It is late in the evening and Carol-Ann has just got home. A shimmering little box is waiting for her in the porch. She opens it and takes out a golden egg, her brown eyes blinking. It casts tender light under her chin. She seems rather thoughtful, even misty-eyed as she holds the fragile egg in the palm of her hand. Her neat nails are painted red. There is a large Princess cut diamond on her finger.
Carol-Ann clips across the wood floor of the lounge and kicks her heels off on a plush rug, still looking at the golden egg. She sets it down on the coffee table, carefully resting it against a pile of glossy magazines to keep it from rolling. The covers of the magazines show pictures of smiling brides, champagne coupes and satin gloves with frizzed white feathers on the edges. She stares at the egg, then goes to the kitchen and returns with camomile tea.
She’d been up in London that day for a fitting of her wedding dress. The dress is an ivory silk one which she knows will emphasise her long black hair and fair skin. Gordon, her fiancé, is to wear a cravat of the same silk as the dress. He had smiled expansively when their wedding planner made the suggestion.
When Carol-Ann tries to read one of the magazines she keeps glancing at the egg, at its smooth golden shell. A few moments pass as she sips her tea and then gazes at the egg again. A little smile creeps over her lips. That must be it! Gordon has sent it her as a little whimsical surprise. After all, it was in the Golden Egg café where she first met him. She goes into the hall, picks up the receiver, and dials his hotel.
“Suite 5, please. It’s Mr Ellis’s fiancé, Miss James.”
The hotel receptionist apologises, “I’m sorry, Miss James, there’s no answer.”
Carol-Ann returns to the lounge and sits back down, picking up her teacup again. She is not staring at the egg now, instead she is thinking about how she met Gordon. He is a member of the Ellis family who own cafés and bars all along the south coast. After expensive schooling in America, he now works in the family business but inherited wealth has left him with plenty of leisure time to collect cars, cycle and box. Gordon is particularly accomplished in the ring, his wiry agility meaning that his handsome features have not suffered. Carole-Ann thinks of him, absently tapping a red fingernail on her lips, although I know that her mind is drifting.
I first knew Carol-Ann when she was a kitchen assistant, working mornings at the Golden Egg café. I had begun lodging at Watson’s farm and the Watsons offered me a job delivering eggs. The café was part of my patch and each Friday, I’d drive the van a good six miles across the countryside to get there. Like the rest of the town centre, the café was slightly shabby. It was rough rendered in off-white with ‘The Golden Egg’ written in yellow and red neon letters above the main window. Customers would be queuing for tables as I drove around the back. I could smell the toast and cooking well before I reached the kitchen door. There was usually a racket from the one-armed bandits in the arcade next door too, even early mornings. Carol-Ann was always busy as breakfast orders were shouted through to her. She normally had the payment ready for the eggs.
One particular Friday, I remember it exactly because Bob Dylan was playing on the transistor in the kitchen. I was standing listening to Hurricane and watching Carol-Ann cooking, when I made a comment about how much I liked Dylan.
“His new LP, Desire, you know…really cool.”
She stopped and looked round at me. I think that was the first time she looked at me properly. Her long hair was in a ponytail and she had on a red tee-shirt under her apron. I glanced at her chest.
After that, she began watching me from the kitchen window as I climbed back into the van. I’d pause to put the money away in the cashbox, aware she was looking at me. I’d waved to her as I drove away and then find myself smiling for a long while after.
The next couple of Fridays I stayed a bit longer. Carol-Ann would pour me a strong coffee. She was a good seven years older than me. Although I’m probably quite sophisticated for nineteen, I got nervous around her at times. I’d sip my coffee and ask silly questions like,
“How many eggs do you cook each week?”
I already knew the answer because I delivered the sodding things. She’d just giggle and wipe her brow with the back of her hand.
I could see her delicate tongue when she laughed.
Then one time, as I put down a tray of eggs next to her, she took my hands and gently stroked the blonde hairs on the backs of them with her thumbs. I felt my heart ticking in my throat. She remarked how strong my hands were for a man to be handling something so delicate.
“The eggs, I mean,” she said gazing directly at me, her eyes wide. That was the first time we kissed.
She didn’t agree to go out with me though. Instead, she just gave a crooked little smile when I asked. I started to think about the following Friday and the delivery. I wondered where she lived. I thought it was in one of the bedsits off Maple Road and I was going to ask her the following week.
When I turned up at the café, I stopped as I reached the kitchen door. There was a sports car outside, an E-Type. I was aware of Gordon ― well everyone knew of the Ellis family. I didn’t think he visited the cafés that much though and was a bit surprised to see him. I was also pissed off because I couldn’t speak with Carol-Ann.
Gordon was leaning against the wooden table, flaunting his muscular arms. He had a short back and sides. I noticed his clean, white teeth as he grinned. I tried not to look at him.
