by John Van Rys
Evan Mulder’s eggs were piling up. The small fridge on the porch was crammed with cartons stacked in a precise grid of rows and columns, like one of his spreadsheets. The kitchen fridge was stuffed with the overflow, to the annoyance of his wife Mae. And bowls of eggs were arranged around the family room (somewhat decoratively, Evan suggested to Mae) waiting to be cleaned and deposited in cartons. That is, if he could find cartons somewhere. He felt desperate enough to order some next-day delivery, though his Dutch cheapness balked at the idea. But desperate times called for bold and decisive action. Then he would remember that he was neither bold nor decisive, and put off the order for another day.
“I’ve got eggs coming out of my ears,” he’d say periodically to Mae as they bumped into each other wandering around the house. It had become their pandemic bunker—an isolation chamber also occupied by their sons Max and Arthur, who’d bugged out from college when it closed down a couple weeks earlier and had since retreated to their rooms.
“That explains why you never hear me,” Mae would reply. “You’ve got egg yolks clogging up your ear canals.”
This particular morning early in April, April fool’s day, Evan sat facing his laptop in his home office. COVID-19—a microscopic, single-celled creature—had banished him from Wheel and Barrow Chartered Accountants. Like so many others, he now spent his days holed up working from home—his computer screen the rectangle to which his world had shrunk, and contact with the outside world constrained to Zoom rooms with colleagues and clients who themselves were jailed in tiny cells. The world was no longer spherical; it had grown the hard edges and pointed corners of quadrangles, the flatness of two dimensions. He wanted back the whole globular world, though what he really longed for was the world to be ovoid, the universe a giant egg. Instead, a novel coronavirus was putting a serious crack in his cosmology. He was already sick of such novelty.
He turned away from his screen, as he often did now, to look out his upstairs window at the bare, early-spring fields to the west of his and Mae’s hobby farm; he could also see the side road that led to London, the city from which he was now barred.
The day before, he’d made a trip to the grocery store in nearby Windermere. There, he’d witnessed the lunacy the pandemic was creating—its own kind of virus. As he followed the floor arrows and kept his cart between himself and the other shoppers permitted in the store, he passed shelf after barren shelf—flour gone, frozen pizza no more, paper towel AWOL, Lysol bye-bye, toilet paper rolling out the door and down a hundred roads headed for a thousand cupboards or TP holders or specially built, end-times storage sheds. It was as if an army with the trots had moved through in the night on the way to the front, afraid that when they’d meet the four horsemen of the apocalypse, they’d poo their pants. This damn virus had a lot to answer for— panic buying and hoarding, never mind illness and death. And what could people possibly do with all that toilet paper? You can have only so many bowel movements in a lifetime. Perhaps they wished to TP the universe, letting it know their frustration at its lockdown of their lives; you can shake your fist at the heavens for only so long before your arm gets tired.
When Evan got to the egg cooler in the store, it too was bare. Normally, he’d walk right by with a brief glance, assuring himself of his omega eggs’ superiority to store-bought eggs, almost self-righteous, forgetting of course that he didn’t lay the eggs himself. Instead, he stood in front of the cartonless shelves, contemplating what this might mean. Had eggs become an overnight food craze—the latest avocado or cupcake—with stores cleaned out by ferocious foodies? Maybe factory-farm chickens had gone on strike, protesting poor laying conditions. With Easter less than two weeks away, perhaps the newly jobless and homebound were in a frenzy of egg decorating, aiming to fill their time and give it meaning, which seemed scarce right now. He speculated that, deep down, people were tempted to egg the face of God, if it could be found. On the way home he stopped to consider the stained-glass window in one of Windermere’s churches, Christ the Great Healer tending to the lame and the blind. Was anyone, he wondered, perturbed enough at the absence of a coronavirus cure to egg that face? He wasn’t sure what to make of that stained-glass gaze, of the man whose execution and resurrection a closed-down church would somehow remember in the coming days. Let’s face it, he thought, the man’s been a mystery to me since I was a kid. With that, he pulled away.
He turned back to his laptop now, away from the bare scene outside his home-office window. He had to do something about all those eggs piling up. Prepandemic, he brought eggs to work. He thought of his colleagues as his egg clients, himself a broker mediating between them and the hens. Now, he’d have to lure his colleagues into the country but somehow keep them safely outside his family bubble. He opened his email and clicked “Compose.”
