This story was selected as a finalist for the 2021 MAYDAY Fiction Prize.
There’s been a crisis of eggs. Tia Mari’s eggs, to be exact. I call them the rainbow eggs due to their astonishing, colored patterns. She’s collected them all her life. Her nickname, Marihuevo, was inspired by her obsession. Tio Javi is trying to pack a few, but Mami says Tia’s locura is coming out and that she attacks like a vicious hen if anyone goes near them.
Tia Mari is moving to The Three Palms senior living center. The name makes me think of spa massages and fancy drinks by the pool. Tia Mari is more the coquito in a mug type, and while she likes to sit by her pool, she prefers long, rambling trips to Walmart that my mother calls la muerte. Tio has banned trips to Walmart, and driving, since the day Tia went missing for nine hours after getting lost on her way to the store. I don’t think Three Palms will allow the Walmart excursions, either, and I doubt they’ll have room for all her eggs.
Now, for the trouble with the eggs. For years, Tia Mari has accused her husband of purging her belongings. Mami wonders how she would even know with all that stuff she has in her room. It used to be a joke, but recently, Tia’s been more sensitive. She seems to have a sixth sense about her eggs, and Tio says he can’t get anywhere near them without her puffing up in anger and chasing him away from the room. I’m here to keep her distracted.
I make my way to her front door, taking in the yellow Florida ranch, red broken-tile porch, all the white plastic chairs, mostly gray now, with pools of water in their seats from last week’s rain, the dusty broom in the corner. I guess it has been a while since anyone’s come to visit.
I ring the doorbell and Tio Javi answers. “Thanks for coming.”
“Of course.” Inside the house is quiet, different from my own that buzzes with the chatter of my mother and sisters.
“I’ve been trying to get a few of her things from the office, but she keeps coming in. She doesn’t like me touching her stuff. You know.”
“I’ll stay with her,” I say, waving him off. He takes an empty box from beside the door and shuffles towards Tia’s office, shoulders stooped.
I enter the kitchen and see Tia outside, sitting on one of the wicker rockers. She is facing the pool and rocking back and forth. I glance back at the door to her office. It’s closed, so I can’t see what Tio’s doing, but I hear the thumps of him dropping things into the box. I hope he’s being careful with the eggs. They really are spectacular, in shades of lemon, apricot, and cherry. Or soft colors like lavender and sage. I recall that at times, they had seemed to pulse with light. I also remember the many occasions when Tia blamed Tio for eggs that she felt had gone missing, and her fear that he was throwing them away. Mami told me he already hauled off some of her junk to Goodwill. Her words, not mine. Surely, he wouldn’t have given away her prized eggs.
The back porch door slides open with a swish. “Javier,” Tia calls as she peers into the kitchen from the doorway. “Graciela, mija, what are you doing here?” But she doesn’t wait for me to answer, asking at high pitch, “Where is Javier?” Her hand flutters at her neck as she strokes the cross hanging from a delicate gold chain.
“Vamos, Tia, let’s go sit,” I step out to the back porch before she can enter the house.
“Javier!” she calls. She looks at me, her brows drawn, forming deep worry lines.
“Si, si, ahorita, just a minute,” I tell her, taking her by the hand. Her hand is soft and cool to the touch despite the mugginess of the early spring morning. I pull the slider closed behind me as I lead her back to the rocking chair and take the one next to her. We rock without speaking. A small brown and yellow wren chirps as it flits onto the wooden fence. Overhead, the ceiling fan spins and spins, the ball chain chord tick, ticking as it hits the glass globe. The wicker chair creaks a soft melody.
I am here because my mother couldn’t be, and my sisters had declined. Mami had her own appointment to see her doctor. Her blood pressure. I think she also doesn’t want to see the betrayal on her sister’s face when they leave her at the door of Three Palms. To be cared for by strangers.
I glance at Tia, her profile so like my mother’s. The same long, oval face, the pointed nose. Only Tia is a full decade older. I see it in how her eyes sink into her cheekbones, how her scalp shows through her orange-dyed hair, and how the blue and green veins push against her pale skin. Her hand reaches out and pokes at my arm.
“Your Tio,” she says, “he thinks I don’t know what he’s doing.”
I don’t know how aware she is of what’s actually happening, so I shrug my shoulders to avoid a verbal response. A lesson learned from my mother. “They are mine,” she says. There is a long pause and I think she’s forgotten that I’m here, but then she continues.
“He says I have too much stuff. Him with a room full of rags.” Her hand cuts through the air, as if shooing off a troublesome fly. I turn my gaze back to the pool, and the white, thick clouds that reflect on the water. I don’t want to judge. Tia Mari has her eggs, Tio Javi has his guayaberas.
“Those are my memories,” she says, her voice going sharp. She pats her chest as if the memories are there, inside. Maybe they are, but something is preventing her from accessing them. It has gotten worse the last year. My mother told me of the latest incident, where Tia, fighting off the Devil who choked her, as she put it, slipped in the shower, and hit her head on the metal frame.
