Sara becomes an egg
A strange tea ceremony was taking place at one end of the office. Over the sighing of computer fans came the chime of three simultaneously received emails, and almost immediately, three ladies rose from different cubicles in the room. Clutching small boxes, they moved softly across the crushed worn felt of the carpet, converging on the tea machine.
Janet carefully opened her box of green tea, and placed a single bag in the bottom of a paper cup, pressing the button for ‘hot water’. Lesley looked on with interest.
‘What’s that new flavour you’ve got?’ she asked.
‘Green tea with lotus blossom,’ Janet said. ‘Apparently the lotus blossom is full of antioxidants and minerals. Still tastes horrible though.’
‘I can’t abide the taste of green tea’ agreed Sara. She flourished her box. ‘I tried getting it with orange zest. They do it in Holland and Barrett. But it still tastes like boiled grass. Just boiled grass with a bit of orange in it.’
Janet and Lesley laughed.
‘It’s right expensive boiled grass as well,’ said Lesley.
‘Tell me about it. I’m counting the pennies till the end of the month, and this costs three pound forty nine for a box of twenty,’ complained Sara.
‘I’m same. If I won lottery…’ Lesley mused, inviting the other two to contemplate the myriad possibilities of her life, if freed from the financial constraints of an office worker’s wage combined with the exacting demands of an expensive tea habit.
‘Our Dave’s cousin’s wife got four numbers the other week. But they only got two grand, because apparently seven people got all six numbers,’ Sara said. ‘I’d be gutted if that happened to me.'
‘It’s enough for a treat though, that,' said Janet. ‘If I won that, I’d go to Boots and get some botox. And maybe enough for a little holiday as well.’
They stood round the tea and coffee machine, taking minute, forced sips of tea. Their manager approached, carrying a black bin bag.
‘Morning girls, can I disturb you for a moment?’
‘It’s our official break’ Lesley protested.
‘It’s alright, I wasn’t checking up on you girls. I was just bringing round your easter eggs.’ He reached in the sack. ‘There you are. Enjoy the rest of your break.’
The manager moved away to deliver an egg to a man in his late fifties working at a computer in a cubicle. ‘I bet he was checking up on us,’ said Lesley.
Janet inspected her egg suspiciously. ‘Crème egg. I got a Toblerone one last year.'
‘They’re making cuts everywhere,’ Lesley said with a tone of outrage.
‘I love easter eggs,’ said Sara. ‘I think one day I’m going to turn into an easter egg.’ She looked at her egg, held in a warm transparent bubble of plastic, its pristine foil wrapping glittering like a rare jewel.
‘I’ll probably just leave it for the kids,’ Lesley was saying.
Sara thought what a long time it had been since she had last tasted chocolate. She looked at the egg, imagining unwrapping it, cracking its soft shell, and thrusting her nose and tongue into its sickly sweet milk chocolate hollow.
‘I might just try a little bit,’ Sara heard herself saying. Lesley and Janet looked at her in surprise. ‘I thought you were on that new diet,’ Janet said.
‘I’ve been trying that new one what Simon Cowell’s been on to get thin for his wedding’ Lesley told them. ‘Every time I feel like a snack, I have a handful of those Goji berries instead.’
But as Lesley was saying this, Sara was taking the egg from its box. Lesley and Janet looked round to see the egg lying on a nearby desk, a great tear like a wound across its foil made by Sara’s fingernail. They watched as Sara ripped aside the delicate foil, forced her fingers through the chocolate shell, and began to tear pieces off and stuff them into her mouth.
At length, just one fragment of the egg remained, surrounded by dull scraps of foil. ‘I’ll save it for tomorrow,’ Sara said weakly.
That night Sara couldn’t sleep. She rolled around in bed feeling bloated and guilty. Sara’s bloated feeling did not go away the next morning though, but seemed to increase over the following week. Her trousers and skirts began to feel tight on her waist. ‘That’s what happens when you suddenly binge after dieting,’ Lesley told Janet privately one morning over a cup of green tea with ginseng extract. ‘Your body thinks it’s a famine, and then when you do eat something, it stores more fat in case there’s another famine.’ Sara read on the internet about irritable bowel syndrome, and started declining all foods that weren’t gluten free. It didn’t help.
By the end of the month, Sara’s discomfort had not disappeared, and on one of her weekly shopping trips, she found that she had gone up a size in clothes. Lesley and Janet seemed to be avoiding her at the tea machine. One night, when Dave cooked her normal instead of gluten free pasta, Sara screamed and threw one of the Ikea bowls that they had driven all the way to Birmingham to get. It shattered on the floor. Sara burst into tears.
