Fiction · 10/13/2010

Swat

I hate flies.

A day that begins with killing a fly is a good day.

I hate the way they sneak into bins and loiter around food. I hate the way they well up like thick, black rain. Their buzzing pollutes a room so that the air is bad to breathe. I hate how they rub their nasty little hands together, like they are plotting something. Or how they start to move when they think you aren’t looking.

“You’re burning breakfast,” my husband says because I have stopped cooking the bacon so I can kill the fly buzzing around us.

“There’s a fly in here,” I say.

“Just ignore it.”

“I can’t.” I stare at the ceiling where I last saw the little fucker.

“Baby, my breakfast,” he says. He is whining. I don’t even like bacon. I take the pan off the heat, flip the bacon on the plate, plop it down in front of him, and return to looking for the fly.

“I can’t eat all this,” he says.

“Shut up!” I say. I move to the center of the room where I last saw the fly. My husband sighs and starts chewing the bacon, his mustache twitching up and down. I don’t even have to look at him to see it; I can feel it on the back of my neck, his mincing little bites.

Then I spot the fly’s black body moving on the inside of the light fixture. It thinks I can’t see it. I go to the table and take the chair, quickly, quietly, and place it underneath the fixture.

“How are you going to get it when it’s up there?” my husband says.

“Shhh,” I say. “It’ll see what I’m doing.”

“That’s stupid,” he says, poking his eggs with a fork. “It’s just a bug.”

I pick up the fly swatter and rise up until I’m standing on the chair, under the light fixture, which is just a piece of square glass obscuring a bulb. I can see the fly creeping around, trailing bits of shit all over the glass.

In one motion, I spring up and slap the top of the fixture with the swatter. The glass shivers and the fly darts away. Now it’s slowly flying in a circle around the ceiling. My husband starts laughing.

“Goddamn it,” I say. “It’s not funny.”

“Yes it is,” he says. “That fly is smarter than you are.”

I stand on the chair, glaring at him.

+

Later, he leaves for work and I look for some Raid to spray on the fly. My husband doesn’t want me to spray Raid in the house. He says it takes a full day for the poison to air out, especially considering the amount of it I spray. But a little poison is worth it to see a fly convulsing on the floor.

I aim the Raid behind the fly, which is crawling on the windowsill. “Die, you disgusting creep,” I say, pressing the button. Nothing comes out of the nozzle. I shake the can and try again. It’s empty.

I stomp to the kitchen and throw the Raid in the trashcan, enjoying the thunk of it hitting the bottom. Then I go back to the living room to find the fly.

It has disappeared.

I look all over the house for it. I look on every lampshade, under every curtain. I scan the tops of bookshelves, the leaves of plants.

Nothing.

Once, this woman came into the drugstore where I worked and bought a fly swatter. She said she was afraid to kill flies because she thought they would come after her.

“They seem like they would get revenge, you know, send five more to pay me back for the one that died,” she said. “I know it’s silly, but I do wonder about my fly karma.”

“Not me,” I said, looking her in the eye. “I love killing them.”

“Well,” the woman said, trailing off as she looked at me. She could tell I wasn’t kidding. Then she smiled, gathering up the plastic bag with the fly swatter in it. “Next time I get one in the house, I’ll have to have you to get rid of it for me.”

“I’ll do it too,” I said. “You won’t even have to pay me.”

I meant it. As a child I tore the wings off flies. After school, I would put them in empty coke bottles to watch them walk around the bottom. I liked seeing them that way, black lumps on legs knocking against the glass.

+

That night, my husband begins to paw at me with his clumsy hands and twitching mustache. Sometimes I have sex with him so he’ll shut up, go to sleep, and leave me alone.

“I love you baby,” my husband says in a sexed-up voice.

“Mmmmmm,” I say.

He climbs on top of me, touching me all wrong. I want him to suck on my nipples and he bites. I want him to kiss my thighs and he kisses my neck, leaving it wet with saliva.

“Go in,” I say, hoping he’ll speed it up.

“Are you sure, baby?” he says.

“Yeah,” I say. “Go in.”

I can smell his breath, like canned air. He is a hot weight on top of me. I think how easy it is to be a man.

Then I hear it. The buzzing. It’s hard to make out above my husband’s breathing, but it’s there, itching in my ear. The fly is in the room with us.

I move my head away from my husband’s mouth and listen. In the dark, the fly sounds like it is over by the bureau, then by the closet, then by the exercise bike. Bzzz, bzzz, bzzz. Saturating the air with its feces breath.

My husband gasps as he orgasms, making it impossible to hear the fly. He collapses on top of me, breathing hard.

“There’s a fly in here,” I say. “Turn on the light. I have to kill it.”

He heaves himself up and rolls onto the bed.

“I don’t know why you bother,” he says. “There’s always going to be another one.”

I stare into the darkness, listening to the fly’s buzzing. It could land anywhere. Just when I’m about to get up to do something about it, I hear a new sound.

“What’s that?” I say.

My husband yawns. “What?” he says loudly.

“Shhhh,” I say.

Yes, there it is, underneath: a second buzzing, like a shorting electrical wire. There are two flies in the room.

“Turn on the light,” I say. “I have to kill them.”

“No,” my husband says. “You’re being silly. Besides, I have to get up early. Go to sleep.”

He pulls the blankets around his body and thumps his pillow. I should lean over him and turn on the lamp, but I don’t. Instead I lie there with my skin prickling as they circle above me.

“Turn on the light,” I say, my voice croaking out barely above a whisper.

My husband’s breathing is deep now. I listen as one fly lands somewhere on my left — the lamp? And the other lands above me — on the headboard? The windowsill? They are waiting. As soon as I fall asleep, they will climb on my nose and dance on my lips. They will mate and lay their maggots somewhere warm and ripe.

My husband wriggles close in his sleep and rubs his nose on my neck. I think about how I tore this house apart looking for the fly, and now there are two of them in here. Fly karma.

Turn on the light, I tell myself again.

But I don’t. I just lie there, listening to two flies in the dark, the lower buzz and the higher buzz, voices harmonizing in a warped song.

+++

Joy Lanzendorfer’s work has appeared in So To Speak, Superstition Review, BANGOUT, Rumble, Word Riot, Salon, The Writer, San Francisco Chronicle, and many others. She holds a MA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University, where she also sat on the editorial board for Fourteen Hills, The SFSU Review. For the last four years, she has been a judge in the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards.