The first thing they tell us when we’re born is, “You have twenty-eight days to live. Make it count.” Three of those days are wasted as a maggot. You’re the scum of the earth then legless, useless until you molt to become a pupae; they’re kind of like the same stage of life as the young humans that visit the elderly in our home. Toddlers, I think they’re called. You stay that way for another five days, so that’s eight whole days wasted before you shed the final skin of your pitiful early life to come into all your glory: you’re a goddamned house fly in the prime of your life, with nothing but rivers of shit and reproduction on your golden, twenty-day horizon. Except for the shoes, the swatters, the rolled-up magazines, and the fact that every single person seems to want you dead. It’s not enough we’re born to die; everything wants to kill us on top of it. Some of my brothers and sisters couldn’t take that heat, so, ironically, they flew into the lights until they were laying on their backs, legs stiff in the air. They prefer to go out on their own terms, rather than rough it through a life of pain and shit, and I don’t mean the good kind.
Me? I wanted more than that life. Shit heaps and rotting garbage? Nope, that’s not enough for Phillip P. Phly. I wanted to be educated. It was an accident really: I was just flying by when I saw a book open on the desk. So I flew in, sat down, and read. I didn’t leave for my first week. When I got hungry, I nibbled a little on the corners of the pages or slurped the bland glue from the bindings. It was a good time, my first week. Just me and a room full of books. And then I decided to explore. One shouldn’t spend their whole lives with their labellum in a book, you know.
Oh, the things I saw! My grand-fly used to say, “The First Fly gave us all these eyes to see as much as possible, considering we don’t live that long, and small wings so we’d have to slow down and enjoy the view.”
My gram-fly would spit at him and say, “Titis, she did it so we could always see a magazine coming to crush us against the wall, but not have enough time to fly away.”
“Lucilia,” he’d shoot back, “life’s all about perspective. What’s the point of having so many eyes if you only ever see things one way?”
And then the conversation would end with my gram-fly wishing she would have left the Home with that Bluebottle that was always sweet on her, and my grand-fly would go off to the Toilet-Bowl Bar to drown his sorrows in a heap of unflushed shit.
So instead of reading out of books or flying into window panes to see what life is like on the outside, I’ve decided to live. Just live. Exactly where I am. And that’s why I’m sitting here on this wall, showing you what I do. I’ve done this a lot before, and it’s been getting easier to come in and out quietly; if you tilt your wings just right, you can move as quiet as a fruit fly. Fruit Fly Phil—that’s what you can call me.
Now, you have to make sure to keep all eyes open. The rooms are real big, almost threateningly so, and a hand or a shoe could come flying out of nowhere to splatter you on this yellow-papered wall. Why don’t we just stay out of sight, you ask? We wouldn’t get such a great view. Learn to live a little while you still can. That’s why I like to sit up here, watching the man in the bed, who’s being watched by the woman in the chair, who is also being watched by me. That’s the great thing about our eyes; a fly can see an awful lot. It’s focusing on the things that matter.
The man’s just lying there under that handsome blue blanket I like. He’s always saying something to the woman, but she rarely says much back, and when she does she’s almost always talking to that clipboard. Oh, to be a fly on the wall for this conversation! You know, I might be too old to start a Fly Academy, but maybe you could use a few days to lay the groundwork? Yes, set up a sort of lesson in the library. It’s almost always empty. Teach them to speak like a human; maybe then we could improve the Human-Fly relationship…never mind. Forget it. An old fly does babble in his old age.
Anyway, I was talking about the man dying in the bed. How do I know he’s dying? I’ve witnessed death all my life, my friend! A fly knows death when he sees it! Look at his skin; it’s got that blueish tinge of a Bluebottle. His face has that greenish hue of that poor cricket who was squashed in my second life-week. Oh, the sounds he could make with his wings. You couldn’t imagine! I tried and tried, but I just don’t have the ridges. Maybe I could have learned if I had more time.
Oh, it’s getting to the end now. His chest, my friend: look at his chest. See how it rises too fast and shakes when he exhales? These are the final breaths for sure. He’s shaking now, and I can feel the rattle vibrate through the wall. Touch it with your antenna. Can you hear his heartbeat? You can feel it going, going, gone. He’s dead, over, and done-with. Bit it harder than a non-biting midge. Poor bastard.
