I wiggled a little before I sat down on the comfortable, warm thatch of straw I had so meticulously placed on the sand. It was perfect — the sides were high but not too high, the bottom curved just so to match the shape of my body. My tailfeathers draped behind, and I could feel them just dipping into the sand. It was packed just enough to be solid, but give against my legs. Just perfect.
I sighed and opened my beak to taste the salt in the air. The sun was high and bright, but the breeze from the ocean protected us from the heat so it wasn’t too bad. The water came in to the shore in a roaring whisper, then hissed back to expose the wet surf. I felt my lungs inflate when the water came in, over long seconds. I felt the air rush over my nares when the water retreated. My heart-rate was slowing in time. My feathers were unruffled, as smooth as a horse’s flank.
There were a few of us on nests, all in a line. Not too many, but I preferred the quiet just the same. I looked down the beach at a few of the other girls, and they nodded back at me, their sharp bills cutting an arc through the air. We didn’t know each other; we just knew the reasons we came here. They were all the same, of course. We wanted to lay the blue egg.
It hadn’t been a good couple of months for me. Drummond had flown off to a “business trip” weeks ago but hadn’t called since and didn’t leave an address or a phone number behind. His phone was disconnected, or the voice-mail box was full. We were having problems, but I didn’t think he would just up and leave like that, not without trying to make it work. Chicken shit. He never did have the spurs to do the right thing.
After that, every morning I laid bright eggs — yellow, orange, white. They didn’t get much money at the market, just enough to get by, but it was an uphill struggle all the same. Some of the mammals liked the bright shells; the yolk inside, they said, kept them up, kept them alert. But that wasn’t a way to be all the time, and too much of that stuff made you jumpy, or angry, or worse. There wasn’t much room on the market for that kind of mood, not with people on pins and needles to begin with.
Maybe that was why there were so few people at the beach. The news was full of sea reports, and that made people nervous. Helicopters caught sight of vast, dark shapes moving from the open ocean into shallow waters, and most people hadn’t taken that as a very good sign. We hadn’t heard from the whales for years. Not since the treaty. They kept the water, maybe some of the coast, but we got the land and sky. That had been the deal. It was a good deal, and it had held for thirty years.
There really was no reason to break it now. We hadn’t done anything, and as far as we knew neither had they. So that was that. No stress, no worries. Just the hush of the ocean, the slow of my heartbeat, the image of that blissful feeling I’ll have when I stand up from my nest and look down to see the most beautiful blue egg I’ve ever seen.
I smiled, and closed my eyes. I felt the weight of my egg dislodge inside of me. I took a deep breath, in time with the ocean, and I imagined that the whole world breathed with me. It was time.
It passed without trouble, without pain. It couldn’t have been smoother. Some days, it feels like it’s fighting you, that weight, like it wants to rip out as much of you as it can before it goes. Not this. It was easy, as smooth and round as a gizzard stone. I had a good feeling about this.
The ocean seemed to roar its approval. I exhaled, and opened my eyes just as the first scream reached me. I looked down the line of sisters and saw them transfixed on the shore, eyes rimmed white with horror, feathers puffed so that they lost the shape of their bodies.
Just like that my heart leapt in my throat. I followed their gaze to see the waves rushing onto land in weird shapes and shadows moving within them. The tops of them bulged instead of cresting, and then broke to reveal vast domes of blue, black, grey skin gleaming in the sun. The domes kept rising and rising, until they became the immense, impossible bodies of whales.
Their fins left the water slowly, like they were breaching. I had heard stories about them doing that, coming up for air and slamming back down into the water. But they weren’t going down; they just kept rising, higher and higher into the air. Their shadows fell over the beach, and everyone panicked.
I couldn’t feel my wings any more. I was frozen to the spot until another bird buffeted me with her wings, shrieking at me to run. I blinked, and I rose, and I reached down for my egg. Some closed part of me was flapping inside a cage, cawing and cawing, but it felt distant. Then I saw my egg, and that cage door opened.
The egg was black. Shiny, like the skin of the whales trumpeting overhead. As dark as death, as a void, reflecting my own horror back at me.