Charlotte doesn’t know what to do with the Egg. No matter where she puts the device, it feels out of place in their new apartment. On the dining table, it’s obtrusive and doesn’t match her china. On the mantle, it looms over the whole room. When she tries placing it on her bedside table, she imagines the little pulse inside it all night. Anywhere she tries to put it, it makes her feel uncomfortable and besides, just knowing what it is makes her feel strange in a way that she could never tell her husband.
And they bought the Egg together, it wasn’t as though he made a decision for her. Truth be told, Charlotte had felt much more strongly about it than he had. “I’m still young,” she told him, “I don’t want to put my body through all that. Can you even imagine what I’d look like after? I’ve been a swimmer for fifteen years, I don’t want to put all this tightness to waste.” And then she struck a pose she knew he liked until he laughed and agreed.
Of course, they still had to do their research, read reviews online, see what products had which features and what gave the most for the least. After all, having a baby is a big decision, and neither of them wanted to go into it lightly. So when they told her doctor that they were expecting and they were using the Egg, they felt confident in their choice.
But now that it is in their home, Charlotte doesn’t know what to think of the Egg. And she doesn’t know how to feel about the fact that her child is growing in it.
There is too much in the day to think about it all the time, thankfully. She is a very busy woman, as she tells her friends and her husband and her doctor. She has the house to manage. She has a job that she could go back to anytime she’d like (if she’d like to be back in that rat race). She has her swimming regimen. She has visits to the doctor. And she has to monitor the Egg.
That takes up more of her time than she thought it would, but she won’t admit that. The whole point of the Egg was to liberate her from the shackles of pregnancy. She can eat whatever she wants, drink whatever she likes, do anything and go anywhere without having to worry about her changing body and the needs of the delicate thing inside her.
“Finally,” she told her friends at the baby shower, “A woman does not have to think of being pregnant as a nine-month prison sentence. I want it all: I’ll have my baby, and eat it too.”
Everyone laughed and Charlotte had another slice of cake.
It’s not as though monitoring it is arduous work. For a fantastically sophisticated consumer device, it’s about as simple as can possibly be. The designers took one thing literally: it looks exactly like a giant egg, about two feet from base to tip, glossily smooth (though invisibly textured to not slip in a clumsy parent’s hands), with a tiny screen in the center showing vital signs and rate of growth. From a distance, the Egg looks like an impermeable whole, but Charlotte has stared at it so long and often that she can make out the tiny seams that will separate and open to reveal the cute little baby inside. There’s a long way to go before activating the release clasp at the base.
And she does spend time watching the Egg. Long enough to have memorized every inch of the surface, long enough to predict when every monitor light will blink, long enough that she can see it when she closes her eyes. She doesn’t stare at it as much when her husband is home, but that leaves a lot of time. Which she can understand, she would never nag him to spend more time in the apartment or with her and the Egg. They’re grown people in an adult relationship, they don’t have to spend every hour of every day together. They both have their own lives.
Besides, he works most of the time. Which is good. He’s an up and comer in the company, although what he does seems to change from quarter to quarter and sometimes from day to day. She doesn’t ask much about it, and when he talks about it, she doesn’t much listen. But she’s supportive and understands that this is the time in his career in which he needs to shine. He needs to show what he’s made of.
When Charlotte activates the cleaning mechanisms of the apartment and watches the quick shadows rush over the walls and floors, eradicating dust and polishing as they go, she thinks about how busy she is.
She could have groceries delivered to the apartment, like a regular person, but she likes doing it herself. It’s a bit of a trek to leave their rooms and take the elevator down to the street level, but it’s good to leave the building sometimes. The high rise tower apartment that they bought after her husband’s latest promotion is so massive that it’s easy to forget that there’s a world outside it. If she felt like it, she would never even have to leave, just have everything ordered in and shut the blinds.
It always surprises her how long the elevator takes, given how fast the compartment is speeding down. She wouldn’t mind, except that she always worries when she’s holding the Egg. She’s a petite woman, that’s one of the reasons why she wanted this, and the Egg can feel bulky. Intellectually, she knows the Egg is built for strength and dependability. She could drop it on a concrete floor without anything bad happening, though of course the warranty cautioned against it. But she still feels fearful with it wrapped up in her arms and hundreds of floors blurring by.
