Alexander Yosif Ivanovitch shuffled unsteadily across the worm-eaten floor of his dilapidated dacha. His calloused feet scraped along the warped boards to the kitchen, picking up splinters as he went. Already the sun had set and yet Mila had not woken
for his supper. He was startled awake from his nap by the barking of the dog and, seeing the setting sun, stamped around irritably. Eyeing the dog narrowly, he decided to accost his wife and demand his supper. Every step wrought groans from the floorboards, each crying out from years of impatient stamps. But no one heeded their weary sighs. The couple had troubles of their own while the dog sat huddled on a straw mat whimpering to himself.

Finally the spindly legs reached the kitchen and Ivanovitch pulled himself to the table. He looked down. He was greeted with a single boiled egg sitting in a holder with only newspaper for a plate. A rusted spoon sat within reach. The old chest heaved and exhaled unsteadily. Looking down at the solitary egg, he realized how desperate their life had become. Crates from the neighboring farm replaced their furniture. The curtains had long
since been brought down and doubled as bed sheets. Poor Mila could no longer even afford dye to cover her white hairs and now took to secretly smearing black shoe polish on the strands. Only when Ivanovitch noticed all of this for the first time did he feel the slightest pang of guilt for keeping a mistress. Not that he would give up Olga for anything, but he knew the few extra rubles worth of plastic flowers and cheap chocolates could have bought a few morsels for his wife. The leathery shoulders shrugged in the heavy robe. No matter. Mila was still getting by and he could always procure a few loaves and other trifles from his work. Yes, life for him at least would not be wholly without its small comforts.

Taking up the spoon, he rapped the egg soundly. Then, peeling off the shell, he dug in the spoon and pulled up the first bite. His eyebrows jumped. What was this? No yolk? Impossible, he thought. It must have dropped to the bottom. He ate until only a spoonful remained. Still, no yolk.

“Mila!” he snarled.

From the next room came her shuffled step. An old woman with a leaden gaze stood in the doorway.

“Mila, what nonsense is this?” he demanded, “my egg has no yolk!”

Ludmilla Mikhailovich stared ruefully at the oven.

“No answer, eh?” He jeered. “Well, no matter. Make me another egg.”

Mila snatched up another egg and prepared it, then brought it over.

Yosif lowered his face to the level of the egg and peered at it skeptically. With an authoritative flick of his wrist, he rapped the egg until the shell was shattered. The shell was peeled off and he again pulled up a chunk. Crying out, he dropped the spoon. Again, no yolk was to be found. Plucking the egg from the holder, he hastily dug his fingers in and tore the poor egg to bits. White chunks smeared the newspaper and his hands, but not a single bit of yolk lay in the ruins. Ivanovitch’s face grew red, then a deeper shade of purple. Sitting perfectly still,  he uttered the single word: “Another!”

Seeing how desperate the situation was, Mila quietly prepared another egg and brought it over with a silent prayer. He readied the spoon, but then lowered it again. He was suddenly overtaken with a powerful sense of dread. He dared not look into this last egg.

Embarrassed by this display in front of his wife, he snatched up the egg, kicked on his shoes, and went outside, brandishing the egg before him.

“Hullo!” a feeble voice called out,  “Oh, sir if I could only have that egg I will give you your choice of my wares.”

Ivanovitch tore his gaze from the offending egg to an old homeless man resting to the side of the path. In front of him lay his meager possessions atop a shawl. Ivanovitch scoffed at the offer and returned to the egg.

“Here, Sir,” he pleaded. “Have this lovely brooch, perhaps for a beloved wife. It’s yours!” He held up a rusted brooch with plastic beads glued to the top.

The pathetic offering and reference to a “beloved” wife stung Ivanovitch. “You think I want any of this trash?” He shrieked, “Here, you want the wretched egg? Then take it!” And with that
he flung the egg to the man’s feet. It seems the egg was not thoroughly cooked, for it exploded into a runny mess on the ground. This, however, did not draw the attention of the men. It was the fact that no yolk was to be found amidst the mess. 

The merchant viewed the splatter with narrowed eyes, then slipped a hand into his ragged coat, retrieving a wonderful jeweled egg. He offered it up to Ivanovitch, nodding encouragingly. Ivanovitch trembled as he took it and popped back the silver latch. Three neatly boiled yolks sat nestled at the bottom. He started violently and looked up, only to see the merchant had disappeared. With wide eyes, he carried the small treasure back to his dacha. Upon his return, he only handed the yolks over to Mila.

Much surprised by the gesture, she looked at him strangely, then took the yolks, crushed them, and sprinkled them over potatoes for him.

However, yolks were not all the jeweled egg would produce. Every day would yield a new surprise in a similar vein: peach pits, artichoke hearts, mango seeds, and plum seeds. Ivanovitch offered these little surprises as gifts to his wife.

Then one day Mila in turn offered Ivanovitch his own seedling to care for, a golden-haired son. In his joy, Ivanovitch hardly noticed the jeweled egg ceased to bear gifts and instead enjoyed
the daily gifts of a family.

                                                                  ~~

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Published in: on September 27, 2006 at 1:11 am  Comments Off on