The Fly by Carol Lemley

The moment Jackie reached for the flyswatter, the pest knew what was coming and flew off. He’d been chasing it long enough, and by God, if it was the only thing he accomplished this day–and probably would be, the way things were going–he’d mash its brains in.

He sat with the flyswatter in his lap, his hands stretched out on the table, and cradled his Coors like a baby his bottle. Each time the fly got close enough, Jackie sat motionless and waited, pretending to be a statue or some stationary object so that when the fly landed unsuspecting, he could take a swat at it. But every time he got close, it sensed him and flew off. It flew around in circles, buzzing around Jackie’s ears like a bee to tease him, only to land in that exact spot again–his cut left forearm, where he’d been trying to heal a two-inch festering sore. A couple of blood spots still oozed, and that was what the thing wanted no doubt. Blood-sucker.

“Well, you’re not getting the blood in my arm,” he said. “I’ll be damned if you will. I’ll have you the moment you try to take one slurp. ”

Who knew what diseases it had. Filthy things liked garbage, and not just any ol’ garbage. They liked what the ants and cockroaches had already been munching on. And they enjoyed picking on smaller insects. They were bullies, and Jackie knew a lot about bullies. They liked to move in close, take a swing, and then back off the moment they thought their opponent would strike back. They were cowards, that’s what, and you couldn’t trust them. Jackie would like to see a big cockroach snap this bully up.

Yeah. “Come here, you bugger. Chicken now? Come here.”

It became a contest of wills. “A little closer, a little closer. That’s it.” Jackie didn’t want the fly to hear him breathe, so he held his breath. It wiggled its antennae. Did it hear him or simply feel his breath like a wisp of warm air? Had good senses. Seemed it could smell a mile away, could hear him coming at it, feel him.

And it kept getting away.

“There I got you now, buddy. Got you right where I want you.” He raised the flyswatter, had it up in the air now, and still, it didn’t move–yet. Whoosh!

Shit. How can it move so damned fast. “Come here. Come here now.” It circled and he lost it while it searched through the next room and came back. There, on the ceiling now. Too high. He’d wait until it came closer. Sooner or later, it would. It wanted that spot of blood on his arm and it was going to get it, by God. Well, he’d wait for the right opportunity. He could be patient. Sometimes.

He looked down at the sore on his arm. He’d gotten it at the restaurant while chopping up veggies for the salad line, and the sore was taking too long to heal. Think of that. Sacrificed himself for a few dollars in yet another one of those menial, pit stop jobs where everybody thought he was better than him. Guys had shoved him around once too many times, and he’d let it well up inside him to a boiling point. That didn’t need to happen, but he deserved more respect than he’d gotten. He was a big guy now, had been lifting weights enough, he could knock out anybody or anything, by golly, if he wanted to. He could show them who was boss, treat them the way they’d treated him. But there was no sense in it. Still, why had he chosen to just stalk out? Why hadn’t he said something? Sat the old guy down and talked man to man? He had important decisions to make these days.

He shrugged. Too late for that now. Some things you could shrug off, let fly off your shoulder, though it wasn’t always easy. Still, he didn’t like for some big shot to get to him.

His arm was bleeding a little more. He must’ve scraped it on something when he smacked at the insect. Concentrated so hard on that bugger, didn’t even notice the pain. But the arm was definitely bleeding more–and looked ugly. Two inches of oozing pus and blood with a bit of scab on one edge. Maybe Doc hadn’t put enough stitches in it. The black crisscrossed threads looked like the crosshairs of a rifle scope. He could cover it with a bandage if he had any, but a bandage would make the wound stick, and then when it started to heal, pull the scab, small as it was, right off and make it worse. No, better to leave the wound exposed to air.

It’s flying all over the room now, trying to decide where to land next. Yeah, over there by the garbage can. “Just stay away from my dinner.” He kept an eye on the frozen hamburg patty he was thawing.

He was getting sleepy–and dizzy watching the fly. He heard it buzzing as if it were trying to talk to him while he sipped at his beer, his fifth can in the last hour. He was getting a little light-headed, but it was okay. He didn’t have to work tomorrow. Nor the next day or the next. He was permanently off, and this day in particular, he could spend it any damned way he pleased without somebody getting in his face and telling him what to do.

So why was he spending his day chasing a f . . ing fly.

It landed on the rim of his beer can. “Get the. . . .” Jackie swung at it so fast he almost had it. But still the fly was faster, flew off, buzzing like it was laughing at him. How dare he make fun of him. “Come back here, you. Come back here Nobody laughs at me. Hear me? Nobody.”

It went on buzzing around the room, landing on the kitchen counter, then the stove, then the refrigerator, back to the table on the other side where a squishy banana lay–and where Jackie jumped up and took another swat at it–and missed again.

He sat back down with a heavy sigh and took a swig of his beer, careful not to place his lips on the part of the rim the fly had landed on. He drank until the can was empty so that if the insect landed on it again, he wouldn’t have to throw out the rest of the beer. Then Jackie had an idea. It wanted his beer that bad? Then it could drown itself in it.

He brought a saucer to the table and poured some beer in from a new can, then placed the flyswatter on the chair next to him and sat, waiting. His eyes began to droop. He was thinking about his future, where he was headed, when he must’ve dozed off. He jerked himself awake when the fly buzzed in his ear, as if to warn him about something. Jackie scratched around the wound on his arm until it was red. Scratched at the hair under his arms, too. He wasn’t wearing a t-shirt. Wasn’t wearing a belt, either, so his jeans hung well below his navel when he stood, even slipped below his hips. He was too tired to stand again, anyway. And too drunk, he realized, after he swallowed the rest of that last can of beer. He waited for the fly.

He’d meet it half way next time, he decided. The fly landed on his left index finger, the same side as his sore arm. It seemed to be looking at him out the corner of its eye while it raised and lowered its wings, challenging him to a fight. Then it hopped like a mini jackrabbit to Jackie’s wrist. He smiled. “Got balls, don’t ya?” He waited. The fly crept cautiously toward his sore arm, moved about one-sixteenth of an inch. It had a few inches to go yet. Jackie kept his head still, kept his eye on the fly. It turned in its spot, as if it was doing a pirouette. Was it mocking him? “You–” Jackie barely lifted his arm and it flew off. It circled a few times and came back, bold as ever.

“Okay, okay.” It landed in the same spot on his wrist. It tip-toed up his arm. He watched while it flexed its wings like he’d flex his muscles. Showing off. Or was it about to ooze some goop on his sore? It hopped around until it faced him. Its tiny little black eyes fixed on him, and he could’ve sworn it was grinning. He stared it down–but the fly stared back. In its black eyes, Jackie could see himself as if he were looking into a mirror. His face appeared in those two little mirrors like a close-up lens, and on it, he saw a grin that twitched. He had that bugger closed in once and for all, trapped squarely in the crosshairs of his stitches, black on black.

Slowly, he brought his right arm up, the arm holding the flyswatter. He brought it up from behind like he was going to take a swing with a racquet at a tennis ball. Up and around and in the air without a sound, and then a moment before he was about to slap it across his left arm where the fly waited for him, he realized, when that blow came down, he was only going to hurt himself. He grit his teeth, prepared for the pain, but just as he was about to strike, he found himself, instead, staring into the eyes of the fly and trying his best to blink back the tears welling up in his own eyes. He scraped back his chair and stumbled over his feet to the sink, where he scrubbed and scrubbed with antiseptic soap to get all the filth of the past off him. Flies were always going to buzz around him–and he’d need to know–he had only to swat them away and carry on.


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