Scientists say that the two elements needed to create a monsoon are a hot land mass and a cooler ocean. Two opposing forces, each building its nature alone, come together when the wind shifts. Cool air invades sun-heated land, and a cataclysmic collision takes place—the monsoon.
We met on a day when the rains invaded the streets, covered the parking lots, and released worms whose bodies would later be left dead and sticky on the town’s sidewalks. I took off my shoes, let the water swirl around my ankles, and turned my face upward towards the rain. You were tucked safely inside the building.
The sewer systems there were rudimentary at best, so the torrential rains produced a stench of displaced sewage that permeated the air. That smell is forever laced with my memory of you, of our first meeting. That smell and the image of a lone skunk, drenched and dirty, waiting outside the building where you were. He looked small and vulnerable but ferocious nonetheless. I admired his tenacity, his willingness to venture so near humans to brave the storm. I would probably have drowned in my burrow.
There are some whose faces reach out through the air and latch hold of me. Usually it’s the eyes, though of course that’s the connection that everyone claims. They grab at a part of me that I sometimes forget is even there. And I always know them for what they are, though I myself rarely make an impression. Sometimes they won’t even remember they have met me. But always later, a bond is forged. You came the closest to reciprocating my understanding, of seeing me for what I would become. Still, I was the one who approached you, made you open your eyes, forced you to attention. But when I found you late one night on my doorstep, I thought how nice it was to be surprised.
When we discover the egg, clear as crystal and heavy as lead, buried in the beach’s sands, you refuse to believe it. “It’s only a gimmick,” you say. “Some tourist left it here by mistake.” But I won’t trust you this time. You are very good at telling stories.
“It’s not,” I say. “It’s real, and I mean to take it home and hatch it.”
You laugh. “What will you do with it then?” you ask. “After it hatches. What will you do with it then?” You are staring at me, not because you want to see what I have to say but because you know it makes me uncomfortable. It’s a habit you have, this making me uncomfortable, and really you’re quite good at it.
I duck your gaze and look instead at the egg. “We might try raising it, whatever it is. We could do it together.”
You laugh at me. “But that’s ridiculous. What if it’s dangerous?”
“Well I suppose that would be part of the adventure,” I say.
“There are no adventures left,” you say.
And all the while I keep looking at the sun. Waiting for it to set so that we can ride away.
When I’m upset, I turn to great women for inspiration. But though I’ve tried several on, none of them are an exact fit. And that’s what I want, someone whose shadow I can lay on top of and nobody will know it isn’t mine. Someone I can mold myself into, a correct answer. But I haven’t found her yet. So I keep tearing pieces from different ones. Words and pictures, paintings and lives from an army of women. Then I take these pieces and shove them together on top of myself. Make an unwieldy collage for my costume. Wear it like a suit of armor and have trouble walking.
We’re circling the egg warily now, wondering if we should touch it or move it somewhere. “I don’t want to break it,” I say.
You nod but don’t answer. The smell here is full of salt, as is to be expected. You are very fond of salt. I think of saying something about this, how being here is like resting near the edge of a wonderfully briny soup, but you speak first. “If we wait long enough it will, probably just go out with the tide.”
I don’t think you mean it to be unkind. It is more as though you believe that is probably where it belongs. “It might die out there,” I say.
“It’s not really alive now,” you answer.
“Of course it is,” I say. “Just because it isn’t out of the shell doesn’t mean there’s nothing living there. It could be preparing to break out right this second.”
“But it’s clear,” you say.
I sigh. “Things never really are.”
I think I might have seen you once when I was five. I know it isn’t logical. The boy wouldn’t even have been the right age, he was much too old. Still, there were the eyes, and I don’t often mistake those. We were at a festival; it took place every summer and fêted our town’s history. He was standing next to a woman, a very fat one, dressed like a nun. I don’t know if she was a nun, or only wearing the costume as part of the celebration, but there she stood, next to the boy. She held his hand tightly, and he was old enough that this embarrassed him. He kept trying to pull away from her. I was with my mother and happy to clasp her hand amidst all the confusion. I probably wouldn’t have noticed him, even with the nun, if it hadn’t been for the balloon. It was large and green, and it was tied around his wrist, the one not held by the woman. All day I’d wanted a balloon. They gave them away at the children’s corner, but I hadn’t gotten there in time to get one. My mother was a late riser, and though I’d begged and begged her all morning to hurry, she wouldn’t. By the time we got to the festival, it was late afternoon and all the children’s activities were shutting down. I ran to the booths only to find the emptiness of cardboards and white sheets they’d used to block out the sun. No children. They were all wandering the festival, bright balloons tied around their wrists.