“He’s not going to do anything with your stuff,” I say, but I know this is a lie.
“Yes, he has already! All of my memories, gone!” She brings her hands to her face, covering her eyes. She is crying.
I pat her arm to console her for the loss of her eggs. Her connection to them runs deep. While Tia may put her ice cream in the fridge or claim that she’s bathed when she clearly has not, this illness has not yet taken away her eggs.
She lowers her hands. Her face is calm again, despite the wet tracks on her cheeks. She sighs and begins to rock again, head cocked as if she hears something in the distance. I turn to see if Tio’s done, but I can’t see beyond our images reflected on the glass.
A crow darts by the oak that stands in the corner of the yard. A mourning dove swoops out of the branches with a wild screech, sending the crow away. I wonder if she, too, has rainbow eggs to protect. Pretty pink shelled ovals, or perhaps speckled blue and green.
Tia Mari laughs. “What’s done is done. But I know the truth.”
Tia’s truth is that she has no hatchlings of her own, just a room full of eggs. I don’t know if that was her choice. She would have been a good mother. She was always there for me and my sisters. At our birthdays, our graduations, in that awkward, almost spinster way. Never a mom, but always a very dear aunt. My sisters and I should have made more time for her. We have not always been kind. I can see why Tia might choose to collect eggs instead.
Tio will soon be dropping her off at the assisted living facility. He says it is because he can’t care for her on his own anymore. I think maybe he has realized it will only get worse, this illness, eating at the edges of her mind until all that is left is a tattered reflection of what she once was.
The porch door slides open behind us. Tio tells us he is going to the bodega and will be back in an hour. He must have finished with the packing. Tia doesn’t respond.
When I hear his car pull out of the drive, I get up, drawn to Tia’s room. She’ll be okay if I step away for just a minute. “Tia, I’ll be right back. Do you want me to bring you some water?”
“No, mija,” she says, and continues to rock.
I slip inside the house, and head through the kitchen to the office. I open the door with care, and as I enter her private space the room is silent. My eyes move to the desk by the window, its usually cluttered surface now barren, except for the picture of Tia and Tio, back when she smiled, and he still had hair. The floor is tidy too, no sign of the boxes that Tio said he bought to help with the clutter. I enter the room fully, and scan the wooden shelves lining the wall.
The shelves almost reach the ceiling and hold what appears to be hundreds of rainbow eggs. Some large, some small, all on tiny silver stands, except for the smallest of eggs which rest in cut glass bowls, shining like marbles.
I move toward the shelves to get a better look. Up close, they are even more vibrant than I remembered. The closer I get to the eggs, the more their colors swirl in impossible shades of peach and rose, or dandelion and sky blue. In a few, I see the pulsing light I remembered from long ago. Others are colored indigo, with streaks of blush and violet, like a twilight sky. Or deepest black, like granite, with sparkles of silver, copper, gold. Something in their delicate beauty brings tears to my eyes.
I have never been in this room alone and I have never touched the eggs. I’m intruding, I know, but God forbid that he give these away. I will offer to keep them for him when he returns. I can’t buy them, probably not in a million years, but if he’s going to toss them, I could at least save him the drive to the thrift store.
I want to hold the eggs. Just for a second. I reach forward, my hands trembling, wanting to feel their weight, the coolness, I imagine, of the stone. I am drawn to one egg in shades of orange, red, and mottled green. As I get closer, I can hear the roar of ocean and the faintest notes of a girl’s laughter.
“Be careful, mija,” Tia says behind me. My heart jumps to my throat from surprise. Her eyes are clear, and I notice how deep brown they are. Gone is the recent fogginess, the film that had dampened their light.
“This way,” she says, bringing her hands to the egg and lifting it with one while the other cups the bottom. “Ah, you picked a good one. Summer en la Havana.”
“Did you buy these in Cuba?” I ask, my interest further piqued.
“No, these memories cannot be bought.”
“Then did someone make these for you? A gift?”
“I made this the time I stole the bag of mangos from the boys at the dock. Oh, were they mad! Come, hold it.” As I take it into my hands I hear a soft murmur, like muffled voices. And in a flash, I see it. A young girl running away from the boys’ angry calls. Marilena! Marilena!
Copper-brown hair streaming behind her, a bag of ripe mangos clutched to her side, she is laughing. There’s the blue sky, the salty breath of sea breeze blows against her face, and the sunlight on the waves glints white-gold in the distance. I smell the bitter red and green skin of the mangos as she throws herself down on the ground at the top of a hill. I taste the sweet juice as she bites through the end of the fruit, squeezing around the seed so that it becomes a pulp she can drink like a smoothie.
Tia takes the egg from me and the vision is gone. She returns the egg to the stand. Her hands wander to another, a black so deep it appears to eat the light. It is flecked with silver, gold, and copper. She holds the egg like it is a broken bird, and tears spring to her eyes.
