The Egg Stealers

The Egg Stealers
by Sarena Ulibarri
Illustrations by Allison Lawhon

 

Oviraptor

EggStealersOviraptorThe egg-stealing dinosaur was framed.  Bones overlaid fossilized eggs, and what else could it mean except that this long-necked monster, this curve-clawed degenerate of an unevolved bird was swept into death at the very apex of his crime against innocent eggs?  Time stripped him of skin or scales or feathers, leaving only teeth the shape of evil aimed at the shell of an egg, petrified in a death rattle of predation.

But the egg stealing dinosaur was framed.  His thin arms reached to embrace the eggs, because they were his own.  Because he saw death in the sky.  He did the only thing he could: martyred his body to protect the fragile spheres.  The overlaying bones weren’t quite enough to protect this treasured offspring from annihilation, but the creature tried.  He tried.

 

Veronica’s dad waited for her in front of the school.  She spotted him on her way to the bus.

“You don’t want to ride that thing, do you?”

She didn’t.  A fifth grader sat next to her every day.  Veronica was intimidated by the older girl’s size, her two extra years in the world.  If Veronica tried to ignore her, the fifth grader would pinch her arm, and by now the bruise had turned yellow around the edges.

Veronica’s dad drove her to the mall, and over food court milkshakes she told him all about the science fair he had missed.  Her project had been about prehistoric animals, and her dad leaned forward as she chattered about Pterodactyls and T. Rex, listening as if he’d never heard of them before.  They browsed the mall and he told her to pick out new jeans and dresses.

She walked out of a dressing room in thin-legged jeans.

“Did you get taller?” he asked.

He whistled a cat call when she came out in a flower-print dress.

He shook his head at some purple leggings, but didn’t tell her to put them back.

They left with a bag half as tall as she was, and Veronica picked off the tags on the ride home.  She looked up to see a police car waiting in her driveway.

“Christ,” her dad said.

He tapped his thumbs against the steering wheel and exhaled through flared nostrils before he took off his seat belt.

Veronica carried the bag in front of her, hitting her knees against it with each step.  Her mom opened the screen door and the yelling started.

The police officer took Veronica into the living room and asked her where they’d been?  If he had told her bad things would happen if she didn’t go with him?  If he had touched her in any inappropriate places?

“He bought me clothes,” Veronica said.

 

If the Oviraptor didn’t steal eggs, then what did he do?

What did any dinosaur do?

He existed.  He ate fern leaves and clam shells.  He struggled to survive, to pass on his genes so another generation of Oviraptors could struggle to survive.  He displayed his tail feathers to female Oviraptors and knocked heads with other males.  Sometimes he didn’t survive, got torn apart by spine-crushing fangs and dissolved by digestive acids.  Became fuel for something else to survive.

 

Months ago — ages! eons! to an eight-year-old— when her parents still shared a roof, if not always a bed, Veronica’s dad fell off a ladder while trying to fix the garage door.  The cast covered his right arm to the middle of the bicep, an immutable bend at the elbow.

In his time off work he turned the couch into a fortress of blankets and pillows.  He played one-handed video games with Veronica and watched talk shows and crime drama.  He refused to leave the couch if Veronica’s mom was home.

“Bring me a beer?”

“It’s not your legs that are broken.”

“But I’ll miss the commercials.”

“Here.”

“No, that’s cool, I can open it with my teeth.”

“God.”

“Go get my pills.”

“You’re not even supposed to be drinking when you’re on those.”

“Are you my doctor?  Just bring them over here.”

When she asked what he wanted for dinner, he quoted TV characters instead of answering her.  She stopped waiting on him, so he tasked Veronica instead.

“Hey L.S., hand me the remote.”

“Which one?”

“How about the right one?”

“Here, there’s all of them.”

“L.S., go make me a sandwich.”

“Why do you keep calling me ‘L.S.’?”

“It stands for ‘Little Slave.'”

The broken garage door had remained broken, the door stuck three quarters of the way closed.  Just enough space for a thin eight-year-old to crawl under.  She started avoiding the living room.  If she needed to get from her room to the kitchen, she would crawl out of the garage and walk around the house to go in the back door.

 

Steropodon

EggStealersSteropodonSteropodon was the ultimate traitor.  She had the soft body and milk glands of a mammal, but rather than nurture a growing fetus inside the warmth and safety of her womb, she wrapped it in a hard egg shell and sent it vulnerable into the world.  She incubated her own nest, then snuck into other nests to steal their eggs for dinner.  An egg-layer who was also an egg-stealer.

 

The box had a quarter-sized hole in one of the flaps, cut into it as part of the box’s design.  Veronica packed board games and stuffed animals.