‘I’m so fat and ugly,’ she cried to Dave. ‘You must hate me’. Dave stroked Sara’s hair, and when he saw that she wasn’t going to hit him, put his arms around her.
‘Of course not Sara,’ Dave said. ‘You’re just stressed at the moment, that’s all. Why don’t we go away somewhere for a weekend?’
As Sara told Lesley and Janet, that was what she really loved about her Dave. He was romantic, and caring and impulsive like that. She was having a really difficult time, feeling ill, and worrying about her weight. Of course, it was Centre Parcs, not Marrakesh he was whisking her off to, but still. So the weekend after next Sara and Dave went away together. Sara bought a sarong to hide her recently expanded waistline, and they went swimming and on bike rides together.
‘I’ll help you lose weight’ Dave promised. ‘It’s these faddy diets that aren’t working. They’re just making you feel bad that’s all. We’ll go for more walks at the weekend when we get back home.’ They were lying together in their hotel room on fresh white sheets, under a duvet that smelt subtly of fern scented chemicals and crackled when they moved. There was a short silence.
‘Shall we do the nasty?’ Sara asked shyly. ‘We always do the nasty when we’re away.’ They rolled together in each other’s arms. But as Dave came to enter Sara, instead of yielding, enveloping, fishy flesh, he found himself poking into a hollow empty hole, from which came a strange, sickly sweet smell. He froze in horror. Sara noticed. ‘What’s wrong Dave?’ she asked him. But Dave couldn’t say anything. Sara cried in the car all the way back home.
A few days later, Sara told Dave she had booked them an appointment for marriage counselling. Dave numbly agreed. They sat together in the room with the counsellor, awkwardly holding hands across the gap between the coloured chairs. Sara told the counsellor that she thought Dave had a problem with intimacy.
‘How do you see things Dave?’ the counsellor asked him. But Dave didn’t know the words to tell Sara and the counsellor how he had found a strange milk chocolate smelling hollow inside his wife’s body. He kept silent.
The counsellor told them that massage was a good way to relax and build up intimacy, so after he finished work Dave bought a bottle of massage oil. Sara lay on the bed while Dave rubbed the oil into her back and shoulders. Dave noticed Sara’s spine curving, not concave, but convex, in a rising arc. As he pressed the soft skin of Sara’s back, Dave noticed that his hands slipped over cracks underneath her skin. It felt as though there was a strange substance beneath Sara’s skin, like a turtle’s shell, or crazy paving.
Over the next week, Sara grew more bloated. Her stomach expanded outwards and upwards, so that her breasts sat above it, barely visible. In spite of her size, Sara could feel no fat. Instead, as she put her hands on her abdomen, she felt a hard surface underneath her skin, like an insect’s shell. At work, Lesley told Janet and Sara about a story she had read about a woman in a magazine. ‘She went to the doctors all these times, and they just told her to stop eating so much. Eventually, one of them operated, and they took out a tumour. It was like a baby, nearly a stone.’
Sara took the rest of the afternoon off from work, pleading migraine. She sat in the kitchen with the blind down, waiting for Dave to come home. When she heard his key in the door, she got up, and as he walked through the door, she flung her arms round him, sobbing hysterically. ‘I think I’ve got cancer,’ she cried.
Sara was admitted to hospital for investigation. She sat in bed, with someone appearing every few hours to wheel her for a scan or to take blood. Dave made regular trips to buy magazines and cups of tea from the canteen. The rest of the time, he sat awkwardly in the chair by her bed.
Eventually a consultant came, leading a small group of students to Sara’s bedside. The consultant asked Sara a few short questions. He got a young male student to examine her. The young man awkwardly tapped Sara’s back. The sound it made was like a hollow drum. The student looked embarrassed. ‘I must have got the wrong place,’ he said apologetically. The consultant ignored him, and called another consultant over. The students looked on in silence, waiting to see what would happen.
‘Take a look at this’, the consultant said, handing his senior colleague Sara’s notes. The other doctor read them and raised his eyebrows. He moved behind Sarah, and tapped her back. The same sound came, deep and hollow. The first consultant pulled an X-ray out of Sarah’s notes, and the second consultant started to laugh. ‘It is, isn’t it?’ The medical students stood, rapt.
