Summer of Eggs
I was living cheap in a reasonable part of Albuquerque and eating a lot of eggs that summer, the only truly affordable source of protein. Technically, I was still on the roster as an adjunct at the local college, but budget cuts over the summer had trimmed the fat and my classes. I needed a job.
Terrible thing: I didn’t want one.
I had a PhD in the Classics. Though I loved university teaching, lately it had seemed pointless to describe to my students the events of Ancient Rome: Julius Caesar and his affair with Cleopatra, who had her own affair with Antony, beautiful Antony, with the devilish Cicero always commenting on the side. Teaching the classics was really about teaching the art of living, something of which students seemed to know little. Cell phones in their faces. Ear buds always in. Constant texts, tweets, insta-whatever. What did they know of life?
At 35, I looked younger than my years, and my youthful appearance helped to win students over, which is really what the first few weeks of class are about. Students are prejudiced in so many ways, age just one of them. For women, it often seemed if you no longer had youth, you must have charm. I was afraid I would soon have neither.
I put an egg bake into the oven and sat before my computer, thinking I would read my email, but also thinking I needed a shower. I’d risen early, went for a run—a hard, punishing run in the burning desert air—then walked back slowly to breakfast, plotting a new direction in life.
I’d told everyone I was writing a fictional account of a true love story between a maid and a Roman poet. On a semester program to Oxford four years back, I’d requested library documents about a certain Roman general and found a misfiled medieval diary—a few copied pages, really, from a monk in the 13th Century. The maid (a slave, most likely) was probably illiterate, but the writing recorded her thoughts about her lover. At first, I assumed the pages had already been discussed in academic circles, but a search turned up nothing. I grew excited.
Information about Roman women is notoriously scant. They had about the same status in Roman society as your neighborhood dog. I published one small academic article on my findings and had plans for more when the idea for the novel struck. I hoped to publish both my findings and the novel, thus rocketing my career from the adjunct bottom to a professorship. But unless the summer clouds over the Sandia Mountains were hieroglyphs shaping letters in my mind, I was pretty much just reading, running, and cracking open eggs.
I checked my email. My pulse accelerated. Moof meowed at me from his perch on the couch.
David’s name appeared at the top of my inbox.
He was writing me? Now?
Last I’d heard, David was vacationing on the Italian coast with his excessively trim girlfriend and a fat publishing deal.
My thighs trembled with lust and fear. He was the proverbial bad egg.
So formal, nothing of the old warmth.
I wondered if you’d like to meet up. It turns out I’ll be in Albuquerque next week. I have the book reading for ROMAN WARRIORS and then Heather’s family lives in the Las Cruces, as you know. The book is doing better than I hoped.
The Las Cruces? Was that a typo? And who was this Heather from New Mexico?
We could meet for a drink at the Apothecary. I believe you liked that place.
My first thought was bastard. My second, No way. Was he done with that blonde then? The rich one who financed his life while he wrote? Shameful to admit, but I checked the mirror next. I know, I know, but it couldn’t be helped. I’d aged since we’d last met, put on a few pounds, had fine lines around my eyes. But an honest assessment said I was still attractive, still interesting in that rounded way of personality and decent looks.
I analyzed the message. We could meet for a drink. No question mark. So presumptuous I would. He hadn’t changed in the slightest.
I got up and washed breakfast dishes, scrubbing hard at the egg-coated pan, thinking of my previous emails to him—attempts at breezy conversation that hadn’t come off quite right. His book had made the literary circles and cracked the bestsellers list, but I hadn’t been able to stomach reading it. He’d never looked back after he’d found success.
We met when we were grad students at a small Midwestern college. He was the caring young activist, enrolled in philosophy, but never in class. I was a 29-year-old idealist in love with ancient history, believing we’d somehow stumbled across true love—this in spite of the fact that David was already married.
I rung out the dish rag. Meeting him simply wasn’t an option. I would ignore him like he had ignored me.
But even as I flicked off a last crumbling piece of egg from the pan, I knew that wasn’t true.
The best dishes are the ones that comfort, as well as nourish.
I made eggs all week in attempt to cool my frazzled nerves—and give my hands something to do other than touch my own soggy body, my own weary hopes. Zucchini egg frittata, egg salad sandwiches, poached eggs, hard boiled eggs, soft, sunny side up eggs, and fried egg sandwiches with cheese. I gave food to my neighbors. I gave food to the homeless man on the corner. He screamed “bitch” at me and chewed the egg sandwich frantically.
