I cracked an egg and dumped it into a bowl. Slashed across the yolk was a cooked chicken shred, like the nightmares of my childhood, flesh in place of eyeball or claw. I’d have preferred the claw or eyeball: it would have made a kind of sense. Some say the inexplicable sparks awe, but the chicken repulsed me. What can’t be explained disturbs the order; order keeps the shit pot far from the stove.
Speaking of shit pots, here’s where you entered the kitchen, months after you’d vanished. Where was my explanation, my apology? Where the hell had you gone? Every day, since you’d left, I’d asked those questions.
You said, “The cooked chicken in the egg makes perfect sense, as metaphor. Death and life as one.”
This was no answer. To be fair, I hadn’t asked you my questions. But also to be fair, my questions were implied. Then again, maybe now that you were back, I didn’t want answers. Maybe all I wanted was your return.
“Easy for you to say,” I said. “You don’t have to eat this mutant egg.”
“You don’t have to either, darlin’,” you said.
But I had to eat this egg. You didn’t know how little I’d been eating, how eggs were all I could bear to eat, because their goodness emerged when they broke. This was the last egg: it was hard for me to get to the store these days, to get to work, to rise from bed.
Seeing you again, I finally felt my hunger, an inner outer space, a void without boundary, no substance or shell. I jabbed a fork into the yolk and stirred. The chicken shred whirled, a flightless bird tossed by strong wind. I spilled the goo over the sizzling fat; a lemony layer formed. I stabbed it with my spatula, scraped the bits into piles while a new layer hardened to then stab and scrape.
The chicken shred had disappeared into the mess, and I’d almost forgotten it, just as I could feel myself forgetting how much I hated you, the burn of it cooling and reheating into something else.
“Sit down,” I said. I divided the egg between two plates and set one before you.
“I couldn’t,” you said, suddenly demure.
“You can,” I said. “You will.”
You nodded, and I could see then—yes, I could see—your remorse and shame. You needed me, and, if necessary, you would spend your life deferring to me. I could hate you or love you and you would eat it, thinking your eating would feed me. You weren’t the same man who’d left me. You would always be gone.
“Welcome back,” I said, and I meant it.
You brought your fork to your mouth and chewed your egg. Hungry, oh so hungry, I chewed mine. My teeth found the shred soon enough. I wanted to spit, but I played it cool. I consumed the inexplicable. I digested it.
Now I’m trying to explain. All that happened next.
Even then, I knew we were both dead meat.
Jennifer Wortman’s work appears in Glimmer Train, The Normal School, New World Writing, Hobart, DIAGRAM, The Collagist, JMWW, Okey-Panky, Confrontation, PANK, Passages North online, concis, and elsewhere. She is an associate fiction editor at Colorado Review and an instructor at Lighthouse Writers Workshop.