Grandpa came into the room to check her progress.  He was her mother’s father, and he had always seemed ancient to Veronica.  A walking skeleton, someone who owed every heartbeat to some strained deal with the devil.

He bent over the box and stuck his middle finger into the quarter-sized hole.

“This box isn’t full,” he said.

He pulled his finger out and kept it extended to show how much space was left in the box.  Veronica stared at the obscene digit, wondering if the insult was directed toward her or toward the box.  He pulled the box open.  Whatever was nearby, he stuffed in.  Veronica protested.  He sent her to the kitchen to wrap dishes with her mom.

When it was time to leave, Veronica pictured herself holding tight to the door frame, Mom and Grandpa failing to pry her off of it.  In reality, she touched the frame, lingered there a moment, and her mom almost smashed her fingers in the door.

Veronica was sent to ride in the moving truck with Grandpa.  She thought as she climbed into the truck that it would be a short time before she forgot the address, the phone number, the color of the paint.

She watched the house roll away.  When she wanted to cry what she did instead was extend her middle finger to the window, feeling the unfamiliar stretch in the webbing between index and ring.  If Grandpa saw, he didn’t say anything.

 

Steropodon never ventured far from home.  A strip of shore that eventually became an Australian beach.  That’s it.  She stayed in her outback habitat as it broke away from Antarctica and headed north.  She thinned her fur to adapt to the new warmth.

Over time, Steropodon morphed into the platypus.  She lost her teeth and swallowed shrimp instead of cracking eggs.  Claws softened into webbed feet.  Lacking the normal defense of teeth and claws, she grew a secret claw on the back of her foot, and in her progeny it collected venom.  Became an unexpected stinger.

 

Veronica waited in the dining room of Stephanie’s house.  Stephanie was in her room.  Veronica hoped she was crying, but she suspected she was playing dolls, giving them stupid voices, bouncing their pointed feet across the carpet.  She stared at a plant in the windowsill, the blossoms of once soft flowers crinkled and hardened into brown clumps.

“Your mom should be here any minute,” Stephanie’s mom said.

She sat across the table, using knitting needles to loop together a glove.  Veronica kicked the chair legs and wondered if the brown clumps of flower would break off if she stared hard enough.

She and Stephanie had been separated because of a game of House gone bad.

“You be the mom and I’ll be the dad,” Stephanie said.

Stephanie’s dad character came “home from work” and Veronica’s mom character started in.

“Where have you been, you always come home late.”

“Aren’t you going to help with the dishes?  You know, I have a job too, I don’t just sit around all day like some housewife.”

“You had lunch with that girl again, didn’t you?  I can smell her perfume.”

“I’m going out with the girls because you never take me anywhere.  You can make your own dinner.”

Then Stephanie pushed and Veronica pushed back, toppling the cardboard walls of their makeshift playhouse. Stephanie landed hard on a knee, her leg stuck through the playhouse window. So Stephanie’s mom called Veronica’s mom.

This wasn’t the first time Veronica’s mom had been called.  It wasn’t even the first time this week.  At school she’d been called because Veronica wouldn’t stop talking in an Australian accent.  Monday, the teacher asked her not to.  Tuesday, the teacher kept her a few minutes after and explained that it was distracting to the class and disrespectful to Australian people.  Wednesday, Veronica sat in lunch detention, drawing kangaroos on the back of her vocabulary notebook.  Thursday, the teacher called her mom at the morning recess, and she spent the rest of the day sitting in a corner of her mom’s clinic office where she couldn’t say a word, in any accent.  Friday, she was back to her boring American rhythms.

When she arrived at Stephanie’s, it was clear that Veronica’s mom had been crying.  Her eyes were swollen and a rogue streak of dark makeup stretched onto her temple.  She didn’t yell at Veronica for getting in a fight with her friend.  She just took her home and then went to bed.

 

Didelphodon

EggStealersDidelphedonDidelphodon was the queen of prehistoric mammals, roaming the Cretaceous woods of North America, crushing pine needles and moss under her whole four pounds.  It was still a dinosaur’s world back then, and Didelphodon grew as big as she could, restricted as she was to her underground burrows.  Emerging at night when the solar-powered dinosaurs slept, Didelphodon slunk into untended nests.  Firm jaws made shards of firm shells.  When dinosaur eggs weren’t easy to come by, those jaws could destroy soft turtle eggs, or crack the shells of turtles who had already escaped their ovoid prisons.  Small victories for mammals in a world that was not ready for them to rule.

 

All the third grade girls liked Zack.  They passed notes containing hand-holding stick figures, gendering the skinny drawings with black bow-ties and pink veils.  On the playground they whispered while they watched him play basketball or hang from the monkey bars that were almost too short for him.  They giggled when they got matched up with him in MASH.

