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Mar 112014
 

by Viviann Lockhart

hatch

The urge to take the egg was a little strange, I admit.  The previous morning, around eight or so, I sat drinking a Heineken and smoking on the front porch, thinking to myself that it really wasn’t necessary to smoke on the porch anymore since it was my house now- for four whole weeks. The house used to belong to my Uncle Beneby. Seventy nine years old, died in his sleep. I still haven’t figured out why he left the shit hole to me, I was sure he’d always hated me.   I hated him, the miserable old bastard. 

Why? Well, he used to beat me with a switch when I was a kid. Whenever my mother and I would visit him, he’d find a reason, any reason. A broken glass. If I forgot to address him as Sir. He’s send me out in the yard to break off the branch from the mango tree myself. The son of a bitch would make me pick the leaves off too, then he’d swat me until I had ridges. He’d repeat, “Be a man” over and over, every time he brought the switch down on my skin. And my mother was so intimidated by her big brother, that she never even said a thing. I don’t blame her though. Uncle Benny had that kind of way with people. Even still, I was glad to be out of the one room, sweatbox that I had been living in for the past two years. It was right above a Chinese take away called The Golden House, and always smelt like sweaty egg noodles.   Uncle Beneby’s house wasn’t exactly fragrant, but at least it didn’t smell like egg noodles.

Why don’t you sit down, rest your feet.  No need to stand at the sink the whole time. Come, right here.  My lap’s warm.  There you go.

So, I remember the sky was streaked orange and pink that morning. Even with the world going to shit, the sky at dusk is a thing of beauty right?  Surreal. So, I heard the crunching sound of gravel, which made me look over into the yard next door and I caught sight of old Ms. Hendricks over the fence, walking along the pathway from the chicken coup to the back screen door.  She always came out around eight to throw out the trash, and then get eggs from the chicken coop. She had on the same baggy flower print nightdress and a head full of pink sponge curlers that I’d seen her wearing every morning since I’d moved in a month before. 

I knew it was the same dress because it had a very noticeable rip at the bottom that had started to fringe out. I’m a particular kind of guy, so I notice that kind of thing on a woman. I remember, the thought crossed my mind that she probably smelt bad, because I knew that she didn’t wash that dress often.  I just knew it. Anyway, it was something about the way she held the basket, real close to her bosom, like she was cradling a baby.   I had seen her carry eggs in the basket before, but never in such a protective way.  Usually she would let it dangle at her side, loose and unconcerned.  The other thing that got me was that she was smiling, like someone had just told her a good secret. I’d never in all the years I’d been coming to Uncle Beneby’s house, seen Ms. Hendricks smile. So that convinced me that there was something special about that particular batch of chicken eggs.  I knew that I had to have one.

 It wasn’t that I was an egg freak.  I just always had the feeling, ever since I moved in, that Ms. Hendricks dabbled in Obeah. She has glass bottles hanging from the Poinciana tree in her front yard, filled with different color liquids.  The only other time I saw something like that was in the little Haitian community down by Love Beach. I was down there with my boy Marcus one day, whose family is originally from Port au Prince. They were having a barbeque to celebrate Haiti’s Flag Day. And when I asked him why half the houses had bottles hanging from the trees in the yard, he said that they served as a warning that a protective spell had been placed over the house. And if anyone tried to enter without permission, they would instantly die. 

So, I figured that whatever Obeah spell Ms. Hendricks put on those eggs, maybe I could benefit from it too. For some strange reason, I thought about that fairytale Jack and the Beanstalk. I imagined that the egg would hatch, and grow into a golden-egg laying chicken, just like the one that Jack steals from the giant. Sound crazy right?  But, I’ve heard strange stories. Marcus told me that that half the politicians have been down to Love Beach for consultations.  And Jojo, you know the Soca artist who sings “Ginga Beer”, couldn’t sing a lick before he went down there to see one of the obeah women.  Supposedly she made him swallow grouper eyeballs whole, and then drink some kind of tonic that made him vomit up chunks of his own throat. But after that, he could sing like a bird. So, the sight of those eggs got me real hopeful for my future.  I imagined quitting my part-time job at the lumber yard, and opening my very own shipping company with the money.

