Bonnie heard the front door of the farmhouse slam shut, the murmur of voices, a pause, then Frank’s heavy tread on the stairs. She knew she should get up and wash her face, but she couldn’t move. Another sob shook her and she curled into a tighter ball on the bed.
“Bonnie?” Frank appeared in the doorway. “Everything OK?”
He took one look at her, curled on the bed, sobbing, and rushed to her side.
“Bonnie! What is it? You didn’t…? Is it the baby?”
Bonnie buried her face in the pillows and shook her head. One hand crept to her still-flat belly.
“Then what’re you doing, carrying on like this?”
Bonnie shook her head again, but began to pull herself upright. She gulped down two steadying breaths. Still, her voice wavered when she spoke.
“Maggie’s…Maggie’s eggs,” she began.
“Yeah,” Frank smiled, glad to talk about something he understood. “She showed me. Three rooster, huh? She’ll have to trade them.”
Maggie, their eldest at 5, was raising chicks for her first year in 4H. She and Babs, the toddler, had been waiting at the window all afternoon for daddy to come home, so they could tell him the eggs had hatched, nearly all of them.
“She was pretty excited,” Frank said. His eyes never left Bonnie’s face.
Bonnie, crying, was something he didn’t have words to deal with. In six years of married life there had been nothing to hint that it was possible for Bonnie to cry. Even in the darkest days, after the last baby, Bonnie had stayed strong. Stronger than him, truth be told. There were crops coming in now that he was astonished to reflect had been watered by his own tears for the tiny transparent creature he had buried behind the barn, protected– God knows why– by a big flat stone he had dug out of the fallow field.
Bonnie was sitting now, wiping her face with her ever-present handkerchief. She sat, poker-straight, and stared at her shoes, not at her husband.
“It’s so stupid,” she said. “I’m Secretary of the 4H Club, for crying out loud. I been raising and slaughtering animals since I was Maggie’s age!”
She shook her head again.
Frank opened his mouth to speak and then, unaccountably, closed it again. He waited. Bonnie stood up and moved to the mirror. She picked up her large, silver-backed hairbrush and began to smooth out the curls that had sprung up on her head while she lay on the bed; a lifelong battle. Her eyes in the reflection met Frank’s gaze for just a moment and then flicked back to her hair.
“It was the darned fourth egg,” she said. “It was peeping all morning and its big brothers all gathered around, poking at it and watching it the way they do.”
Bonnie set her brush down on the oak dresser.
“It was weak, but it punched through, all the way around in a circle. We were waiting for it to burst through.” She turned sharply towards the bed again, still not looking at Frank.
“And it just gave up.”
Bonnie started fluffing pillows as she talked, tugging blankets straight, shooing Frank off the bed with a one-two flap of the hand.
“It just stopped!” Tug.
“And it never came out!” Tuck.
“It just quit on us!” Punch.
Bonnie stroked the neatened blankets one more time.
“It caught me sideways,” she said, risking a quick glance at Frank.
“It don’t mean nothing,” he said from across the high, wooden bed.
“I know it,” she said.
“It don’t mean a goddamn thing!”
“I know it,” she repeated, softer now.
“I’ll get rid of it,” Frank said. He turned and left their room.
Bonnie’s hand touched her belly for a moment before she snatched it away.
From the window at the top of the stairs she saw Frank, something cradled in his strong, farmer’s hands, stride across the yard and turn the corner to the space behind the big barn.