A short story by Tim Myers.
As they worked their way through heavy traffic in their winter-spattered mini-van, groceries crammed in the back, she reminded him about the eggs.
“You’ve got to be more careful, Danny!” she chided, noticing she’d let a bit of whine into her voice. She hated that. But this was important. “You practically threw them in the bag!”
Danny half-turned and glanced at her, hands on the wheel. “Threw them in? What are you talking about, Suze? Well, actually, you’re right. I chucked the eggs in–right after I set the frozen turkey on the tomatoes…”
“You put the turk–” she began in indignant astonishment–then saw him grinning. “Very funny,” she snapped, though she couldn’t help smiling a little. Still, he had to realize. “But you did just toss the eggs in–I saw them in the bag, next to the bread.” It was an old theme between them, a conversation spanning decades.
“Look, Susan,” he said, “the eggs are fine. In fact, let’s make a bet. When we get home we’ll open the carton. If the eggs are okay, you owe me…well…you know.” He raised his eyebrows and gave a knowing smile.
She ignored the insinuation. “I’m not betting. And if the eggs aren’t broken, it’s just plain dumb luck.” Something in her tone made him look at her more carefully.
“You’re still worrying about work, aren’t you,” he said.
“Of course I am,” she sniffed. “I’m just…underwater! There’s too much! And with the taxes due–and waiting to hear about Lisa’s college applications… Come on, Danny–what if she doesn’t get the level of aid we need? What are we going to do–send her to community college? Oh! Watch out–you’re too close on this side!” She shrunk back from the car door as they passed a jeep waiting at a stop sign on their right.
“There’s plenty of room, hon,” he answered calmly. “He’s just sticking out a little.”
For a moment neither spoke. She gazed at the mountains of the Front Range, pale and snow-covered, looking dirty through the dirty windows. Danny eased into the turn lane and then swung onto Templeton Gap, the busy artery linking the eastern and western parts of the city through pine-topped bluffs of yellow sandstone. “You know what a community college is, don’t you?” he asked, sounding serious.
“What do you mean?”
“A high school–with ash trays,” he said.
But she didn’t feel like joking around.
When they pulled into their drive, Danny took the key out and turned in his seat to face her.
“Darling, we’re gonna be fine. Lisa’s a great kid and she’s got great grades; we can handle whatever loans we’ll have to take out. I didn’t mean that about community college, of course. But we both know she needs–and can get into–a more challenging school. And she will. This stuff at work–I know it’s a screwed-up situation right now, with Betsy Gantry leaving and all the new templates and procedures and all that–but you’ve dealt with stuff like this before. And I’ll help with the taxes, whatever I can do. You know how you get about stuff like this; you’re a worrier. So try to relax a little, will you?”
She looked at him uneasily. But that smile–it always got to her, even after twenty years. “All right,” she said, fighting her reluctance. He leaned over and kissed her.
As they got out of the car she said, “Too bad you aren’t as good with finances as you are at kissing–then you actually could help me with the taxes.”
He laughed. “I’m an idiot with numbers–I freely admit it. So I’ll do anything else I can do. You know, run errands, drop stuff off at the post office. And I can’t tell you how grateful I am to you for doing them.”
“You’d only screw it up,” she said, opening the back end of the van.
“Of course,” he said, “that’s why I married a beautiful genius. And you’re right on the other point too–I’m a hellacious kisser. Bodacious. Scrumdiddlyumptious. And that’s why you married me.” He hefted two bags of groceries. “And that’s why you can’t take in the groceries–the dumb work is mine. Put that bag down.” He glared with mock sternness till she set the bag back in the van. “Besides, you’ve got a bigger problem right now.”
“You’re about to lose a bet,” he said, and started walking toward the house. She rolled her eyes and followed him.
As he waited for her to unlock the front door he started singing–an old Ricky Nelson song:
Pretty Polynesian baby, over the sea,
do you remember the night
that we walked in the sands of Waikiki
and I held you oh so tight?…
“Danny, please!” she complained. “That’s so sexist–not to mention stupid. He’s got a ‘girl in every port’–disgusting.”
Danny laughed again. “I know, I know!” He shrugged. “I just like it.”
She swung the door open. “Be careful not to track snow and dirt in,” she cautioned.
“Right,” he said. “Thanks for reminding me.” But by his third trip he’d forgotten, and she could see the tracks building up in the hallway. She’d probably have to mop. She started to remind him again, but stopped; sometimes it just wasn’t worth the trouble.
As he brought in the last bag he called to her. “Okay, Suze–moment of truth. Here are the eggs.” Setting the bag on the counter next to the refrigerator, he lifted out the carton with exaggerated solemnity.
“Before I open this,” he intoned, “remember that you’ve sworn to have sex with me, right here and now, if the eggs aren’t broken. Raise your right hand and swear it.”
“Shut up,” she said, half annoyed, half amused. “I didn’t promise anything.”
