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A Dozen Eggs | Georgie Popovitch

Delores will die soon. She’s been sick for a while now, and she’s getting worse. We are neighbors and we are friends, in some ways. Delores came into my life about thirty years ago, shortly after she moved here with her husband Roy, and their daughter, Sunny. At the time, Sunny was a little burst of three-year-old energy, all smiles and curiosity. I took to her immediately.


The first time I met Delores, she had Sunny in tow and had walked the mile of dusty gravel road between us to introduce themselves, and to let me know she had just bought several hens and a few roosters and would be selling the excess eggs as they were popped out. I could see she was doing her best to keep a composed front, Sunny’s little hand held prisoner under her mother’s larger, calloused fist.


“Is that something I can interest you in?” her shoulders leaning forward, her neck stretching her chin out toward me, imploring.


I gave an uncertain smile, “Maybe.”


I wasn’t the type to jump into commitment or friendship; I was a little older than her, and although we had a daughter the same age, an only child who would love a playmate, time and a few negative personal experiences made me tentative, and times were tight for us too. Like many others in the area, we were farmers coming out of a long, dry several years. I watched our pennies, careful of every expense, even the odd dozen eggs. Sensing my hesitation, she stepped closer,


“We can always do an exchange if that works better, like a barter system. Baking, flour, sugar, anything you might have too much or might not need?” She looked at me so intensely, and with such desperation, I caved.


I smiled, “Sure, that could work.”


I asked her and Sunny in for a glass of iced tea before they had to make their hot, dusty walk back home. I didn’t learn much about Delores that day; she told me they took over the neglected home on a five-acre parcel down the road from us, sold off quickly by a beaten farmer running from a long dry spell and impending bankruptcy. They picked it up for a song given the neglected state it was in, the price - and I found out later - other things, motivating them to flee a nearby busy city.


She spent the bulk of her time reigning Sunny in as the curious toddler repeatedly tried to escape her hands and explore the many wonders of our home; a fridge that dispensed its own ice, a dishwasher that, when the shiny surface opened up, displayed a neat row of plates, cups, and glasses., which, I patiently explained to a wide-eyed Sunny, did most of the washing for me. She stretched her little neck inside and gazed with wonder like a three-year-old does when discovering something new and fascinating. I figured this family was probably coming from some hard times. These days, what house doesn’t have an automatic dishwasher? When they stood up to leave, I caved again.


“I’m sorry I can’t give you a ride in this heat. Tom and Anise have taken the truck into town, and I don’t think they’ll be back for awhile.”


“It’s o.k., we like the walk, don’t we Sunny?” Sunny nodded eagerly, her little hand straining to pull out of her mother’s; her boundless energy reigned in long enough.


“I can use about a dozen eggs a week, would that help?” I smiled and her eyes gently closed in relief. And our friendship began.


Although it took me some time to let my guard down, over time our friendship grew. At first, we saw each other briefly when she delivered my weekly dozen eggs and we did our exchange - money, flour, a shirt that I had grown out of but still fit her slight body. But being the closest neighbors in proximity and having kids the same age extended the time we spent together, the kids often begging to stay and play with each other. It didn’t take long before Sunny and Anise became a set, starting in the sandbox and swings and progressing together from kindergarten to high school. They spent a lot of time back and forth between our homes, and during their early teens spent the bulk of their time in Anise’s room, a closed-in haven in our basement that allowed them to blast their music and trade each other’s secrets.


Delores and I spent time together, too. Slowly, we would give pieces of ourselves to each other. Slowly. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one who was tentative when it came to making friends. It was several years before I found out their move from the city was hasty as well as necessary. Delores wasn’t one to talk a great deal about their city life. She never told me much, and I got the impression they weren’t happy times, so I never pressed her. In the early stages of our friendship, Delores said the move to the country was primarily for financial reasons; too many jobs that Roy had fallen into and then out of again, because of his drinking and unreliability, she said. She blamed escalating rents, apathetic landlords, and a criminal underbelly in their area surfacing more daily, too. I thought she was a little too easy on Roy, he seemed to be the master of his own demise with his drinking, but she was my friend, and if she wanted to cast blame elsewhere, I got it. I kept quiet.


But as the kids grew, and we got older and closer to each other, short glimpses of melancholy would show through her tough surface, and it would make me wonder if, Roy’s drinking aside, she might be conflicted by something else. We could be talking and laughing about one thing or another, a child who misbehaved in the grocery store, a school play where one of the kids got stage fright and ran off the stage, or even the time Sunny stood in front of her new principal in Grade One, Mr. Jeffries, and peed on his shoes. Most of the time we’d end up in tears with laughter, but there were times too, when amid our hilarity, especially talking about the kids, she would go silent and avert her eyes, and I felt the sincerity of our friendship tremor a bit. Just a little cheat, or cover-up, like when she would hand over my weekly carton of eggs, knowing, I think, that on some of those eggs, there were slight cracks. Later, when I would open the carton and see the flaws, I would use them anyhow, or if the damage was too bad, toss them out. I never made a big deal of it, at the time telling myself they needed the help more than I needed the eggs. In retrospect, I guess I had my own reasons for keeping silent, and not drawing attention to it.


But small cracks can grow, tremors get big, become earthquakes, even small earthquakes we don’t feel on the surface, but they are there, beneath us, destabilizing our world.


