They told us that we needed to learn responsibility. They told us this in a room where the ceiling tiles had blooming brown stains. We felt like saying, you need to learn responsibility, but we said nothing, because what is there left to say, anyway? Instead, we kicked our feet against the undersides of our desks and ran the worn-out soles of our tennis shoes against the cracked linoleum. The rumbling and swishing sounded like distant traffic.
The eggs were in enormous shrink-wrapped cartons. These were not organic, free-range, feel-good-about-yourself brown eggs from happy chickens. These were industrial, 120-per- carton eggs with paper thin white shells. We knew that they had been taken from the cafeteria, probably left over from last Thursday’s “breakfast for lunch” menu. These eggs had already lived unhappy lives, and we knew we could only disappoint them further.
It is your responsibility to take these eggs with you everywhere you go for the next week.
The covers of the fluorescent lights were filled with dead insects, and their bodies cast speckled shadows on our desks. If your egg cracks, you will fail the assignment. We nodded. After you crack the egg, there is no going back.
We went up one by one and collected our identical eggs. They felt fragile in our hands, but we could not stop running our fingers across their smooth surface, pressing in slightly, searching for weaknesses. We left the room, left the building, went home, and set our collective eggs down on our collective desks. We had normal evenings. Spaghetti or chicken or tacos or toast for dinner. Not eggs. Homework. Chores. Television. We lay in our beds, and the eggs sat nearby. We tried to sleep. Maybe we succeeded. The eggs said, kill me.
We couldn’t be sure. It could have been anything. The rustling of the sheets, a garbled voice from the street, noise from the TV still playing downstairs. It could be a dream. We listened harder. Kill me , the eggs said. Kill me. We stayed still, staring at the ceiling. There was still tape residue up there from the glow in the dark stars we’d taken down last summer. We’d decided teenagers don’t like glow in the dark stars. We’d decided teenagers don’t like a lot of things.
The next day, none of us said anything. We do that a lot. None of us said anything, and therefore all of us were quiet. We had our eggs in our pockets. Some of us had wrapped them up in bubble wrap, blankets, tissues, mittens. There was a rumor of a boy with a miniature cooler filled with packing peanuts, his egg buried in the middle. We understood: his egg would be safe, but that was no way to live.
It finally happened after fifth period, right before lunch. We were all in the hallway, and we all heard it. A snapping, but wetter. A squelching, but crisper. The sound of an egg breaking. We all froze, unwilling to look, to see if it was our own egg that had broken, and in the silence, it sounded as though all of our eggs let out a sigh. When the egg was found, the buzzing lights reflected in the whites, casting a halo around the unbroken yolk. We bowed our heads.
That night, in the darkness of our bedrooms, we held our eggs in our hands, turning them over and over again, waiting to hear them speak. We thought about the first fallen egg. Its fluorescent halo. Saint Egg. Canonized. Sunnyside up. That night, our eggs were silent. We fell asleep and dreamed they were in bed with us. We rolled over them, smothered them, pressed fractured shell and sticky yolk into our bedsheets. In the morning, the eggs were whole, untouched, sitting on our nightstands.
By the week’s end, only seven eggs had broken. They told us that this was a record. “You should be proud,” they said. “You are very responsible,” they said. We nodded. They were right. We are all responsible.
We held out our eggs. The eggs said, kill me. And together, we squeezed. The shells gave way, and the shards pierced the palms of our hands. We did not speak. The yolk ran down our bare wrists and dripped onto the desks. It ran onto the floor and stuck to our shoes. The room was silent. They did not say a word.
Alex Evans is an English teacher and writer living in the American Midwest. His small fictions have appeared in X-R-A-Y, Soft Cartel, and Ellipsis Zine.