The Egg was Definitely First (At Least for Me)

Charming, isn’t he?

My very first character was a sentient egg with a bad attitude.

Eggbert slouched his way into my notepad when I was eleven. I was already a few years into an obsession with birds, and had just learned that incubation of eggs and impression with baby chicks was a real deal.  For years I had dreamed of having a bird of my own, so the thought of hatching one and having it immediately love me was like a fairy tale. It was pretty much all I thought about, and I spent my time memorizing migratory paths and calls of native species by flipping through Audubon field books and staking out my back yard bird feeder. When my stepfather facetiously told me one could catch a bird by salting its tail, I got out the salt shaker and ran outside. When he admitted the ruse a few days later, I felt less shame than you might think upon realizing I had been duped. I brushed it off and put the salt away before I headed out again. I didn’t have time to be clever–I was too busy being completely nutzoids over birds.

As my mother and I waited in the the doctor’s office one day, I started to think of stories I could tell my sister when she came back from her check up. I had been telling her stories when she wasn’t well for some time by that point–I’m not sure when that started–but the characters had always been vague and nameless. This was true even for the stories I wrote at school. The cat, the mouse, the girl, the dad, the red wagon that housed some guardian spirit (yeah, I don’t know either–found that little gem in a stack of extremely dated school papers). Sometimes I spiced it up and told my sister stories about her and I that hadn’t happened yet, but that was about as sophisticated as the character development got.

For the purposes of the day, I started on a story about a bird.

I was watching the other kids play with the toys provided by the doctor’s office. I was a little jealous, but at the same time guarded by my grandmother’s claim long before that whatever we might be in the clinic for, playing with the same toys as other sick kids would unquestionably give me something worse. I imagined boogers and spit and sneezey germy bits crawling all over the big plastic Legos and found myself less and less willing to risk it.

So instead I sat down with the notebook I carried everywhere and I drew an egg. It was meant to be the rounded head of a bird, but the first circle I drew sucked, so it became an egg. Feeling bold since my plan had already gone awry, I stuck legs and arms on it, and then a face. On another wild impulse (I wasn’t by nature a very adventurous child), I made the face sour. I was a cheery enough kid, and I had always drawn cheery enough faces, so this was moving into uncharted territory for me. For a final touch the thicken the plot, I added a small crack down the side of his shell, then covered it with a band-aid.

For the first time I wondered what to name a character. This disreputable, improbable-looking eggman would probably want one, I realized. Feeling that my creativity was nearly tapped out, I settled on the first thing that came to mind, and Eggbert has stuck ever since.

*

The official story evolved a short while later.

Eggbert the egg achieves awareness upon being deposited into an unfamiliar nest by his cowbird mother. Larger than the frail and pale (and non-sentient) resident eggs, Eggbert quickly develops a deepening disdain for his foster-egg siblings. One day the pale eggs begin to peep and cheep, rustling the nest as they prepare to hatch. Eggbert, enraged at having his beauty rest interrupted, proceeds to matter-of-factly roll his rivals out of the nest. He looks over the edge, smugly anticipating the crack and smash below, only to see the shells break midair as his foster siblings emerge, fully-fledged, and sail away unharmed. He shakes his fist at them in jealous frustration as they wing away, and one returns briefly to drop a small but vengeful poo in the nest before leaving for good.

Eggbert fumes and grouches all across the nest until he hears a sharp snap. He looks around, thinking he may have missed a pale egg, but finds himself completely alone. There is an even louder crack. Eggbert’s night of belligerent sourpuss-ery is interrupted when he looks to his side and finds to his chagrin that his shell has split. But he is comfortable as an egg, and has no interest in hatching as his reviled siblings had. He cinches the cracked shell up with bandages and returns to the business of being as dour and unpleasant as possible.

After a long battle, nature refuses to be delayed further and Eggbert’s split shell widens until a sweet little brown cowbird pops out. But the change is not a metamorphosis so much as a fragmentation: Eggbert has not evolved into an Eggbird. Instead, stubbornly clinging to his shelled identity, the now-empty Eggbert refuses to give up the ghost to his newly emerged counterpart, whom I’ve come to call Birdbert.

Thusly unburdened, Eggbert pulls himself together, Humpty Dumpty style, and sets about bandaging himself again. The two are inherently connected but fundamentally at odds, and a complicated relationship forms between the ornery Eggbert and his other self.

*

It wasn’t my first story ever, but it might have been my first story to get heavy in a hurry. My sister loved it (as well as the poorly drawn comic accompaniment that I still have stashed somewhere), but I never was able to sew up the ending. All I saw was a stalemate between the two personalities of Eggbert and Birdbert, a potentially endless stream of episodes pitting the cheery antics of Birdbert against the crotchety bile of Eggbert. In my head, it’s still just one more ’90s sitcom that persisted until it eventually hit the age of too-old-to-die.

That’s not to say Eggbert isn’t very dear to me. In fact if I ever get around to a webcomic, the ‘Berts may even be the feature pair.

That’s assuming I can make Eggbert a little more appropriate for general consumption.

Failed attempted fratricide is perhaps a little too…metal.

An Eastern Phoebe nest with one Brown-Headed Cowbird egg

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