My bank account stared at me with near zero-digit daggers.
At the end of the week, I decided on Quiche Lorraine. It’s a favorite, though I suppose it really isn’t an egg dish. It’s more cheese and cream than eggs, but the end result is serenity.
1 cup flour
1/3 rounded cup of lard (no substitutes, please)
4 tbs cold water
Dash of salt
Cut lard into the flour. Add water when dough crumbles. Roll into ball, then flatten with roller. Do not overhandle or dough will become tough. Place in glass pie plate and cut extra crust away.
1/2 pound bacon, crisp, crumbled, delicious
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1/3 cup minced onion
4 brown eggs (only those with graceful curves)
2 cups cream
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
Sprinkle bacon, cheese, onion in prepared pie crust. Beat the eggs (not too harshly; they’ve done you no harm). Mix the rest of the ingredients together. Pour into the pie crust.
Bake 15 minutes at 425˚. Then reduce heat to 300˚ and bake for another 30 minutes.
Let the eggs form a crumbly break as the pie cools.
As I pulled the quiche from the oven, I let the steam wash my face.
Moof watched my every bite.
In the restaurant, I was early and feeling out of place. I’d asked for an outdoor seat, thinking the breeze would relax me. I’d dressed casually, refusing to put much effort into my hair or face, but acquiesced to a tiny bit of blush and a lip gloss that claimed to make my look “dewy.”
I should have known he’d be late.
After ordering another ice tea, I checked the menu again. I’d already sucked off all of the lip gloss and the wind was whipping my hair into tangles. I picked out three different things to order and knew what he’d get: The ribeye with truffle butter and caramelized shallots, the most expensive thing on the menu.
I pulled out his book, finally purchased on my way over: ROMAN WARRIORS. I snorted. The title was so like him, so over the top with masculinity.
I opened the page and read the dedication:
“To my wife Catalina, whose love and support always lifts my soul.”
I nearly gagged into my ice tea. How he could write that without a God instantly smiting him baffled me.
I’d met Catalina once, briefly, at a student gathering. Whereas David gave the impression (at least initially) of easy warmth and genuine charm, she was all angles—beautiful lines on tailored clothing, and cheeks that would draw blood if your hand happened to glance against them. The way she dressed me down with her eyes, turning my insides to biting ants, I knew she knew about the affair. When I took the teaching position in New Mexico, David came to live with me for the first six months and, I thought, a divorce was pending.
What a fool.
I looked through the table of contents, and then read the opening to the first chapter.
I started to sweat. Sunscreen ran into my eyes. Snot dripped from my nose.
It was my first chapter.
The one that had been on my computer for years. The one I had toiled over. The one that would rocket my career.
HE STOLE MY WORK.
My hand slammed the table. The utensils jostled loudly. A lady at the table next to me gave me an ugly stare.
I called the waiter, asking for more tea and a pencil.
I began furiously marking the pages.
When David showed, he was an hour late. I was sweating profusely, drops beading on my upper lip and dripping onto the pages.
At first, I thought with one painful breath, he was still perfect, still so handsome. Dressed in tailored slacks and a lightweight sweater casually pulled up at the elbows, he had that breezy air of the wealthy: one that comes from little stress, good food, and plenty of rest. But I leaned back. No, Anne. He’d changed too. There was a sag around his chin, a new deep line by his mouth. The skin around his eyes was pinched.
I tossed the book onto his empty plate.
“Open to page 5,” I commanded.
“What’s this about?” he asked, taking his seat. He’d been about to say hello, but I could tell he was shocked by my appearance.
Then he smiled. “So, you’ve finally read it, I see. Took you long enough.”
“Yes, about that—”
He shrugged. “Prove it.”
“Did you really think you could steal my work?”
“Do you really think anyone will believe you? You’ve published, what? One essay in the past three years in some little journal no one ever reads. You can’t do anything about it.”
He casually folded his hands on the table and leaned back, perfectly at ease.
“Why did you want to see me then? To rub it in?”
“Well, since we’re cutting to the chase. I wanted to ask if you had more notes I could borrow.”
“You mean steal.”
“Semantics.” He raised his hand for the waiter.
“Why would I give you my notes?”
“I will pay you this time.”
