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June 26, 2019 Fiction

Brown Egg

Janelle Greco

Brown Egg photo

It’s never enough to just color the eggs--there are rituals. For one thing, we have to put down newspaper. And the paper can only be sections that Grandpa isn’t interested in or has already read. 

“Don’t touch my paper!” he’s always saying.

Grams has to double check with him. There might be something important that should be cut out and framed, like the photo of Pope John Paul II after his inauguration.

The pope is Polish like us, so he gets a prime spot on the kitchen wall next to the back door. He feels all the drafts. His paper face has seen everything--kielbasa dinners being pushed around our plates, long games of rummy, Grandpa yelling at Grams for not having supper ready. Now he watches us open the cartons and behold the eggs. They peek out like small, white half-moons--clean and perfect and whole.

Grams sets down nine glass bowls for each color. Court touches the bottom of hers as if to make sure it’s real. She’s always testing things—jiggling door knobs, picking at pulls in the sofa, putting her hands on the window panes. 

Grams is trying to remember what ingredients we’re supposed to use.

“I think we need warm water,” I say.

“Yeah, warm,” says Court.

“Copycat,” I mouth.

She’s always copying me. If I do a cartwheel, she does a cartwheel. If I’m having strawberry ice cream, she has to have it too. It’s impossible.

“What’s the box say?” asks Grams. “I can’t see shit without my glasses.”

“Room temperature,” says Bee. “And vinegar to dissolve the tablets.”

We are helping Grams find the measuring spoons. We use this as an excuse to open drawers and climb on the countertops. 

“Get down!” she yells. She fixes another drink. The smell of it burns our noses as much as the vinegar. She never adds ice. We climb down from the counters and we are giggling and the best part hasn’t even come yet.

Bee is the oldest aside from Grams. She makes the rules when the adults aren’t around and she hates that we want to be her. If Bee likes Mariah Carey, then I like Mariah Carey. If Bee watches the Real World, then I watch the Real World. She sits beneath a 3D rendering of The Last Supper that Grams hung above the kitchen table. If you walk past it, it looks like Jesus is following you around the room, watching you touch the decorative plates from Niagara Falls that you’re supposed to leave alone or catching you dump extra sugar in your cereal. The disciples are always shifting in their seats. 

Court and I argue over who gets to put the tablets in even though we’ve been taught that fighting is bad and we’ll eventually have to confess it to the priest later next week. Last Thursday, I made up getting in a fight with Bee because I didn’t think I did anything bad enough for God to know about. I said I gave her a black eye, used some curse words, pushed her hard. Some things are worth fighting for, though, like being the first to watch the color green bloom in its dish or the purple unfold like a violet. I stare at Bee’s eye that’s supposed to be bruised.

“You’ll each do some,” says Grams, dividing up the tablets between us.

“Christ, how many of these fucking things are there?” 

The tablets gurgle and fizz when we drop them in; they make slight hissing sounds and we watch the yellow foam and froth like a mad dog. The priest gave me three Hail Marys to say for my fake fight. I wonder how many Grams would get for cursing.

“Hail Mary, full of grace,” I whisper, “the Lord is with thee.”

“The Lord doesn’t give a crap about us coloring eggs,” says Bee.

Grams has us come up to the sink to get the room temperature water. With her cigarette wedged between her lips, she warns Court to be careful walking it back to the table. 

“Last thing I need is dye all over the linoleum,” she says, the cigarette bobbing up and down like a see-saw. 

When I get up to get water for the blue, I see the bump in her hand. Grams has a plastic piece of a ketchup bottle stuck inside of her middle finger. It happened when she was working at The Chowder House. Even after she explained the incident, it still didn’t make sense--not the wound, the opening, or the healing. It seemed miraculous, but sometimes things just get stuck. I poke at it and she grins and gives me the finger.

We dump our eggs in with shaky hands. The colors are never as bright as they look on the box. The brightest red I’ve ever seen was the blood that came from my knee when I fell in the driveway. In the newer crayon boxes, you can get periwinkle, sea green, cornflower blue, burnt sienna, or goldenrod, but you can’t get that color red. I don’t know why, but it must be impossible to make things so bright like in real life. It’s like trying to copy the color of light coming through leaves. 

Court keeps taking her egg out to check it.

“If you don’t leave it alone it won’t get bright,” I say.

“Maybe I don’t want it bright,” she says. 

I scrunch up my face and stick out my tongue.

“No fighting,” warns Grams as she blows rings of smoke out of the slit in the kitchen window.

Bee is concentrating on doing a half-and-half egg--half pink, half blue. She’s cool even when she’s dying dairy products. I copy her and then Court copies me and we silently hate each other for it.

“Do you have to do everything I do?” Bee asks.

“No,” I lie. “I just thought of it now too.”

Bee rolls her eyeballs far back enough for Grams to warn her about them getting stuck like that.

Grams watches patchy purples and a coral colored egg for my mother emerge. There are electric greens and pale oranges. Court plucks the next to last egg out of the yellow and places it in the carton to dry. Grams sighs with her eyes narrowed. It’s how she looks when she’s about to call Grandpa in for dinner. Her wedding ring clinks against her glass, as if she’s suggesting a toast. That’s when she announces that she wants a brown egg. 

“It’s my favorite color,” she declares. 

“How do we do it?” I say.

Grams picks up the blue dye, holds it like a glass of wine, and pours some into the yellow container. 

“We gotta mix these.”

We’re mortified. I look at the pope bewildered. I swear that Jesus flinched. The rules are clear--you’re not supposed to mix the dyes together; they’re supposed to remain separate, untouched like the Niagara Falls plates.

“Grams, I don’t think--”

“Gimme the green,” she says. She pours some out, has us add others. The purple bursts into a cloud in the orange. The green makes small waves in the blue like some stormy ocean. We add the egg; it bobs for a second then rolls over white. 

“We need more,” says Grams. She opens the cupboards, rummages for spices. Brings out the cinnamon, slams the oregano on the table.

“Grams!” yells Court. 

“What?” Enough with the pastels!” she shouts.

We sprinkle in the cinnamon, add cloves and minced garlic. We dump in onion powder and paprika; we add scoops of brown sugar. We laugh wildly. For once, we can touch anything in the cupboards. We race back and forth, the Last Supper adjusting each time. The disciples are frantic.

Bee pinches her nose. 

“It smells!” she screams.

It does. It smells like death. It smells like moss and eggshells and compost and onions. But the egg is brown--a glorious, muddy, dirty brown. We all take turns rotating it. We ladle spoonfuls of dye over its surface; we let it marinate. When we take it out, Grams is thrilled.

“It’s perfect,” she says. “I love it.”

I watch Grams hold it up to the light like a treasure. It is the color of leaves in Fall, the color of dirt, of dried up flowers, of chocolate and work boots and old blood and the rusted tools in Grandpa’s shed. It even has a crack in it from all the turning. There’s dye all over the table; the newspaper is soaked with blue and red blotches. Nothing is white and the kitchen’s a mess. 

“This one’s mine,” she says triumphantly. 

When she says it, I feel like today is a good day. The scab on my knee is healed. Bee is laughing. The eggs are the color of strange planets. I hope the pope is paying attention, that the disciples have laid their holy eyes on this day that feels like prayer.

image: Aaron Burch


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