Contest #6 shortlist ⭐️



Carrie’s car feels lopsided. I lean uncomfortably against the passenger door and don’t mention it. When I had asked if she had a flat tyre, she snapped at me. Her view out of the rear window is obscured by our cases and bags jammed in the boot and it’s putting her in a foul temper. Every so often, when we pull up at a junction, she’ll mutter morbidly that there could be absolutely anything behind us, she can’t see a thing. I’ve decided that it’s best to stay quiet and just point the way to Louca’s house.

“God, this is uncomfortable.” Louca complains, squashing herself into the back seat. Carrie has told her that her stuff is going to have to go on her lap and Louca accepts it straightaway. She clearly hasn’t forgotten what Carrie is like when she’s driving. She looks around her doubtfully, at the inside of Carrie’s car, like Alice in Wonderland after she grows. The seats are still all in green fabric, with the middle-finger air freshener swinging from the rear-view mirror. It swings wilder the more exasperated Carrie gets with her passengers. The combination of nostalgia and green upholstery makes everything feel surreal. “How did we ever all fit in this car?”

Carrie says nothing. I get the feeling that she resents being the one to pick us all up, just as if we are all still twenty years old and hers is the only car parked outside our student house. Back then, she absolutely refused to drive us, apart from, grudgingly, for the weekly shop. That’s when we would all jam in like five giants around a kids’ table. Apart from that, she would do maybe a couple of favours a term, but that was it. Carrie didn’t take kindly to doing favours.

When we had once planned this trip - our reunion, back to the old house - she had volunteered to drive us all. That had been in the pub a few weeks before finals, at our usual table, when the thought of being separated was still vague and greyish, something you could laugh about and shrug off. I don’t think she had expected, four years later, to still be taken up on the offer.

It's Greg, scrambling into the fourth seat, who voices what we are all thinking.

“What’s up with this egg, then?”

In the few brief telephone conversations it had taken to get us all, finally, back in the same car, we’d established that each of us had had more or less the same call from Max Buchanan. The egg’s hatched. He had told me. The egg in the kitchen.

“I told you.” Louca says to all of us now, with calm assurance. “I knew there was something in it.”

It was true that she had always been the one to protest when Greg used to throw the egg around the kitchen at predrinks.

“There might be a chick inside!” She would wail, chasing him to get it back.

I eye him in the rear-view mirror.

“You probably stunted it, whatever it is.”

Greg laughs out loud, remembering dancing around the kitchen, gleefully out of Louca’s reach.

“I don’t believe it’s hatched.” Carrie says darkly. We are unsurprised. She used to stand in the middle of the kitchen watching Greg taunt Louca with the egg, one eyebrow raised. Eventually she would snap that people actually lived in that house and she needed to get to the kettle.

“But Max Buchanan said it has.” Louca points out frankly. “Why else would we all be here?”

The inside of the car goes silent. The engine struggles away and, outside, traffic rushes past on the other side of the carriageway. Beyond that, green fields scroll by like a video montage at the end of an old film, the kind with sentimental music over the top. We had all made and broken the same promise to keep in touch after university.

Greg gasps suddenly, remembering.

“You nearly cooked it!”

I snort with unexpected laughter, glancing sideways at Carrie’s stern profile. She’d been in the kitchen, waving the egg over a pot of boiling water, having finally lost her patience one day and intervened.

“I’ll cook it!” She threatened, half laughing, half executioner-serious, in that typical Carrie way. “Then we’ll know if there’s something in it.”

Louca was hysterical. Even Greg looked alarmed. They had both become strangely attached to the egg. In a fit of desperation, Louca went to the fridge and produced the carton.

“Cook these ones instead!” She had pleaded, pantomime-earnest, holding out four squat eggs in cardboard before her. Carrie went silent. Max and Greg both turned to look at Louca, who was frozen like some bizarre Greek statue. Then all five of us collapsed in laughter. Carrie sagged, weak, against the counter. Louca plucked the egg from her hand. That had been some time around Christmas.

I see Carrie crack a grin as she keeps her eyes on the carriageway between her hands. Then she glances up at the rear-view mirror again.

