Three Eggs by Mike Snelle
The three eggs were the palest of blues, almost white, and were freckled unevenly with tiny brown specks. They were the most beautiful things Thomas had ever held in his hands. He had seen plenty of eggs before but these ones were different. They had not come from his mother’s fridge but from a nest in the hedge.
Thomas had spotted the eggs whilst walking home from school. He passed the hedge every day but had not noticed the nest before. For longer than he could remember he had loved all kinds of wildlife. He enjoyed looking for animals so much that he had only reluctantly agreed to have friends over during the Easter holidays. He had known that they would not share his pleasure at lifting rocks to marvel at the tiny worlds beneath.
Until that moment the creatures that had caused him most wonder were the tiny red spiders on the patio. They were so small that every time he searched for them Thomas suffered a moment of doubt and questioned whether they existed at all. Then, straining his eyes as he knelt on his hands and knees, he would spot a red dot no bigger than the tip of a sharpened pencil. Then another. Suddenly the floor would come alive with minute red spiders, too many to count.
Thomas knew that the time he had spent during the spring collecting and studying insects had sharpened his eyesight. It had also taught him that if you focused your attention closely enough the world offered up her secrets. He had felt a deep satisfaction as he reached into the hedge and gently picked up the three eggs. Pride had protected him from the pain caused by the sharp thorns that pierced his school jumper and scratched his forearms.
As he carried the eggs home, cautious of every crack in the pavement that might make him trip, Thomas anticipated his mother’s response. Last night’s argument would fade as the two of them shared the preciousness of his discovery. She would no longer want to leave.
Thomas could not remember how the row had started. His mother’s rage had been instant and violent. She had said nothing at first but flung the plate she had been carrying against the wall. In the silence that followed Thomas had watched Shepherd’s pie drip slowly down the dining room wallpaper. For a moment he had thought it might be over. Then the shouting began.
It had seemed to go on forever. He could not recall all the things that she had screamed, but against his will fragments had lodged themselves in his memory.
‘I wish I had never had children’
‘I fucking hate this life. All of it.’
‘I could walk out of this door with the baby and be free of this shit and I wouldn’t miss a single thing. A single thing’
Thomas had never seen his father cry before and had been surprised that his distress looked like other people’s. He had begged her to stay, to hear him out, and when she had refused he had banged his head repeatedly against the wall. It was the sound that had shocked Thomas. A dull thud. When his father had stopped he looked over as if there was something he suddenly understood. He had walked around the table to stand beside his son and rested a hand on his shoulder.
‘Look at him’ his father had said gently. ‘Look at him.’
His mother had not replied.
Thomas had known that something was expected of him. He had tried but not been able to find the tears they were asking for.
‘He’s your little boy. How can you leave him? Look at him… Carla. Look at him.’
Thomas had conspired with his father. He had made himself look as hurt and as young as he could. He had used his eyes silently to beg her to stop. She had broken down and cried.
The three of them had sat together at the table and eaten. No one had mentioned the lump on his father’s head or the smashed plate on the floor. Each of them had desperately feigned normality, hoping that between them they might make it come true.
The eggs were almost imperceptibly warm in Thomas’ hands. It occurred to him as he walked up the drive and towards the front door that they contained living birds. For a moment he doubted his decision to take them from the nest. But he was eager to make new memories, and to push last night’s unhappy ones further into the past. He would show the eggs to his mother and then replace them carefully back in the hedge. Perhaps she would come with him. He would act unsure before spotting the nest and gaining her praise for his keen eyesight. She would be happy.
The front door was unlocked and as Thomas let himself into the house he was comforted by the silence. A part of him had expected something, shouting perhaps. His mother would be in the kitchen and rather than calling for her he closed the door quietly behind him, enjoying the idea of surprising her.
He paused at the kitchen door. She was sitting at the table, an empty bottle of wine in front of her. A paint pot was on the worktop and the surfaces had dirty red handprints on them. For a moment Thomas was confused. She looked calm but there was something sinister in her stillness. Then he saw it.
I hate you all in ugly uneven bloody letters. The paint was still wet and Thomas watched a drip form and make its way slowly down the wall.
The drips reminded Thomas of the blood on the floor the day the kittens were born. The cat had run terrified by the alien things coming out of her, scratching and hissing at his father as he had tried to calm her.
She turned to look at him but her stare was vacant. Thomas had wrapped the kittens in towels. It hadn’t done any good. They were all dead in the morning.
She didn’t reply. Thomas gently placed the eggs in his trouser pocket, wanting somehow to protect their perfection.
‘Do you Mum?’ he asked. ‘Do you hate us?’
She followed his gaze towards the big red letters messily painted on the wall. Her fixed half smile frightened him.
She seemed to break the surface and walked over to where he was standing.
‘Do you hate us?’
She pulled him into her chest, hiding the wall from view. Thomas began to cry. Last night’s tears came at last and once they started he felt as if they would never end. Her embrace tightened.
Thomas heard the eggs crunch.
Mike Snelle runs Black Rat Projects, a gallery in East London. A previous story was published by Literateur.