“Hey Ms. Henricks!”  I waved at her as friendly as I could.  “You’re holding on to that basket mighty tight.”

She peered over the fence at me, squinting her face as if trying to figure something out.  Then she gave a little wave and said, “Yup” before going into her house.   I wasn’t surprised.

We’d only said Good Day to each other before then. In part, because I’m particular about the people I talk to, and in part because I don’t think she ever really liked me. Whenever I’d come to visit Uncle Beneby, she’d usually be in her yard either raking up leaves that had fallen from her Lignum Vitae, or weeding the straggly patch of grass in her front yard. But as I walked from my car and up the walkway to Uncle Beneby’s house, she’d stop whatever she was doing and just stare at me, real hard, like she thought I was scum. I’d say Good day, just to be polite, and she’d say Good day back, but in a really deadpan, stuck up sort of way, as if speaking to me was beneath her. And after I’d moved into Uncle Beneby’s house, she stopped talking to me altogether. She’d see me sitting on the porch smoking a cigarette in the morning, but she’d just walk straight past with the bag of trash in her hand, to the bins and back, as if she didn’t know I was there. 

Can you shift a little to the left?  My leg is falling asleep.  Yeah, that’s good.  Have I told you how pretty you are?  A real Nubian princess.  Such soft skin too. No, I can’t right now baby.  I’m still weak from last night.  You sure did.

So, back to the story. It felt strange, going through the motions of taking the egg.  Waiting until midnight, jumping the Fichus lined wall that separated our yards-I nearly ripped my Sean Jean jeans on a branch- and creeping around the side of the house, where she kept the wire coop with two chickens and a rooster.  I thought about breaking into her house at first, but then I remembered the bottles hanging from the tree.  Also, for some reason, I had a strong feeling that she left one of the eggs in the coop anyway. A gut feeling I guess.  But it was strange, because I was so sure of it at that moment, as if that knowledge had been implanted in my brain.  Thinking about it now, it was as if I was under a spell of some sort. The minute I stepped into her yard, I felt like I was being pulled toward the coop like a magnet.  I felt like I was outside of myself, watching everything happen.  And all I could think about was getting one of those eggs. 

Anyways, the streetlights lit the yard just enough so I could see the outline of the coop in the darkness. When I got closer, I could see the chickens pecking around in there, and the rooster was off to the side by himself scratching his claws in the dust like a maniac.  I got down on all fours and started feeling around in there for eggs.  Having my body in the entryway blocked most of the light coming into the coop, so I could barely see anything while I tried to find the egg.  I remember wishing that I had brought a flashlight with me.

So after a couple of seconds of patting my hands over dirt and mucky chicken shit, my fingers brushed over one lone egg, nestled in the corner of the coop all by itself. I’m still amazed at how easily I was able to take it.  The chickens didn’t even seem to care.  I still can’t believe how dismissive chickens are of their eggs.  What species doesn’t protect their young? 

So after I got the egg, I took it home and set up a nice little station in the kitchen. I put the little brown thing in a soup bowl, and used Uncle Beneby’s old desk lamp to shine a light on it, so that it could stay warm.  Then I sprayed it with a fine mist of water. I read about all this in a book when I was a kid. You probably can’t tell by looking, but I’ve always been a big reader. I’ll read almost anything.  So that information just came right back to me, like it had been waiting in the back of my mind for the day that it would be needed.  Like fate. 

So, the following afternoon, I was lying in bed, flipping through a beat up copy of the Art of War that I found on a bus of all places, and halfway watching the Sunday evening Lakers-Heat game.  Then the next thing I know, I’m in a chair with my arms stretched behind my back and my wrists tied so tightly that I could feel the rope cutting into my skin. I remember opening my eyes, trying to focus.  My mouth felt really dry, like someone had put dust or sand in it, and I remember my first instinct was to swallow just to get some wetness in there.  I couldn’t think straight either.  It was like waking up from a really deep sleep.  You don’t know exactly where you are or what you are supposed to be doing but there’s this feeling of urgency, like you know you have to go somewhere.

