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Eggs - a short story by W. D. Smart Psanky

     Luba was furious.  “What do you mean we can’t go on the cruise?  I’ve already told everyone we’re going!  I’ve made plans!”  She spit her words at Ted like a viper.  “Helen and I are going to Chicago to start shopping this weekend!”

     Ted was sitting at the kitchen table.  His glasses had slipped down and were hanging precariously on the tip of his nose.  Stacks of opened envelopes and papers were scattered over the chrome tabletop.  His wife sat directly across from him, but he wished there was much more distance.  The bitter smell of freshly brewed espresso seemed to accentuate the acidic situation.  The bright yellow walls and the polished tile floor reflected the sunshine streaming in through the large windows that looked out onto the back yard and swimming pool.  The kitchen was uncomfortably bright.  He squinted at her over the tops of his glasses.   

      “I was hoping we could go too,” he weakly responded, “but there are just too many bills.  This new car payment is killing us!  And I had no idea our insurance would go up so much.”

     “I’m supposed to drive!” Luba blurted out.

     “What do you mean?” Ted was confused.  He was often confused when talking with his wife.

     “I just told you!  I’m going to Chicago Saturday with Helen - and June and Margaret.  I’m supposed to drive!  What will I tell them?”  Luba glared at her husband across the table and slowly shook her head.  “My husband.  The CPA.  The big shot accountant!” she continued sarcastically.  “Is this what I get for giving up my life so you could get your degree?  A big shot CPA who’s so good with accounting that he can’t even find the money to take his wife on vacation?”   She leaned forward across the table towards him and asked again, “Just what the hell am I supposed to tell them?” 

     Ted squirmed a little, but forced himself to look her directly in the eye and said as gently as he could,  “I don’t know what you can tell them.  We just can’t afford to go.  It’s impossible.” Ted paused and then suggested, “I guess you could still go shopping with them.”

     “Oh sure!  For what?”  Luba rose suddenly from her chair and planted herself in front of the windows, her arms flailing as she continued her punishing diatribe,  “I’ll just chauffeur them up to Chicago and stand around while they buy new bathing suits and sun glasses and cocktail dresses!  That’ll be great!  Maybe, if we could take the time out to go to a drugstore somewhere, I could buy one of those cardboard cameras so they could take photos to show me what a good time I missed!  Can we afford that?”

     Luba’s words stabbed at Ted.  He sat staring at her silhouette framed in the sunlit windows.  She was still strikingly beautiful, just as striking as when he first saw her ten years ago at college.  They were both from immigrant families and had met at a mixer sponsored by the Ukrainian Students Association that they had attended at the insistence of their parents.  Other than that, they had little in common.  She was from Chicago and an upper middle class family, an only child.  He was raised on a small farm in southern Indiana, and the oldest of three children.  At that time, however, he had an edge.  He was a confident senior and she an impressionable freshman.  He had thought then that their shared ancestry would assure shared interests and shared values.  He had been wrong.

     “Can we?” Luba said with one last stab and a final twist.  “Can we afford that?”  When she received no response she spun around and stormed out of the kitchen.

     Ted continued to stare at the windows where she had been standing.  He could still see the imprint of her image on his retina left by the bright sunlight.  When her image faded he turned and looked at the bills spread out on the table.  “Yes,” he said softly to no one, “I guess we could afford that.  But just barely.”

     Ted gathered up the papers from the table and put them away.  He wandered into the living room still dazed from the disastrous bill-paying session and the ensuing tongue-lashing.  The stark, ultra-modern furniture seemed to mock him.  It was made mostly of glass and stainless steel.  Where there was fabric it was a monotonous repetition of geometrical black and white patterns.  As far as Ted was concerned it was both visually and physically uncomfortable.  The sofa had cost a fortune, as had the rest of the furniture.  He did not even want to think about how much they had paid for the white pile carpet under his feet.  Why had he let her talk him into all this?  This was not the lifestyle he wanted.  He was a simple man.  He wanted to be a simple man.  He wanted to have a simple life.  No frills, no problems, no fights, and certainly no outrageous bills.