“It’s the egg man,” he said.
I thought he sounded sarcastic. I stood in the doorway holding several stacked trays of eggs.
“Oh, hello Michael.” Carol-Ann said, turning and wiping her hands.
She squeezed past Gordon to get the egg money. He watched her walk across the kitchen as he leant on the table with his arms folded. I was still holding the trays of eggs. Some had little feathers stuck to them.
As I drove away I could see Gordon through the open kitchen door. He seemed to be smirking. I revved the engine and decided I should forget about her. When my mother was alive she’d have said that there are plenty more pebbles on the beach.
When I made my delivery the following Friday, I was bloody relieved that Gordon wasn’t there. I tried to be matter of fact but Carol-Ann kissed me again. Just a sort of peck, then she said something about my blonde paint-brush lashes and I felt my face going hot. I absently started poking at the holes in my jeans. I plucked up courage and asked if she was seeing Gordon.
“Who, Mr Ellis?” she said, trying to make it sound as if she were only on formal terms with him. She didn’t answer the question. I asked if I could have her number. She paused and then she said she wasn’t on the phone. There were a few drops of strawberry jam on the front of her white apron.
I decided I would drive down Maple Street late one afternoon. I peered up at the shabby curtains and wondered which one was her bedsit. The buildings were decrepit and there were a few crappy old cars parked along the street. I stopped at the end of the road but she never walked by.
On the following Friday, I was going to be more direct but when I got to the kitchen there was a new girl. At first, I assumed she was just covering and that Carol-Ann was away or something. The new girl took the eggs from me. When I say ‘girl’, she was actually a middle-aged woman, fat. I’d seen her waiting on the tables in the café. She said ‘hi’ and told me her name was Jean. We talked a little and I found out that Carol-Ann had left. I leaned on the wooden table, not letting on that I was feeling a bit sick. I purposely stayed and talked a bit more. I said I’d borrowed something from Carol-Ann, a Bob Dylan record, and wanted to drop it back off. Jean looked a bit suspicious. She turned her chubby face toward me.
“Well, OK, yes, I suppose I could tell you where she lives,” she said as she threw butter into a sizzling pan and clattered things about on the stove.
I got the sense that Jean was pretty pissed at having been moved from the café area into the kitchen. I waved to her as I drove away.
Carol-Ann finishes her camomile tea, straightens the pile of wedding magazines and plumps the cushions on the couch. At the lounge door, she clicks off the standard lamp. Then she stops, taking a breath and walks back to the coffee table. She picks up the egg again, running her thumb over the smooth shell. In the light from the hallway, it glows a little. Her dark hair has fallen forward over her shoulder. For a moment, it looks as if she is going to hold the egg to her lips but instead she puts it back against the pile of magazines and goes off to bed.
According to Jean, Carol-Ann had once lived in one of the Maple Road bed-sitters but when she finished at the café, she’d moved into one of the large Victorian Villas on the expensive side of town. When Jean told me the address, she clocked the look of surprise on my face.
“Well you know…Gordon Ellis.” she said, like I was supposed to understand what she was getting at. “She’s living in one of his houses,” she added, making sure I understood.
That evening I waited in my van at the end of a row of large, pristine terraces. Then I saw Carol-Ann drive past me in a brand-new Ford Cortina and park up outside one of the houses.
“You shouldn’t have come,” she said as I walked down the pavement and approached her.
Carol-Ann looked at me under her lashes and I knew she was flattered really. Her coat was open and I could see her mini skirt and slender legs. We took a walk along the seafront together. There was a smell of frying food. The sunset was bright yellow, streaked with red. A string of coloured lights came on along the bay. We sat on the sea wall.
“I want you to kiss me,” she said.
So, I kissed her. I didn’t mention Gordon.
We walked back up her street, past the large houses to her door.
“Nice place this.” I said as she unlocked the porch.
She didn’t invite me in that first evening but she did on the second occasion. I remember standing with my hands in my pockets, glancing about the room. There was a furry rug, a large coffee table and a cream four-seater settee. I thought Carol-Ann was going to ask me to sit down and perhaps get me a drink but instead she pulled off my shirt and then led me upstairs into a large bedroom. There was a framed poster of Bob Dylan’s Desire album cover on the wall, opposite the bed. The half-closed white blinds threw soft light on our flesh as we undressed. She ran her hands very tenderly all over my body. Then she licked and bit my flesh, as if she wanted to eat me.
Afterwards, when we were lying together, I wondered if anyone had heard us, only because I noticed the tall sash window was open. The little breeze blew in as Carol-Ann wrapped herself about me and told me how she was seeing Gordon properly. They had had a quick-fire romance. Then she said that there had been talk of marriage.
“Between Gordon and me.”
Then she said something about his family’s kingdom on the south coast and something about how as a child, Gordon had holidayed in a castle owned by his uncle. All the time she talked, I stared at the Desire poster. I sat up a little, looking at her in the half-light of the room. Then I said.
“You need someone who’ll treat you properly.”
Carol-Ann gave that amused little smile, the same one she gave when I asked her out. Her hair was dark and smooth on the pillow. She looked a little emotional.
“You couldn’t give me all the things I want,” she said.
I don’t remember getting out of her bed or leaving. Did she pick me up and put me out on the pavement with her beautiful hands? I think she made me promise I wouldn’t contact her again. I mumbled something about promising. I sat in the van for a long time with my hands on the steering wheel, just thinking.
A few days later I had been on my own in the yard at Watson’s, loading up the eggs. I hadn’t seen Gordon until it was too late. I had heard a car speed through the open gates and a door slam.
The camomile tea has not helped Carol-Ann sleep. She is lying wide awake wondering whether to call Gordon’s hotel room again. When she does eventually drop off, that day’s wedding dress fitting prompts a mixed-up dream. She is wrapped in ivory silk and wearing satin gloves with frizzed feathers around the edge. Gordon walks her through an arched entrance of a castle, whilst faceless guests throw red flower confetti. At the wedding breakfast, she toasts her husband holding a sparkling champagne coupe under her chin.
Then the dream darkens. When the meal is a served, it is platefuls of fried eggs.
Carol-Ann’s eyes flick open abruptly. As she lies perfectly still, there is a sound coming from the lounge beneath her. It is as if someone is rolling something back and forth across the floor boards. She listens to the sound. Her heart quickens a little.
The day Gordon came after me at Watson’s farm, some shit had gone on at the Golden Egg. Jean had overheard him talking, being rude about her, to one of the young waitresses. As Jean put on her apron, she heard girlish giggling and Gordon referring to Jean as a fat-arsed broad.
“What we need is someone younger, quicker,” Gordon said. “Customers are noticing.”
Jean’s patience had been getting worn anyway. She flushed and threw her apron on the floor. She flew into the seating area where customers had started to arrive for breakfast. In a loud voice, she told Gordon he could stick his hideous job up his snobby backside and swung around to leave. Then she delivered the final blow.
“And I’d watch Carol-Ann if I were you and that Michael whatshisname, from Watson’s.” Jean snorted and strode off.
“Who?” said Gordon, puzzled for a moment.
Carol-Ann and Gordon rowed later that morning.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” he said. “You’ve been seeing that little bastard behind my back.”
“He’s just a kid, of course I haven’t,” she cried. “I think he just fancies me, that’s all.”
Carol-Ann’s eyes were large and scared as Gordon loomed over her. She was frightened that she’d be put back in the Maple Street bedsits, this time without a job and with no brand-new Cortina. Gordon was sweating as he stomped up and down in the lounge. He left, slamming the front door.
He had caught me off guard when he hit me. The first punch, I just staggered. The second threw my head back against the side of the van and I slumped to the ground. Gordon stood watching a ribbon of blood trickling down my neck. He knew he had to think quickly. He jumped onto the van and opened the cashbox on the passenger seat, taking what little money there was. He got back in his car and drove away.
Two policemen had attended the scene. One looked at the drying blood on the fallen, broken eggs, as I was covered over with a white plastic sheet.
“There’s the motive ― robbery,” the other policemen said, when he had found the empty cash box.
In the days that followed, Carol-Ann saw the headline inside one of the regional papers. ‘Death of egg man in petty robbery.’ Under it, a picture of Watson’s van. There was a short column about how I was found. I can only assume that Carol-Ann was in a spin after this because very soon afterwards, her engagement to Gordon was announced and a wedding date was set, to take place at his uncle’s castle.
The rolling sound continues. Carol-Ann lifts herself up onto her elbows, listening. It is very nearly dawn and the early light is making soft bars on the Bob Dylan poster. After another few moments, Carol-Ann gets out of bed in her short silk slip and steps cautiously down the stairs.
As she reaches the lounge door, the rolling sound stops. The golden egg is laying on the floor, unbroken. She looks around the room and then back at the egg. Slowly, carefully she picks it up. Holding it, she starts to cry.
Earlier that evening, Gordon had been driving back to his suite after a social get-together with clients. He drove much too fast on the country roads in his powerful E-type, not expecting there to be much traffic. He swerved violently to miss a van, which was probably out making a late delivery. His car flipped over and he had no chance. His skull was completely smashed in. The other driver hadn’t stopped.
Carol-Ann opens the window for a bit of air. The growing light falls softly on her skin. She looks at the golden egg, still holding it in her palm.
I think we are going to settle down together.