Slowly, the hazy feeling started to lift and I focused on the familiar chip in the lower right corner of the table in front of me. I realized I was at my own kitchen table.  Then I saw the egg, brown, medium sized, sitting right in the center of the table.  I immediately recognized it from the black splotch on the crown of the shell.  It was the same egg that I had taken from Ms. Hendrick’s coop the night before. I looked over at the kitchen counter, between the toaster and microwave at the empty ceramic bowl where the egg had been.

 I looked around me, searching for the person who had tied me up.  But, I was alone. Everything was completely quiet except for a bullfrog croaking outside. It had stuck itself to the window above the sink, its grey underside puffing up and then deflating every time it breathed. It was night already, so I knew that I’d been passed out for at least a couple hours.

A loud cracking sound brought my attention back to the egg on the table, which had started rocking from side to side. Cracks began to form over its surface, lines following lines. At the very top, where the shell had begun to cave in, I saw a beak poke in an out as the little chick pecked at the opening.  Finally a head appeared, its yellow downy hair matted to its skull with the wet sticky egg fluid.  It pushed the rest of its body out of the shell and wobbled around trying to gain its bearings.

Now listen to this. This is when it gets really crazy.

 After a couple of seconds, the chick stopped moving, aware that it was being watched.  It looked at me with a knowing sort of gaze, as if it knew me.  The little corners of its wet mouth seemed to rise up, and I got the impression that it was smiling.  A sinister sort of smile.  As if to say, I know who you really are.  There was something disturbingly familiar about that smile that I couldn’t pinpoint at first.  It was almost human.

I stared at the chick and it stared at me, cocking its damp head to the side in an inquisitive manner.  It placed one of its webbed feet forward, tentatively, as if testing the temperature of water.  It felt like a gun showdown in the Wild West.  Except I was unarmed. 

I would have laughed at the craziness of the entire situation if I wasn’t so scared.  The little thing reminded me of Chicken Little from that children’s story.  Except, it didn’t look loopy and kindhearted like the bird in the storybook.  It had an awareness in its eyes, a darkness, that you only see in cold blooded murderers. I just knew that the little peep had something bad in store for me. 

 “What are you?”  I asked it. I was scared, but somewhere in the back of my mind I felt silly too.  I imagined how stupid I would look if someone walked into the kitchen right there and then and saw me talking to a baby chicken.  Can you imagine if you’d walked in on that?  Most people would probably laugh.

Well, it didn’t answer me but, it had the same smile on its face, as it kept coming closer and closer to me.  I thought that maybe confessing my sins would appease it. Like in the movies when the devil comes to take your soul, and the only way to save yourself is to confess your sins and show true remorse for what you’ve done.  And then you have to offer your life to save someone else’s.  I didn’t know anyone whose life needed saving, but I thought that maybe the confession would be enough.  My hands were tied real tight and I knew there was no way I’d get them out.

So I started confessing. It seemed to be what it wanted, because it didn’t come any closer.  It just stopped, a few inches from where I was, and watched me, its head still cocked to the side, and that same evil smile on its face.

“I sell drugs,” I said.  “Marijuana.  And I sell it to anyone.  I don’t care whether it’s a kid, a teenager, adult, whoever.  As long as they can pay the thirty for a quarter ounce, I don’t discriminate.  And I add sawdust to that shit, to bulk it up.  But I figure the kids are going to buy it from someone else if not me.  And it’s better if they smoke my stuff, because it isn’t as potent.  How I see it, I’m doing a good deed. The saw dust I use is pure clean stuff, no synthetic chemicals or anything added.  Just pure wood shavings from the lumber yard that I work at.”

So, now you know what my side job is.  But you knew that already right?  Exactly, why not just legalize it?  It’s no more dangerous than booze.

After I said that, it slowly shifted its head to the other side, looking at me as if it wanted me to keep going.

So, I told it how I got busted for taking a cd-player out of someone’s car.  What idiot leaves their car unlocked, at night, through Balls Alley anyway? And besides, I only stole it because it was a nice car.  Mercedes S-class with chrome rims.  Whoever owned that vehicle had enough money to buy a new cd player, no problem.  Me, I needed to buy my diabetes meds. Is it really so wrong when you look at it that way?  A cd player for a life? Yup, I have to shoot up twice a day, ever since I was thirteen years old. Indeed, those are track marks on my stomach. Why not on my arm?  I don’t want anyone to think I’m a heroine addict.  Besides, I’d prefer people not to know about it.  Why broadcast a weakness right? 

