Melissa had found an egg. It was an ordinary egg size, but purple in color with small brown speckles. She had found it near the shed behind Mark Crady’s house. Mark Crady lived two streets over on the edge of Muck-Luck Pond. He was a short pug-faced boy with chubby fingers. They were the same age, but Mark was one grade behind, as his mother hadn’t been able to part with him the year they were both supposed to start kindergarten.
Mrs. Crady was what Melissa’s father called a nutbar. She called Melissa Ma petite chou chou, which meant my little cabbage in French. Melissa was decidedly not a cabbage. There were crystals hanging in front of each window of Mrs. Crady’s house, and she had silk scarves draped over all of the lamps. Mark had to do his homework at Melissa’s house because it was too dim to see in his own. They didn’t have a sofa. Instead, Mrs. Crady kept a large stack of pillows in the middle of the cramped living room floor, calling it her nest. When Mark came over, he sat on her proper couch and tried to imitate the way Melissa’s father read the newspaper.
There was no Mr. Crady. Melissa had asked about him once, and Mrs. Crady had said that he was in the beyond, with the stars and goddess, whatever that meant. Melissa and her father believed in regular god, like normal people. Melissa’s father said the Mark’s father had pulled a runner when he was born, and that there was no Mrs. about Mrs. Crady. It was difficult for Melissa to follow.
Melissa liked Mark Crady’s house because of Mrs. Crady’s garden. Her garden was like a poem. It backed up against the house, and ended at the pond, and on either side was a thick row of trees and tall bear grass. The yard was covered with wildflowers of every color. They even seemed to grow in the winter, peeping blue and red above the snow. In the spring, the garden was a riot of greens, and song birds and butterflies were everywhere, like in Snow White. Even the little shed had become overgrown with ivy so that Mark had to kick in the door each time his mother wanted something out of it.
Mark had not been happy that Melissa took the egg. He had seen it first. He had nearly stepped on it when they were playing army, but noticed it just in time.
“Here,” he had called, dropping commando style on the ground. She ran over to join him, flattening a whole bed of flowers as she lay down. She propped her chin up her hands and stared at the egg. It was sitting in the middle of a small patch of grass, and stood completely upright, as if were in an egg cup. “What is it?” she asked, reaching out to touch it. Mark slapped her hand away.
“Dunno,” he said, crawling closer to it. “Probably a dragon egg or something.”
“Dragons aren’t real, stupid,” Melissa said half-heartedly. She was too distracted by the egg to put real effort into her name-calling.
“I’m not stupid,” Mark muttered. “Anyway, we should probably just leave it. I’ll ask my mom about it when she gets home.”
Melissa shook her head. “Can’t leave something like that outside. Besides, what is your mom gonna know? She’s a nutbar. My dad’ll know what it is.” Mark shoved her hard on her shoulder, so that she fell to the side.
“My mom’s not a nutbar. Your dad’s a jerk,” Mark said hotly, his face turning red. “Besides, at least I have a mom.” He clambered to his feet, his fists curled into stubby little balls.
“Well at least I have a dad,” Melissa countered. They’d had this fight before. “I don’t see what’s so great about having a mom anyway. At least my dad’s not embarrassing.” She snatched up the egg and cradled it in her hands. “I’m going to show this to my dad.”
“I’m not embarrassed about my mom,” Mark yelled. “She loves me and she does the best she can.” He was wheezing now, his shoulders shaking. Melissa shrugged nonchalantly and went to push past him. It wasn’t until she was nearly out of the garden that she noticed Mrs. Crady standing at the glass doors at the back of the house. She was staring out into the garden, pulling her red silk robe tight around her. Her hair was messy, as though she had just woken up. She was watching Mark, who was now kicking at the shed angrily. Melissa stopped, one hand on the gate, and one carefully cupping the egg. Mrs. Crady wiped at first one eye, then the other, then shuffled off through the house.
At home that night, Melissa set the egg on a blanket in her bedroom with a lamp on it, like she’d seen on tv. Her father had gotten home late, gripping his worn brown leather briefcase in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other. He’d kissed her absently on the forehead, his breath already smelling of the drink, then patted her on the back, kicked off his shoes, removed his tie, and sat wearily on the couch. That was her signal to go to bed, so she didn’t get to ask about the egg.
She went to bed that night and dreamed about dragons and oceans and Mrs. Crady, who took her in her arms and held her there. Mrs. Crady smelled like spring and sadness.
In the morning, when she woke up, Melissa ran over to the egg first thing. All that remained was broken bits of purple shell.