May 3, 2016

The Egg Memorial, By Caroline Yu

I did not want to use a rabbit. Rabbits should not lay eggs. But some creature needed to and I could not take the hen. Long ago, a boy climbed a beanstalk and stole the hen from our fine city in the clouds. I’ve heard he told horrid tales about us, claiming we were nasty giants rather than fairies. I also heard it took years to get the hen back. So I knew not to ask the fairy queen if I might borrow her hen. Besides, the hen’s feathers were not golden and her eggs were. She would not work.
You see, some fairy needed to return rain to the ground kingdom. I ask you, how could such be done without making a gold rabbit lay eggs?
Months without rain had left the kingdom dry and decrepit, like an ancient parchment. Yet in its golden days, the kingdom looked lush as a dew-covered rose. Its meadows used to be a blinding green. Many a shepherd blinked at their brightness as he led his sheep. In the forests, wind wove through the trees, and leaves rustled like silken skirts. In the village, gardens yielded produce more colorful than rainbows. The dirt roads made soft sounds when tread upon. At the main road’s end, a stone castle rose proud and tall. It looked quite regal, though if any king lived there, he’d long been forgotten. The kingdom’s people were fair and good. Such people need no king.
Thus the ground kingdom thrived in every way. We fairies flitted into the hearts and minds of its people. We left laughter and found peace. All was as it should be.  
Then the miller’s daughter died.
Once, the young girl carried her suppers to beggars and clambered over fences to visit crotchety hermits. Often, she’d skipped through the market, singing made-up ditties. Her giggles bounced off the market stalls, until even the sternest sellers cracked smiles and lowered prices. The child brought more joy to the village than any fairy, until her illness came. She became a pale and pinch-faced thing, who writhed on a small mattress.
The girl’s mother felt relieved when her daughter passed into our city. We filled the child’s pockets with sparkling gifts before sending her on to eternity. Yes, her mother felt relieved.
Her father felt as dead as his daughter. He grieved without tears, in the harmful way that shrivels the soul and makes it seek loneliness.
Hoping to comfort him, his wife hired two painters, to create her daughter’s portrait from memory. For reasons too pathetic to mention, both failed. In fact, the painters failed so utterly that our fairy queen grew angry. She flew through the clouds, fuming and sputtering about idiot mortals. And in her anger, our queen forgot to send the rain.
The kingdom’s grass grew dry and sharp. Thick dust wrung the strength from the air, until the breeze died. All turned brown, brittle, and ugly as a wart-riddled toad. Produce perished. People became hungry and poor. Money seemed to vanish. The ground kingdom turned as dry as the miller’s soul and as strange as a lonely father who craved no company. 
Well. No fairy would dare to tell the queen she’d forgotten something. If I wanted the queen to remember the rain, I’d best remove the source of her anger. What better way than by giving a rabbit golden fur?
I needed the rabbit to attract the attention of the painters’ former assistant, Ella. Ella was an important part of my plan, and because real rabbit fur affected her allergies, I decided the fur would be golden.
I mentioned Ella used to assist both painters, though neither knew she worked for the other. The painters’ ignorance did not exist because Ella had sense to keep quiet. She simply never told painter Abigail she worked for painter Oliver.
Ella never said much to people. She lived alone and saved her words for the wooden rabbits her father, a carpenter, carved for her. She named them, kissed them, and served them tea. Yet Ella yearned for a real rabbit – a secret she kept intentionally. Why hurt her wooden bun-bun’s feelings?
So. I gave a real rabbit golden fur. Then I appeared in Ella’s kitchen to inform her a hypoallergenic rabbit stood outside. If she caught him, she could keep him.
Ella squealed like a child on Christmas then darted out the door.
“Wait!” I called, fluttering after her. I’d forgotten: Abigail and Oliver must help catch the rabbit. They needed its gold-filled eggs. Gold would buy canvases. Canvases could become portraits, and portraits would heal a miller and appease a fairy queen. At least, that’s what I’d wanted Abigail and Oliver to think. Thanks to my poor planning, they’d think nothing.
