I am supposed to be writing a fictional story. There’s a deadline hovering over me. I am in grad school and living in a four-walled box of a dorm room. I am also supposed to be recovered. Healthy is the correct term. I am supposed to be okay with the number on the scale. With the number on my body mass index chart. With the numbers of calories hanging loose from my belly, my boobs, my face. Numbers have never served me well. That’s why, I guess, I am a woman of words. I am supposed to be okay now, by medical standards.
Enter: The Fly.
Here are the sounds that I do not hear:
The trickle of hot water coursing through the rickety radiator’s veins.
The squeak of a classmate stepping into the communal bathroom, stripping naked, and twisting the shower’s nozzle to ON.
The yodel of wind knocking its knuckles to please come in. (I am hot, so I open the window to siphon off some suffocation.)
Heavy footsteps sporadically traveling up and down the staircase like a shock wave.
People telling jokes and secrets in the parking lot below. Perhaps unloading full bags from the grocery store.
Here are the sounds that I do hear:
The buzzing fly that will be dead in the next five minutes.
The buzzing fly that will be dead in the next ten minutes.
The buzzing fly that has always been.
The fly sniffs around the overhead lamp, purring like it’s his wedding day. He’s probably worked his way through the barbed wire opening in my window screen. I hope you’ll be happy together, I think to the newlywed couple of fly and light, and turn back to my work. Have I eaten too much today? I should go for a run instead of working.
And that’s when everyone’s luck begins to fade.
The immediate divorce of fly and light bulb sends the fly into a dive-bombing tirade, kamikaze-ing into piles of paperback books on the floor, across the mirror’s skin on my wall, under the skirt of the plump desk lamp. The light bulb remains staunch and stable, hanging from the ceiling like a tender fruit bat, while the fly fizzles into a state of despair. Crackling like static electricity. Frigid water on a scalding fry pan. The cold air whispers through the screened window and I pull on a sweatshirt to cover my bare arms, my newly-forming paunch. The fly streaks by my ear, leaving a trail of ambulance-like doppler sound, before attempting a plea for reunion with the light.
There is no chance that I am writing until this fly is dead. Heavy footsteps travel up the staircase outside my four-walled box of a dorm room. I wait for the shock wave to pass and fade. Then, I flick the switch off.
The fly is making love to the overhead light, but her bulb is off. Is the light’s beam, its filament curves, attractive if there’s nothing there to see? I flick the switch on and off again, hoping to blind the fly’s eyes. You’re wasting your time, the fly says. The fly has a mind of its own. The fly has a desire that can’t be starved out. I know this to be true.
I walk across the room and sit down at my desk. I am writing a story I’ve carried around for years. The young boy is in love with his sister. He lusts for her. He knows this is wrong, but since when do our minds listen to the world outside ourselves? Words don’t manifest their shapes in our bodies as does an apple. As does a devil donut. You can tell me that I need 2,000 calories a day, but I will still tell myself that you are wrong.
The fly rages. The divorce papers are surely signed. To the book stack, to the mirror, to the desk lamp’s electrifying skirt. I am annoyed that the fly has chosen this particular night to appear. You are quite inconvenient.
No footsteps outside, so I open my dorm room’s door and wave it back and forth on its hinge. It creaks. Do flies have ears? Are you listening to me? Come here. Come out. Time to go. You don’t want to be here.
It’s not too long before I realize my voice’s pitch has increased significantly. Maybe if I talk to it in baby voice, butter soft and high-high, it will respond positively to me, this bug of mine. Why do we infantilize the small, the young, the ones too thin to live? We label them incessantly helpless, incompetent even. Force feed their monstrous tendencies. Igniting the belly’s rebellion.
It’s been more than four years now since I was told I was going to die because my heart barely had enough energy to beat. The doctor said, “It’s called an eating disorder. It’s a demon inside your brain. It’s not part of you, it wants to control you.” A plate of syrup-drenched French toast, two cartons of whole milk, and bacon sat uneaten before me. 1,000 calories before noon. No vegetables. Don’t give in. I wondered where it had come from, this character with the red pinball eyes, this phantom turning organs into chew toys. Had it entered through my mouth while I slept? Had I opened the door and let it come in? Did it sit on my fork one day at dinner and had I swallowed it along with my salad?
I wonder why the demon’s voice sounded so similar to mine. Still sounds.
I almost text my friends, “There’s a fly in my room!” but I don’t. Some things I prefer to keep to myself.
I sit down to write about my sister-loving boy, and I feel the fly close to me. I manage a few sentences, even though one ear peels away to echolocate my fiendish friend.
Later, I can hear it, but it’s muffled.
It could be trapped underneath the pile of clothes I’ve tried on and off and am waiting for the day I’m small enough to fit into again. I throw them onto the floor, article by article. The skirt. The shirt. The dress two sizes small. Wait for a sound. Wait for my bug to sing to me.
The buzz persists. Muzzled, still.
It’s there. The fly. Shivering on the floor in the corner of my four-walled box of a dorm room. Injured. Wounded. Barely breathing.
