that they spun mindlessly, sluicing in water that did nothing to cushion them as they struck stainless steel until their heads split and burst. “This is all that’s left,” Erica had told her, handing the dyed eggs in a nest of salad greens while children laughed around them and danced. They were placed in her hands and pushed up against her chest to hear their heartbeats, surrogates for the ones that had flown away.
They slid from the pot to land on the plate with wet, heavy thumps. They were uneven. The largest was as big as her fist and trembled fitfully as she walked. The smallest tried to roll away, and crunched when she speared it with her fork.
The shell came apart in pieces gone soft and waterlogged. The yolk regarded her with a gray cast. She scooped some in her mouth. It crumbled against her teeth.
This is all that’s left, said the small flashing light at the base of the phone. It made her queasy as she chewed, but she swallowed it down as she did the eggs, until the engorged fat one remained.
It gave off faint pulses of heat, as if it were still boiling. Saliva oozed from her lips and she bit off a chunk, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. The egg was rubbery and hot. It rolled on her tongue like snot as she played peek-a-boo with her throat. It burst between her teeth, salty and runny.
And now there were none, she thought uneasily, choking down the chunky, mutilated egg.
The answering machine spoke.
One of the messages offered her a better insurance. It was a woman’s electronic tone, prerecorded. It never attempted to hold her hand.
The second was her gynecologist, reminding her of her checkup. Her periods were slowing down, lessening in frequency and pain. It was reduced to a weak dribble, spotting her underwear and pants, until the day when they would cease completely.
She glanced at the receiver, but the light had already gone out.
She was stricken with a small bout of nausea as if she had gotten up too fast. She brought a clenched hand against her mouth, bracing against the next wave. There was none. Her stomach settled. She touched her forehead reflectively and the skin was warm and oily. When she pressed her arms down, her pits were soaked with sweat she had overlooked.
Brush your teeth and go to sleep. Her bed was warm and inviting, the sheets soft like children’s hands before they dug in grime. Her children’s photos were a scattered timeline of ages no higher than High School graduate. In her son’s room, the white walls were striped blue and green, the notched wooden furniture repainted with plastic over the desk table. His sheets were changed regularly like her daughter’s, otherwise the soiled room reeked of dust and stale air. Her daughter’s room had never been painted. One wall still bore the remains of her art, an unfinished cipher that grasped at the wall’s empty spaces.
Her children’s distances did not allow for a casual drop-in for a weekend, but neither did they draw her into their home outside of Christmas or Thanksgiving. At night, her loneliness was oppressive, turning her restless. She moved around, peering in the rooms the way she would like when her children were younger and she wanted to see if they made the beds. The only evidence she ever found was her handprints smearing some last vestiges of dust from the blinds or shelves, her hands smoothing imprints her buttocks or body left on the sheets.
She made a noise as her belly flared, realizing that maybe eating eggs on top of all that candy was a stupid, stupid mistake. She rose to her feet and prepared a cocktail of Alka-Seltzer.
The sour, chalky fumes of the fizzing capsules nauseated her and she had to sit down as she swooned, and again when she reached for a napkin even though she strained in the opposite direction of the cup. The stabbing, throbbing ache was a menstrual cramp in her gut. She touched her forehead again and it was still soft and warm.
Her memories were formless, void of narrative. She cobbled them together like she would her dreams when she woke. A bedtime story.
Her children had participated in scavenger hunts like the ones at the party, but it wasn’t until her brother-in-law introduced money did things change.
Julia and Josh, along with their cousins, had been split in groups, a search party. In the end all the eggs were on the floor and trodden on while they had Ziploc baggies to keep their quarters and dollars.
“Look! Look at all the money I got!” Julia told her. “I’m rich!”
“So am I!” Josh put in.
“Oh, you are, are you?” she asked. “What will you get with all that money?”
All That Money was only nineteen dollars total from them, though she knew they wouldn’t share. They stood back with stretched mouths and blurted each idea as it came to them without hesitation, saying candy, or a game, or a movie, until they started more specific and far-reaching to a career they assumed they would master in. Julia wanted art supplies because she wanted to be an illustrator and Josh a video camera so he could practice making movies.