Veronica giggled too because she thought she should.  Zack was a game.  She didn’t want to be left out.

She pieced together the dirty playground jokes with what she’d seen on TV, and constructed something far more interesting than what the girls talked about.

She imagined it, though the boy she picked wasn’t Zack, or any of the other third grade boys.  He was a blank male figure about her size, nothing more than the shape and density of a boy.

She thought about where she and this boy could go, and knew she wouldn’t want him to come to her house.  He probably had a house, but she couldn’t picture it.  She decided the tubes of the rolled up wrestling mats would be the best place.  The mats were routinely rolled to one side to turn the gym into an assembly hall, and she imagined meeting this boy at some kind of school party, crawling inside one of these cushioned cylinders.  Hiding from the adult voices and shrieks of playing children outside the tube.

 

Didelphodon was a marsupial.  Her miniature uterus could only hold an embryo for a few days before ejecting it into a pouch.  Into limbo.  Little more than a mass of cells the shape of arms and mouth, the fetus climbed through a wilderness of hair follicles, searching for that bump of flesh that would keep it alive.  If it found the nipple, it latched, sucked, grew.  If not, another embryo was only a few days away.

The marsupial method is a defense mechanism.  An adaptation for survival, like any biological system.  Mother Didelphodon could be taken home for lunch by an Albertosaurus and there was still a chance, however slight, that the premature joey could climb out and enjoy its own life.  The slit of the pouch could be a door to freedom.  A child did not have to be stuck on the wrong side of the birth canal.

The school bus drove them out of the city until buildings were replaced by long stretches of wheat or corn.  The only thing that connected this emptiness to the city was the string of telephone poles.  If she got stranded out here, at least she could follow the wires and eventually they would lead her back to the city.

When the bus turned off the highway and the poles disappeared in the distance, Veronica felt panic flutter in her chest.  She pressed her forehead to the vinyl bus seat.  Trapped.  This wheeled metal cage was in control of her life now.

The bus rumbled over a cattle grate and bumped down a dirt road.  They filed off the bus into the barnyard smells.  An old woman led them through pens, explaining sheep shearing and goat milking and horse feeding.  She seemed as old as Veronica’s Grandpa.  Older, maybe.  Her upper back was rounded, loose gray hair tangled on the collar of her jean jacket.  Veronica wondered if she would ever grow that old.  That gray, that withered.  It seemed impossible.

The old woman let the children into the hen house three at a time.  It was cramped and dusty.  Hens spread their bodies over their nests, stuffed into shelves.  Veronica held her nose and listened to the old woman explain the business of egg stealing.  Mighty dinosaurs shrunken down to mindless birds, penned by mammals.  Egg stealing no longer surreptitious, but regulated.

The old woman picked up a hen from the shelf, exposing three eggs.  The hen let herself be picked up, legs dangling, brainless eyes blinking.  When she tried to replace the hen on her nest, the hen flapped and squawked.  The old woman dropped her and she strutted out of the hen house, leaving the eggs exposed in the dirty nest.

Stephanie was still mad at her, so Veronica ate lunch by herself at the base of a tree.  Moisture from the grass seeped through the fabric of her pants.  A blob of jelly escaped from her sandwich and trailed down her shirt.  The other girls near the tree were talking about Zack again.

Veronica watched the jelly land in the dirt.  Beside it, the crushed blue remnants of a robin’s egg stabbed the earth.  Another whole one lay caught in some grass blades.  She looked up.  A mass of twigs revealed the nest halfway up the tree.

She left her sandwich in the grass and seized the egg.  It was so small she had to hold it between two fingers.

She slid it into her mouth.

Her shoes scraped bark from the tree trunk, and it took her three tries to get up to that first branch.  The girls stopped talking about Zack and pointed at her.  She negotiated through uneven limbs.  The teacher ran to the base of the tree.

Her legs hung on either side of the limb.  She scooted closer to the nest until she could see into it.  Empty.  The egg was still on her tongue and she spit it into her hand.  Gently, she placed it in the center.

It never occurred to her that it might be too late.  That the bird inside might be nothing but a dry skeleton.  Nothing but an uncooked omelet.  All that mattered was that it was back where it belonged.

Veronica kicked off her tennis shoes.  She shifted her feet onto the branch, perching like a bird.  Down below, a dozen mammals barked at her to come down.  She looked up at the sky and wondered if it was too early to attempt flight.

 

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7 Responses to “The Egg Stealers”

  1. Steve Gilbert Says:

    Interesting story. I might have learned something about dinasaurs in the process of enjoying the story?

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