BY LARA LILLIBRIDGE
The first time you step on a dead fly in your bare feet the crackling snap disgusts you. You run to the bathroom, wash your foot with soap and water for ten solid minutes, then coat your heel in hand sanitizer for good measure. The presence of mashed fly interior adhered to your foot’s exterior makes you want to yak, puke, or vomit, depending on your sensibilities.
A house infested by cluster flies is not filled with airborne insects. Rather, every morning you wake to find legions of dead and dying flies on the floor, window ledges, countertops, and inside the sinks. When you open the fridge, there will often be a dead carcass on one of the glass shelves. The ones that are only half-dead spin in circles on their back, creating an incessant buzz you can’t ignore. If you try to disposed of them with a broom instead of a vacuum cleaner, the flies that are still slightly alive--say 60/40 on the living/dying scale--will rise up from the dustpan and buzz irritatingly around your face.
Cluster flies appear inside homes in autumn, often in large numbers, crawling out of the cracks and crevices to buzz around sunny windows. They are looking for a place to spend the winter, like retirees driving their RVs to Florida. In the spring, they will leave to lay their eggs in the soil outside.
After a few months of living with flies, the dust canister of your vacuum cleaner is coated in dark gray goo. When you empty it, you have to find something to scrape the fly guts off the inside. There is a distinctive smell that is slightly sweet and more-than-slightly nauseating. You count the fly bodies, as if knowing the number of carcasses you vacuum will convince someone that it really is as bad as you say it is. Fifty-seven in the bathtub, thirteen on the counter, but when you try to count the pile in front of the sliding glass door, you lose track somewhere past fifty.
You stop inviting people over. You keep the curtains shut, because sunlight will incite them to buzz and knock against the windows. You start vacuuming every morning, even before you have coffee--you, who always bought a dog that matched the carpet so you could avoid housework as long as possible.
After a few months, you use your finger to flick a fly off the counter, and have to remind yourself that it’s probably a good idea to wash your hands. When you squash flies with your bare feet, you kind of like the crisp, fracturing-popcorn kernel feel, and you are just glad the incessant dying buzz is over. You remove the dead carcass by wiping your heel across the top of your other foot and go about your business. It’s not something to be proud of, but you have become anesthetized over time.
And then one day all the flies disappear to lay their eggs outside somewhere and you no longer have to vacuum up their carcasses and they no longer crunch under your feet when you get up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water. You tell yourself that before they return next fall you will tent the house, find an exterminator, research pesticides. But after a few weeks, you start to forget. You put it off. You tell yourself, "it wasn’t that bad," and, "I’m sure it won’t possibly be that bad again this year." And another year passes, and the cycle repeats itself. And a teacher tells you that your metaphor doesn't work, but you are sure it will have meaning for someone.
Lara Lillibridge is a recent graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College’s MFA program in Creative Nonfiction. In March of 2016 she was a top 5 finalist for DisQuiet’s literary prize in Creative Nonfiction, judged by Phillip Graham. She has had essays published in Vandalia and Polychrome Ink; on the web at Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, The Feminist Wire, Airplane Reading, Thirteen Ways to Tell a Story, Weirderary, and Brain, Child magazine's Brain, Mother blog. She is currently an editor for an anthology of women’s voices entitled, Memoirs of the Feminine Divine: Voices of Power and Invisibility and a reader for Weirderary Literary Magazine.