Dear Egg-cellent Colleagues,
I hope you’re well in body and spirit, enduring this egg-streme social isolation!
With the state of emergency and the shutdown at work, I can’t bring eggs to you. But my hens are still happily laying eggs at the rate of almost two dozen a day. It’s as if they don’t know the sky is falling. Now that it’s above freezing most days, I’ve put a small fridge on my porch. I’ll also be putting a sign at the road.
If you’re feeling cooped up, you’re welcome to stop by and pick up some eggs. We live at 7654 Clovermead Road (west of Windermere). You’ll see a yellow sandstone-brick farmhouse set back from the road with a green barn behind it and four muddy horses somewhere in the paddock or in the pasture to the east of the house. The chickens will likely be strutting their stuff beside the barn in their outdoor run. We’re about 35-40 minutes from Wheel and Barrow, egg-sactly 50 kilometres. (We’re also 15 minutes from Lake Erie, if you want to go see if the lake’s still there.)
Be careful as you come up the laneway to the house, as you and your vehicle may fall into a winter pothole. Don’t worry, though, I may be able to pull you out with my riding mower, which has extremely high HP (Hen Power).
The eggs will be in the porch fridge. A jar will be sitting on top for your payment, or you may pay by e-transfer if you prefer. (Either way, I appreciate your contribution to my nest egg.) I will be keeping the fridge clean throughout the day, and will provide hand sanitizer if I can find some. We will also observe physical-distancing guidelines (2 metres or approximately 30 eggs).
If you do plan to make the drive, please text or call me at 519-EGG-YOLK just to make sure I have eggs available. I wouldn’t want you to get egg-sasperated driving all the way out to the sticks just to find the fridge empty.
Evan, aka No Spring Chicken
He sat back from his laptop and read the email, tinkering with a word here and a word there. Partway through a second read, he was seized by a jolt of doubt. He suddenly felt self-conscious about what he’d written, foolish and exposed, almost disgusted with himself. As his face reddened and grew hot, he thought, why am I trying to tickle my colleagues’ funny bones? Am I just trying to be clever, with an excess of silly puns? Dear God, I can’t seem to help myself.
He stared at his screen until the words blurred. Maybe it was just his message in a bottle, cast upon the waters of the Internet.
The world seemed on the edge of something. A precipice? A sea change? Too soon to tell. The night before, he and Mae had checked in with their oldest son Alex, living in Georgia. He’d described the situation in the States as a dumpster fire, fueled by polarization and conspiracy theories—a viral pandemic fed by an epidemic of ignorance. Evan hoped the fire wouldn’t spread north. At least Lake Erie might prove a good firebreak.
What could a single silly email achieve in the face of all that, he wondered. His self-consciousness about what he’d written was beginning to balloon into panic. Before it could burst, he clicked “send.” He shut his laptop firmly, backed away from his desk, and left his office. Downstairs, he put on his barn coat against the cold, and his barn boots against the mud. He grabbed his egg sign and a sledge hammer from the mudroom, then carried them down the long laneway to the road, sidestepping potholes along the way. He thought, the willows and maples and evergreens are still here on the lawn. The usual fields and the leafless woods are there in the distance, the cloudy sky above, none of it falling just yet. At the road, he pounded the sign—“Free-Run Eggs. Alpha-and-Omega Fortified. $5 per dozen”—into the slant of the ditch just off the shoulder, near the mailbox. He studied its message, then looked up and down the road for signs of an invasion. Seeing none, he turned back towards the house.
Halfway there, he heard the crunch of gravel behind him and the roar of an engine. He turned to find a minivan bearing down on him, bouncing through the potholes, a woman at the wheel, her eyes and little else visible, her look possessed. He jumped aside as she honked and swerved onto the lawn, the van spitting up gravel.
Though his heart had calmed down by the time he got up to the house, he was still annoyed. He was considering how to chew out the driver when he was stopped short by what he saw. The woman was walking down the porch steps, trying to balance eight dozen eggs held under her chin. She couldn’t have been much more than four feet tall.