The rabbit did his part. He shot out of Ella’s reach, darting down the road and kicking up dust clouds – thick dust clouds. Luckily, sunlight struck the rabbit’s golden fur. Ella stumbled through the dust after the blinding light, calling, “Here, Bun-bun!”
Well, this was fixable. With a flick of my hand, I directed the rabbit toward Abigail’s cottage. He scampered back in the other direction. Ella spun and stumbled after him.
Now things were in motion. I retreated to my cloud city, where I could see whatever I chose.
First, I looked in on Abigail. She slumped over her table, flipping through a cookbook. Since the loss of rain, nobody else bothered with cookbooks. When produce could not grow and cows gave no milk, what was there to cook? But Abigail did not want to cook food. She wanted to cook water. Recipes for food were found in cookbooks. Therefore, some cookbook must hold a recipe for water. Abigail was practical – if a little foolish.
Soon Abigail heard scurrying, calls of “Here, Bun-bun!” followed by “Oh! He lays eggs!”
When Abigail rose and opened her door, she found an egg on her threshold. She picked the egg up, which made the gold coins inside it jingle. Normally, a practical woman might not believe an egg could be filled with coins. But like everyone else in the kingdom, Abigail felt desperate. She left the egg on her table then headed out to search for more. Follow the commotion, she told herself. It was the practical thing to do.
Under my guidance, the commotion headed toward Oliver’s cottage.
Since the loss of rain, Oliver sprawled on his mattress and moaned poetically. Poetic moans, he reasoned, would summon the rain. Oliver was poetic – if a little foolish.
Soon Oliver heard scurrying, calls of “Here, Bun-bun!” followed by “Eggs! Give me his eggs!”
Oliver stopped moaning, leapt up, and peered out the window. Through the dusty haze, he spotted a blinding light. Follow that light, he told himself. It was the poetic thing to do. After a good stretch, he charged out the door.
So there the three were, stumbling through the dust, groping for a golden rabbit. Each reached the rabbit at the same moment. Each gripped a handful of golden fur – and found they couldn’t let go.  
As the dust cleared, three stunned faces blinked at two others. The squabbles that followed sounded worse than angry chickens. Ella demanded Abigail and Oliver release her pet. Abigail demanded Ella and Oliver release her new source of income. Oliver demanded Ella and Abigail release the source of his current inspiration.
It soon became apparent none could release the rabbit (part of my plan, of course). Abigail, being practical, suggested they take the rabbit into Oliver’s house. Ella used her free hand to support “Bun-bun” as the three shuffled toward the cottage.
Once the rabbit had been lowered to the table, he laid an egg. Abigail snatched it. She raised her egg as though toasting the others. “Here’s to a portrait beautiful enough to bring back the rain,” she said, and cracked her egg against the table’s edge.
Abigail waited for coins to roll across the table, but none did. You see, if someone cracked the egg to spend its gold, the gold disappeared (also part of my plan).
Abigail blinked at her empty eggshell as the rabbit laid again.
This time, Oliver snatched the egg, shook it, then cracked it. Again, the coins disappeared. He glanced at Abigail. “Sounded like there’d be gold inside. I thought I had my second chance.”
Ah, mortals. So disappointed when wealth won’t come their way. Yet what problem can be solved with money?  
Oliver did not mention why he’d failed at first. I told you the reason was too pathetic to mention. Yet if the painters won’t, I must: each painter sent Ella to ruin the other’s portrait.
Why, you ask? The painters were not competing. The miller’s wife had hired both to paint a portrait. The painters sabotaged each other’s work for one ridiculous reason: Abigail was practical and Oliver, poetic.
Oliver found Abigail’s paintings unoriginal. Creating a copy was not creative.
Abigail found Oliver’s work illogical. Lines, squiggles, and splotches were meaningless. So Abigail sent Ella to unwrap Oliver’s completed painting, slash it with a letter opener, then wrap it again. Oliver had done the same.
