THE HUSBAND AND WIFE COME TO POSSESS AN EGG
The husband brings the egg home from the forest, carries it in his worn leather bag wrapped in his fresh kills intending to offer it to the wife. He found the egg, cold to the touch, in a circle of sticks and bones buried in the roots of an old tree.
When he gets home the wife is chopping vegetables for stew, making precise but violent strikes with her knife, a noise the husband can hear from the door.
I've told you not to bring that shit in the house, the wife says. Take it outside.
The truth is the husband has a habit of bringing his work home with him. He has filled the small house he shares with the wife with furs, heads mounted on hardwood, strange-looking taxidermy. The husband is a hunter and does taxidermy as a hobby. The wife tells him he is terrible at taxidermy but he doesn't listen. He mounts animals but the way he mounts them they look like something else. The goat looks like a catamount. The catamount looks like a bear. The bear looks like a wolf. The wolf looks like it's suffering, melting, turning to slurry. There is too much fur hanging loose off a too-small frame or there is too little fur stretched inadequately, not enough to cover. The house is full of animals the wife cannot bear to look in the eye.
I brought you something, the husband says, holding the egg for her to see. It is large, so large that the husband's hands, themselves absurdly large, appear a more normal size holding the egg. It is jewel-like, clear white, gloss-smooth, polished as gold, the wife can see her face in it, but when the husband tilts it, her reflection disappears in a huff of rainbow fire.
What am I supposed to do with that, the wife says.
It's an egg, the husband says.
I can see, the wife says.
I thought you might, the husband says, but he doesn't know what he thought she might do. I thought it was beautiful, he says.
It is beautiful, the wife says. You thought I might what, she says.
Really, it's just a child, the husband says. An egg is just an unhatched child.
He hands the wife the egg and she doesn't say anything else about it, although she doesn't know from eggs or children or hatching. She looks at the egg, tilts it so her face doubles, then hides her twin with flames in green and orange and purple and blue. It's fine, the wife says at length, but the husband has already gone out to his workshop.
The wife keeps holding the egg. It is difficult for her to stop looking. She does not know where to set it down. As she holds the egg, watches her twin on its surface, it seems to her for a moment that all of the taxidermy in the house is also reflected on its surface, all of her husband's perverted animals reproduced as their ideal selves, more perfect, so perfect they are strange-looking to her, but the other way, not too ugly, but too beautiful. It almost seems to the wife that there is a mass inhalation and exhalation in the room, a stirring of the air. Nervously she concludes that an egg needs to be warm, and wraps it in a fur blanket and sets it near the fireplace.
She forgets about the egg for the evening, although she catches herself watching closely her reflection in the eyes of the mounted heads of stag, moose, and horse. The husband comes in from his workshop with a stuffed mink that looks like a fox, and she serves him stew for dinner. She holds the mink in her arms like a baby while the husband eats. He kisses her face, his beard rough and his lips wide and imprecise. Before bed, she sets the weasel on an unoccupied spot on the sideboard, imagines it settling into some kind of eternal torment.
In the morning, she places her hand on the egg's glossy surface to feel the temperature. She suspects that the egg has become slightly less glossy but she can't tell. She thinks she might just be remembering the egg incorrectly, but also her face in the egg is less clear, less like a reflection and more like a shadow. Hadn't there been more than just a sparkle of rainbow fire in it? She moves the egg a little bit away from the fireplace, worried that it is perhaps too warm, or that the soot made it hard for the egg to breathe. She sets it in the window to be warmed by the sun. When the sun moves, the wife moves the egg, keeping it always in the most well lit window.
Every time she moves the egg, she wonders, what is this egg? She has never seen an animal that seems like it might have hatched from such a large, jewel-like egg. She walks the room, holding the egg next to each of her husband's taxidermies, wondering if this or that creature might have hatched from the egg. Her husband's taxidermy animals are so malformed and twisted into strange shapes, and she wonders if what is inside the egg might be strange, made strange by the husband's touch. My husband cannot make a good shape, she thinks. This egg is doomed, she thinks, whatever animal it is.
A particular time she picks the egg up to move it she gets caught watching her reflection in it, stands still long after the sun has moved to another window, watching her face in the egg and the glimmer of fire on the egg's surface and she thinks that she was wrong earlier, that the egg is just as shiny as ever, like a mirror, the fire undiminished. The woman in the egg is like the wife's more-beautiful twin, traces of orange and green fire in her hair, her eyes glowing indigo.
While the husband is away hunting the wife becomes fixated on the egg. She sleeps with it nestled in the curve of her stomach, its tip just touching her heart. She does not get out of bed out of concern for the egg. She is afraid that no matter how she gets out of bed, she will somehow knock the egg over and it will shatter on the floor. If she positions her head correctly, she can see her reflection in the top of the egg, like she is a child nestled between her own breasts.
When the husband gets home, the wife is nowhere to be found, the egg swollen and almost glowing with fire in the bed the husband shares with the wife. He places his hand on the surface of the egg, which is no longer hard and jewel-like but soft and almost wet to the touch. He presses gently, and the egg cracks, spreading in thin radials from his hand, until half of the egg is his handprint rendered in surface fractures. He withdraws his hand, afraid of what might come out of the broken egg, but what does come out is a hand, clean and small, each fingernail a flash of radiant sapphire. He knows the hand, and the creature that emerges from the egg, using her hand to gently part the broken shell, is the wife, but not the wife. The woman who comes out of the egg is a strange creature, rainbow-colored and large, much larger than the wife, almost the size of the husband.
This new strange woman looks at the husband, and her eyes are unrecognizable, flashing yellow and green in the light, and she says something, but her language too is warped, incomprehensible, and too beautiful for the husband to understand. She speaks again, loudly, like she is angry, shouting a curse, or perhaps she is afraid, warning him about something.
The husband hears the drag and thud of movement throughout the house, the noise erratic, as if created by uneven limbs taking their first clumsy steps. But he cannot take his eyes off the wife.
I wrote this piece almost immediately after reading an anthology of Norweigan folktales. Maybe it was the same day, maybe the day after. Looking back through the anthology, I can't quite identify what, if any, influence it had on this story, except that, as in all fairy tales, strange and beautiful things tend to come out of the woods.