“Now look.” He opened the carton and lifted out an egg, playing it up with silly magician-gestures.
“It’s brown,” she said. “Why’d you get brown? You know I don’t like them!”
“They’re exactly the same as the white ones! What’s the big deal? You prejudiced or something?”
“Oh, that’s very clever,” she retorted. “Just don’t get brown any more. They bug me.”
“Okay,” he shrugged. “But have you noticed they’re not broken?” He showed her the contents of the carton. “I’m telling you, I know how to handle eggs. Me and eggs go way back.” With that he set the carton on the counter, took the first egg in his hand, then tossed it carelessly into the air and caught it.
“Danny!” she said sharply. “Cut it out. Are you going to clean up the mess when you drop one?”
He tossed it again, gave her that look: Ooooh–I’m scared. She glared at him.
“In fact,” he said, “watch this.” Before she could say anything, he slipped his arm behind him and threw the egg up from behind his back, planning to catch it as it came over his head.
She gasped. The egg appeared, arcing forward. But he calmly put out his hands and cupped them, raised his eyes to watch the egg, tracked it as it fell, and caught it. Then he raised his arms in mock triumph, crying out in his sportscaster voice.
“He makes the catch! The fans go wild!” Still holding the egg aloft, he went into a victory dance. But when he spun he lost his balance for an instant. Reaching out to steady himself, he inadvertently slammed the egg against the refrigerator door. Eyes wide with surprise, he watched as white and yolk went dribbling down the enamel finish.
He turned and looked at her–but it was too much for both of them. Suddenly they were laughing, even as he grabbed for paper towel to keep the gloop from running onto the floor, even as she tried to be stern.
“I told you!” she said. “You idiot! Nice move.”
“Hey,” he protested, “I made the catch, didn’t I? That means I scored. It doesn’t matter if you drop the ball once you’re in the end zone.” He was on his knees now wiping the door, bits of egg and shell on the paper towel.
“You scored?” she asked archly. “I seem to recall that we had a bet. You broke an egg–so no scoring for you. Right?”
“Ha ha,” he said.
Once he’d finished cleaning the refrigerator, they put away the rest of the groceries.
“Okay,” he said, “that’s it. So I’m gonna go work out, if that’s okay.”
“Sure,” she said. “I’ve got those reports to go over.”
“All right,” he said. “I’ll be back in an hour or so.” Then he took her in his arms and kissed her, and her heart beat faster–Like he’s kissing me for the first time, she thought. Why does that still happen? It’s not like he’s the cover-of-a-novel type.
Pulling his gym bag out of the front closet, he headed for the door. “I’ll get a video for tonight, okay?” he called back. “‘Shakespeare in Love’ all right?”
“Wonderful,” she said quietly, smiling.
“And Suze–” he added, “don’t sit here worrying about everything. Don’t let those reports dump you back into a funk. All right?”
She nodded perfunctorily and waved him toward the door.
But as he opened it he started whistling–that Ricky Nelson song again–and she looked at him–just looked—for the moment letting go of everything else. The open door framed him, winter sunlight spilling in behind. For a moment her heart heaved inside her, wrenched by a profound sadness she couldn’t name. There he was, whistling like everything was peachy, the world just a big rosy place, as he always seemed to believe–just there, only a few steps from her, whistling and going out the door–his life, that for twenty years had been as close to hers as one spoon curled up in another in a dark drawer. As if there were no taxes, no headaches, no money problems, no struggles to be who you were, to find your place, no stress, no impossible co-workers, no worrying about getting sick or getting fired or getting old or anything else.
In the blaze of the moment she felt as if the life she’d always longed for was right there in front of her, just there, only a step or two away; all she had to do was walk into it, like he was walking out the door into the sunlight.
And she found herself thinking about that picture in one of the books she had as a little girl: wild-looking piper leading children through the door in the mountain while the lame boy, coming too slowly behind, saw it all: glorious world with its yellow-white sun always shining, trees always in fruit, the summer-land beyond this one–even as the great stone door was slowly closing, the front door too as her husband went out, and then became relentless stone mountainside again.
Suddenly her eyes were wet, and her nose burned. Maybe, she thought, I could…
I’m so tired.
Then she noticed a streak of egg yolk left on the edge of the refrigerator door. He’d missed it; hadn’t paid enough attention. It was hardening now. And hardened egg is almost impossible to get off…
She took the kitchen rag off its hook, squirted dish soap on it, and began rubbing at the crusting yellow dribble, not letting herself think about choosing or not choosing.
Tim Myers is a writer, songwriter, storyteller, and university lecturer at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley. His children’s books have won recognition from the New York Times, NPR, the Smithsonian, Nickelodeon, and many others. He’s published over 100 poems, won a prize in a poetry contest judged by John Updike, has a poetry chapbook coming out, won a major prize in science fiction, has been nominated for a Pushcart for an essay, and has published much other fiction and non-fiction for children and adults.