     He soon found himself going down the stairs to the basement and began to feel more at ease.  The coolness rose to meet him; or rather he descended into it, like slowly walking into a cool, still pond.  A soft light found its way into the room through the half-windows near the ceiling.  The flat gray of the bare concrete walls further dampened the light.  He reached out and put his palm on the wall.  It was cool, almost damp, and gave off a pleasant musky smell.

     In the sanctuary of the basement Ted felt much better. He moved past his workbench to the wooden crate sitting on the floor.  He removed the top and started unpacking the contents: a box of candles, jars filled with bright colored liquids, yellowed paper covered with fine, handwritten Cyrillic script and neatly drawn patterns, sieve-like ladles, a package of beeswax, and a fragile-looking instrument with a bowl at one end that resembled a long slender pipe.  After he had arranged all of these on his workbench he reached into the crate once more and carefully removed several small boxes.  He set them gently down on the workbench and began extracting and unwrapping the precious contents.

     Eggs.  Beautiful eggs.  Ukrainian eggs.  Brightly colored, lovingly decorated in fine, delicate lines inscribed with wonderfully intricate patterns.  There were circles, stars, mysterious ciphers, outlines of birds, chocks of wheat, and a multitude of complex geometric figures.  Even in the dimly lit basement the eggs shone as their protective lacquer finish reflected all available light.  These were pysanky. These were Ted’s legacy, a gift from his grandmother.  Along with them he had also received the ultimate gift – the knowledge of how to make these marvelous works of art.

     Ted walked over to the basement refrigerator and opened the door.  The refrigerator light was out, but the bright light above his workbench helped him locate the dozen extra-large eggs he had brought home earlier in the week.  He carried the eggs to his workbench, carefully removed them from the Styrofoam case and placed them on the tabletop.

     He had planned to start decorating the eggs that afternoon after the family outing to the park, but he needed something to do now.  He needed an escape from the unpleasant confrontation he had just had with Luba.

     Fifteen minutes passed and a faint smell of vinegar lingered as Ted finished washing the eggs.  After carefully drying them with a soft cloth he began to candle each one to inspect for hairline cracks.  Any imperfection in the shell would eventually allow air to seep into the finished egg and cause it to putrefy.  Ted was all too aware of the tedious work ahead of him.  He did not want to go through the effort of creating a beautiful egg, only to find it had a fatal flaw.

     As he held each egg near the candle flame and slowly rotated it in his fingers he began to feel a warm closeness moving down upon him.  The subtle texture of the eggshell massaged his fingertips and the creamy smoothness of the shell’s hue lulled him into a soothing reverie.  He could feel a connection forming, an extension reaching for him.  The feeling wove its way through past generations towards him as if the craft he was performing was a vehicle for a powerful but unseen flow of relationship.

     After candling all the eggs Ted gathered his tools together and inspected them.  He was especially careful in examining the kistka, the slender instrument used to apply the wax.  The kistka is held in one hand like a large ink pen.  On the writing end is a bowl with a protruding tip.  The bowl would be packed with wax and then heated over an open candle flame.  As the wax melted it flowed from the bowl out the tip and onto the egg.  He had tips of various sizes that would cause the wax to flow in different widths.  He selected a medium tip to start the morning’s work.

     At first the melted beeswax flowed on so transparently he would have to stop to determine what part of the pattern he had already done.  He knew that soon however the carbon from the flame of the candle would darken the bowl of the kistka and the melted wax, causing it to flow in distinct black lines.  He preferred this traditional method to using the new electric kistkas.  They required coloring to be added to the wax to achieve the same effect.

     The first pattern was slowly emerging.  He had chosen a traditional star pattern because of its simplicity.  Even though he had performed this craft every year for almost fifteen years, the first egg each new Easter was a re-learning experience for him.

