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Adrift

The egg stays alongside my boat at most times, but occasionally it resorts to catching a sloshing wave in order to be deposited upon the deck. Since finding each other, we’ve been parted only twice. On both occasions, I docked in a calm harbor and waited for it to come to me again.

I had little fear during those separations that another person might take undue interest in the egg and make off with it. Its appearance doesn’t attract attention. It appears variously as a lost coconut bobbing helplessly in an ocean much too big for it, or a roundish piece of inconsiderate debris collected along some bank, or even the back of a bald and sun-baked head. In short, it presents that very aspect that will be most unsurprising, least noteworthy, to whomever happens to catch a glimpse of it. It is possible that I am the only one who has ever seen it for the egg that it is. (If it has taken other companions in its long history, it hasn’t communicated this to me—perhaps out of courtesy and a desire that no jealousy should interrupt our peaceful relationship.) Add to this the fact that most would see such companionship as a nuisance anyway—even if they could comprehend that they were staring at an egg whom it was possible to befriend—and though our division stretched to months, I was certain of its return.

The egg is of little practical help to me, and I suspect that I am of even less help to it. In each other’s company, we mostly find a break from solitude and boredom. My egg does, however, provide opportunities to pretend that I have some real destination in my journeying: some purpose other than floating about in a boat, carried by whims of current urging their own paths through air and sea.

The egg itself is looking for a proper nesting-spot. A place where it can come to rest, incubate in the conditions designed for that process, and finally—after so many centuries—hatch. It’s been looking for that place since long before men first made boats, and wonders at times if it’s hopelessly lost. When such thoughts depress it, I try to offer comfort as best I can, but we both know how useless that is. An egg whose entire life has been one of floating and thinking has already found any source of comfort that thought can provide, and rejected it innumerable times. The centuries have proven any glimmers of hope to be false stars. The egg revealed itself and asked my help only out of despair and maddening loneliness, I’m afraid. I doubt it ever thought the help would prove very real.

Its situation is a painful one to contemplate. Much too heavy for the air, and immobile on land, it is obviously better suited to the waters of this place. By shifting its weight properly, it can at least roll and bob in such a way as to find its own direction. And yet, one has to suspect that it doesn’t really belong in the water either, as it would have surely hatched by now if it did so belong. In short, the best place for it that the universe has so far offered isn’t a very good place at all, but one that affords merely a chance of surviving—without the opportunity to engage fully in living as it was meant to live.

In moments of wild fondness, it imagines that it has, or had, a mother who created the entire world just for her little egg . . . with waters to comfort it, and mountains to explore once it hatched, and winds to glide on if such hatching happened to provide it wings, and . . . but it has no memory of such a mother, and no evidence of her existence either, and even assuming she was here once, she has obviously long abandoned her egg to its own pathetically limited devices.

My suspicion is that the poor egg is a stranger or a mistake. Either left here from dropping out of some cosmic stork’s mouth as it passed our planet on the way to that place my egg instinctually searches for, or a result of indifferent circumstance that brought forth a life with no predecessor, no offspring, and an unlucky longing for a nonexistent place as its most fundamental drive. There is no need for me to hide such suspicions, of course. My egg has had ample opportunity to form those suspicions itself, and others that I can hardly guess at.

Its speculation that it might be the offspring of some being who created this entire world for the egg’s own enjoyment might seem rooted in a truly cosmic arrogance. I would find such a quality forgivable, even if I thought that were the case. But I rather see an endearing, very eggish innocence in such thoughts . . . transferring its nostalgia for a home that never existed to a more graspable image of a parent. A parent whose love was so great that a world was created as its expression. At least such ideas allow my egg to bear this world a bit longer, give the egg hope that its own transformation will transfigure its experience of the world as well, and make it something more than grudgingly hospitable to the egg’s life.

In its better moods, it goads me into playing a sort of game with it. Not a physical game, of course. Having been around for so long, it is accustomed to all the physical sensations that a small roundish object is capable of experiencing. It has moved at great speeds and rolled, been lifted by waves and dropped, etc. Using it as a ball in sport would give it no new diversionary joys. No, the game it enjoys most is imagining what type of creature it is meant to be, what forms are contained as possibilities in its shell and in its future.

Together, we imagine such creatures that not all the world’s mythologies could produce, both beautiful and grotesque, until creatures that can exist in language, but not even in the mind’s eye, are conjured . . . impossibilities and abstractions that my egg seems to take a unique pleasure in contemplating. Landing finally on one of these, it then cocoons itself in meditation, lives as long as it can in a fantasy of being said creature, and, in short, feels almost content, allowing itself to float for days on end wherever the currents choose to take it.