“I am so sorry,” she said as she walked back to her van. “So very sorry. I just got so excited when I saw your sign that I kind of lost it. I mean, I’ve been looking for eggs everywhere! I hope I didn’t scare you to death.” She plowed ahead before he could answer. “I was desperate for these, believe me. I’ve got three teenage boys, all of them hockey players. It’s like feeding an army. Wait till the others hear about this.”
“Yeah, I’m part of a Facebook group sharing intel about local groceries. You know, which stores just got in a shipment of toilet paper or hand sanitizer or flour. How long the Costco line is any second of the day. Where to get starter for sourdough bread. And, of course, eggs.
Can’t cook or bake without eggs. In fact, you can’t live without eggs. At least this lady can’t. Can live without a man, believe me, but not these little beauties!” She laughed, the pile teetering dangerously as her chest shook. “We call ourselves The Bounty Hunters because we’re always on the lookout for paper towels. Get it?” She laughed some more, and he had a vision of eight dozen eggs crashing to the ground, a scrambled mess that might take a whole roll of paper towel to clean up. He rushed over and opened her van’s sliding door, then stood back as she juggled the cartons onto the seat.
When done, she climbed into her van and started it up. Before leaving, she opened her window and said, “Thanks so much. I’ll be back!”
“Be careful of the potholes,” he said. “I wouldn’t want your eggs to break right after you found them.”
“I think I’d crack up if that happened!” She laughed again, then rolled slowly down the laneway, navigating carefully. At the road, she stopped, got out, and took photos of his sign and the house. Then she climbed back in and turned left towards Windermere.
Evan watched as her van quickly accelerated to a speed well above the limit. The Bounty
Hunters? A Facebook group? He didn’t like the sound of that, his eggs being advertised on Zuckerberg’s cash cow. He might end up with an invoice in his inbox, Zuckerberg demanding his cut.
He went into the house and washed his hands, then found eight dozen eggs in the kitchen fridge and put them in the porch fridge. After cleaning it, he searched the mudroom for some old egg flats he remembered storing in there. He was out of dozen cartons, but he could at least get the remaining eggs cleaned up and put in the kitchen fridge, now that he’d made some room. He spent the next half hour brushing away sand and washing off bits of dirt and blood. Then he went out to the coop to collect the eggs the hens had laid that day, and cleaned those as well. He felt satisfied when he was all caught up, as though he’d had a productive day getting life back under control. Never mind that he’d gotten virtually no work done up in his home office. He was trying to motivate himself to climb the stairs to his tower prison cell when the dogs started barking. This in itself wasn’t unusual, especially when they were in their outdoor kennel, like now. They often barked at the horses if they were in the paddock or at barn cats on the prowl. But this barking was insistent, and they were keeping it up—a sign someone was coming up the laneway.
He went out to the porch and was dumbstruck by what he saw. A flotilla of vehicles was sailing up the laneway and finding harbour by the house, parking wherever they could find mooring, including on the lawn, the ground dangerously soft. He saw SUVs and minivans, an Austin Mini and a Chevy Volt, a couple on a Spyder trike, and an old man on a bicycle with a basket carrier in front and a rainbow flag flying from his rear wheel. Occupants leapt from their vehicles; riders dismounted. Was this a mob or a party, maybe a delegation from the UN? Evan wasn’t sure, but they had the feel of a coronavirus gang. They began rushing to the porch, greeting each other and him. He backed into the corner and yelled, “Physical distancing, please! For God’s sake and mine, keep your distance!”
As one, they paused. The elderly bicyclist asked, “Where are your arrows and two-metre markings? If you’re in business, you need those.”
“But this isn’t a business. It’s just my hobby.”
“Doesn’t matter, does it? Customer safety is Job One.”
“I’d say common sense is Job One, and rushing my porch shows a serious lack of it.”
“Point taken. But we’re talking eggs here. That’s enough to make anyone lose it.” The bicyclist looked around and said, “Bounty Hunters, the man’s right. Let’s act civilized.”
So it was a coronavirus gang, Evan thought. The hockey mom’s photos must have gone viral, at least in Windermere.
“On the right,” the bicyclist continued, “let’s set up a line to the porch. Everyone, two metres apart. When you’ve got your eggs, move down on the left. One person on the porch at a time.” He turned to Evan. “Have you got enough for all of us?”