When our girls were in their teens my friendship with Delores began to falter. Sunny was spending what Tom thought was way too much time at our place and not enough at home, particularly during the school months, to the point where she would argue with Anise, who wanted to escape the eyes of her parents and spend time at Sunny’s. I wondered if the family might not be getting along, but told Tom, “Leave it be, teenage girls like to hang together.”


Years of our friendship, of those glasses of iced tea while the kids played in the sandbox, then on the swing set, and later off on their own, gave me a chance to learn a little about Delores. I learned she didn’t come from much, a broken home with a mother who struggled daily just to keep food on the table, always gone, working two or more jobs at a time. As Delores got into her teens and examined her options, she told me she thought meeting someone and getting married might be the best way to have a future, given she had no skills and no opportunity to further herself. Meeting her husband Roy was her way out, and she took it - quickly.


Too quickly, it seems. You see, Roy came from a troubled past, too.


It wasn’t until Anise was in college that I found out the truth. Why Sunny spent so much time at our place - what the family turmoil was all about. I had been given a red flag, a warning, years before, but at the time I didn’t see it, or maybe I did, like the slight cracks in some of the eggs I was given, and looked the other way because it was simpler, easier. Was that the first tremor? When sunny peed on Principal Jeffries’ shoes? Later, when things were cracked wide open, I realized - he was the spitting image of her father. She couldn’t escape him – not even at school.


I’m not sure where Sunny is at today. According to Delores, she is off traveling the world with a ragtag group of friends she met on social media. I ask Anise sometimes, but she only shrugs. I don’t think they are friends anymore, not now, too much has happened between them, too.


Now, Anise is wrapped up in her own strange world. I assumed when the phone calls from college lessened and the weekend visits home slowed, that she was busy with friends, busy with her classes, maybe a boy? It turns out I had my own cracked eggs I pretended not to see. Little cracks. Was it a hairline, barely discernible to the eye? Or did I see it, and hope it wouldn’t grow?


It happened the summer between Anise graduating high school and leaving for college. High School graduation over, Sunny off roaming, a hastily stuffed backpack, and no “goodbye”. Roy was working on our deck over the summer, not my first choice but the work needed to be done, and Delores and Roy needed the money. And Delores was my friend. That’s what I told myself when he offered to fix our deck at a price less than half of what two other contractors had quoted. He was dealing with the gossip too, about his drinking and his unreliability and God knows what else. And it had hurt his business. He wasn’t my favorite guy, but he was there, at the house, working under a punishing sun and relentless southerly wind, and on occasion I would invite him in for lunch, or send Anise out with a glass of ice-filled lemonade. Delores was right, his drinking did make him unreliable, and the progress on our deck was slow. A one-month project became two, and then three. Did I notice Anise spending more time with him as the days progressed? Maybe, maybe not, I don’t know. It was harvest time and I wanted my deck completed. I see it now; I won’t turn away from it.


It was only by chance I learned the truth. About Anise and Roy. Another farmer’s son, in residence at the same school, informed Roy. Anise had dumped college, taken a waitress job at one of the campus pubs. There more often than not, taking double shifts. Why? So she can support Roy, I suppose. They live together now, in a little run-down apartment with weekly rates. Delores, now alone, and sick, has never mentioned it, pretends she doesn’t know. Says Roy has left to find work in the city now that the locals have given up on him and his shoddy workmanship. When did it start? How old was Anise? Is that why she and Sunny broke their friendship? Delores knows. And she turns away; it’s no different than the cracked eggs.


Delores can’t gather the eggs anymore, I do it for her. And I do what I can to keep the hen house in order. She always worked hard to give it an orderly appearance, and until not so long ago, so did I. Yes, the two have us have always liked an orderly appearance, that’s what got us into this mess in the first place. But sometimes you have to look things in the eye and when you see the damage, clean it up too, like the mistakes you’ve made, and the ones others have made; the ones you know they won’t fix. I’ve known Delores for a long time now, almost thirty years. She’s not going to change. She’ll always be one of those people who sees the cracks and doesn’t say anything.


A few months ago, I asked her if we could exchange her eggs for my baking for a while, just until the crop is off and harvested. Money is always the tightest before the crop comes off. I know she loves my banana bread and my applesauce muffins, and I spice them heavily. Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice - a great cloak. I work the other powder into the mix in small doses, the old rat poison I found in the back of Tom’s shop. He never uses it. He probably has no idea it was even there, no longer available because of its toxic ingredients.


As I turn away and leave her house, our weekly visit and exchange complete, I know this may be the last time I see Delores alive. With my tote slung over my shoulder, I make my way across the overgrown yard to the hen house, my eyes downward, straining to see through the tall grass, each step tentative in search of a flat, stable surface. The gate creaks and swings open and stays there, its wire frame off-kilter. I don’t bother closing it. Let this place look the way it is: off-kilter.


I buy my eggs from the grocery store now, sure to open the carton each time and check that the dozen is intact, perfectly smooth, hard, and resilient. I gave Delores some slack on that. Gave myself some, too. Not anymore. Now I look for the cracks, I search for them, look for the jagged, fragile lines and if I see them, place the carton as far back as I can, where it cannot be touched.

 

Georgie Popovitch is a retired weekly newspaper reporter and property investor who lives on a family farm in Southern Alberta, Canada. An avid reader and sometimes writer, she is currently working on a short story anthology.

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