“One day my daughter asks me about chicken and eggs. She wants to know how a chicken does that. I begin to tell her about chickens, that for them it’s as easy as blowing soap bubbles, but just then Mrs. Dexter comes through the front door, carrying two sacks of groceries. “What luck!” I say. All my theories of education include use of audiovisual aids.
Mrs. Dexter sets the groceries on the counter and heads back out to the car for more. I take an egg out of the refrigerator and when she comes back in I begin to follow her around the house.
As I close the distance, she begins to walk faster. “What are you trying to do now?” she says. She pulls a chair out behind her into my path, and begins to run for the bathroom. I am closer, though, and cut her off.
She turns and runs for the bedroom, beginning to squawk now. “Notice the panic,” I tell my daughter. “That is why chickens are called chickens.”
She gets to the door and turns around in time to see what I am carrying. Suddenly she becomes very serious and confrontational. “Peter,” she says, “put that egg back in the refrigerator. We don’t play with eggs in the house.” She says that like it’s store policy, like there is a sign over the door that says WE DON’T PLAY WITH EGGS IN THIS HOUSE.
As soon as she says it, though, Mrs. Dexter sees that she made a mistake. She sees a man with no respect for law and order. She tries to run, but I’m too close now. I grab her around the waist and lift her a few inches off the ground, and carry her back into the middle of the living room. She is kicking and biting and flapping her arms.
“The most important thing about getting chickens to lay eggs,” I tell my daughter, “is to keep them calm. So what you should do is rub her on the beak and tell her we’re all part of the same team.”
“This is sick beyond words,” Mrs. Dexter says, and so—gently, to keep her calm–I put her back down on the floor, pull out the waist of her jeans in back, and drop the egg into her pants.
“What we’ve got now,” I explain to my daughter, “is a loaded chicken. And what we’ve got to do is keep her from getting away and hiding her egg. She’ll try to lay it where no one can find it, and we want her to lay it here, so we can eat it.”
My daughter says she doesn’t want to eat any egg that’s been where that one’s been. And she no sooner says that than Mrs. Dexter runs off towards the bathroom, reaching behind her into her pants.
She steps into the bathtub and turns around, out of breath, her arms still in back trying to get the egg out. “Look at those eyes,” I tell my daughter. “She’s protecting her young now, and you don’t ever want to get careless around a mother hen.”
For half a second after I say that, Mrs. Dexter relaxes, and in that half-second I make my move and grab her again. She begins pulling my hair out with her teeth. Gently, to keep her calm, I carry her out of the bathtub and put her down on the floor.
Then I give her a little pat on the back and say, “Easy now.”
And then my daughter gives her a little pat, a little lower, and says, “Easy now,” too. And in that moment, Mrs, Dexter quits biting my hair and jerks away. She loses her balance and sits down on the closed toilet seat with a sound that I fear will haunt the marriage for a long time.
She stands up slowly, all the panic gone from her face. I pull back the waist of her jeans in back and look down there. It’s hard to believe one egg could cause that kind of mess. My daughter looks down there too, and begins a hysterical kind of laughing that will leave her with the hiccups the rest of the day.
Mrs. Dexter’s face seems to settle on a look somewhere between controlled anger and profound regret, although what the woman could have to regret is beyond me.
“Get out of here,” she says—not the voice you get when you call Eastern Airlines, but not unfriendly either, just sort of cool—and after my daughter and I leave the bathroom, she opens the door once and tosses out her jeans, and again to toss out her undershorts.
She takes a shower, wraps herself in a towel, and comes out of the bathroom. I look at her face and think all is forgotten. It might be forgotten, too, except she looks down and sees one of the dogs licking the egg off her underwear.
She sees that and turns crazy. And when I tell her, “Hey, it’s supposed to give him a shiny coat,” she turns even crazier. And I think for a moment she’s going Lizzy Borden on me. She doesn’t, but the damage is done. This is, after all, my kid’s role model. I mean, I understand that women have their moods, but right there in front of the child? Whatever happened to old-fashioned dignity, anyway?”
—Pete Dexter, Paper Trails