I promise I'll post part II of my recent spicy quantum computing take soon, but in the meantime, I wanted to share a small bit of surreal flash fiction that I wrote recently. Thanks for reading, and I'll see you (approximately) next week!
I kind of just stared at it for a while. It was sitting there on the plate, right next to the bacon, the hashbrowns, the toast, the coffee, and the orange juice, just like it always did. I used to take it for granted that that's what you did with an egg: stare at it, sitting on the plate in its shell. Day after day, I would stop in at the café on my way to work, order the breakfast plate, and look at the egg as I carefully ate around it, not wanting to disturb it as it sat there, fragile but still unbroken. Day after day, I finished my meal and carefully slid the plate back towards the edge of the booth, put some cash down on the white hand-written bill, and left before any other customers arrived.
Except one day, that wasn't how it went at all.
I looked down at my watch; the flashing display read 8:53am, reminding me that I was currently missing my morning status meeting. I hadn't intended to be late, but once I saw far the detour took me out of my way, I made sure to text in and offer my apologies. Not that I got a response, of course, but I hoped it was enough to at least buy some time to eat. There's a few routines that you can't really mess with, after all.
The egg just sat there on my plate as always, oblivious to how late it was, and to the din that had picked up in the café. I was far from the only customer for a change, and the whole space seemed to fill with life, accompanied by the bustle and noise that followed life wherever it went. Tentatively, I scooped my fork into the hash, but it didn't taste the same, the simple flavors of oil, starch, and salt mixing in my senses with the heavy aroma of coffee and stale air. It even looked different --- the golden brown shreds on the tarnished fork caught not only the warm yellow fluorescent light overhead, but also the sunlight that peeked in through the layers of adhesive caked on the window, a palimpsest of the different advertisements that had hung there over the past half-century. Less brown, more golden and vibrant, reflecting the fervor around it.
I chewed as best as I could, choking down just how overwhelmed I was. Stolen snippets of conversation intruded into my mind, threatening to pilfer my own thoughts as well. The potatoes were just a touch shy of burnt, as always, but their soft crunch became sharp and unsettling as I ate, even the texture of my breakfast turning against me.
Frustrated, I paused, looking up at the other diners and wishing they would stop with their noise, their smell, their movement --- all taking up more and more space in my brain. This was, or at least was supposed to be, the one moment in my day when I could just be, not have to process so many different senses to simply exist.
The egg just sat there, as always, still oblivious.
In the booth across from me, there was a man in a gray suit, a bit badly fitting and poorly pressed. What social obligation was he performing with such perfunctory and superficial compliance? The egg on my plate didn't know, or if it did, its uniform white shell betrayed no sign of comprehension, any more than its matte texture seemed aware of the sunlight. Everything else on my plate had changed, but the egg --- my egg --- just sat there.
The man in the suit brought a fork to his mouth, covered in something brilliant and yellow, but what? Not hash, not any selection from a fruit cup, not any part of a pie that I could recognize. I thought through the whole contents of the menu, recalling the contents of each different dish. Every day I looked at each option before deciding, as always, on my one-egg breakfast. There was nothing for it, though, no other options on the menu. I looked over to confirm, hoping I wasn't too obvious as I noted the bacon, hash browns, and toast on his plate. No doubt about it, process of elimination told me that had to be his egg. Not white, but yellow. Not solid, but oozing down his fork. Not matte, but almost glimmering.
Was was his egg so different than mine? My egg sat there, not offering any answers at all. (Rude.) I picked my egg up, ignoring the bacon to inspect every point on its surface, studying the way it refused to even acknowledge the sunlight that danced across every other thing I could see.
I was deep in my reverie when the waitress came by to refill my coffee. The dark liquid, almost a thin tar in its viscosity, flowed into my mug on its own schedule, lapping slightly at the edges as it settled into the ceramic. The sound startled me, giving the egg --- *my *egg --- an opportunity to escape. It dropped onto my plate with a soft click, a crack spreading across its surface.
This had never happened before. Eggs weren't supposed to break. But there it was, caring more for what my hard and yellowed plate had to say about matters than for my own need to have something, anything, stay the same.
As I watched, the crack spread further. Something shiny eked its way out of the shell, dripping onto the plate. I bent down to look, and saw
My childhood room, my furniture, my toys, my young body sitting on my carpet, reading one of my books. No, not a book that I knew of, but something different. As a child, I'd been obsessed with what I would eventually understand to be civil engineering, always asking questions about who made roads, who drew the shape of those roads across the landscape, who strung bridges across chasms. The cover of this book was different, full of little blue balls flying about other balls, stylized atoms and molecules. I blinked, and the book was full of animals, then plants, then swords and suits of armor, then ancient columns holding up ancient roofs. I blinked again and saw
My office, my desk, my papers, my computer. Just like the book that wasn't my book, I saw oozing out of the egg a different office, with a typewriter, with a shelf full of brown and green hardcover books, with a dizzying array of green and black circuit boards. I saw
The city skyline from my balcony. Paris, Sydney, Tokyo, and Cairo all spread across my plate as I watched my egg spill its contents over glistening Mediterranean sand, over fields amber and verdant. I saw
My closet, full of clothes not my own. T-shirts that were just "t-shirts," and not "fitted." Practical but uninspiring shoes. A dozen copies of the same slacks. High-visibility vests. Tuxedos. Leather straps. Logo-emblazoned polos. A flapper dress. I saw
My world, but not my world. What my world could have been, what it could still be. The possibilities I had left sitting inside each and every intact egg, day after day. The worlds I had sent back to the kitchen each morning. The lives I had been afraid to let out, to reflect the sunlight, to mix with the smell of coffee, sweat, and hope, to abandon its own shape in favor of the plate or the toast or the hash.
I took a bite.