     His young daughter Marie silently appeared in the room and climbed up onto a chair opposite him.  She kneeled on the chair so she could see over the tabletop.  She placed her elbows on the table resting her head in her hands and crossed her legs behind her.  She watched his every move.  She looked like she was dressed for church.  She wore a delicate lilac dress that barely concealed a mass of stiff petticoats.  Her legs were covered with white tights, and she wore shiny black sandals.  Her curly dark hair was pulled back into a neat ponytail and secured with a matching lilac bow.  She shifted slightly from time to time causing her starched petticoats to rustle.

     At first he paid no attention to her, but soon found himself blurting out pieces of information if for no other reason than to break the silence.  “You must move the kistka in long smooth strokes.  You do this to apply the wax evenly.  It’s very important to get the lines the same width so the patterns on the egg will have distinct, neat borders.”

     Marie listened, seemingly unimpressed.  This annoyed her father and caused him to continue talking, searching for something which would catch her attention.

     “After this first pattern is drawn, I’ll put the egg in that bottle of yellow dye.  When I remove the egg, all the shell will be yellow except for the lines I have drawn with the wax.  The wax protects that part of the egg from the dye.  Do you see what I mean?” he asked.

     Marie nodded her head yes.  Ted was encouraged and continued.

     “After it has dried I’ll draw more lines on it with the kistka and then dip it in another color.  This is the way the beautiful patterns emerge.  See these drawings?”  He showed her the papers his grandmother had given him, pages and pages of patterns and instructions handed down for generations. 

     Marie nodded her tiny head slowly and looked at the bottle of dye.  “It looks like Kool-Aid.  Can I put the egg in the color?”

     Before Ted could answer Luba had opened the door at the top of stairs.  Without coming down she called out, “Marie?  Ted?  Come on, let’s go!  We don’t want to be late for the hunt.”

     Marie quickly slid down from her chair and ran up the stairs leaving Ted to turn off the burner and hastily store his tools.  He reached the car just as Luba and Marie were getting in.

     “Watch her fingers!” scolded Luba as Ted started to close the car door.  Little Marie grinned at her father from inside the backseat and edged away.

     “She wasn’t even near the door,” Ted muttered defensively as he swung into the seat behind the wheel.

     “Well, you never notice where she is or what she’s doing,” Luba continued.  “It’s always left to me to look after her.  You’d think you’d act like a father once in a while and help out.”  As Ted started the car she added, “I thought you were going to change your clothes.”

     Ted drove away in silence.  His wife had on a long, white dress decorated with smart black and silver trim.  She wore a fashionable wide-brimmed hat with a lilac ribbon.  Both she and Marie looked like they were going to a fancy tea party.  Ted had on relaxed khaki cotton pants and a loose fitting knit shirt.  He looked like he was on his way to play golf.  Luba turned almost all the way around in her seat and talked softly to Marie telling her about the egg hunt which was to take place at the park.  This was Marie’s first egg hunt, and the first chance for her to wear the lilac dress that Luba had brought home from one of her frequent shopping trips to Chicago.

     “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Luba had asked proudly when Marie first modeled it. 

     “It’s very nice.” Ted had said, but he was thinking, ‘How much did it cost?’

     Luba was telling Marie about all the other pretty dresses she would see at the hunt.  She talked about the fabulous eggs and the Easter Bunny who had hidden them early that very morning.  She told her they were like the eggs they always have at home on the Easter table, the ones Ted’s grandmothers had made.

     Ted almost broke his silence to protest this last part.  ‘Fabulous’ eggs indeed!  The eggs used at the park today would be hollow plastic eggs, each containing a small piece of candy or toy.  They were nothing like the precious ornamental eggs made by his grandmothers.  How could she compare those cheap plastic eggs to the works of art so reverently created by their families in the old country?