The fly, no longer on the wall, cowers up at me: the giant, the blubbery blob, the demon with glasses and a fractured self-image.
My slipper steps down hard, squishing all below. The fly. I know it’s there.
I don’t feel it crunch beneath me. The fly. I don’t feel its translucent wings separate from its thorax.
I know it’s there.
Before I lift my foot, I pause—still applying pressure—and wonder if I’ll miss its metronomic buzz. I wonder if I’ve made the right decision.
There’s no other being in my room anymore. Just me and the wind and a dead fly corpse.
An average housefly’s lifetime is a day or two at the most, my boyfriend tells me when I tell him I’m writing an essay about flies. That’s pretty common knowledge, he says. I don’t tell him that I’m writing about the kind of flies that never die.
I write another page of my story. The young boy’s sister is a beautiful woman. Her body works perfectly. I imagine my insides look like a can of cauterized crab meat. Her period has stopped, but not from amenorrhea. Sometimes I don’t put periods at the end of sentences as if I’m reclaiming my past state of barrenness. She may be pregnant. They say that recovered anorexics can still retain fertility. The baby hairs on my ear stand tall and detect a second buzzing.
I wonder if the squashed bug has resurrected from remission. If time has licked the bug up off the floor, has reset with tweezers its little fly heart. I look to the ground, where the carcass, the guts, the juice have rainbowed across the floor. The fly has come back with a vengeance.
Perhaps even bugs, like all of us, collect these little deaths. Inside shoe boxes, sewn into clothing, balanced on measuring spoons, tucked behind Annie Dillard’s toilet bowl, staring out from Woolf’s windowsills, shining upon the nation’s middle school floors, in between black sequined heartbeats, stitched up with surgeon’s staples, splayed out on curbs. On the skin, in the breath. The deaths find us again, always incarnating, these little haunted, humbling messengers of incessant cessations. They always come back.
The fly has broken my circuit of thought. The live one, the new one, the one which will be dead in five minutes. This one is silent. Its voice box has been taken out. It wants to be seen, not heard. The fly, the fly.
This time, I don’t open the door. I don’t turn off the lights. This fly seems to have no interest in the radiant divorcee. Perhaps, fly and I will find peace in a cohabitated life. Together, my demon and I. Look at the person I’ve become thanks to you. Together, a constant presence, bonded, fused, forever sick. Your buzzing transforming into white noise while I sleep—the ocean, the forest, water and broccoli. I resign myself to the facts of my future.
I write. I brush my teeth. I calculate in my head how much I’ve eaten today. 120+120+70+150+ … Plan out my meals for tomorrow. Chew a pack of gum. I’m incessant, incessant. Stare at myself in the mirror at all angles (my way of retreating into the shade), sucking and prodding and squeezing all this undying fat, and wonder why I care so goddamn much. I ask, why and how? My question is never answered. The bug I’ve claimed as my own wants to be seen, not heard.
It is fully night. Computer shut down, the blinds also closed. The people in the parking lot have gone inside. Taken their own flies to bed with them. The radiator continues to rain. The fly has taken up shelter inside the blinds. Taken-up-shelter is another word for trapped. I hear its hair-thin legs scrabble and scrape across the plastic white sheen. I get up to close the window. I am too cold. I wish I were colder. I wish I knew how to eat without analyzing. I wish I could be a fly taking-up-shelter in blinds, fucking with nightlights, nibbling on forgotten crumbs the size of my body.
I return to the glow of my desk and find the fly belly up. It has fallen to its death, I the coroner assume. The wings have failed its owner: the fly. The fly that flies no more. I scoop up the bug with a paper towel and squeeze it between my fingers. The bug flies into the trash with paper wings.
I leave the fly I squashed on the floor. Remember what you have done? Who you have been? Another collected death. Another day survived. I curl my fist to my beating heart and wonder if I’ll ever be able to say what I want to say about what it’s like to recover from anorexia. If there is such a thing as recovery, or do we just keep living, keep going, keep killing and rekilling the same flies over and over? Incessance, inevitable incessance. I wonder if I killed my bug in vain. If this fly has found its afterlife partner, its light, its phantomous counterpart. If there’s even any light to be found there. I don’t know what a fly’s ghost looks like: gray, gossamer, wizened? The real tough part is knowing when it will come back.
And when it does and asks for shelter, I’ll surely offer up my body as host to that buzzing fly, because now that there’s enough of me to protect the two of us at once, the least I can do is be hospitable. My fly and I—together, we won’t know emptiness.
Cameron Finch‘s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Windmill, Midwestern Gothic, Across the Margin, Orange Quarterly, and elsewhere. She hails from Ann Arbor, Michigan where she has taught creative writing workshops for kids at 826michigan, and now writes for the Michigan Quarterly Review. She is receiving her MFA in Writing and Publishing at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where she also serves as managing editor of the literary journal, Hunger Mountain. Find out more about her at ccfinch.com or on Twitter @_ccfinch_.