And somewhere she added, “And you’ll buy us a nice house!” (Us when she was still with her ex-husband, a man she now associated with her stomachache.)
Her children, engorged with the fantasy of having piles of cash slide between their fingers and a mansion filled with animals and friends to play with, accepted this payment with great gusto. And she kept at it, reminding them so they wouldn’t forget, until her words rang hollow in an empty house.
She groaned. It was a watery, gurgling sound that came up with hot bile. Her sweat was drying around her neck and underarms, evaporating against her fevered skin.
Lie down. It was more of a command than a thought. She slowly slid from her chair and made her way to the couch.
She got halfway across the room when she doubled over. Her hands, which curled instinctively to her belly, drew back in frantic bewilderment and fear.
Her gut was fever-hot.
Pressing one dry hand against the floor, she tried to push herself up as far as she could. Moving awkwardly on shaky legs, she opened one of the windows, her spiked thoughts thinking that the chill night air would cool her down. It did nothing at all. She moved on two limbs and then on four, stepping on frames she had knocked over in blind terror. She made for the phone on the counter. A stream of wordless No, no, no, no’s fluttered through her mind, of forks jabbing through swollen, distended shells to pierce the yolk.
She clawed for the phone. A finger hooked into the base and then another frantic flap sent it spinning across the floor. She slid after it on her side. Screams evaporated into smoke. Her thoughts were fragmented, scattered--the phone get the call emergency baby I don’t want I don’t want--
Her stomach rippled, something she felt more than saw because her head was enveloped in steam. Her hands, veined and purple, pressed against her belly.
Something pressed back. A whirling motion churned in her gut. She dug blistered fingers into her stomach, her hands searching for it through layers of flesh and organs, smothering it. When she couldn’t grip it, she punched, and stabbed with her fingers, the skin beneath her gut softening and then congealing with blood.
She gave a loud groan, retched, and gurgled as something hot and wet came up her throat. It hit the floor in a smear of bile and blood, feathers and scales. Its slick black beak was half open, piggish eyes dark and dead. Its body was a faded orange color, webbed with red. Its tail feathers formed an inverted U. Its wings were sprawled, crucified.
She was cringing, blood and ash pouring from her mouth, tissue dangling from her lips like umbilical. Sodden and red in what was left of her clothes, she regarded the dead bird with a mixture of horror and dazed bewilderment.
It started to move.
It twitched as if in a final death throe, but it twitched again, stretching in size, going from the size of a cat to a retriever. Membrane slid across its dark eyes. Its fanned wings jerked, sliding back into its body while its long slender legs scrabbled against the slick bloody floor. It shook its streamlined head, shifted its wings. She cried out as sparks burst along the bird’s body, a gust of hot air curling her skin. It hopped along the floor, a skulking child, towards the frames she had knocked aside. She slid after it. When she was close enough, she swiped. The sharp jerk sent a bolt of agony across her spine. She missed by a good foot.
The bird hopped over her and then she heard it, tearing the screen from the open window with its beak, forming a slit like a cat’s eye. Its head would break free and the rest would follow. She only saw the phone, still out of reach, the halfway point between the photos she saved. She slowly crawled towards it. Her arms had stiffened, crusted in blood, hands frozen before her, so she brushed the phone with her cheek and chin. It cradled her face like a hand. Heat pressed against her back, a warm gust of air that forced her to curl in on herself. Her chin was tucked towards her chest, legs folded up, into a fetus.
Issue #4 Contents
Bed and Breakfast
The Silver Apples of the Moon
C Was for Cat
Jack Campbell, Jr.
Skin, Before and After Packaging
The Turning of the Worm
Brian Douglas Moakley
Cristina Vega grew up in the inhospitable desert of Las Vegas, and now lives in the rainy forests of Sweden. She has a Bachelors in English from the University of Malmö. Currently working as a freelance writer, she has been published in Halfway Down the Stairs and Hello Horror to name a few. Her work is currently ongoing.