Something was up that week so Cass wasn’t surprised when she opened the fridge and heard an egg scream. Cass was there for a snack, but she was open to dialogue.
The egg, the size of her fist, said, “I think it’s time you met my mother.”
“Mother?” asked Cass, startled by the forwardness of the egg as she placed it on the table.
“Yes,” Egg said. “I’ve already sat through breakfast with yours and she wouldn’t say a word to me.”
“It’s not you,” Cass said. Cass’s mother was pissed that she’d brought home the carton of duck eggs from the neighboring farm on a day when she was supposed to help with the chickens. Her mother called the farmers unnatural, but from what Cass saw they simply had a bigger, brighter barn.
“You willing or not?” Egg asked.
“I guess,” Cass said, wondering if now was a bad time to grab some cheese.
“Let’s go,” Egg said.
“Now?” Cass asked, glancing at the moon through the kitchen window.
“You want to stay here?”
Egg had a point. Cass’s sisters had just woken her, rubbing her with chicken parts. Yet somehow the stink of blood from a claw clamping her nose didn’t stop her stomach from gurgling. “Only if we have a picnic,” Cass said.
“All right,” said Egg. “But bring enough for Mama.”
Cass nodded, though she wasn’t certain exactly how much to bring. She packed her bag with a tablecloth, frozen peas, and bread, then started off for the next-door farm.
“You don’t want to meet her, do you?” Egg asked.
“Sure I do,” Cass said, unsure if that was true.
The wind was breezier than expected when Cass put down the cloth so she held it down with stones, careful that Egg didn’t rock.
“You can start,” Egg said.
So Cass ripped into the bread and sprinkled out the peas to be polite, though she knew that Egg wasn’t about to eat. Soon enough the other ducklings gathered—bigger than Cass remembered—diving for the peas with welcome gusto.
“Are you really gonna be picky?” Egg asked.
Shamed by Egg’s good manners, Cass went for the peas nose-first, joining in the rhythmic camaraderie, like a party of jolly jackhammers.
And that was how she met Egg’s mother—teeth smeared green with dirt.
Mama Duck was tall as a house.
“What are your plans for my son?” she asked.
Breakfast seemed an inappropriate answer.
“You have a job?” Mama Duck asked.
Cass shook her head.
“You thought about kids?” Mama Duck asked.
With an egg? Cass thought, unable to look at him.
“These are questions you must think about before we finalize your commitment,” Mama Duck said.
Cass channeled her nerves into shredding what was left of the loaf, and threw it to the ducklings.
“Junk food,” Mama Duck tsked.
Her tone was the same as Cass’s mother on the mornings when Cass ate jellybeans for breakfast. Her mother had never understood that Cass only ate them to avoid her sisters at the table; she could fill her pockets and leave.
That way Cass could pop candy while watching the farmers across the fence. Every sunrise the old farm couple scooped the ducklings up, and would waltz in unison, stroking till their feathers poofed.
The closest Cass’s own mother got to their chickens was with a cleaver. Even now her sisters would be sneaking into her room, stuffing her sheets with chicken heads.
“Don’t you love me?” Egg said.
Cass felt something blossom inside her and she cradled Egg in her arms. She stroked him as if she were finger-painting her love onto his shell, melding her fingerprints onto his membrane, linking their identities as one.
Suddenly Cass felt itchy. Her arm hairs prickled into feathers and her feet knocked off her shoes. Her toes wiggled into long webby, hominoidal digits.
“Mama?” Cass asked.
Mama Duck replied with a nod, gathering her ducklings close.
They all breathed together as Cass yawned up her arms. And as she plucked Egg up with her feet, they all lifted off for the South. ✧
Julienne Grey’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, Joyland Magazine, Slice Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, and theEEEL, among others. She attended the 2014 Tin House Writer’s Workshop after receiving the 2013 Slice Literary Writer’s Conference Scholarship. Follow her on Twitter @JulienneGrey.