Maribel

            I shiver inside of my coat.  Sophie does not seem to mind the cold though we have been standing outside deciding what to do with the egg since four o’clock and it was fast getting dark.  “It’s my egg,” she says. “It was my idea in the first place, and anyways, it was my closet.”  Two weeks ago, we set out a soft bed of newspaper and scrap fabric, a desk lamp, and thermometer in Sophie’s closet.  The farmer who gave us the egg said that all we needed to do was incubate it for twenty-one days at one-hundred degrees, rotating it every few hours so that it warms evenly.  We named it.  I wanted to call it Peck, but Sophie thought that Maribel sounded much more distinguished, and besides, she said, it’s a girl.  We kept the closet at a steady one-hundred degrees by opening the door a crack and turning off the light if it got too hot, then closing the door and turning the light back on to warm it up.  It was a tedious, consuming process that Sophie tired of quickly, but for two full weeks over our winter holiday, I was devoted to caring for the egg.  Maribel became a steadfast companion.  When I got into fights with Mother or Sophie, I would sit with my back against the warm closet door and close my eyes, picture burying my nose in Maribel’s soft feathers, and imagine her cheeping soothing words of comfort to me.  Cheep-cheep-cheep, she says, I will never be mean or tattle on you when you sneak a cookie before dinner.  I was overjoyed with the prospect of having a new companion.

With only one week left before Maribel is due to hatch, our winter holiday ends.  The night before we return to school, Sophie tells me her plan.  She says that all we need to do is leave the closet door open so that Maribel will not overheat, then come straight home after school to check on her.  I am terrified about leaving Maribel.  She has needed me so much over the past two weeks, and I want to be with her during the most crucial stage in her development, when she will be growing her soft fuzzy feathers.  Begging Mother to let me stay home from school is pointless since she didn’t approve of Maribel to begin with.

At school, I keep checking the clock and am convinced that either time is moving backwards or that the clock is broken.  When the final bell rings, I leap out of my seat, grab my things and sprint home.  I do not wait for Sophie who I see chatting excitedly with her friends, most likely bragging about Maribel.  My sneakers pummel the sidewalk as I pass by houses so fast that they are just blurs in the corner of my eye.  I barely check for traffic before crossing over the six streets it takes to reach home.  I slam the front door.  Mother is hollering from the kitchen, something about my coming home without Sophie and for making such a racket and not greeting her properly like a young lady. I bound up the stairs to Sophie’s bedroom and slam that door shut too.  I collapse on the floor gasping for breath, and wipe the sweat off of my upper lip with the back of my hand, like cowboys in the movies after they’ve taken a swig of something sour.

Mother is still yelling through the floorboards but I am not afraid because it means that she has decided to be mad from downstairs and is too lazy to come upstairs to punish me.  The bedroom is stifling and I see from across the room that the closet door is shut.  I scramble on my hands and knees and wrench it open.  The heat just about knocks me backwards.  The lamp had been burning for a full seven hours, so when I reach out to touch Maribel with a trembling hand, I have to yank it back because the eggshell is too hot to touch.  The room begins to spin.  I lay my head on the ground in front of Maribel’s nest and close my eyes.

I do not know how much time passes before I am woken by Sophie barreling into the room yelling, Holy Smokes! She turns off the nest lamp and flings open a window.  She stands over me with hands on her hips, and for a moment I am afraid that she will yell.  Instead she plops down and takes Maribel in her hands and says, “Boy, it sure got hot.”  My eyes are squeezed shut.  I refuse to let her see me cry over the stupid egg. 

After a short while, Sophie commands me to follow her outside.  The January cold slaps me in the face, stinging my eyes, and I begin to shiver.  Standing in our backyard, facing the house, Sophie tosses the egg from one hand to the other, like a baseball pitcher deciding what his next throw will be.  I stand beside her, still heartbroken, with arms hanging limply at my sides.  Sophie looks at me then at the wall then down at the egg she is juggling.  My eyes focus on the egg in Sophie’s hand.  It is solid white, and perfectly smooth.  It looks so much smaller out here than when it was in the nest.  I close my eyes for a moment, straining to hear Maribel’s comforting cheep-cheep-cheep, but the only sound I hear is the soft plop-plop-plop of the egg being tossed back and forth.  I  open my eyes.  Everything has become blurry in the growing twilight.  Sophie is mouthing off about her rights as the bigger sister, about it being her closet and her idea and how she named it.  My heart pounds right out of my chest because right then I know what to do, what Maribel would want me to do.  In the middle of Sophie’s rant, I snatch Maribel out of her hand and swivel to face the house.  Stunned, Sophie’s mouth gapes open like a fish choking on air.  Before she can speak, I cock my arm and hurl the egg with all my might. 

Sophie smiles over her shoulder at me then turns back to study the bits of eggshell sliding down the side of the house.  Curled up on the ground inside of a bloated, partially-cooked yolk is a two week-old chicken embryo.  Steam rises from the watery albumin splatter.  It looks just like a baby chick, except smaller, paler, goosepimply and bald.  Gray-blue eyes gaze up at me, unblinking, and I imagine for a moment that it is alive.  But I know we have killed it.  Sophie pokes it with her finger before cupping it in both hands and raising it to her nose to take a deep sniff.  Making a face, she hastily puts it down and steps back to admire the mess we made on the wall.  


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