I was ten, maybe, visiting my friend Becky, who lived on a farm down the street where they raised cows, pigs, and ducks. She and I spotted a lone duck egg that had fallen from its nest into the pond. I held onto a tree trunk and leaned out to coax the egg toward us using a long stick, finally pulling it close enough to pluck it from the water.
Becky’s mom said I could have it, and when I asked my own mother if I could try to hatch it, she said sure. So I formed a nest from one of my T-shirts, tucked the egg into an old sock and lay it gently on the wad of fabric. Then I positioned a desk lamp nearby, moving it this way and that until the bulb was close enough to provide warmth, but far enough to avoid igniting the shirt.
When I left for school, I made my mother promise to watch it; I was afraid the duckling would hatch while I was gone and suffocate in the sock.
If I was home, I kept watch. Weeks passed. One, two, perhaps three. The egg showed no signs of life.
Eventually I asked my mother if she thought it would ever hatch. She said probably not. Not after this long.
“Should I crack it open?” I asked.
“You could, if you want to,” she said.
“What’s going to be inside?”
“I don’t know.”
“If it’s not a duck, will it be rotten?”
“I don’t know. You might want to take it far from the house, just in case.”
I cradled the egg in my hands and walked gingerly out to one of the fields in search of the right place. I spotted a big, flat fieldstone that could work. Whatever was in the shell could rest on the rock long enough for me to see it, study it…care for it.
I squatted, held the long-nurtured egg and apologized to the little life it might have been—might be?—and then slowly, lightly, tapped the shell.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” I murmured. “I’m so sorry…I’m so sorry.” I tapped, but still lightly. Tears came slowly. “I’m so sorry…” tap-tap. “I’m so, so sorry…” tap-tap-tap.
The shell gave way. I pulled it apart gently, as close to the rock as possible, to ease its contents onto the unforgiving surface.
Slimy yolk and whites slid out. It didn’t smell. A goopy, blood-colored spot made my stomach lurch. But…was it fertilized? If I’d regulated its temperature more precisely, might it have formed into a duckling?
I couldn’t bear to look at it.
On my way back to the house, I questioned myself, Should I have stayed home from school to watch over the egg? Should I have bought an incubator?
“What was in it?” my mother asked when I came in the back door.
“Nothing.” I looked at her. “It was just a regular egg.”
“Was it rotten?”
I thought of the red spot and I felt a breaking—deep inside.
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