Ashley secured her first egg back when we were eleven, painfully young. Our bodies had barely formed and each menstrual period was like a little murder.
I was supposed to be the smart one; I read my mother’s journals and watched documentaries on public television. “It’s not possible,” I told the other girls. “You can’t capture your eggs and preserve them. There is no such thing. An unfertilized egg is a goner.”
“I’ve seen it,” Molly McCoy said, her brown eyes melting with love. “She wears it on a charm bracelet.”
My mother’s sighs were deep and almost mournful. “You girls are so strange. Oh well. It’s better than being known as a slut, I suppose.”
Ashley’s bracelet grew heavier and louder over the years, announcing her arrival in each classroom. It had become commonplace, one of the many strange features of Saint Cecilia’s School, like the Bickering Virgin icon, or the courtyard fountain that would start gushing blood-red water after only a light rainfall. When Sister Perpetua taught us the French word for arm, le bras, Ashley brandished her tinkling bracelet to demonstrate the historic bond between our two languages. I tried my best to ignore her.
I was sleeping during geography one day when I was startled awake by the sound of a child crying. Not a baby but a child, perhaps five years old. This was strange because the lower elementary school was separated from us by a faltering rose garden and a slight hill. “Do you hear her?” Ashley asked me.
I sat up, cold and alert. Ashley’s lips were pressed into the smug smile of a committed nurturer. “If you squint you can see her, too.”
I grabbed Ashley’s nearly transparent wrist and stared hard at the bracelet so that I could dismiss her claim. Something was scurrying inside one of the eggs, which had attained the hard but delicate quality of a tiny seashell. I thought perhaps it was a bug. Maybe that would interest the nuns, to know our Ashley was walking around with parasites on her pretty wrist.
“You’re not trying hard enough. You never do. You have no faith,” she told me.
I got up and walked Ashley over to the window. Sister Lucia had left us alone to work on the papier-mâché globe project that would result in a classroom filled with inaccurate representations of the world.
In the sunlight I looked into the egg and saw the child Ashley had spoken of. A little girl in a red sweater. I twisted Ashley’s wrist and found another: a good-sized boy carrying a satchel. We were thirteen by this point. I knew she could only have produced a couple dozen eggs at most. I did not understand how they had grown into children.
“That’s how kids are,” she said. “They shoot up like weeds. Everything happens so fast.”
I became quiet, haunted. I stalked Ashley whenever she used the restroom but never saw her grab a pad. She never bloated or craved chocolate or confessed dreams of rabid desire. Her skin retained the impossible clarity of the prepubescent.
“How do you do it?” I asked her one day when we were walking home from school. “Tell me.”
Her bracelet sang its little song of the mystery of life. “I don’t know what to tell you, dear. I couldn’t bear to let them die. All those little lives. Each one of them is so precious. Each one of them becomes something. Don’t you ever mourn yours?”
We both looked down at where my womb was supposed to be. It hurt all the time, either from cramps or indigestion or my constantly deepening knowledge of the pain of the human condition. I was a blood and shit factory. I loved reaching the end of my period when I would lie in the bathtub and soap away all memory of the waste pouring out of me. I felt like I was accomplishing something each time I pulled out a filthy little tubular mosaic of red and brown. It had never occurred to me that my used tampons represented lost opportunities.
And we were only schoolgirls. What were we supposed to do?
“What will become of them?” I asked Ashley. I smoothed my tangled hair and frowned like someone’s crazy grandmother. “What will become of you?”
That was her answer. Ashley died before we graduated. Nobody gave us an explanation. Strange phrases issued from the nuns’ mouths: shrunken organs, wasting disease, God’s will, Catholic martyr. We assumed cancer. We were ecstatic at the way Ashley glowed in her casket, and there was never a happier or more crowded funeral mass.
Molly McCoy, Ashley’s truest friend, came through in the end. She stole Ashley’s bracelet before the casket was closed and hid it in her own pristine underwear, the one zone the nuns were wary of searching. We waited for the first full moon after Ashley’s burial and gathered together in the rose garden. Standing in a circle, we passed the bracelet around one last time as the moon turned our faces silver.
Molly grabbed a rock and the rest of us followed suit. We smashed the egg bracelet into a fine powder while the cries of so much ruined potential, all the unmined comedy and tragedy, rose up around us. When we were done, there was no trace of life. We had begun to sweat. We looked ugly and exhausted. Adolescent.
“There,” Molly said as she stepped on the mangled silver chain like Mary crushing the serpent underfoot. “She’s free now.”
Jan Stinchcomb is the author of Find the Girl (Main Street Rag). Her stories have appeared in Whiskey Paper, Atticus Review, Gamut and Monkeybicycle, among other places. She is a reader for Paper Darts and writes reviews for Luna Station Quarterly. Currently living in Southern California with her husband and children, she can be found at janstinchcomb.com or on Twitter @janstinchcomb.
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