‘Yes’, the first consultant told him, shaking his head and laughing as well. ‘It’s the worst case of dramatic irony I’ve seen in my career.’
The consultant told Sarah that she had a potentially life threatening case of eggitis. Her X-rays and scans, he explained, showed that her internal organs and bone structure had been enveloped by a rapidly expanding chocolate exoskeleton, which grew in an egg shape just beneath her skin. It was an extremely rare condition, the consultant said. He had only ever seen one case in his career, when he was a junior doctor. He said he thought there might be a journal article in it.
‘I’m referring you to a specialist in another hospital. There are only three treatment centres for eggitis in the entire country. I’m afraid the treatment is quite prolonged and painful, but we are looking at a complete cure.’
‘What does it involve?’ asked Sara in a trembling voice.
‘In the specialist centre, they’ll ask you to fall off a specially designed wall. This shatters the chocolate exoskeleton. Unfortunately, the sensation of having shards of chocolate within your body is something that people find extremely painful, and it takes a period of up to a month for all the chocolate shards to melt away.’
After this, Sara had to wait on the ward for several more days, until the specialist eggitis centre in another city was able to accept her. Sara waited anxiously in bed, saying little, as she felt the chocolate mass under her skin. When she put her hands to her stomach, Sara imagined she could feel it growing by the minute.
There was a tense moment as the ambulance crew argued that Sara was more ovular than bariatric. ‘We won’t be able to transport her safely’ they said. ‘It’s too great a risk that she’ll roll off the bed and smash.’
But they grudgingly agreed, sliding Sara carefully onto their trolley, securing her bloated, brittle body as best they could, and coddling her in blankets to minimise any damage if she did roll off.
It was eggstremely uncomfortable!
Sara half sat, half lay, miserably in the back of the speeding ambulance. Through a gap at the bottom of the ambulance doors, Sara could see the blurred grey tarmac moving beneath them as they travelled towards the place where she would receive her treatment. She thought of desperately trying to free herself from the straps, unlocking the doors, flinging herself into the verge and escaping into some roadside wilderness. But Sara knew that this escape would be futile; the thing she was afraid of was within her, and couldn’t be escaped. She realised that her life was not hers to control; she wondered at what point this had happened.
She felt the ambulance slow, then stop, and the doors opened. They wheeled Sara on the trolley into a corridor. A nurse came out and took Sara’s details, and said she was next on the list. ‘Don’t worry’, the nurse said kindly. ‘We’ll soon put you back together again.’
Half an hour later, they wheeled Sara into a gleaming white room. In the centre of the room was a great white wall, about eight feet high. A small open lift was beside it. The nurse helped Sara to climb down from the trolley and waddle across the room to the lift. Sara again felt a helpless fear grip her, as if she was being led to the scaffold. They walked on to the lift together. The lift rose slowly until a slight jolt told Sara they had reached the top. The nurse helped Sara to seat herself on the top of the wall. Then the nurse took the lift down. Sara was alone on top of the wall.
The nurse went quickly behind a glass screen. Her voice came out of a speaker in the ceiling. ‘Everything’s ready for you Sara. Just fall off the wall.' Sara looked at the shining hard floor beneath her and shook at the thought of the pain that falling and shattering the egg would cause her. But she knew she had no choice. She pushed herself backwards off the wall. In the seconds that she pushed herself and felt herself falling, Sara felt a grim exhilaration, as if she was laughing into the barrel of a gun. Then she felt a shattering pain.
Sara remembered nothing of being lifted off the floor and taken out of the eggitis treatment room. She was put in an isolation room due to her extremely fragile condition. Nurses came in periodically to clean and feed her, but otherwise Sara was left alone. Every part of Sara’s body seemed to be filled with pain, and she was able to neither move nor speak. Under the unblinking glare of the neon strip light on the ceiling of her room Sara lost all conception of time. The pain turned minutes into long hours, and only the different faces that appeared above her gave Sara a clue that time was passing.
In fact, it took Sara just three weeks before she made a full recovery. But for Sara, each step without pain was a miracle; and though the ebb of time was now marked by the passing of the day, of clouds across the sun, of seasons into years, rather than the monotony of the strip light, time no longer slipped away unnoticed. Every word that Sara was able to speak, she considered a gift, and weighed each one for meaning and significance; and every moment Sara experienced became precious to her.
Then Sara woke up. It had all been a dream! And, because it was a dream, Sara quickly forgot all about it, and continued to talk shite on her tea break for the rest of her long and uneventful life.The End