I've always assumed that this antique egg cup was a chicken, but now taking a moment to actually study it there in my mother's hand, I wonder. Perhaps 1920's Japanese people lived with other, wilder breeds. The plump little creature's first coat is misty pale green, wing feathers indicated by quick, raised streaks and dots, bumpy to the touch. Its head and tail are detailed with thin trails of darker green paint that curl like a crazy river delta. The cup part is painted to look like a brown woven basket on the squat bird's back. Eyes and beak still glimmer gold after decades of use and display, first at my grandmother's house, then her sister's, for a short time in a box at my mother's - and now here.
"What happened to its mate?" She doesn't wait for an answer. Does she ever? "Broken?"
Well, I am certain that in my lifetime, there's never been a mate. She disagrees. She paints pictures of my young life, of me with my daily egg in a cup and yes, I recall the general feeling because it was terrible. Years of morning misery. But no, I insist because I know, it wasn't this egg cup, either. This one had come from my great-aunt's house in a box of knick-knacks Charlotte had hauled to the car that afternoon we'd finally settled my mother after the move. No, the dreaded daily egg of my youth had been cradled in a sleek little wooden Danish modern number, and after its stem cracked, a lopsided pottery version from my mother's friend Miriam.
She doesn't like my tone as I recount my version.
"No need to be so snippy, Dorothy."
"Well, it's not a great memory.
"You adored your daily egg."
This is crazy enough for me to actually make brief eye contact. "Mother, I hate soft boiled eggs now, and I always – always did. I thought they were disgusting, and – "
"Nonsense. You would have told me. I raised you to be a strong female. To speak your mind."
A door slams upstairs. The noise my mother makes is something like a victorious period on the end of this long sentence. I know exactly what she's thinking, and it's something about things coming around full circle, but probably not about karma because that would appropriate a complex truth from another culture in an inappropriate, superficial way.
"She's fine, mother. It's just those old heavy doors."
She shrugs. I wonder if she's shifting attention to Charlotte for a reason. I know what she saw at Mass earlier this morning. I know because I heard her gasp a little, picked it up despite the joyful noises coming from the musicians crowded in the front of the church. I busy myself with cooking things, I make little noises myself, I deflect, I delay. I wait for time to pass, because if I have learned anything in life is that it does. Pass.
Just last week, my therapist and I talked about my first name. I was called Dorothy after Dorothy Day, Catholic pacifist and devotee of the poor, so anti-war she even opposed World War II, which is hard to beat even among pacifists. A photograph of the determined-looking woman, white hair bound in a kerchief, hung in my mother's kitchen forever, next to a Last Supper from El Salvador. Jesus and his friend – not disciples, apostles or followers – friends - painted as blocky figures in bright primary colors on a wooden plaque.
What does that mean to you?
Lisa always murmured, and she murmured this question about my name, I assumed, so I'd be comfortable with her inviting, non-threatening vibe. But the problem was the bubbling tabletop fountain on the table behind her head, water circulating over smooth black stones, an endless cycle of life-giving that rendered her words mostly unintelligible to me. That day, I stared at her, reconstructing the movement of her lips, wondering how such a young person could be posing as a professional therapist, intensely feeling these weird belly-folds that have just grown on my body, trying to pick apart words and trickling water, recycled again and again.