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eggshells for elise

Artwork by Helen Liu, staff artist

elise’s name flashes crimson across my phone screen as i wait in the slow-moving current of the supermarket checkout line on a sunday evening. outside the rain slops against the pavement, and inside the bright overhead ring lights burn into the back of my head, and i wonder if i don’t answer she’ll stop calling. when i finally pick up, she asks how i am, what i am doing.

before i left, elise made a hobby out of fostering little seedlings inside eggshells (according to her, the calcium from the shells would seep into the soil and make for quicker growth). i don’t want to tell her i am out shopping for a polyester replacement for my roommate dorothy’s geranium plant because the real one died while i was babysitting—so i ask her how her eggshells are instead.

she responds by saying that these days the house is pindrop silent and mama started buying those five cent paper plates from the cornerstore again. last time, it was because dad smashed all the ceramic ones and elise bled all over the white carpet and spent an hour trying to scrubscrub it out. those were the days when home was a battlefield, when dad came home with a bottle of beer and mama came home wearing someone else’s cologne. there was lot of yelling and crying involved, and it was as if the house was strewn with fractured eggshells that made it impossible to move about without tiptoeing.

whenever we could, elise and i escaped to the back lot where the air was a crisp midwinter kind of cold even though it was only the start of autumn, and we sat back-to-back on dad’s old pickup and watched the sun crash into the cornfields. once the fog cleared, we watched the pinpricks of light spring from the horizon and fold themselves into constellations that sat on the edges of our joint peripheral vision.

tell me a story, she would say, and i would recall the mythologies intertwined with the shapes in the sky, the heroes and heroines descended from the stars. we found solace in these stories, as if stories were anything but sugarcoated truths and fabricated destinies for those too tired or unambitious to write their own.

one day, we said, we were going to be heroes too. we were going to get out of this bite-sized town with its glassy-eyed inhabitants and lack of stories to tell. somehow, we were going to get to the big city and live among the bright lights and accelerated tempos and self-fulfilling destinies. those were to be our futures, connected at the seams. what a pity it was, then, that when the opportunity arose i left alone.

elise is curious about my new shiny life. i don’t tell her how the constellations are now out of reach, or how often i am kept awake by the orchestra of traffic outside my window and my own creeping anxieties. i don’t tell her how i’ve learned to hold cigarette smoke in my lungs and to deafen myself to the calls of those with impure intentions. i only tell her that this is at least better than home, and i miss her eggshells and her fairytales and the way the earth trembles when she laughes. dorothy makes omelettes in the mornings and takes the eggshells out with the trash.

elise asks me when i am going to return home, and there is a certain guilt that stems out of spinning a second lie when your first one has yet to be resolved. soon, i say, but the word comes up coated in globs of honey and sticks in my esophagus. as if i tell desperate enough lies they’ll somehow twist themselves into half-truths. as if not asking for the reason mama is buying paper plates again will restore the ceramic ones to their shelves. as if i stay away long enough i can scrub myself clean of my hometown.

elise says that mama was careless the other day and broke her eggshells. out front, a stranger enters through the revolving doors and the smell of smoke and scorched meat wafts in. i grab a bottle of cheap supermarket glue on the way out and tell her i’ll send it in the mail.


Katie Tian is a fourteen year old from Jericho, NY. She enjoys writing in multiple genres of creative fiction, and she has been nationally recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. She is inspired by the world around her and takes ideas from her own life to include in her writing.

Helen Liu is a seventeen-year-old Chinese-American from Basking Ridge, New Jersey. When she isn't swamped in schoolwork, she likes writing late into the night, playing piano, trying her best at watercolor, and spending time with friends. Also, at any given time, it's more likely she's listening to music than not. Though her stories and poems are often focused on her personal passions and struggles, she also takes inspiration from her favorite pieces of literature and important current issues.

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