He looked at the crowd and did a quick calculation. “I might have enough for two dozen each, but some of them are inside, and they’re not in cartons. They’re on flats.”
“We’ll take what we can get,” the bicyclist replied. With that, the parade to the fridge began. Those waiting their turn chatted and laughed, while The Bounty Hunters descending the porch steps gave a holler of victory as they strutted back to their vehicles with their loot of twenty-four golden yolks, exchanged for bills and coins stuffed into the jar on the fridge. There they waited for the others, since the laneway was blocked.
When the outside fridge was empty, Evan retrieved all the eggs from the kitchen, piled them on top of the porch fridge, and stood back in the corner. The parade continued until the bicyclist claimed the last two dozen.
As he carried them off the porch, an ancient station wagon with fake-wood side panels rolled up the laneway to the back of the line. An elderly couple in matching neon-green track pants and puffy purple spring jackets climbed slowly from the car. They leaned on each other as they made their way to the house.
“Are we too late for eggs? Don’t tell me we’re too late!” The man’s quavering voice sounded forlorn.
“I’m so sorry, but I just sold out,” Evan replied.
The bicyclist had at that moment deposited his eggs in his basket carrier. He looked down at his flat, then up at Evan. Such a mournful look. Picking them back up, he began carrying them to the couple. “Take mine,” he urged them.
The couple were beginning to protest when the other Bounty Hunters leapt from their vehicles carrying their own eggs. They urged the bicyclist to keep his and offered theirs to the eggless couple. The Hunters seemed about to swarm them in their eagerness to outdo each other in charity.
Once again Evan had to yell. “Physical distancing, please! Two metres apart, everyone.” They paused and spread out as if they’d been repelled by a magnetic field. “If you each share a couple of your eggs, then no one will have to go without. Let me get an empty flat for them.” A murmur of agreement spread through the crowd, and the bicyclist smiled with relief, looking down at his eggs.
“That would be so wonderful!” the elderly woman said, releasing her husband’s arm and clasping her hands together. “Simply wonderful.” Both she and her husband seemed to be tearing up, but Evan considered that it might simply be the cold April 1st wind, the start of what might be a cruel month and a hard spring.
When he emerged from the house with the empty flat, he placed it on the porch fridge. The Bounty Hunters lined up again and each deposited an egg or two on the flat until it was full, even to overflowing. Not quite the miracle of the loaves and fishes, he thought, but close enough for this little crisis. He began carrying the couple’s eggs to their car as the lady counted change into the money jar.
“No need for that,” the man said. “We can manage!”
“It’s no trouble,” Evan replied, and kept walking. The couple seemed agitated, but he put it down to their reluctance to accept help. As he approached the station wagon, a chorus of growling and barking broke out, and three ugly pugs began lunging at the side window. Though the dogs were safely leashed to seatbelts, he brought the eggs around to the back door instead. When he pulled it open, he was startled to see the space packed with toilet paper and paper towel, boxes of hand sanitizer and Lysol—and six dozen eggs. He paused, feeling his face redden with confusion and embarrassment. He looked up at the couple as they approached the car, and met their eyes.
“Got a lot of mouths to feed,” the man said, clearing his throat and looking away. The pugs continued their snuffling and growling and barking.
“We’ve got to stock up while we still can,” the woman added quietly. “Before it’s too late. You understand, don’t you?”
Evan smiled weakly and put the flat of eggs on top of the six dozen so the cartons weren’t visible anymore. He replied, “Can’t say I do understand—much of anything.” He hesitated a moment, then grabbed a bottle of hand sanitizer. As he quietly closed the door, the couple studied the bottle. “I do get this, though.” He walked back to the porch, the pugs lunging at the window as he passed. There, he placed the hand sanitizer on top of the fridge, pumped a large dollop onto his left palm, and worked it into both hands until the cold shock of it turned warm.
As he finished, The Bounty Hunters began maneuvering their vehicles this way and that like bumper cars. He waved to them with his sanitized hands as they retreated to the road, turning left or right, homeward bound or bent on finding more booty. Good riddance, he thought, looking at the muddy parking lot they’d made of the lawn and thinking of those six dozen eggs in the station wagon.
