Mike Hancock


How to Boil an Egg

          Put one layer of eggs in the pan, and cover with cold water.

          A perfectly boiled egg is a certainty, if you follow a few simple steps. You will never have runny yolks. No green rings will form separating the fragile yolks from their protective whites. They wonít fracture in the pan, spilling their innards, making what was intended as a quick meal into an industrial accident. Never undercooked nor overdone. Always perfect.

          Youíll never have to worry about these things, my love.

          Yes, Daddy, Jael said. Does Mommy know this, too?

          Scrunched up, furrowed brow, black hair spilling over her cheeks.

          Of course, sweetie. I love your mommy, and want to take away her burdens, too.

          Contented again, she held her Spongebob doll tight, rubbing the side of its square, yellow face.

Next, a dash of salt. This will help make them easier to peel, as will the cold water.

          Itís not just breaking a shoelace, or slipping on an icy sidewalk, or getting mustard on your shirt before an interview. People are uncertain, too.

          Yourself, even.

          Things you regret saying, doing. Being sarcastic, condescending, to your mother before you think, a mother whoís old, poor, filled with all the worldís uncertainties, who could use some kindness from someone whoís supposed to be certain to deliver.

          The last day of my visit:


          What? I asked Mama.

          Just wondering what youíre doing.

          Gotta get these back to the students tomorrow, I said, waving the twenty-one ungraded essays, eyes on the computer monitor.

          Essays onÖBellÖ

          Belize. On the culture.

          Thatís in Mexico?

          Seriously, Mom? How old are you?

          Just curious. Thatís all.

          And she turned away, walking gingerly down the stairs, the pain in her hips a constant, dull rhythmic ache.

          Not a boiled egg, though. It wonít stain a shirt. Or a motherís heart.

          Put it on the stove, high heat.

          Were you mean to mommy?

          Eyebrows raised, large, brown eyes suspicious.

          I gave her head a playful rub, smiled sadly.

          Thoughtless, mostly. She took me to a nice restaurant, Italian place by the seashore. Wanted to give me a treat. I had had a toothache all day and was very irritable. She said something to me in passing, poking fun at how I couldnít read the menu because it was in Italian. Then another joke about it.

          Thatís it. Weíre done here, I said. Got up and left.

          Patience. I needed patience. Doesnít seem like a big deal, though, right? An apology later, and itís over. But itís never over, Jael. The moments stay, haunt you late at night, little things collectively ripping into your conscience, spilling into all your tomorrows.

          Tiny bubbles circle the eggs, shoot up.

          Look, Jael. Right when it starts to boil, cover it, and turn off the heat. Youíre never really boiling the eggs. Thatís just something people say. Now, we wait for ten minutes.

          How come people say boiling when they donít mean it?

          People say things all the time they donít mean.

          Like what?

          Like I hate you.


          Iíll stop drinking.

          I wish you were dead.

          I wish I were dead.

          Jael squeezed Spongebob tighter, her mouth moistening the smooth felt, her caramel hands white at the knuckles.

          Now, after ten minutes, hereís the trick: take your pan full of eggs, and run them under cold water until the water in the pan isnít warm anymore. Let them cool.

          Theyíre ready. Want to help peel them, sugar?

          The white of her knuckles dissipated. I gently brushed back her dark hair. Gazed up at me, smiled. She had her motherís nose, I noticed for the hundredth time, but my lips, my smile.

          Her image blurred, and I reached for her arm, my hand grasping, closing down on nothing. She was gone.

          No, itís not like that.

          Iíll go back, run down the stairs. I was wrong, Mama. Wrong to say those awful things, to hurt you. Iíll take you there, to Belize. Make you laugh. Tell you youíre beautiful and smart and kind. Make your heart glow.

          My wife, too.

          She wasnít your wife. Only could have been. But you kept fucking up, didnít you? Know who else could have been? Jael.

          Canít be like that. My life half over. Alone.

          Got your mistakes. Theyíre always good company, right? Even Mamaís not real anymore. How long did she last after that visit? Three weeks. No sir, unless you count being planted in the ground as real, sheís as imaginary as your daughter.

          No, not like that. Iíll go back. Do it again.

Weíll all have a picnic, giggling, joking, all the happiness in the world served up in emerald greens of fescue, soft beach sand, azure blue waters, cotton candy clouds. Our happy family.

          Everythingís hazy, the square porcelain tiles of the kitchen counter warped. The vertical edges of the stove bending, everything twisting, merging in a cesspool of metal and wood. Whiskey bottle half-full, pulled to my lips, the amber liquid igniting. In the cool water, a handful of oval-shaped certainties. One egg smashed against the grainy cedar cabinet, another hurled at the table, another at the fridge.

          Clean smacks. Exploding shells.

          But no runny yolks.

Copyright © 2013 Mike Hancock

Mike Hancock is a former wilderness guide and commercial fisherman. He spent seven years guiding hunters and campers in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and New Mexico. Prior to that he was a deckhand for two seasons aboard a factory trawler in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Now living in Wewoka, Oklahoma, he is an Adjunct Professor of English and a freelance writer. He holds a B.A. in English Literature and a M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. His fiction has appeared in multiple literary journals, and London's Ether Books.