     Luba continued to talk softly with Marie as Ted drove towards the park.  As Luba’s voice droned on, his thoughts turned to warm spring evenings on the farm when his grandmother had rocked him softly in her lap on the porch swing.  She had told him how the eggs were such a special part of the spring festivals in the old country.  The decorated eggs represented new life that burst forth from the thawing earth after the long, dark and cold Ukrainian winters.  These eggs promised fertility.  They protected homes and barns from fire.  A bowl of decorated eggs would bring wealth and protection from the mischievous pranks of evil spirits.   The most highly prized were the multi-colored, highly ornamented eggs called pysanky.  These were made from raw eggs, but during the decoration process they were completely sealed and would keep indefinitely.  The ‘fabulous’ park eggs were vaguely reminiscent of krashanka, the boiled, edible, single-colored eggs given to families to ensure health and an abundant of harvest.  The park eggs were stamped out of cheap plastic.  After they had been found, broken open and their tacky prizes extracted, the shattered pieces would be discarded and scattered around the park.  No one would take them home.  No one would use them as a centerpiece for the Easter meal or put them in places of distinction on the mantelpiece.  They had no promise of life or rebirth about them.

     When Ted arrived at the park he found the parking lots full.  He had to ease off the side of the road in front of a line of cars that had been forced to do the same.  It had rained the day before and there was soft mud along the edges of the pavement.  Ted finally stopped with two wheels hanging off the road causing the car to lean heavily to one side.  Luba and Marie awkwardly climbed out of the high side of the car and onto the pavement.  They hadn’t gone twenty feet until Marie stepped in some mud smudging her shiny black shoes.

     “Look at her shoes!  If we’d left when I wanted to, we’d have found a proper parking space,” Luba said as she stopped to take care of Marie.

     Marie cried a few tears until Luba borrowed Ted’s handkerchief to wipe her face and then clean her shoes.  They finally reached the asphalt path and walked quickly towards the gathering mob of people surrounding the starting line for the egg hunt.

     The mayor explained the rules and boundaries of the hunt.  There would be two egg hunts:  a regular one for school-aged children, and a special one for pre-school toddlers. The regular hunt would span almost the whole park and eggs had been hidden everywhere.

     “I’d even look in the trees,” advised the mayor.  “The Easter bunnies have been busy all morning,” he continued.  “There are about five hundred eggs out there.  Every egg has something in it.  Some have candy, some toys, …and some very special eggs, golden eggs,…” he emphasized this last point very carefully, “…have a twenty-five dollar savings bonds in them!”  There was an eruption of excited clapping.

     “Those of you that have pre-schoolers need to go with Mrs. Geraldine Simms, the woman in the lovely blue dress and hat.”  He pointed to a tall, slender woman who was waving her hand over her head, “She will take you down to the tennis courts.”  Luba took Marie’s hand and started off after Mrs. Simms.  Ted followed closely behind.

     The toddler hunt was to take place on the tennis courts.  The park had three tennis courts built side-by-side.  The nets had been taken down and the net posts had been decorated with green and white crepe paper.  They resembled small, wrinkled Christmas trees.  Scattered over the surface of the courts were the eggs.  They were plastic eggs of single colors:  red, white, green, blue - and a few special golden eggs.  Ted counted three of these, placed about mid-court, one egg on each court.

     Mrs. Simms carefully tiptoed her way through the scattered eggs to the center of the courts and called for everyone’s attention.  She proceeded to explain the rules.  The children were not to go onto the courts until she blew her whistle.  She held this up for everyone to see.  The parents were not allowed to accompany the children onto the courts.  The children could pick up eggs and bring them back to their parents to hold for them while they continued to hunt, but she stressed again that parents were not to go out on the courts themselves.  It was Mrs. Simms’s hope that every child would get at least one egg, so every parent was encouraged in the ‘special spirit of Easter’ to limit their child to two or thee eggs.  She then instructed the parents to find a place for their children along the sides of the courts.

     There was a big rush to shepherd the children to an optimal place.  Luba grabbed Marie’s hand and pulled her towards the far side.  She quickly outdistanced Ted.  His pace was slowed as he tried to pick his way through the churning mass of children being firmly led here and there by their eager parents.  Luba seemed to know exactly where she was taking Marie.  It was the far, top middle of the center court.  When he finally reached them, Luba was kneeling down behind Marie and speaking softly in her ear.