“This one was made when Mamá died. She was a proud woman, your grandmother. You only knew her with her silver hair, but her hair used to be as black as this egg. We buried her with her gold locket—your mother, your Tia Sara, and me—with a few strands of our hair. We wanted her to always have her daughters close.”
The flecks in the egg shine like the girl’s hair from my vision. They are a richer copper than the orange in Tia’s hair now, dyed a flat orange, a poor imitation of her once brilliant locks. The egg has silver specks too, like Abuela’s silver hair, and the gold in the egg, I imagine, is the same color of Abuela’s locket. I place my fingertips on the smooth rounded egg and feel the grief like a fist in my throat, clogging my ears, and then I snatch my hand away.
We are both lost in her memory of a daughter’s grief at the death of her mother. It is a glimpse of my own grief when my mother’s time comes, and maybe even sooner for the grief we will have to face with Tia Mari. Marilena, as those boys had called her. My heart aches at losing my aunt to this illness that is determined to swallow her.
Tia returns the egg to its stand. She makes her way down the room and stops at a glass bowl. Those smaller eggs, just as colorful. She picks one up and holds it to her heart, eyes closed. When they open, she fixes them on me steady and clear.
“This one is you,” she says, holding the egg out for me to take.
“Es mio,” I say.
“No mamasita, not yours, but you.”
She drops the egg into my cupped hands. It is a mix of blue and gray, and as I look at it, the colors appear to rise and fall, like waves. It is like an ocean, only weightless. I hadn’t noticed it before. I thought the eggs were made of stone, but they are not. They almost feel hollow.
“This is you, now. Like the open sea, full of possibilities.”
As I hold the egg, I feel a sense of calm. I feel my Tia’s love for me, unencumbered by mother-daughter ties and expectations. Her love, like this egg, is weightless.
The rational side of me holds the egg to the light coming in from the window. There is no opening to it, nor pin holes to hint at its construction. It is nothing like the brittle shell of a real egg, though it feels fragile, delicate. The colors are flawless.
“They paint themselves,” Tia says, as if reading my mind. She moves on to other eggs, picking them up, setting them down. “They are their own, born out of the moment, captured by what my heart sees. They are my memories, given form. I am lucky to have saved so many. Now, you will continue the tradition.”
She pauses, then eyes the eggs, taking inventory. Her expression shifts from calm to confused. This is the look we have become accustomed to seeing. The one where she seems surprised to find herself there with you. She moves down the row of shelves, as if counting.
“Some are missing,” she says. She looks frightened. “I’m certain of it.”
“No Tia, I’m sure they are here somewhere,” I say, not wanting to tell her Tio has taken them to Three Palms. But the words are hollow. They are untruths, and they die as soon as they leave my mouth. I can see my words fall to the ground like feathers and disappear.
“They are gone.” Her voice rises, hysterical. “Javier!”
I need to calm her down. I try to pull her from the room, holding my egg in one hand.
“He can’t touch them! They’re not his. They’re mine! Those memories are mine!” The veins in her neck bulge as she screams, and I am frightened by the switch in moods.
Tia cries and cries, tears falling as she rocks back and forth, crossing her arms and holding her elbows, as if trying to hold herself together.
Tio runs into the room then, eyes wide, looking at me like I’m to blame.
“Why is she in here? She’s not herself. She needs to stay out of this room.”
“I didn’t know!” The guilt burns in my chest at the concern in Tio’s eyes, but I also feel horror now that I know what these eggs are for Tia.
There is no time to process this knowledge, for her arms are flailing, striking at Tio, his head, his shoulders, wherever her hands can reach.
“You’ve been taking them! Give them back! Give me back my memories!”
I shake off my shock and reach for her. We are all arms—Tio’s, Tia’s, my own. And in this melee of tears, shouts and arms, the egg I am holding is knocked from my hands. Time slows. I have eyes only for the beautiful egg as it spins and spins on its way down to the ground. Like my words earlier, it lands on the beige tile like a feather, or the molted shell of a beetle, hollow and spent. Then her foot stomps on the egg and it’s gone. Ground underfoot to nothingness.
Tio finally grabs hold of her arms and starts shushing her like a small child. Tia’s cries stop, turning into small, hitched breaths. I stare at her, waiting for a renewed reaction when she realizes the egg she has given me is gone.
Tia stops fighting and cocks her head to the side as if listening to whispers. Her eyes turn to me, looking puzzled. “Javier, who is this?”
“It’s me, Tia. Graciela.”
“Graciela?” she says studying my face. “No. Graciela is only a little girl.” She turns to Tio.
“Javier, tell this woman to go,” she says as she walks away. “I have this feeling I’ve forgotten something. Maybe if I sit outside it will come to me.”
XENIA LANE is an analytics thought leader by day, a magical story weaver by night. She is often inspired by her own colorful collection of memories from her experience as a first generation American. Xenia currently resides in the Atlanta metro area with her husband, her children, and two rescue pups. This is her first publication.