The streets are full of people, and they all smell terrible. Charlotte is no snob, but after the fresh air of her apartment, the outside world stinks. She steps quickly through the crowds of people, noting the shabbiness of their clothing and clutching the Egg a little bit tighter.
Traffic is jammed all over, despite the price of gas, and some vehicles don’t even seem to have drivers, sitting empty in the middle of the streets. The pavement is packed with people, most rushing from one appointment or another, but many just idly standing around on corners or squatting against walls. Everything is loud and hurried and squalid. But she’s not one to judge, otherwise she wouldn’t force herself out of the house and down here.
She walks quickly and avoids eye contact, stepping around the occasional sleeping body, it must be person who’s asleep, what else could it be. She feels tiny around these people, all wrapped up in huge bundles of clothing, their hairy faces almost invisible under the scarves and hats and snow coats. Sometimes she forgets that it’s the middle of winter, the temperature in the high rise stays so perfectly pleasant. She can’t even tell which are men and which are women. She guesses the slightly smaller ones are children, but she doesn’t know.
A woman walking the opposite direction locks eyes with her for a moment, and Charlotte feels a violent contempt in her gaze. The other woman seems to be looking down at her from a hundred miles up, from the top of a mountain, and even when she passes, it takes her a moment to begin moving again. The other woman had an Egg as well. A next generation model, with the new seamless mosaic embedded in the shell that she’s seen advertised.
The supermarket is as deserted as the street is busy, but the shelves seem full enough. She wanders down the aisles, the Egg strapped securely in the child holder of the shopping cart, aimlessly looking over display after display. She settles on a naked-looking organic, free range chicken for a roast, and the fingerling potatoes she likes, the kind that taste like dirt, if dirt were delicious. A clerk helps her to the self-service checkout station, and she can’t help but notice him notice the Egg. His eyes flicker over her carefully made-up face and her tastefully austere clothing, but linger over the smooth shape of it. He wishes her a nice day, and she wonders if those are whispers she hears behind her as the doors whish open.
Dinner is simply made, oven self-timing, the fresh herbs she rubs under the skin of the chicken plucked straight for the window garden she had installed last year. Once it’s in the oven and the Egg is placed in yet another temporary space, she’s out the door and into the elevator and onto the gym level. There’s an Olympic size swimming pool just a brief vertical journey away, and a reserved lane with her name on it. It’s one of the few times she feels comfortable not having the Egg with her, knowing it’s safe in the apartment and she’s safe in the vastness of the water.
Even when she was little, swimming calmed her. Being in the warm water, feeling the gentle tension of the liquid surrounding and supporting her. Her muscles strengthening and working against and working with everything around her, completely immersed. When she swims, she hears nothing, sees nothing, thinks nothing. Charlotte is as lean and toned as a teenager, and she never misses a session. She makes it five hundred yards this time, lapping over and over until she feels exhausted and bleary. Each lap is full of purpose, and she knows she will feel empty again soon.
So she swims more.
Her husband opens the apartment door just as she’s removing the chicken, now golden and fragrant, from the oven. The potatoes hiss and crack with heat, and he drops his briefcase, then his jacket, then his necktie on the floor as he walks in.
“Would you please pick your things up? Don’t just dump them anywhere.” Charlotte says.
He backtracks across the living room, and apologizes. He asks her how her day went.
“Lovely. It was just lovely. Please, you know it annoys me when you do that. I’ve asked you a million times not to.”
He apologizes again.
Over dinner, they watch the news on the dining room flat screen. Her husband would rather not do this, but Charlotte considers it important to keep up on current events. It has become a ritual by now, the two of them quietly eating and listening to the world outside through the wall speakers.
News of the country is the same as always, or so her husband claims. Protests in cities, people demanding too much for nothing. Hordes of dirty hippies without jobs clamoring for what people have worked for, the way they have for years. It’s so commonplace that mentioning the swarms of the jobless and unruly has become like the weather report. Briefly mentioned, sometimes accurate and always present. During the day, when he is gone and the household chores are being done, Charlotte keeps the news on in the background. Sometimes it keeps her up at night, knowing that there’s angry people everywhere across the country. Angry, poor people. Angry at what they don’t have, angry that she has what she does. All of them, so angry at her.