I remember the first time I came to watch with my grand-fly. It was a different man, a different bed, a different nurse, but every time it’s exactly the same.
“But why can’t they just pick a nice windowsill to die on while they watch the world spin outside? Like Gram-fly?” I had asked in my youth.
“Well, Phil. Every human thinks they’re special. They live most of their lives wanting to grow up and they wish they could go on and on and on.”
I was shocked to hear that. What thing would want time to move faster when there’s already so little as it is?
“You see, humans and flies are the same, but the humans don’t realize it. We’re born, we reproduce, and we die. Plain and simple. I think the humans hate us because they can’t stand we’ve accepted that one, simple truth. They hate that we accept our lot in life and live the best we can.”
And I asked him about life, about what he would do if he had years and years of time. What would you do if your lifespan was doubled or tripled or multiplied by 1000? I asked him that question and many others. It was probably the only time in my life when I thought about what could be, and not what was. And do you know what he told me?
“Well, I don’t think I would know how to live if I had that much time. I would just sit there and exist if life didn’t have a deadline.”
“But humans have a deadline. They die here all the time! But at least they have time, Grand-fly! I want that much time too!” I pointed my antenna at the dead man in the bed below.
“Well kiddo, look at their final moments. No one understands mortality like a fly. Do you ever see a fly crying when his time is up? Think hard. No? That’s because a fly knows he’s lived his life, so he’s content to sit on a sill and watch the world spin by one last time.”
He turned his eyes from the dead man, so that all two-thousand lenses were focused solely on me. Have you ever felt someone focus so hard on one thing like that before? And I don’t mean the she-flies, cause their eyes never really focus entirely on you: one or two always roam, staring at other flies in the Bar. To have that focus be on you is something else, I tell you.
“A human will waste their last moments crying and cursing and pleading, while the humans around them curse and plead and cry. And that’s exactly why we should feel so badly for them. No matter what they do, or what the other flies say, I come up here to watch them die, so they know that at least they’re not alone in their final moments.”
Grand-fly stayed too long in the same spot one day though—squashed under a 200-page rolled-up copy of Reader’s Digest. He didn’t move fast enough, and that was the old fly’s end. Maybe Gram-fly was right after all about Mother-Fly. I don’t know. I read something once, during that week in the library downstairs, that’s stuck with me since that day. It was a Dickinson poem. It was about a fly on the wall, a lot like Grand-fly, who devoted his life to watching. The human wrote about the fly being there through their death, and it was the last thing they saw before the big fly-swatter got ‘em. I don’t know why, but I rather like the idea that that fly was Grand-fly, and that that fly is me. It could be you too, you know, if you want it.
Humans are cowards, but so are larvae and we try to protect them. And humans and flies are the same, so I think you should understand the parallel. You’re a lot like me, you know. You see things a little differently than everyone else. If you didn’t, why would you be here? I remember once I went down to land on this old woman’s head. I don’t know why, but something about her just called to me. I had to feel her before they carted her away. So I get down to her forehead and start rubbing my hands together. You know, praying to our hallowed Mother-Fly that she goes quietly into that good night. I read that once in the library, but I couldn’t turn the page to read the rest.
So while I’m giving this woman a royal send-off, the damned nurse tries to squash me on this dead woman’s head! A dirty, common fly: that’s all she saw in me! They would call it profiling where I’m from. The Cockroaches know all about profiling; you should try to take a day to hear their story. It’s a heart-throb. I would have gone down to the basement to tell them, and maybe they’d have raised a little hell for me, but she wasn’t worth my time. Forgive and forget, that’s my motto. Anyway, you should really try to start up that academy. Maybe you could make something of us all someday. Tell our story. Bridge the gap. What will I do, you ask? I think this old fly might just go find a windowsill to stare out for a while. It seems like a fine way to spend a day.
Joseph Messink is currently a junior at Carroll University. He lives in Gurnee, Illinois.
This is Joseph’s first published short story.