     “Marie, see the golden egg out in the center?  See how pretty it is?  It would go so well with your pretty dress.  When I tell you, I want you to run out to that golden egg as fast as you can and bring it back to me.  Do you understand mommy?”  Marie looked back at her mother and nodded her head.  Luba took both hands and turned Marie’s head back toward center court and pointed directly at the golden egg.    “Look there!  Look at the pretty golden egg.  Don’t look away from it.  Point to it for mommy.” Marie pointed towards the center of the court.  “That’s right,” said Luba in a hushed but excited voice.  “That’s the one.  When I say, you run and bring it to mommy.”

     Mrs. Simms still stood in center court.  She raised her hands over her head again, calling for attention.

     “I’d like everyone to join with me in a moment of silence,” she announced.  “They’ll be no official prayer this year,” she went on to explain.  “We’re told since the city is sponsoring this hunt, we can’t do that anymore.  I know it’s disappointing to many of you not to have a prayer on Easter, but that’s how it is now.”

     Some surprised murmuring rippled through the crowd, but no one made a comment.  She bowed her head.  The adults were quiet and held their children as still as they could.

     After the moment of silence the crowd began to buzz excitedly again.  Mrs. Simms advised everyone to get ready and brought the whistle up to her lips.  Most parents were kneeling behind their children.  The children appeared to be projectiles positioned to be catapulted into the tennis courts at the first sound of the whistle.  A couple children accidentally stepped onto the court, but were quickly pulled back onto the grass border by one of their parents.  Luba had edged her way down the court a little and was now ten feet away from Ted.  Even at that short distance he could barely see her through the lines of children and parents as she kneeled behind Marie, still whispering in her ear and pointing towards the nearest golden egg.

     No one could say which section of the crowd broke first.  Everyone agreed there was no whistle.  Suddenly there was a surge, and then a wave of children broke over the sides of the courts.  Parents were pointing and yelling, urging their children to hurry further onto the courts.  A few children were standing on the court crying and turning around in circles, their arms outstretched searching for someone to save them.  Frantic parents were running out onto the courts grabbing their children, pulling and even dragging them towards an egg.

     Ted quickly looked for Marie.  He saw her standing about two-thirds of the way out on the center court.  She was sobbing.  Luba was moving towards her through the churning crowd and screaming frantically.  Ted also set off for Marie swimming his way through the crowd of confused children and determined parents.  Just before Luba reached Marie another parent brushed past her.  Marie fell.  Luba gasped and froze, but Ted pushed forward.  He scooped Marie up into his arms.  She was so scared she was no longer crying.  He quickly looked her over.  She seemed unhurt but her dress and stockings were slightly torn and soiled.

     “Give her to me!  For God’s sake give her to me!” Luba screamed as she snatched Marie from Ted’s grasp.  Marie slung her arms around Luba’s neck and buried her head in her mother’s neck.  Ted could see Marie’s shoulders moving up and down as she started to sob.

     Luba spun around without a word and marched off towards the car clutching Marie.  Ted followed as best he could, dodging children and parents, and trying to avoid stepping on the broken pieces of plastic eggs that were strewn everywhere along the ground.  He finally caught up with them as they neared the car.

     “Here, let me take her.  I’ll carry her,” he offered as he reached for Marie.

     “No!  No you won’t!  You’re too late!  You’re always too late!” Luba’s voice and face were full of hate.  “You never pay any attention to her.  Where were you?  Why didn’t you protect her?”  She pressed Marie more tightly against her breast.  “How could you let this happen?”

     Ted was shocked.  Luba’s words were like a slap.  His face burned.  He could think of nothing to say.  He could only move forward head hanging, and fumble for his keys to open the car doors.  Luba slid into the front seat and cradled Marie on her lap.  Marie clung tightly to her.  They drove home in complete silence.

     As soon as Ted stopped the car in the driveway Luba flung the door open and jumped out.  She headed straight for the house.

     “It’ll be alright,” she said soothingly to Marie while stroking her hair.  “Everything will be alright.  Mommy will buy you a new dress.  Let’s go take a nice warm bath and get cleaned up.”  When she had reached the front door she stopped and spun around to hurl one more insult at Ted.  “And don’t worry that daddy didn’t get you an egg.  We’ll go to the store tomorrow and get you all the eggs you want.”  With that she disappeared into the house still clutching Marie, and slammed the door.

