Lightspeed: Edited by John Joseph Adams




Observations About Eggs from the Man Sitting Next to Me on a Flight from Chicago, Illinois to Cedar Rapids, Iowa

1. Lord, it’s hot in this cabin. I could hard-boil an egg inside my mouth. What’s your name?

2. Have you ever poached an egg? The trick is white vinegar. Everyone forgets the white vinegar, and the blasted thing falls apart, and then they miss one of the greatest wonders of the world. Here’s what you do: Add it to the boiling water. The vinegar, I mean. Break the egg into a bowl, not directly into the pot. Next, spin a spoon in the vinegar water and make a vortex. Drop the egg inside of it. If you look down, you can see the dense heart of the yolk through the clear atmosphere of white, and it is not entirely unlike looking at the Earth from space. The heat will make the egg go opaque. If the water is the right temperature, you can see it happening in slow motion—the yolk developing a skin, then the white going, well, white. It’s like watching the egg being formed inside the looped guts of a warm and bleating hen. Bleating, not bleeding.

Anyway, when you watch the egg like this, you are seeing what only a god might see. This might seem like just a quaint observation, but what if I told you that by imagining yourself a god while watching an egg being formed, you become that god, for just a second or two? Of course, now that I’ve said it, now that I’ve told you about this little quirk of the natural world, you’ll never be able to actually do it. That’s the rule, and I didn’t make it. But if, before I told you of these temporary god-powers, you had been watching that egg poaching, and at that precise moment wished to create an entirely new world, somewhere in all of existence, it would have popped into being, and though you wouldn’t have known it, it would have been there, and you would have been its deity. And periodically you would find scraps of paper in your pocket with words scrawled on them or you’d mishear a fragment of a sentence spoken by a coworker or you’d discover Word documents you didn’t remember creating, and the truth is those would have been the prayers of your created people, calling out to you because they feel lost and alone and afraid. It is a very terrible thing to be a god and I don’t really recommend it.

3. Have you ever seen a frozen egg? No? I’m sorry for you. You have not been so fortunately careless as to leave the carton too close to the top shelf of the fridge, as I have. The shell pops off like a bottle cap, and if you pull out the contents, the whole inside of the egg sits in your hand like a stone. If you pinch the white, it comes apart like snow. Beneath running water, the white falls away and the yolk is gold, hard. It sits in your hand like an oversized marble. It’s the most perfect shade of yellow. In some countries, none of them accessible by a plane like this one, four of these yolks can be exchanged for the basic necessities: seeds, a sack of potatoes, one shoe—though for the other, you’ll need four more yolks. If you plant them in the ground, there are rumors that better things than potatoes might grow. But these are just rumors, and you might end up hungrier than before.

4. Have you ever opened an egg and seen the inside of another egg? No? Are you sure? Here is how you can tell: Crack open an egg. Look inside. Sometimes, in another place entirely, another person has also cracked open an egg and is also looking inside, and you are both, in fact, looking at the innards of the exact same egg. If you examine the egg carefully enough, you will find that the scene being reflected back at you in the gelatinous curve of the yolk is not, in fact, your own kitchen, with its fluorescent light bulb, dirty counter, Matisse print, and collection of empty wine bottles, but rather a different kitchen, possibly in Brooklyn, possibly in Big Sur, possibly in an alternate universe to your own, with an entirely different face peering back at you. You cannot crawl through the common egg into that other place, though, so don’t try. Greater women than you have tried and failed.

5. I once dated a woman who thought that you had to cut a cow open to get the milk inside. What a silly thing—the idea and the woman. And what a mess to try. All that blood, curling into the milk, spoiling it. What a waste.

The egg, now. Eggs are more practical. They can be cut out of hens, though this is rarely necessary. And if that happens, and the eggs are covered in down feathers and blood, they can be washed clean, and nothing is ruined—all is perfectly usable. Well, except for the hen, ha-ha!

6. An egg is the most dangerous thing in the universe.

7. Have you ever gone to the farmer’s market and paid a little extra for those brown eggs that look so healthful, the kind that you know were warming under hens that very morning, and carry the carton home, and crack open one, and a fetal dragon flops out into the pan? No? If this ever happens to you, know that the dragons will all be dead. They were taken away from their mothers; they never had a chance to survive. If you put the unbroken ones beneath a heat lamp, they’ll just spoil. These are not Schrödinger’s eggs. There was never a chance you could have hatched a dragon army, and anyway, it would have been foolish to try. Dragons always eventually turn on you, and in a way that makes you regret all of your decisions. Anyway, if you return to the market for edible eggs, the stand will most likely be vacant. Dragon eggshells are a powerful aphrodisiac, though, so don’t throw them away.

