by Walter Kwiatkowski
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
The egg, as it was later to be called, appeared on the third Monday in August. The sky, which earlier had been bristling with sunshine, was grey with ambition and the clouds dark and pregnant.
Finishing his brunch of two eggs and two strips of bacon on toast with coffee, Roger Cowell wiped both sides of his mouth evenly and meticulously with a serviette, slipped his favourite straw hat onto his head and acknowledged his sister, Martha, with a terse nod as she walked into the house from the backyard.
She slowly climbed the stairs leading to the porch and then quietly opened the screen door and went into the welcoming arms of the kitchen. She then stood up on the tiny red stepstool and watched him make his way to the garden, a routine he had developed and refined since he retired six years ago. In his younger years, he had been a doctor. A purveyor of human life. A neurosurgeon to be precise, specializing in the brain.
He was about to disappear into the tool shed to get a rake when he heard his sister Martha’s voice calling out the window. Roger loved his sister, although he hadn’t always agreed with her life choices, especially those involving men and money.
Martha’s husband, Bill, had wasted all of her savings on shady investments and, when he died, she found out that he had borrowed on their mortgage. As a result, she was flat broke.
“You want your coffee outside?” Martha asked.
He sighed. “You already asked me that, my dear.”
Martha hadn’t been the same since the accident five years ago. Bill had passed away a year earlier, and she had been alone when the fall happened. It left her absent-minded and a simpleton. But the incident was a double-edged sword, at least for Roger.
Twenty years earlier, Martha had become pregnant for the first and last time. She had been overjoyed. Even when she was a little girl, she had always wanted to be a mother. The infant, a boy, was born stillborn. She was devastated. She had spent every day of her pregnancy in preparation: repainting the baby’s room, having a crib hand-built, buying baby-blue infant clothes.
Since the miscarriage, she had kept that room exactly the way she had intended to keep it if her child were still alive. She cleaned it every day. One time, when Roger and his wife came over for a visit, she had been reading to the empty crib. This had stopped after the fall. The event disappeared along with her memory.
A year after the accident, she fell again. With Roger the only living relative remaining, he had her moved to an institution to be cared for. His wife was dying of cancer, and he could invest no time in looking after his sister.
“I’ll have it when I come back in,” he said.
Three months after Martha was admitted, she disappeared. Residents at the care home said Martha had been having breakfast. A minute later, she patted the sides of her mouth with her napkin, set down her fork, smiled and left the building.
Two days later, she was found wandering in the woods just behind the hospital. Her night dress was soiled, and she was barefoot, remembering nothing. That’s when Roger decided to move her in with him, redesigning his daughter’s old room to suit her needs.
The elderly doctor followed a stepping-stone path that cut his backyard in half.
Martha started on the dishes. She washed each and every dish with the utmost care, examining each piece before handing it to a sink full of hot, soapy water, and then again when she fished them out, all the while humming “You Are My Sunshine.” She checked every niche, every line of design — if there were any — before setting the dish into the drying rack.
Roger stopped first at the tomatoes, plump and red. He reached down and snipped some of the bottom leaves with a pair of scissors that he kept in a pouch around his waist. Behind them, the basil grew happily, and two rows of beans merrily climbed up a screen in the middle of the garden. He frowned when he reached the corn. Four stalks were cracked in the middle and hung like broken limbs. The cob skins had been ripped open and the cobs ravaged.
He threw his hat onto the ground and swore.
Martha peered up from her dishes.
“What is it, Roger?” she asked through the open window.
“Raccoons had the corn for breakfast.”
The old man bent over and fished up his hat.
“Will you pick some cucumbers today? I want to make pickles. I really want to make pickles.”
He shook his head. “I’m playing golf later. You’re on your own today.”
The cucumbers followed the corn. They had large prickly vines that climbed up the corn stalks. It was then that he noticed something: a small flicker of light coming from the batch of cucumbers. He stepped closer and espied it again. He was old, but his eye sight was keen.
The flicker, he noticed, was actually a reflection.
He walked down the path that parted the rows of cucumbers.
Pushing aside the serrated leaves, a globe the size of a baseball stared back at him. It was a luminescent green-gray colour and looked like a pea separated from its pod. Steam seeped from a tiny fissure at its top.
“What on earth?” His wrinkled hand reached out and touched the globe. It was warm and solid. He dropped to his knees and studied it intensely.
“It’s hard,” he said aloud, knocking on it. He understood why he was able to see the “flicker”. Light was reflecting off it’s surface.
The elderly doctor jumped. He was so absorbed he did not hear his sister approaching.
“What is it?” he asked, annoyed.
“What are you...” Martha’s mouth dropped open when she saw the globe.
“Roger, what is it?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“How did it get into our garden?”
He got to his feet, wiping off his pants. “No idea.”
A look of concern came over her. “Roger, the cucumbers... Oh my, the pickles!!”
“Relax,” he said. “The cucumbers are fine.”
“Thank God. I don’t know what I would have done...”
“Uh-huh.” He said without interest.
Roger examined the globe, like an interested buyer. He tapped it again. A slight echoing ring.
“Roger, look!” His sister was pointing to the hole in the globe. “It’s steaming!”
“You’d better save your cucumbers, then.”
Frantically, she began pulling the cucumbers off their vines.
“Roger, where are you going?”
“To examine it,” he said, walking away.
* * *
Copyright © 2016 by Walter Kwiatkowski