And the green of this boy’s balloon made me almost weak with envy. I longed to rush from my mother and rip it from his wrist. But I knew better, and he was much bigger than me. So I simply stood there, alternating my stare between the balloon and the boy. And soon enough, my mother had her drink and we were leaving. I looked back only once and met the boy’s eyes. He returned my stare and, not taking his eyes from my own, secured his hand from the nun and untied the balloon from his wrist. I watched in mixed awe and horror as it escaped into the air and floated into nothingness. So even if you don’t remember being there, I know it was you. Because that is exactly what you would do.
We’re just wasting time now; waiting for one of us to make a decision. The air is cooling, but the sand is still warm beneath my feet. “We could go for a swim,” I suggest.
You look skeptically towards the water. “I suppose.”
“Actually never mind,” I say. “We might not find the egg again.”
“Fine that we wouldn’t find the egg again or fine that we won’t go for a swim?” I ask.
“Either one,” you say. “Both. Both of those things would be fine.”
“But aren’t you even curious about it?” I ask. “Don’t you wonder what it is and where it came from?”
“No. You can’t be curious about something you don’t believe in.”
“But it is right there in front of you,” I say. “How can you not think that it’s real?”
“I didn’t say it wasn’t real. I said I don’t believe in it. That is a choice. I am choosing not to believe.”
There’s always a silence between us, and I don’t know how to swim through it. I try to discuss us, and you offer a little known fact about Spain. Sometimes you play me messages in your music—a secret code between us. I sit in your passenger seat, window down, pretending that I’m not listening to the song. You sit in the driver’s seat, consciously distracted, pretending that you didn’t play it for me. But now you’ve stopped even doing that. Or at least I think you have.
The lyrics don’t say anything, but maybe that’s the point.
It’s October, but here there aren’t any leaves to fall. I guess it’s cleaner that way, less likely to cause a mess. But now we just keep smashing ourselves into ground too hard to absorb us. Flatter and flatter until there is no room left for speaking. Just a mess of us, discarded and unnoticed by the wayside. Did I mention that I love you?
"Let me tell you a story,” I say. “I’m not quite as good at it as you are, but I’ll do my best.”
“Go on,” you say.
“There was a man,” I begin. You’re staring at me again, but I ignore you. “Who he was doesn’t matter, but what he looked like does. He was tall and bald, with no hair at all on his body. He lived on a cliff, and below him was a river. In this river women used to come to bathe and do their wash. In order to keep their clothes dry, they’d lift their skirts above their waists and expose themselves, holes bared to the wind.”
“Kinky,” you say.
I give you my best reprimanding stare and continue. “This so excited the man, that he leaned forward from the cliff to get a look. He called to them, ‘Oq, Oq, Oq, Oq.’ He strained with excitement, but he leaned too far, lost his balance, and tumbled over the edge. He landed with such force that his head split open. This was the first penis, and that is why all men have a split at that head of their shafts.”
“What does that have to do with the egg?” you ask.
“Now you want to talk about the egg?” I say.
“What I want is irrelevant. You’ll talk about it regardless, so you may as well finish it now.”
“The story was a creation story,” I say.
“It was about a penis,” you reply.
“Yes, of course it was about a penis, but it was about how the crack in the penis was created.”
“It pertains to the egg because eggs are the embodiment of creation,” I say. “They birth life.”
“Yes, of course, fertilized eggs. Thus the penis,” I say.
“But you forget that at times. You just see the egg.”
“That’s ridiculous. No one sees the egg. We didn’t even know that women produced eggs until almost one hundred and fifty years ago. One hundred and fifty years. How can such an important element of human life remain undiscovered for so long?”
“They were probably focusing on the penis,” you say.
“Most likely, yes.”
“But this egg’s here.”
“Yes. Yes it is.”
We stare at it, buried there in the sand. I can’t get over its color. Or the lack of color. How can there be anything inside something you can see through?
“Well, I’m taking it home,” I say. “There’s really no question about that.”
“Good?” I say. “What does that mean? Are you going to help me with it?”
“How can you expect me to know these things?” you say.
“I don’t. I expect you to try.”
We fell into bed quickly and messily. No romance really, but it was better than that. I could kiss you with my eyes open.
You liked to hold me only when convenient, pre-coital. And I, I wanted to tear you open and nestle inside—hollow you out and fill you. But I didn’t want to annoy you, so I made you work for everything I gave you.
I wish just once that you would hold my hand before the bottle of wine. That you would put your arm around me like you meant it—a purposeful invasion of space, not just a random resting place. When I fit my cheek against the cool flesh of your chest, you might try brushing the hair from my eyes.
