The Cabinet of Curiosities
Jar of eyes

Chicken; Egg

See a city street!

See a yellow summer evening, oh see. See it in a city. A lovely, perfect heat: unless you are a man in a black wool suit, watching the flickering rectangle in your hand, as your shiny black shoes clip-clip against the concrete as sharp and quick as hooves.

See the man! He sweats in the heat, brooding of clients and contracts. Striding, striding, watching as words flicker in his hand.

See him look up.

Hear the sharp clip-clip of his shoes go silent.

Across the yellow evening he sees a woman, a strange woman (strange to him!). Strange, her dark blue dress, the darkest blue of a near-night sky. Strange the white patterns swirling across the skirt!

(But are the patterns strange, or are they so familiar? Think, sweating man!)

night sky with swimming stars

See her! Bright white hair stands out around her head. Daubs of color streak her face like shooting stars, white and midnight blue. Her feet are bare and dirty. Around the woman flow the city’s evening walkers, like river-water around a rock. Yet no one seems to see her but the man.

She does not see him. Up and down the street she looks, and bites her lip, as if she has lost her way. (A TRICK!)

Ah now, now! See what the man sees! See what the woman holds, in both hands, pressed tight against her belly, but showing just a little, just a little: just to be sure he sees.

It is an egg! A golden egg. A glittering golden egg, swirled with patterns of tiny jewels, sapphire and diamond, like the patterns on her skirt (oh think, sweating man! you know those patterns!).

Oh the man sees the egg! He sees it and sees it. His eyes blink twice, three times, four. The man is rich, or almost rich. But an egg like that, that is the riches of the moon and sun.

Now! The woman looks upon him, startled, her eyes shocked wide. (A TRICK! A clever trick!) One hand lifts her midnight-blue skirts; she turns.

She runs.

The man gives chase! (She meant him to!) His phone goes skipping across the cement, his abandoned briefcase offers paper to the winds. The man swings into an alley; sees blue skirts flip around a corner; follows.

He follows and follows! When he cannot see her, he listens for the swish of skirts. He chases her down narrow streets and broad ones, dodging cars and hot dog stands, calling Wait, wait, I only want to see the egg.

At first, he calls. But soon, he stops. Does he stop because he is out of breath? Does he stop because she does not respond? Or—oh worst thought of all the worst—does he stop calling because to see it is no longer all he wants?

Still: see how the woman leads him, as the sky darkens the city, how she waits when he tires, how she flies when he nears. To the alien edges of the city she leads him, over unfamiliar pavements in decaying districts, running lightly on her dirty bare feet.

Through narrower alleys, past wooden-board lean-tos, past rusting automobiles. . . .

The woman stops! She stops, she stands still, in a lightless, deserted street. Beside her sits a low box made of wires and rotten boards. They have arrived!

The man and the woman stand, panting. The sky is dark as the woman’s skirt.

And now it is darker!

And now, oh lovely now, in the dark sky, the tiny lights begin, so delicate at first! The beginning of a symphony, the whisper of lovely strings. The tiny lights come: one, two, three, six, eleven, more and more, winking like the jewels on the golden egg, and to my ear—I mean, to the woman’s ear—each jewel-light blinks on with a soft, pure voice, until the constellations are great choirs of harmony and counterpoint!

Are they stars, those tiny lights? Or are they bright fish, swimming in and out of constellations, singing their star-fish song?

Watching the tiny, swimming lights, the man’s face is open as a bell. He says, The sky, but the sky—is this what it always is?

With joy, such joy, the woman kneels! (Does he see, as her skirt billows out, that her dress is a pattern of milky galaxies and stars? He does, he must!) She kneels by the rough box and pulls a board aside. Inside, in the dark, the man can just see—what? What do you think? What do you guess?

The most wonderful thing: a chicken! Inside the box is a white chicken with a red comb, rather dirty, like the woman’s dirty feet, and seated on a dirty straw nest.

The woman slips her egg beneath the chicken. Then, with great care, she lifts them all—nest, chicken, egg—and stands. She smiles now, at last the woman smiles at him! At last she can give him the glorious gift she has led him here to find!

I say—I mean, she says—oh, well, it is me—did you guess it was me? I am the woman! It has been me all along, telling this story!

I say: My dear, my dear boy, I have a gift for you, a glorious gift, all you’ve ever asked for and all your dearest heart desires.

With full heart, I offer him the chicken.

But oh, the worst happens!

For somehow, during the long and merry chase (it was merry! I thought it was merry), something has happened.

He began the chase with, Let me see it, let me see your egg. As I wished him to feel! So that he would follow me here!

But somehow, in the course of the chase that feeling became, My egg. It is my egg. Give me my egg.

So when I hand him the chicken, joyfully—oh the beautiful, dirty, clucking, odd-smelling chicken—he strikes it! He pushes it away! It falls, the chicken, it flaps wildly to the cement, squawking—and it hurries away.

Oh lost, the chicken lost!

And oh no, oh worst of all, oh ruin—the man seizes the egg in his hand!

NO! I cry, oh no, oh no! as I feel myself yanked into the night sky, as if pulled by a string from the stars: No! I cry, oh no, he didn’t mean it!

But it is too late. And for him, my cries fade fast. For him, soon, I am only another tiny silver fish in the dark, constellated sky.

From the sky, I watch through tears, as he looks at the egg, at that little golden planetarium and its jewel-constellations.

I watch through tears as the egg splinters in his hand—as it must! As all such eggs must splinter when grasped by human hand!

The golden egg shivers to dust at his feet. All that is left in his hand is what was once inside the egg: a tiny white chicken, curled in a ball, wet with egg juice.

Inside the egg, it was alive and growing. Now it is quite, quite dead. And dead is the tiny golden egg inside that tiny chicken; and the tinier white chicken inside that tinier egg, dead too; and the even tinier egg inside that tinier chicken—all dead, all dead, countless chickens, countless golden eggs, dead, dead, dead.

And yet the stars sing on around me!

For the rest of this man’s life, I will watch him from the sky, as he struggles and fights and wars the world to earn another golden egg. I will watch him battle, watch piles of green paper grow taller around him, watch the other black wool suits shake his hand.

But he will never be happy. I work so hard, I work so hard, he will think, all the rest of his life. Where is my egg?

From the night sky, I, the man’s own star-fish, I will weep, as I do tonight. What will it matter, how hard he works, when he works for the wrong thing? What does it matter how hard he works for the egg, when only the chicken would have made him happy? Only the chicken, the beautiful, odd-smelling, squawking chicken, that he was freely given by a star who came with dirty feet to answer his heart’s desire, his own swimming star-fish, who can never come again.

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