He picked up the money jar on his way into the house. There, he studied the container, filled with filthy lucre. He’d been slightly horrified watching people stuffing in bills and pulling out others, making change. He could only imagine the stew of bacteria and viruses contained inside but also shared among those Hunters. Had his money jar become ground zero for an outbreak, or worse yet, a Trojan horse breaching the gates to his home? How could he possibly get all this cash clean? He considered the dishwasher, with its sanitize setting, or the microwave, zapping all the villainous viruses on the bills. Maybe what he was looking at was nothing but fool’s gold, in the end. He went back out and vigorously cleaned the empty fridge, then washed his hands thoroughly, singing his ABCs twice through.
The whole time, Mae had been reading in the living room, absorbed in The Hunger Games. Her usual novels were cozy mysteries and period romances, but the pandemic had prompted a switch, at least temporarily she said, to dystopian fiction. She wanted to know what they were up against. As he stood in the doorway drying his sanitized hands, he stared at the cover and asked, “Found any survival tips yet?”
Without raising her eyes, she replied, “No, but I’ve found some recipes for disaster.”
After a moment, she added, “What was all the commotion about?”
“Just some egg customers. Part of a Facebook group called The Bounty Hunters.”
“Some quicker picker uppers, then?”
“Definitely,” he said. “Well, I better get back to work. Time’s a-wasting.” As he climbed the stairs to his office, he reflected on how quickly those Hunters had cleaned out his eggs—their own hunger game, it seemed. Not to mention the piracy of the old couple, a minor mutiny.
He quietly closed the door, opened his laptop, and checked his inbox where he found several replies from colleagues to his earlier message. He started a new one.
“Too late! Too late! The egg fridge has been plundered. Every golden yolk carried off by some privateers called The Bounty Hunters.”
He was tempted to take down his egg sign at the road and post warnings instead.
“NO TRESPASSING!” or “BEWARE OF CARNIVOROUS CHICKENS!”
But no, these were times of trouble. Such signs would only make things worse. So he went to the website of the farm store in Windermere, and he researched how quickly he could get some ready-to-lay hens. Thinking of the pandemic-plagued months ahead, he checked too when he might get day-old chicks. They’d need about five months of growing before they were mature enough to lay golden yolks of their own. Evan then summoned up what little inner strength he had for bold and decisive action, and ordered three-hundred egg cartons for next-day delivery. When he’d finished, he began planning an expansion of his coop and the outdoor run—more square footage, more roosts, more nesting boxes.
There was no knowing how long the pandemic would last, nor what changes it would bring tomorrow, next week, or next year. But one thing was certain: the world needed eggs to get through it. Even the distant hope of a vaccine might depend on them. Supplying some of them was the right thing to do, right neighbourly, his part in the global battle against COVID-19. It seemed to give, in that moment, meaning to his hens’ existence, and his own.
Finished, he closed his laptop, pushed his chair away from the desk, and peered once more out the window. Was it a trick of the late afternoon light, or did the world actually look less bare? Still vulnerable, but on the brink of something, like a bud beginning to swell.
Once more he put on his barn coat and boots, and headed out to the coop. There, he made sure the hens were well fed and watered, poised to lay more little ovoid miracles the next day. Then he grabbed from the mudroom his “Temporarily Sold Out” sign, a couple of screws, and his screwdriver. He walked again down to the road, feeling the spring light fading into the evening, a chill rising as he danced around the craters in the laneway. At the road, he attached the sold-out message to the signpost, then looked once more up and down the empty county road—for what, he wasn’t sure—and returned to the house.
After he’d stowed his coat and boots in the mudroom, he put on the kettle for tea, then asked Mae if she’d like to share a pot.
“I’d love a cup,” she said.
He turned back to the kitchen, then paused. “By the way, what’s the plan for dinner
“Omelettes, since you’ve got eggs coming out of your ears.”
He felt the day take a decidedly dystopian turn, apocalyptic even. “I don’t suppose you’ve got a Plan B, do you?”
Mae lowered her novel to reveal a sour look of annoyance.
Before she could speak, he quickly added, “I think the kettle’s boiling,” and made a strategic retreat to the kitchen. There, he said a little prayer to the Great Healer, whose services he might need very soon—like right after the tea had steeped.