The village postman delivered two damaged portraits to the miller. A grieving father looked upon two defaced paintings of his dead daughter. Abigail and Oliver lost their chance to heal the miller. And the fairy queen frowned at painters who’d ruined the miller’s gifts to satisfy themselves.
“I painted her laugh,” Oliver whispered.
Abigail raised an eyebrow. A laugh? No one could paint such a thing.
Oliver cleared his throat. He opened a drawer beneath the table and pulled out his painting supplies. He painted the only white thing in sight: an egg.
The golden rabbit had just laid another. Oliver took it with his free hand. He gestured for Ella to hold the egg as he painted it yellow. Yellow for the sunshine the miller’s daughter had played in. Blue zigzags for the roads she’d skipped along. Red notes for the silly songs she’d sung.
Oliver explained each part of his work to Abigail. “Her laugh,” he finished.
Abigail took the next egg the rabbit laid. Ella held it while she painted. Yellow to match the girl’s curls. Blue to match her eyes. Red to match the ruddy color of her cheeks. Abigail painted the child’s lips apart and added dimples. She held up her egg for Oliver to see. “Her smile.”    
The painters exchanged eggs. Both were surprised to find they admired the other’s work. Then Ella said, “You used the same colors.”
Oliver met Abigail’s eye. She smiled as he chuckled. So they had. Perhaps the practical and poetic used the same tools to create different kinds of beauty – a fact both might have realized sooner. Now, without money for canvases, neither could right their wrong.
Oliver lowered his head. Abigail heaved a shaky sigh. Ella? Ella had a second moment of brilliance.
“Pity the miller can’t see your eggs.”
Oliver’s head shot up. Once again, he met Abigail’s eyes. A light flickered there – and the light looked very poetic.
For the next two weeks, Abigail painted the miller’s daughter doing her favorite things. Oliver painted her compassion and joy. Ella asked her father to design and build a shelf for displaying eggs.
When all was finished, the three delivered the egg-filled shelf to the miller’s cottage. Oliver and Abigail would have preferred to send Ella alone. She knew what every egg meant. There remained, however, the problem of being attached to the rabbit. So it was that one rabbit-loving assistant and two embarrassed painters presented an egg memorial to the miller.
The miller listened as Abigail and Oliver explained how they’d tried to capture his daughter’s spirit. He fingered the smooth eggs, letting their stunning colors refresh his soul. Last, he did what he could not do when his daughter died: he cried. His grief seemed great, greater perhaps than it had when his daughter first left him. But sometimes joy is a seed in need of water. One must cry before joy can grow.
The miller’s wife tried to thank the painters, but a sound like applause overpowered her soft-spoken words. All spun toward the cottage’s tiny windows. Outside, the air was veiled in falling water.
Yes, the queen’s anger subsided, and she remembered she’d forgotten the rain. She sent it in torrents that restored the kingdom’s glory. In other words, I succeeded. Who would have thought I could do so by inspiring artists to paint money-filled eggs? I am brilliant in my own way.
 The egg memorial now hangs in the miller’s cottage. At night, he weeps for his lost daughter. During the day, he fingers the eggs and smiles. His joy is growing,
Oliver, Abigail, and Ella are fast friends. They had little choice, as each still has a hand stuck to the rabbit. I could not figure out how to free them and gave up trying. Why bother when they are happy?
The three moved into a cottage surrounded by a garden, lush and green from frequent rain. Each day, they fill their garden with painted eggs. Often, people visit. They sift through hedges and peek between flowers, hunting for eggs. Some crack the eggs in search of gold. Most do not.
Even fairies fly down to the garden. They listen to mortals talk about the colorful eggs. Everyone has a reason for why the eggs are beautiful. No one is told their reason is wrong.
Bio: Caroline says, "In addition to Enchanted Conversation, my fiction has been accepted by Timeless Tales, Plays children's magazine, and Ladybug."

1 comment:

M Delaney said...

"Sometimes joy is a seed in need of water." Very poetic. And practical.