Her husband asks her if she said something.
“What? No. I was just thinking.”
Later, when they’re lying side by side in their massive bed, she jerks out of slumber. She’s soaked with sweat, as wet as if she’d just climbed out of the pool. Her husband is gently snoring. It was just a nightmare. They’re alone in the room.
She climbs out of bed, and once she’s holding the Egg, she falls back into the dark.
After that, Charlotte chooses not to go shopping. There’s enough groceries in the apartment, and besides, she doesn’t feel well. Sleep comes more and more poorly, but enough laps in the pool exhaust her into a shallow rest long enough to suffice. One evening, her husband comments offhandedly that she’s looking tired. The evening turns unpleasant.
He sleeps on the couch for a few days, while she curls in their bed with the Egg. She’s grown even more uncomfortable in its presence, but gets more nervous when it’s out of sight. She keeps it on her lap while she watches the daily news. She carries it from room to room, and places it on the kitchen counter while she prepares brief meals for herself and simple ones for the two of them. Her husband begins to order in the groceries.
The news has been getting worse. There have always been reports of sporadic violence, but they were in other cities, which doesn’t matter nearly as much. Now it seems like there’s assaults and looting every day, and the anchors have begun to use terms like “uprising” and “mobs” and “destruction.” People are getting hurt. Women have been attacked. He tells her not too watch so much of it.
“Don’t tell me what to watch or not watch.”
He backs off.
She only leaves the apartment to go to her doctor, clutching the Egg to her body the entire time. The streets are even louder, now that the weather is getting warmer. The people that live down here are losing the heavy coats and leggings, but she can still barely stand to look at them. They smell worse than ever, and she could swear they mutter after her. Eyes follow her everywhere.
In his mercifully air-conditioned office, her doctor leans behind his desk and asks how she has been feeling. She stares at the window behind him for a moment before she replies.
“Oh lovely. Maybe tired. A little stressed.”
He acknowledges that that is quite standard for expecting mothers, especially in this climate.
“I’m swimming a lot. It helps relieve the anxiety.”
He makes a querying noise, and she finds herself talking, explaining far more than she wanted or expected. She talks about the news. She talks about the protestors. She talks about the way people stink on the street. She talks about how she feels when she swims. She talks about the emptiness when she doesn’t. She talks about how people, women are being attacked all across the country, people whose only fault is they have more money and nicer things than other people, women, even, being assaulted and raped even in her own city, by horrible people who just hate anyone with more than they do, people who don’t live like they do, people who don’t have children like they do. It’s all those people outside, it’s everything outside. She talks about the Egg.
The doctor pats her on the shoulder, and when Charlotte leaves the medical building, she has a prescription for what he describes as temporary nervous depression. The scrawled bit of paper in her pocket makes her feel spacey, the imminent chemical relaxation seeping in already. The Egg feels lighter in her arms, and she doesn’t notice when the crowd of loud, awful people begins to get louder and more awful all around her.
Her husband rushes home when he gets the call from the doctor, and finds Charlotte prone on the sofa. She’s as pale as the Egg she’s cradling, and her skin is cold and damp. Her doctor has already arrived and is sitting with his hands clasped together.
Charlotte’s eyes open when she hears his voice, and slump shut quickly. Her husband and her doctor talk quietly amongst themselves, she can only hear the hiss of their voices through her medicated haze. She rests in a dark warmth, feeling the air against her skin, the slow tickle of cold sweat.
Someone is talking to her. Her husband.
“I was attacked,” she tells him.
The doctor moves closer to his ear.
“By people. Those people. People on the street.”
Her husband asks what exactly happened.
“I just told you. Those people attacked me. They were all around me.”
The doctor is speaking now.
“What do you mean, what did they do? They attacked me!”
She grows lightheaded, and when she comes back to herself, the Egg has been moved from her lap to the coffee table. Her hands feel weak, but she manages to draw it to herself and sit up. There’s a gentle pulse in the surface, and she lets the rhythm sooth her, the tiny heartbeat she imagines flowing up into her and filling her.
She can hear the men talking in the kitchen, their voices low. She ignores them and carries the Egg to the bedroom. She still feels shaken from the attack, and knows there is no way she could describe how horrible it was. It was their eyes. Those people have horrible looks in their eyes.