So right then, a breeze blew through the open window of my kitchen, fluffing up the yellow feathers on the chick’s body.  Up until that moment I hadn’t even thought to scream for help. It was a long shot, since the only people living on the street were mostly half-deaf old people, but I figured that maybe Mr. and Mrs. Bain who lived across the street might have heard me.

 “Help, Help!  I yelled.

But as soon as I started, the chick, who I had named El Diablo in my mind, flapped its wings and flew right into my face, pecking me over and over again on my cheek. It felt like a little knife tearing into my skin, ripping away at the outer layer of my cheek. And the louder I screamed, the faster it hammered into the flesh. You can still see the scar right here, if you look close.  It’s fading pretty good though.

“Ok. Ok. I’ll stop!” I screamed out.

As soon as I said that the bird jumped off of my face and back onto the table, as calm as ever, waiting.  It had some of my blood on the tip of its beak, which it licked off with a flick of its tongue.  This wasn’t a regular chicken tongue either. It uncurled out of the chicken’s mouth, long and pink.  It was snake like the way the tip bent upwards, and fully wrapped around it’s beak.

The blood had drained down my cheek, into my mouth, and I could taste it as I talked.  At that point I wanted to smash the little son of a bitch to pieces.  I swear if he had flown into my face again, I would have tried to bite its head off, just like Ozzy Osbourne did with that bat.  But I knew I had to keep my cool, if I was going to survive.  People who let their emotions take over are always the first ones to die. I once saw a guy run straight into a knife out of anger. New Years Eve, at club Luna a couple years ago, two guys started fighting over a bar stool of all things.

So I knew I had to keep my cool. But at the same time, I started to feel funny.  My head started swinging, and everything looked really blurry again.  I couldn’t tell where the chicken ended and the table started.  And I felt weak, like I could barely keep my head upright on my neck.  If I hadn’t been sitting down already I probably would have fallen.  And then I  realized that my insulin was low. I looked at the round plastic clock on the wall, but its hands were frozen at three-twenty five. Out the window, the pitch black night didn’t give any clues. I knew it had to be after eight thirty, since I always took my shot then. But I had no idea how long I had before my body gave out. Usually I could last about an hour and a half without insulin before passing out.  And about three before going into a coma.  

I really started wishing at that moment that somebody, anybody would come. But I knew that it wasn’t going to happen. Marcus was working late at the bar, and my other boy Troy was in Miami for a Dolphins game.  And this all happened the day after me and my ex, Princess had a big blow out because one of her friends told her that they saw me out at Arawak Key with a girl sitting on my lap. Of course I told her it wasn’t me, but she wasn’t buying it.  Lord knows that girl has some serious trust issues.  Tell me now if you’re one of those because I refuse to go through that again.  Good, that’s a relief.

So, I must have passed out shortly after that because the next thing I know, I’m soaking wet with ice cold water, and Ms. Hendricks is slapping me on the un-bloodied cheek and shouting “Get up you mut! Get up dog!”  She was standing over me, her face real close to mine. I had never seen her so close up before and the first thing I noticed was that the whites of her eyes were yellowed and there were little light brown fleshy bulges scattered over the surface. She also had a bunch of strandy hair on her chin. And you know what, she really did smell.  Real musky and sour, just like I thought.  I tried to swing my arm to punch her in the face, before remembering that my hands were still tied behind my back. 

The other thing I realized was that I felt good.  As if I’d been given insulin. 

When she saw that I was awake, she stood up from her chair and a big old grin spread across her face.  Then she started to laugh. And get this, El Diablo was on her shoulder, perched, close to her neck.  Every couple of seconds it would snuggle its head up against her neck, rubbing it up and down the skin with its eyes closed.