Sometimes, a dream will come to me in which is pictured the shore of a cove. I am sure this cove would provide a good nesting spot. With some excitement, we then move off, taking any random happening—say, the flight of a bird or a change in the wind—as a sign indicating which direction we should travel in. We both pretend not to know that the other’s excitement is feigned, and sometimes divert ourselves with talk of what it will be like meeting each other after the egg hatches. It goes so far as to worry that we might not be recognizable to each other. I play along, pretending that that is indeed a real concern, as I won’t have any clue what it looks like, while it perceives me with some sense, the nature of which I can’t begin to guess—a sense that might change during the egg’s metamorphosis. In this way, we dodge looking at the fundamental lie: that we both feel the shore exists only in my dreams, as the hatching exists in the dreams of my egg, and that neither will ever be experienced in this world.

Of course, all of this ignores the most basic fact of all: the egg’s very existence as an egg. That fact alone is perplexing, as are all facts that we feel we must do something with.

On the one hand, it would seem obvious that an egg is meant to hatch.

That being the case, surely this one too will hatch, once the times and conditions are right. Who cares if it has been an egg since before any other thing lived here? Such an incubation period is less than an eye-blink in the history of the universe. I know my egg to be an extremely gentle, innocent creature. The hope that this world might one day become the kind of place that welcomes such a creature into its full daylight is quite a hope indeed. In other words, the egg’s very existence might be a promise of things to come, a promise of a world more suited to the likes of such a creature . . . a world that is holding off allowing the egg to hatch only so that it might better prepare itself, and so show its best face to its most beloved offspring.

On the other hand, it seems equally obvious that the egg isn’t meant to hatch here, and is merely an anomaly, freak, or stranger.

If that is the case, killing it might be a mercy. I imagine that it will outlive me, and any other companion it might find, until it is alone again as it was in the beginning, doomed to an immeasurable time of hopeless searching. In fact, I am sure that it would have asked this of me during our friendship if it knew how to do so. But no thought of its own death has ever been able to crack its invulnerable innocence. So filled with a desire for a fuller life, the thought of no life at all has simply never occurred to it.

Besides, I doubt that I could kill it in any case. It seems fragile enough to be destroyed by the stroke of a hammer or repeated bashings on the deck of my boat, but it must have survived that and much worse during its life in ungentle oceans. The most likely result would be a disaster of misunderstanding. Once it realized (assuming it had the capacity) what I intended, it would feel betrayed and wronged, mistaking the tears that would flow down my face as tears of frustration at not being able to finish it off . . . not understanding tears of sorrow, compassion, and pity. Besides, killing it is impossible in a more fundamental sense: even as an act of compassion, I could not bring myself to commit it. If fate or indifferent tides brought us together for such a purpose, I am afraid that I have failed my round friend.

When I think of all of this, and a certain melancholy settles on me, the egg is quick to sense it. Invariably, I wonder what it will do once I have passed, and if it will feel lonely in a new way, if it will miss me. It bobs on the water as I try to communicate all of this to it, and it always seizes on the idea that my dying means I’ll be going to other waters. It won’t let go of this idea, and wonders if those waters are where it might find a proper nest. Failing to have it understand that there will be no waters, and no places, and no me, I finally sigh and tell it that yes, perhaps its home might be in those waters. Maybe it can finally hatch there, and blossom as it was meant to.

When my egg gets confused and wonders why that thought would put me in such a mood, the best I can do is explain that it might not be able to follow, and that I don’t really know the directions. By this time, though, talk of its hatching has gotten the egg excited again, and its thoughts are easily diverted towards its favorite game.

Copyright © 2007 by R.E. Hartman

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R.E. HartmanR.E. Hartman writes:
This story came as a first line that asked me to explore its possibilities. My little egg friend and his words were waiting, nearly fully formed, when that exploration began. It wasn't consciously written as metaphor, but reading it as such, my own interpretations vary even now, and I prefer to leave it open. The underlying sense of longing and the hope for a true "Home" is constant, however. I am sure that my fascination with ancient Gnosticism informed this story on some level. I hope a few readers, at least, enjoy the possibilites that the story plays with.

R.E. Hartman lives in Oakland, California, where he writes between bouts of working. He hopes that the influences of Borges, Beckett, and Dr. Suess have had an overall positive influence on his writing. He has only recently begun to seek out publication for his fiction, and hopes to have a short story collection and novel finding their ways into print soon. In the meantime, his work can be found at, or is upcoming in: Terrain.org, Necrotic Tissue, Labyrinth Inhabitant, and included as part of Dead Letter Press's "Books gone Bad" project. He can be reached by email at: phreejazz@gmail.com.

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