8. Hermann Hesse wrote, “The bird fights its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Who would be born must first destroy a world.” I know a few truths about Hermann Hesse that aren’t exactly common knowledge, but I can assure you that he is using fewer metaphors in that sentence than you might think. Also, Hermann Hesse was a bastard and I don’t want to talk about him anymore.

9. You look like a person who has eaten a few eggs in her lifetime. How many would you estimate? Five hundred? A thousand? The trouble is that eggs are in everything, so even if you are able to think about your self-prepared and ordered breakfasts, and church potluck deviled egg trays with their easily quantifiable eggs, it’s hard to add up all of the baked goods and cream sauces and mayonnaise on your sandwiches, and anything else that might have contained an egg. But let’s say you’ve eaten one thousand eggs in your lifetime. One thousand eggs, each of which was full of potential life.

Now, don’t look at me like that, I’m not talking vegan-talk, I’m just saying that sometimes food is full of wonder and you really should think about it. Imagine that one thousand chickens could have possibly been born, and they would have gone about pecking and watching and thinking chicken thoughts and dreaming chicken dreams and nibbling and fighting other chickens, and eventually would have fallen beneath the blade or gone to chicken-sleep and never woken up. You are now full of those chickens, their potential wishes and dreams and—don’t laugh!—their experiences. Their lives, and their deaths. Somewhere inside of you, you are contentedly strutting about the dirt, in the sun. Somewhere inside of you, your head is missing and you are chasing a farmer’s terrified child across the yard. I think, in a way, we are all one thousand chickens.

10. It is a really good thing to smash an egg, very satisfying. I don’t just mean just to drop one, but take it in your hand and splat it with all of your might against a hard surface. I once visited a village between two great mountains where this was a common pastime. It could get competitive! The winner was measured by the distance the egg innards were strewn. If the yolk got on the judges, well, that was a bonus. It was a very strange little village with some very strange people, but they had been through a lot of hardships in their lifetimes, so they can be forgiven some eccentricities.

11. I’m pretty sure that the stewardess—my apologies, the flight attendant, you can only say so much nowadays—does have some eggs in the back, with the meal-trays, but perhaps not enough for everyone, and so she doesn’t want to make anybody jealous. Plus, I’m sure first class would take all the eggs if given the chance, and then there wouldn’t be enough eggs for all of us cattle back here, ha-ha! You were probably smart to bring your own eggs in that little lunchbox, even if it does count as your carry-on.

12. People forgot about Patsy Cline’s parallel universe theories because they were so busy singing her songs. Can you imagine a fate worse than that? I’ll never record a ballad as long as I live. Anyway, she believed that all of the parallel universes touched each other in the wet places of the world. Puddles and spilled milk and even bits of the body, all creating little puckers in time and space and touching realities together. She was right, of course. Sometimes, before shows, they would find her in her dressing room pushing her fingers through eggs, calling in a singsongy voice to that child she lost. You know, Patsy herself died in a plane crash. Not a plane like this, mind you, a small one. Not like this. Don’t look so worried.

13. Here is the embarrassing truth: I know you. We’ve met before. We shared an egg, once. Don’t you remember? Of course not, it was your first time egg-side, and I’d done it many times before. Just because I’m an old man and you’re some young thing does not mean that we have not shared experiences. You didn’t have a name yet, but I’d recognize that pretty mouth anywhere. I remember seeing you and thinking, she knows so little, but so much of the world is ahead of her. She is so beautiful; maybe one day I will run into her again and see her shining face. So of course, you can imagine my disappointment when I saw you here, familiar, but looking so sullen, so angry. Smile! You survived. We were one of a dozen double-yolks, cracked open and born into this world—well, I was reborn, but it all amounts to the same—and you look pretty good, if I say so myself. So be grateful to live in a world with eggs, which give us life and have so many uses besides.

14. Miss, I don’t think she meant to throw the egg at me per se, she’s just a little worn out from the flight. I am certain that it was an accident. No, I can stay here. It was just an accident. Isn’t that right? Ha-ha!

15. That hardboiled egg looks delicious, and I think I should like a bite.

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Carmen Maria Machado

Carmen Maria Machado’s debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, was a finalist for the National Book Award, the Kirkus Prize, LA Times Book Prize Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, the World Fantasy Award, the Dylan Thomas Prize, the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, and the winner of the Bard Fiction Prize, the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction, the Brooklyn Public Library Literature Prize, the Shirley Jackson Award, and the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize. In 2018, the New York Times listed Her Body and Other Parties as a member of “The New Vanguard,” one of “15 remarkable books by women that are shaping the way we read and write fiction in the 21st century.” She is the Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania and lives in Philadelphia with her wife.