by Phoebe Reeves-Murray
He became aware of colors swirling across the sky in front of him: purple, pink, green, yellow. He tried to touch them, but the curve of the sky bowed away like a horizon even as it smothered him. He wanted the colors, but he had to get out of the egg or die. He tap, tap, tapped the plastic egg with his plastic beak, but his mother’s real beak broke him free. He was her last egg. She was the last real bird, a Laysan Albatross, on Midway. His plastic beak could never have broken the plastic eggshell, each made to last 10,000 years. His mother loved him. He loved his mother.
But he loved the colors he’d seen inside the egg more than anything. His mother fed him shiny bits that floated on the ocean’s surface: squid, crustaceans, flying fish eggs, and he saw there whales, seals, coral reefs. She fed him shiny bits that floated on the sea’s surface: doll hands, syringe covers, bits of fishing nets, and he saw again the colors from the beautiful egg.
Around their island in the middle of the world swirled brightly colored particles of plastic that smelled like food. Tens of thousands of these had been eaten by the other Laysans who lay still all around him and his mother. At night, he’d hear crack crack like the sound of his egg when his mother cracked him free. He asked her if the noise was their mothers cracking them free. But all that hatched from the birds’ bodies were pool toy shreds, plastic fork tines, degraded rubber pacifiers.
“I want to go where all the beautiful colors I saw inside my egg are.”
“This is your world,” she said.
He asked her to tell him a story about his world. She told him about a dog whose nose and ears were chopped off. And about a crocodile stoned to death at a zoo. He asked her what a zoo was. She told him about a hippo beaten with metal bars, stabbed with knives. That’s not my world. Used to her stories by now, he only half-listened, preparing for his long flight. My world is the beautiful colors.
He ate a shred of pineapple patterned flipflop, magic sand fragments from a long ago Christmas stocking, the pen nib the President used to roll back the environmental protection order on clean water, filling himself up as his mother advised to make the journey over the ocean, over the sea to find the world of land, animals, other birds.
Bits of color expanding inside him, he flew to the horizon. The sun burned, heating the microplastic he’d eaten. He swelled like a balloon before he drifted out of the sky down to the sea. Sad that he wouldn’t reach the colors of the world he’d seen in the egg, he cried. Crack. The water spiraled into him. Crack. He became part of its colors. Crack. Swirling like those in the egg.
Phoebe Reeves-Murray writes about the consequence of trashing animals, nature, and children; and how childhood and trauma inevitably shape the darkness and the light of the adults we become. Her short story “One Throat to Choke” won first prize in the Corvus Review’s Sudden Fiction contest, and her fiction has appeared in Quail Bell, Foliate Oak, and The Literary Hatchet, among others and will be upcoming in Capricious.