“Perhaps a harpy laid it,” you say. “They lay eggs, don’t they?”
“Yes, but I don’t think they would just abandon it here.”
“Maybe. They’re terrible creatures. Screeching and ugly.”
“But that’s not true,” I say. “That’s just a myth. Really they’re quite lovely.”
“So it could be a harpy?”
“No. Women don’t just leave their eggs lying about.”
“A sea turtle then,” you say. “They lay many, many eggs.”
“That’s the point,” I answer. “This is only one.
“Just the one,” I say.
“Did you know that temperature determines the sex of a turtle?” you ask.
I don’t try to block your retreat. I’m interested to know. “How so?” I ask.
“The warmer the eggs, the more chance that they’ll be female. If it’s cold, they all hatch as males.”
“Imagine that,” I say.
It’s beautifully warm here. The sun rinses over us, and you turn your face to it. The water laps closer and closer to our feet. To the egg. It licks the land, spreads it open, washes it away in spurts of white foam.
“Should I tell you another story?” I ask.
“No. I don’t really care to hear one,” you say.
“Should we leave then?” I ask. “Do you need to go home?”
“No.” The water tongues the tip of your exposed toe.
“Then I’m going to tell you the story,” I say.
“What’s the point?” you say.
“Does there need to be one?” I ask.
“Well, there is. Perhaps if you listen to someone talk about something that means anything, you might learn to mimic the pattern. It will at least be a good experiment.”
“What’s the story?” you say.
“I haven’t decided. A dream maybe. Or a vision.”
I tell him the story about the dream I had last night. In it, the world is ending, or if not the world then a small part of civilization. Behind me a giant fire rages, building, consuming, but strangely enough, not bothering me with its heat. Perhaps it simply isn’t close enough. My sister is with me, but as usual, she doesn’t grasp the gravity of the situation. She knows that it is dangerous but is unclear as to how fast we need to run. I don’t know where everyone else is whom I love, perhaps there only ever was her, the rest just placeholders. Others run too, but it is a slow escape, like a party. Most make it to the edge of the sea, to an all stone village. They think maybe the fire won’t get them there. But I know better. I’ve taken to the highways for days just to reach this point, and I’m off to the sea. Others say that there will be a storm, that there’s no way to control a boat. But I grab food, sticky sweet stuff mostly, and urge my sister to the water’s edge. The flames behind us engulf the buildings, and she keeps turning back, looking over her shoulder. I don’t expect a pillar of salt, but that’s almost what she becomes in her hesitation. Finally, I pull us both onto an unsteady open vessel. I hope that maybe the sand will be enough, but as the light grows brighter, I know that we’ll have to rely on the water. Strange arms for a protector, soft but not very steady. Still, I think there’s something to depend on there. If we simply bedded down, folded into her soft chest, at least there’d be a final embrace.
I look to you for a response. “What do you think it means?” I ask.
“Why does everything always have to mean something to you?” you ask.
“Enough,” I say. “We could stand here forever and discuss nothing.”
“You seem to enjoy that as a topic of conversation,” you say.
You’re staring again. “I’m taking the egg,” I say.
The egg is heavy when I bend down to pick it up, and I almost drop it. There is a loud sucking sound as I rip it from the earth; it makes me feel guilty.
“You want to hold it?” I offer.
“No,” you say. “I want to throw it back in the ocean.” There are pink swirls in it now, and I can’t tell if the color is actually part of the egg or just a reflection from the sunset.
“What do you think about omelets?” you ask. The egg lies, fragile and breathtaking in my hand.
“I don’t. Normal people don’t think about omelets.”
You sigh, look up towards the sun again. “You can be very cruel.”
I don’t know what to say to this, and you’re paling next to the egg. It consumes my attention, grows warm in my hand. I think I feel it faintly throbbing. You place your hand over mine, and its coolness startles me. “Let me touch it,” you say. But I’ve forgotten the egg, your marble hand has shocked me, sent a freeze down my body that feels almost warm. And as the first drops of rain break against my hot forehead, I shiver, try to grasp back, and somewhere in the confusion the egg slips from between us and falls to the ground. It has taken on the color of the air, so it is hard to mark its passage to the earth. And it all happens so quickly, I’m not even sure that it’s broken until I reach down to touch it. You kneel with me and, like the king’s horsemen, we try to put it back together again. But the pieces dissolve even as we touch them, melt like gray snow between our hands. The winds around us have increased to a point where we’re almost blinded by sand. The air is cooled, and the sky is grey. In the distance, I can just make out calm waters and soft sky. But here, here where we’ve dropped the egg, there is wind, and I turn my face towards it.
First published in the South Carolina Review Issue 38.2