The waiter came over.
“Ice water please.”
The waiter raised a brow, but nodded and left.
“What did I ever see in you?”
David smiled that crooked, devilish smile. I felt myself flush.
“We both know what you saw.”
I cleared my throat. “I’ll get an attorney.”
“With what money? I know you have none. Look. Consider this a business deal. You do the research—”
“And I sell it.”
“And get the accolades. I would rather eat razors. I would rather poke my eyes out with knitting needles. I would rather never publish again.” I paused. “I would rather you drop dead.”
He laughed and placed a business card next to my plate. “You’ll change your mind.”
He was right about one thing. I had no money for an attorney. When I tried to talk to one through a friend of a friend, he yawned. Said it would be difficult to prove.
“Look, lady, maybe you should just write another book.”
“Another book? Do you realize how hard that is? Do you think they just pop out of the ground like sunflowers?”
I could practically hear the attorney shrug.
For days after that call, I paced my apartment, Moof watching me from the couch in awe. I was the great cat, claws out, hissing from her feckless perch. I wanted to strangle David. For one wild moment, I considered getting a gun, forcing him to sign a confession, but I came to my senses. If only I had thought to record our conversation in the restaurant, maybe I would have had some leverage. I thought about telling his girlfriend, his wife, but what good would that do? His wife knew he was a cad long ago. And I doubt any girlfriend under his spell would listen to me either.
During the night, I ground my teeth and woke with a loose molar. In the morning, I couldn’t eat.
The week passed this way until I opened the refrigerator and the sulfur stench of rotten eggs came at me. I slammed the door shut. Then had an idea. I found David’s business card and sat at my kitchen table. I placed three rotten eggs in bubble wrap and tore pages from his book for extra padding. Then I placed the eggs and the shorn pages inside a cardboard box neatly addressed to him.
I taped it all up and started another.
The phone rang.
“Anne. Would you stop with the eggs? I’m not even living there. That’s my friend Sheila’s house.”
“Are you kidding me? Just how many women do you have on the side?”
“No,” I said, and realized I really wasn’t.
“Look, have you decided yet? I’m kinda in a rush to get something written up. My editor has been phoning lately.”
He named a figure. I blanched and had to sit. I could live comfortably for a year on that amount. I could finally travel. I could write a new book.
My voice trembled. “I have to think about it.” I hung up.
I took a raw egg from the refrigerator and went to the kitchen sink. I squeezed it, breaking the shell, the yolk cool and ticklish on my arm.
During the next week, I logged 37.2 running miles, a personal best, and devoured eggs indiscriminately like a wild beast.
Every neuron screamed at me to tell David off. I could still travel, I could still write. I didn’t need his money. But a part of me worried this wasn’t true. I hadn’t made any inroads into my career and without my first book, what did I have?
How could I accept his offer?
How could I not?
Saturday morning, walking back from my run, I slowed to a crawl, the week’s intensity falling dumbly on my limbs. It was a stunning morning, the air soothingly warm instead of roasting for a change. A northern mockingbird twittered in the top of a conifer and I listened as it took on the song of one beautiful bird after another.
And just like that: I knew what to do.
I sent him 50 pages, more than enough to springboard a book.
I’d been inspired.
David was pleased. He positively crowed into my ear a few days after I’d sent the work. “Splendid, Anne, splendid. This is better than I’d hoped.”
He sent the money—cash—as I requested, half just before I sent the pages, the other half upon receipt of the writing.
Well-researched and well-written, I consider the writing as part of the finest of works.
Of course it is.
Its contents were altered from a famous classical scholar, the words different enough to fool the laymen, but certainly not a real academic. He will pass it on to his editors; he will be discovered as a cheat. Whether that happens post or pre-publication, I don’t much care. Either way his career will be over, and I didn’t have to kill him to do it.
Surprisingly, I’ve found I still rather enjoy my egg dishes, though I can afford to spice them up now. This morning’s saffron omelet was delicious with a mimosa and a mango side dish.
The summer is nearing conclusion, and I have made plans to return to Oxford this fall. In the meantime, I am writing a book. It is about a man who is duped by a former lover. It is a tale of intrigue and deceit.
I believe it is my best writing yet.
About the Author: L.L. Wohlwend is a writer living in Albuquerque. Her work has appeared in Passages North Writers on Writing Series, Midwestern Gothic, and other places.