     Ted was confused and felt a heavy tiredness pressing down on him.  He walked slowly into the house and went directly to his basement workroom where he could be alone.  He mechanically gathered his tools and repositioned them on the workbench.  He hadn’t been at work long until he felt another presence.  Marie had crept down the stairs and now stood silently behind him.

“Hi,” Ted said turning to acknowledge his daughter.  ‘How’re you doing?  You okay?”

     Marie said nothing but moved up to the table and stood beside his stool.  He breathed in the sweet aroma of her freshly washed hair.

     “Do you still want to help with the eggs?” he asked.  Marie didn’t respond or even look at her father.  She stared at the tools scattered on the table.  “This is your grandmother’s,” he said holding up the kistka, “She told me her mother gave it to her.  Your great-grandfather made this, a long time ago in a land far from here.”

     “I know, Daddy,” Marie sighed, “You’re always talking about that. Mom says it doesn’t matter anymore.  She says that was a long time ago and we live here now.”  There was an awkward silence until Marie asked,  “Are you going to color some eggs?  And draw on them?  Can I do that?”

     “Sure,” he said feeling immediately relieved at her show of interest.  Come over here and look at this egg.”  She moved to her father’s side.

     He showed her the faint gray lines and explained again how the dye would color all of the egg except the lines.  He prepared the dye in a bowl and helped her balance the egg on the sieve-like ladle.  He guided her hands as she lowered the egg into the wide-mouthed jar containing the dye.

     “There!  That’s all there is to it.  Now we just wait a while to allow the dye to do its work.”

     Maria stared at the egg floating in the dye.  He thought she would have questions about this, but she didn’t.

     “Would you like to draw something on an egg with the kistka?” he asked while showing her the slender metal instrument again.

     Marie vigorously shook her head ‘no’, but said nothing.

     “You could draw a flower, or a star.  I’ve seen you draw them in your coloring books.”  Marie again shook her head no.

     “How about your name?  Would you like to write your name on an egg?  You could write it on this paper first to get used to the kistka.”

     “Okay,” came her quiet reply as she reached out to touch the kistka.  “How do I do it?”

     Ted gently picked her up and placed her down kneeling on his stool.  “I’ll get it ready and show you what to do.”  He checked the bowl to make sure it had enough wax.  He started heating the bowl in the candle flame.

     “I’m going to melt the wax now.  Be careful not to touch the bowl because it gets very hot.  Just hold the handle like this.  I’ll help you.”

     Marie did not respond but was intently watching him heat up the kistka.  The wax melted in less than a minute.  Ted checked the flow on a paper he had placed in front of Marie.  The wax was a little thin, probably too hot, but it was beginning to darken.  This was a good state for Marie to start learning.       He wrote his name quickly on the paper...

Ted

The letters flowed out in a medium gray script.  “Now you try,” Ted encouraged as he took her right hand in his and placed it on the handle of the kistka.  “The wax is running fast so you have to write quickly or it will glob up,” he instructed as he guided her hand smoothly across the paper.

     When they were finished he set the kistka on its stand and held up the paper.  There in large letters below his name was the name of his beloved daughter...

Marie.

     “But Daddy, I can’t write like that.  I’m not even in first grade.  I can only print!” she pouted.

     “That’s okay.  You can print.  Or you can draw something.  Let me show you how draw a fish,” Ted re-heated the kistka and quickly drew the simple outline of a fish...

Fish - Symbol of Christianity.

     “There, that’s how to draw a fish.  It’s also the symbol for Christians and Christianity.  It was a secret symbol they used a long time ago to identify one another.”

     “Why did they use a fish?” asked Marie.

     “I’m not sure.  I think they used a fish because Jesus once fed a lot of people with just a few fish.  If Jesus had been in the Ukraine he would have used eggs.  You can feed a lot of people with just a few eggs.  Eggs can also hatch into chickens which you can eat too; and chickens can lay eggs and keep producing food forever!”