Later that evening, she goes to the pool for a long swim. As she strips down to her bathing suit, she pauses to pose in a full length locker room mirror. She’s glad to see no bruises. Those would be awkward to explain to the neighbors.
Charlotte doesn’t go out after that, and her husband stays out much of the time. She doesn’t mind, they have their own lives. He goes to work and comes back late, she stays in with the Egg. Sometimes they talk, but most of the time, they do not. When they do, she doesn’t listen much, but it seems to calm him to hear her talk after a day of sitting in front of the news.
Groceries are delivered, and she listens for the knock as one of the tower’s porters drops the box in front of the door. She waits for a thirty second count, then brings the food inside.
The doctor makes house calls now, and tells her the Egg is still many months from being ready. The depression will be better by then, he promises.
She has stopped swimming.
Her husband announces that they are hosting a party. One of his work colleagues had one in his apartment last week, and it will make him look gauche if he doesn’t throw one himself. She won’t have to do anything, she’ll just have to be there.
“People are coming in here?” Charlotte says.
Her husband is already evaluating caterers online, browsing over reviews and ratings with quick, practiced fingers on his pad’s screen.
“People from outside?” Charlotte says.
He nods briefly, and tells her it has to be done. He can’t lose face, not with everything else that’s going on with the company. Times are too tense.
Once she is locked in her bedroom, she grips the Egg so tight that her knuckles crack and turn white and she doesn’t scream even a little bit.
The apartment is full of noise. Noise and people. Young men and women circulate with trays of canapés and frosted glasses, people in black ties laugh and talk and sip and eat, people in tight black dresses laugh back and ignore the canapés, people bunch into crowds that circulate and break off and form again and mingle.
Her husband is everywhere, laughing at every joke, jogging elbows and clinking his glasses everywhere, adding to the horrid noise that’s filling her home.
Charlotte sits in her bedroom, watching the door. Light slips under the jamb, cracks of brilliance flickering through the dark room as people move down the hall. She is wearing her best little black dress. Her figure is perfect, she knows. Her hair is coiffed, the sophisticated simplicity of her makeup will outshine any woman in the room. She knows this. And she knows she needs to make an appearance.
It’s worse than she imagined. People are getting drunk and dancing. They are sweating. Some tacky nitwit of a woman brought party hats, and is traipsing around the room, putting paper cones on heads and swilling her husband’s vodka.
She cradles the Egg on her hip and finds her husband. She smiles, perfect and brittle.
Everyone talks and talks, and she manages a laugh here and there. Her husband puts a hand on the small of her back, and they look like a portrait, father, mother and Egg.
Everyone admires them, and Charlotte shows her teeth.
The prescription her doctor gave her helps, but she starts feeling clammy and anxious sooner than she hoped. The air isn’t as fresh as it should be. It’s too loud. These people are too drunk and too loud, they shouldn’t be in here they should be outside not in here with her they need to be outside.
Hands are helping her sit down, her knees are weak and the room is spinning. Her whole body feels light and hot, she’s made out of heat and the room is so very warm. Her husband is on his knees in front of her, holding her hands and saying Charlotte, Charlotte over and over, the only word she can make out.
Where is the Egg?
She looks up in a panic, a scream forming in the emptiness deep down in her, no, not forming, it started growing long ago and now it’s clawing its way up, tearing her throat out from the inside.
The Egg. It’s on the coffee table. With a party hat perched on the very tip.
Someone made her baby look tacky.
Without a word, Charlotte stands up and punches the party hat woman’s face so hard that her perfect manicure digs deep into her palm.
The party ends there. Despite her husband’s excuses and pleas, the guests leave quickly. The apartment is quiet again. Mercifully quiet. It’s just the two of them.
He says many things then. Some of them are loud. All of them are angry. She says nothing, and when he leaves, the door slams so loudly that she can feel it echoing in her head.
When the echo fades away, there’s nothing left in her. She has never felt so quiet and so empty. She’s filled with nothing and nothing fills her.
Charlotte caresses the surface of the Egg and reaches to the release clasp. It seems to tremble under her hand, and she decides not to be empty any more.
Nathan is an editor with Asymmetry Fiction.