“I gave you your injection,” she said, holding up an empty syringe in her hand.  I realized that I must have been out a long time, since she would have had to find my kit in my top drawer where I keep my socks and boxers.  I felt my stomach do a little turn when I realized that she handled my underwear.  I imagined her picking a pair up between her long, wrinkly fingers and sniffing it.  Or rubbing it on her face or something. She had a look about her that made me think she had a perverted side like that.  Her eyes. Looking at them, I realized that they weren’t fully opened.  The lids came down over the pupils, covering almost the top half of them.  Only people with something to hide, have their eyes half closed like that.  Have you ever seen a child with half closed eyes?  They look at you with wide, bright eyes. Their eyes are so open that they almost bulge sometimes. That’s innocence.  

“What’s your problem Ms. Hendricks?  Why do you have me tied up like this?  It’s not right.”

“It’s not right to steal from people,” she said, moving behind me and putting her hands on my shoulder. “Stealing is wrong.” 

“You’re absolutely right, I shouldn’t have taken the egg, and I apologize from the bottom of my heart for that, ok?  I didn’t think it would be a big deal.  What sort of obeah did you do on that egg anyway?  Your little chicken is a maniac. ”

“That’s not your concern,” she said.  She breathed in and out deeply a couple of times with her eyes closed, as if she was trying to suppress something. “And now that I have your full attention, we can begin.” When she said that I felt like something dropped inside of me. My heart started beating so hard that I could hear it in my ears. Whatever the chicken did was just the preliminary phase. The real terror was about to start.

She moved from behind me and walked around to the other side of the table so that she was facing me.  She pulled back a chair and sat down, her flowery nightgown ballooning and puffing out the bosom part of her dress. She crossed her leg like a man, the right leg resting on the left at a right angle. When she did this, her dress rode up a little and I saw the skin along her shin, which shone like it had been rubbed with cooking oil. 

“Begin what?” I asked, trying to sound as calm as possible.

“First you’re going to admit that you murdered my Benny, and then I’m going to put you out of your misery.” She leaned forward and rested her chin in her palm, waiting for me to start.  Her lips pouted out and her eyebrows raised expectantly. 

“First, I didn’t kill my uncle and second, your Benny? ” Even dead, the old bastard was causing me trouble. 

“Yes, as a matter of fact,” she said.

I had never once heard anything about Mrs. Hendricks and Uncle Beneby in all the years I had been visiting him.  Right up until he died, I came over every Sunday just to hail the old bastard since he was my mother’s only brother and because Aunt Mildred would be there cooking dinner for him, since Rosemary, his live-in nurse was off.  In tough times, who turns down a free meal?  And Aunt Mildred is a good cook.  Peas and rice, cole slaw, potato salad, lamb chops or steamed chicken, she didn’t hold back. 

Aunt Mildred’s  in her early seventies, the second oldest of the siblings, and now the only one still alive.  Never married and no kids. She took to taking care of Uncle Beneby like he was her child.  And one thing’s for sure, if Uncle Beneby was seeing Mrs. Hendricks, Aunt Mildred would know.  And she would have told me. The woman talks incessantly and loves to gossip. 

And besides, Uncle Beneby could barely even walk.  Heck, he could barely even move. And he was senile.  He’d spend most of the day lying down in bed watching the weather channel, and buzzing every couple of minutes for one of us to come fluff his pillow, or rub his bad leg, or help him to the bathroom that was two feet away.  You’d have to pull his pants and underwear down, and hoist him up onto the toilette. And he had terrible gas. He’d let ‘em rip anytime.  These long, motor boat farts that smell like rotten eggs.  And he’d cuss at you the entire time too in his croaky voice. “What took you so damn long?  Didn’t you hear me buzzin motherfucker?”  That was Uncle Beneby. Sometimes I wanted to rip that buzzer right out the wall. 

“If you say so,” I said. I didn’t want to rile her up. “But, why would I kill my only uncle?  That’s just crazy Ms. Hendricks and you know it.”  Her eyes turned dark.  And then El Diablo’s eyes flew open too, and he snapped his head upright, as if feeling her change in mood.  He started to hop up and down on her shoulder, real excited, as if he was just waiting for her to give the signal to attack. 

