Sunday, August 20, 2023

“Robin’s Egg” • by Karin Terebessy

The headline at the top of the newsfeed quoted Emily Dickinson: “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers.”
Seven eyewitnesses claimed to have seen two mourning doves swoop down over the playscape in Recreation Park in upstate New York, land on the wood chips with a plaintive coo, then take to the sky. Just the day before, a farmer in the Midwest found a squiggle of bird poo on the edge of his decorative well. These were the first sightings of birds in the wild since the Avian pandemic decimated the bird population forty years prior. Photos of that grayish-white poo went viral.

Robin sat on the little metal and red vinyl chair she’d had since childhood, the one with the steps that tuck underneath and pull out with a satisfying rise and fall. Even though she was much bigger now and she spilled over the sides of the little seat, it was her favorite and she sat in the front room looking out the window and holding onto a plastic Easter egg.

Outside, the air moved and hummed with millions of insects. The rapid beating of their iridescent wings created a fluttering veil of shadows and sunlight, through which Robin watched the modest street.

Her older brother Jim sat in his lounge chair in the dark living room, watching TV. He took care of her now.

Robin’s soft, cloudy eyes were fixated on a tiny blue speckled thing on the porch. It was a cheerful shade of blue with freckles and shaped like an itty-bitty cup with a rounded bottom and jagged rim. It teetered on a seam between two warped wooden porch planks. Insects swirled around it, and the little empty cup wobbled with the breeze from their wings.

The lounge chair groaned as Jim rocked his old body forward to stand.

“Commercial break,” he announced, “you hungry, Robin?”

He steadied himself, gave his hip a pointless rub, then shuffled to the kitchen.

…this Thanksgiving, show your family you love them by serving premium synthetic turkey…”

Robin was distracted from the blue object when the roadkill cleanup truck made its methodical way up the block. On the side of the truck was a painting of a bird. Robin couldn’t read but Jim had told her it was a vulture. He said, long ago, vultures cleaned up the dead animals. They were the cleaning guys in the skies.

Robin saw the mechanical arm of the truck scrape up a dead raccoon, sending dozens of rats scurrying away. Then the mechanical arm plopped the dead animal in the bed of the truck and the truck moved down the street. Robin returned to peering at the pretty quiet blue thing on the porch.

In the kitchen, the microwave oven beeped and Jim appeared with two small plates.

“Here’s your cricket burger, Robin.”

“Lots of ketchup?”

“Just how you like it,” he smiled and kissed the top of her head.

“Robin’s egg,” she said.

“Hm?” He looked at the plastic Easter egg in her hand. “Yes honey, that’s Robin’s egg.”

She pointed at the window. “Robin outside?” She asked.

“No honey, not today, the insect index is too high. But we’re supposed to have a good rain in the next few days and that oughta lower the numbers some. Then we’ll put on our galoshes and go worm-squishing, what d’you say?”

He gave her thin hair a tender ruffle and made his slow way back to his lounge chair, sinking into the seat cushion, concave with time and weight, and picked up the TV remote.

…the official death toll from malaria this year has already surpassed the estimated five million…”

Robin munched thoughtfully on her cricket burger with lots of ketchup, her eyes trained on the little blue thing on the porch.

“Robin’s egg,” she said through a thick mouth of food.

“Robin’s egg,” Jim parroted back kindly.

He remembered robins. When they were children, in this very house, a robin had built a nest in the bush out front. He held his sister’s hand, gingerly parted the fronds of the bush, and let her peek at the babies who popped their blind and naked heads up at the sound and movement, mouths wide open and hopeful for food.

Jim wasn’t a particularly wistful man, but he found himself wiping his eyes at the memory. He wondered vaguely if Robin remembered that day.

Through the curtain of insects, something bigger swooped down. It hopped onto the porch steps, skittery and twittery. It jerked its head and blinked its black eyes at Robin. A small spasm twitched and fluttered its feathers. Then it quickly snatched a cricket and lifted off the ground and took to the sky.

Robin lunged forward from her chair, her plate toppled from her lap, and her cricket burger fell with a wet ketchupy plop. She smashed her cheek against the window glass, gazing skyward, watching this thing fly away.

“What…?” Jim said, then “Oh.”

Robin’s cheek was still pressed against the glass when Jim finally made his way back to her.

With a supportive hand on the windowsill he lowered himself to the floor and began cleaning up the fallen burger. When he stood again, he could see quiet tears slipping down her doughy cheeks.

“No need to cry honey,” he said sweetly, slopping the mess of the burger on the plate. “There’s no mess we can’t clean up. We can fix anything,” he added as he moved towards the kitchen. “Just takes a little time and effort. Little patience too.”

His voice disappeared around the corner. Robin kept her gentle gaze on the sky, through the thick flickering curtain of insects.

Maybe the thing would come back. She was a patient girl. She could wait.



Karin Terebessy likes to write speculative flash fiction stories. Her work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Stupefying Stories, Flash Fiction Magazine, Sci-Phi Journal, and other ‘zines. She is currently attempting to write a novel based on her short story “Mood Skin” which appeared in Stupefying Stories in 2016. You can follow Karin on TikTok @karinbendsreality or find her on Instagram at karinterebessy.




Made in DNA said...

Beautiful story. Also, "curtain of insects". Shudder.

Anonymous said...

Great story! Creepily hopeful (didn't know that combination was even possible) and made me regret wanting to kill all the birds that are constantly pooping all over my porch!

Loralee said...

such a gorgeous gut-punch of a story. We humans are part of this web of life and we tend to forget it. A perfect contemplative Sunday read as I'm listening to the birds and insects from my deck!

Karin Terebessy said...

Thank you for taking the time to read it 😊

Karin Terebessy said...

Thank you for this thoughtful response, Loralee. I agree with you!

Karin Terebessy said...

Ooh! I like “creepily hopeful”! I think that describes a lot of my work.

Anonymous said...

Karin, your creative ability to build on the imagery you project is profound. This is a very thought provoking piece for sure. Thank you for sharing!

Karin Terebessy said...

Thank you for such a generous response!

Eleanor said...

Awesome, Karin!

Karin Terebessy said...

Thanks Eleanor!

Suzi said...

So beautifully written!

Suzi said...

So beautifully written.

Karin Terebessy said...

Thank you Suzi!