Ted surprised himself by saying these things.  They were things that he had heard from his grandmother many years ago when he was not much older than Marie.  He continued, “The egg would have been the symbol for Christianity in the Ukraine.”

     “And the cross,” added Marie thoughtfully.

     “Yes, Marie.  The cross is an important Christian symbol, but it’s a symbol associated with suffering and death.  The egg is a symbol of life and re-birth.  That’s why eggs are the symbols of Easter.” Ted paused momentarily to allow Marie to ask questions, but she had none.

     “Look how pretty they can be,” he continued as he reached for one of his grandmother’s eggs.  “See how it shines?  Look at all the colors and lines.  It’s covered with layers and layers of decoration.

     This egg is like Christianity.  Christianity is also layered with ideas and symbols from all kinds of peoples and cultures.  But underneath all of these layers the core of Christianity remains untouched, alive, just like the egg.  They both contain the promise of rebirth and of a new and everlasting life.  Isn’t it wonderful?  Doesn’t it make you feel good just to look at it?”

     “Can I hold it, daddy?” Marie asked as she looked up at him.

     “Of course you can.  Your great-grandmother made this.  She gave it to me herself.”  He carefully handed it to her.  “Now I give it to you.”  Ted’s chest tightened as he passed on the egg to his daughter.

“It’s yours now, and you will soon learn how to make them yourself.  Would you like that?”

Before Marie could answer Luba threw open the door to the basement and started stomping down the stairs.  “Marie!  Marie!” she cried loudly.  “Ted!  Is Marie down there?”

     Marie was so startled that she spun around on the stool.  The egg toppled from her hand and onto the table top.  It rolled quickly towards the edge.  Ted lunged forward sweeping his arm across the workbench to try to catch the egg.  He knocked the candle over onto his grandmother's precious papers that were strewn around the desk causing them to catch fire.  He missed the egg.  It rolled over the side and onto the cement floor.  It landed with a dull thud.

     When Luba got to the bottom of the stairs she stopped and stared in disbelif.  Marie was hunched over on the stool crying.  Ted was leaning over her, stretched out over the workbench, trying to snuff out burning papers with his hands and arms.

     “Ted, what’s going on here?  Just what the hell is going on?” she blurted out in bewilderment.

     “My God!” she gasped, “What’s the matter with Marie?”  Ted looked up at Luba, but again could think of nothing to say.

     Luba ran over to the stool to comfort Marie and then turned again to Ted,  “Can’t you do anything right?  Can’t I even trust you to look after her for just a few minutes?”

          She turned her attention back to Marie, “Now, now Marie - don’t cry.  Your daddy doesn’t mean such things.  He just doesn’t know how to treat little girls.  He doesn’t know what little girls like.”

     She glared at Ted again and then turned back to her daughter.  “Let’s go upstairs and have some lunch.  I’ve fixed your favorite – toasted cheese sandwiches.  After lunch we can go into town and look for a nice new dress.”

     Luba took Marie’s hand and turned towards the stairs.  She suddenly stopped and turned back around.  Her nostrils flared and her head tilted, her eyebrows lowered.

“What’s that?  What’s that horrible smell?”

Ted was still busy trying to douse the smoldering papers.  His heart ached as he saw the pages char and fall apart, but through the acrid smoke he also began to detect a foul odor.

“My God Ted!  Jesus!” Luba sputtered.  She turned quickly and ran up the stairs dragging Marie behind her.

     The once beautiful pysanky lay smashed on the floor.  The delicate and brightly colored shell was in pieces.  The broken egg was slowly being enveloped by a growing pool of putrid brown ooze.  The shell evidently had a flaw, or had been improperly sealed.  Over the years and in spite of the many layers of ornamental adornment, air had seeped in and caused the core to rot.  The exquisitely decorated egg had hidden a dark secret.  Its promise of re-birth and eternal life was a lie.  In spite of its alluring beauty the egg had all along held only death and decay. 

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Copyright © 2000 Bill Smart.  All rights reserved.