Saturday 6 June 2020

'Lionel and the Fly' by John Wheway

Normally, the fly’s landing on Lionel’s nose would wake him. Today, running up and down the nose had no effect. The fly dipped into the crease between nose and cheek. Mm-mm, the taste of sebum.  

He’s dreaming. Let him dream, thought the fly. Slipping into Lionel’s car to drink his tears and nose-drips on the day of his wife’s cremation, the fly sailed into his house on the brim of his hat, to survive the winter. It wouldn’t end up spinning on its back on some windowsill, drying to a husk, as long as there was leftover gravy to guzzle. Though once, sipping a spot of wine sent it zooming towards the log fire. From then on it steadily avoided alcohol.

Lionel’s secretions, their bouquet of grief and endurance, became irresistible. Helpless anger was as piquant as caviare, and the fly, to intensify it, would scurry into an earhole or nostril. Lionel crashed round flailing with a rolled-up newspaper, but the fly always escaped. If Lionel gasped and became breathless, the fly hid behind a curtain till he calmed down. It didn’t want a corpse on its feelers. Not yet. It hurried over his forehead to lap up fresh beads of sweat.

One morning, as it siphoned mould from a squashed prune, Lionel said, So here you are again, old survivor. You’re just like me.

The fly stared into two giant brown eyes. He wasn’t rolling newspaper, spreading his hand to slam down. You and me, Lionel sighed. You and me…

As Lionel relaxed, became less rigorous at scouring counters, he left food uncovered, wore the same clothes for days, threw dirty underpants and socks in a heap instead of into the laundry basket. If the fly guzzled too greedily, Lionel merely wafted his hand round. Best of all, he began telling the fly his life-story. He’d outlived countless generations of flies, had known a time before litter laws, sell-by dates, refrigerators, even. A lost paradise.

The idea of the wife’s being cremated made the fly sad. Such a waste of flesh. If Lionel ever has a new woman, let her corpse be buried, the fly prayed, but only after an opportune few days of decay. Imagine – another human body to feed on, a new collection of flavours.

Spring saw the fly skittering around Lionel’s car windows, riding on his hat. There were exotic smells in the shops – and not only at the butcher’s. The fly scouted cafes and pubs for suitable women. But Lionel seemed unimpressed by women the fly found delectable.

One morning, the door bell rang, and at the front door, a small round woman appeared. The fly dived into her hair and tasted her scalp. Mm-mm.  Lionel’s frisson of interest, to the fly, smelled like an overripe apple. This has got to be the – began the fly, but the woman shot out her hand, plucked it from Lionel’s jacket, and snuffed out its life between her thumb and forefinger.

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