“Someone move some of that crap in the back.” She rages. “I can’t see a thing.”

Louca hauls over another one of the bags and shoves it down at her feet.

“What do you think was in it?” I ask. Louca looks at me in the mirror, perplexed.

“In the bag?”

Greg turns on her in amusement.

“No, you lemon!” He laughs. “In the egg.”

His reflection rolls his eyes at me.

“It’s a bit suspicious that Max Buchanan didn’t say.” Carrie points out morosely.

“It’s a goose.” Louca says with conviction, to nobody’s surprise. “That size egg, it’s a goose.”

“I think it’s some kind of reptile.” I pipe up, thinking of videos I have since seen on TV of snakes and dragons being born. Even after we left that house, I have often thought about the egg. More than once, I have tried to explain to a friend why I smirk every time a picture of one similar shows up on a screen or in a magazine, but it’s a difficult thing to tell: the kind of story that goes cold and grey when it meets the air.

“What if it’s something that’s never been discovered?” Greg suggests. I can see in the mirror the brightness in his face. It makes him look younger. “It could be anything. That’s the thing with an egg.”

We could be back in that kitchen, with the sticky drinks stains on the plastic table and the ornaments hung on cupboard handles to show whose was whose. Usually, the egg lived on the kitchen windowsill. On the first day of moving into that house, Max had spotted it there before we even went inside.

“What the hell is that in the kitchen?” He demanded, pointing at it on the windowsill through the glass. We all peered in, the five of us who had chosen to live together in third year. Carrie and Louca had already had an argument in the car on the way here, and Greg and I were getting hungry.

Inside, Louca, Greg and Max chose their rooms on the first floor together; Carrie and I had the top. We dumped our stuff hastily and came back down for the first, ceremonial, cup of tea together in the kitchen. Carrie poured it and Greg and I brought the mugs over and sat down. Max took the egg over to the table.

“It’s a decorative egg.” Carrie had said, already bored, looking around at the rest of us in exasperation. “What’s to discuss? Chuck it out.”

Max picked up the egg and weighed it in his hand.

“Be careful!” Louca protested.

“Feels like there’s something in it.” Max said. It wasn’t clear whether he was winding her up or if he was serious. Greg reaised his hands.

“Chuck it.”

Max overarmed it across the table. Louca gasped, indignant. Greg held it in one hand. His eyes widened.

“What do you think it is?” He asked.

“Goose.” Louca said instantly. That first time she said it, we had all looked at her in surprise. She was an English student. She shrugged at us. “That’s what a goose egg looks like.”

“I don’t think it’s a goose.” Greg was running his fingers over its surface: smooth but uneven, like a melting ice cube or the contours of a face.

“Maybe it’s a metaphor.” Said Max. We all rolled our eyes at him, none of us thinking that he sounded smart. We were far more interested in whether or not we should try cracking it open.

“We’re nearly there.” Louca pipes up. Greg and I turn our attention out of the windows to realise that the world outside has suddenly been painted familiar colours. There’s the Tesco on the left where we would buy two bottles of lemonade and one of vodka and a bag of crisps on a Thursday night. Further up the road is the library. My most vivid memories of that fluorescent-lit building are from finals, when we would crawl in there at 7am and not leave until the evening. It is strange to see it in the daylight.

“It’s so yellow.” Greg points out in surprise.

After the library are the sports fields, and a block of student houses where a couple of our other friends had lived. Nina, a friend of mine, had once stolen our egg as a joke. That had caused uproar, and lasting bad blood between the two houses. Further up the road, a distance and an incline I can remember walking, painfully, a hundred times, there’s the turning. We all glance at the road sign. It feels like we've only been away an afternoon. Carrie pulls onto the driveway in her usual spot.

I don’t get out of the car. There’s the house, which we once filled up with our little habits and our strange conversations and all the clashes and frustrations of living together. There’s the wheelie bin Greg once sat in for three hours, and the flowerpot Louca once kicked over and glued back together. On the kitchen windowsill, visible through the window, there’s the egg. 

September 12, 2019 20:12

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