She sprung up out of her chair, and leaned her entire body over the table, getting real close to my face again. “I saw you put a pillow over his face.  I watched you from my bedroom window you dog!” Then she got really calm, and sat back down in her chair.  El Diablo didn’t budge from her shoulder the entire time. He must have hooked his little talons onto her dress.

“After your Aunt left the house, you went into his room. Poor Benny asked you to help him to the bathroom. But you didn’t do that. You yanked the pillow from under his head and told him that you were tired of hoisting his ass onto the toilette. Then Benny slapped you, not even a real slap, because he was so weak.  You know you deserved it for your filthy mouth! And that’s when you told him that you were going to pay him back for all of those switches he made you pick off the mango tree.  Then you killed him! But you didn’t know who you were dealing with.”

“You have it all wrong Ms. Hendricks. And besides, if you saw me kill him, why didn’t you call the police?”

“Because I wanted to deal with you myself. I know how to appeal to your kind.  The moment you see something valuable, you have to steal it away. I knew you’d want one of those eggs.  Your pathological mind couldn’t resist. And so, I left little Benny Jr. just for you.  I knew you’d take him.” The woman was crazy! And then that same satisfied smile came over her face again and she said, “Say hello to your Uncle Benny.” And then she held out her hand, and El Diablo hopped from her shoulder right onto her open palm.  She looked at the bird affectionately, and pat its head with her free hand.  And that’s when it clicked why the bird looked so familiar.  It had the same crooked looking smile that Uncle Beneby had.  The eyes were the same too.  Cruel.

Right then, I started to pull my hands apart as hard as I could.  I felt the rope tearing into my skin, but I didn’t care.  I tried not to let on what I was doing, but after a few seconds, I guess she could see it in my face.

She sprung up out of her chair again, and I knew she was going to kill me right there and then.  But just as she flew up,  the rope around my wrists popped.  I gripped the back of the chair with my hands, and swung my whole body around. El Diablo must have seen what was coming, because he flew off of her shoulder right before the chair flew through the air and hit her right across her face.  She was knocked out cold on the floor. Her dress bunched up around her waist, and I could see her big grey bloomers. 

Then the next thing I knew, El Diablo flew at my face.  But all he could do was scratch the bridge of my nose before I grabbed him.  I squeezed the motherfucker as hard as I could, until the blood started oozing out its eyes. Its head flopped over to the side. But just to make sure the bastard was dead, I ripped the head off and chucked it across the room into the open garbage bin. 

Then I walked over to the phone mounted on the wall next to the refrigerator to call Marcus. I knew he would know what to do. Ms. Henricks was knocked out cold, so I turned my back for a second to pick up the receiver from the base.  But just as I was about to dial the number in, I heard a sound.  When I spun around to look behind me, Ms. Hendricks was right on me.  She shoved me into the wall, and then her hands were around my neck. Her grip was superhuman, I couldn’t breathe, I could even move. Her teeth were bared like an animal’s. I thought it was the end for me. 

That’s when I heard the knock on the front door and old Mr. Bain from across the street shouting “Is anybody there?”  It took him long enough.  He said that he didn’t know anyone had even moved into the place since Uncle Beneby died.  He thought that the screaming might have been somebody’s grandkids playing in yard and only came over when he heard a crashing sound come from the house.  He must have heard the chair hit the ground. I told him that I cut myself shaving.

Mrs. Hendricks?  Well, the moment Mr. Bain knocked on the door, she just vanished.  Disappeared right in front of my face.  I was still gasping for air when I opened the door.  And I haven’t seen her since that day.  But I swear at night I hear chickens clucking outside my window, and I know it’s her watching me.  To be honest, I’m real scared.  I’ve even been going down to the Haitian community in Love Beach.  One of Marcus’s cousins is teaching me some protection spells. And now, I can’t even stomach the sight of eggs. Literally makes me want to puke. So now you know why I have to pass on that omelet. It’s no offense to you. But if I even try to eat that thing, I’ll be sick.  Actually, the smell really starting to get to me now.  I should probably go now.  Thanks for a lovely time.  Can I have a goodbye  kiss?  Mmmm, the softest lips ever. I’ll call you later, ok?  Of course, I promise.