I woke up one morning to a fly on the ceiling above my bed. I thought nothing of it until the next morning, when I opened my eyes and saw it again, in exactly the same place. Perhaps it was dead? But when I swatted at it with a grocery store flyer, it buzzed around in three angry loops before it settled right back into place.
I got used to its presence. But when I woke a few days later, its place on the ceiling was blank. I turned my head and saw its frozen little corpse on the pillow next to me.
The next morning, a new fly took its place.
Every morning I’d get up and will myself not to check my phone. I could feel the pull of its dense heat, but I’d go into the bathroom, take a piss, go into the kitchen, make coffee. I used to check it immediately, every morning. In case he’d called. It’s possible to sleep through the ringing, and definitely through the small ding of a text. But he hasn’t called in three weeks. And now, I will myself to just leave it: there is no message.
The neighbour talks to her dog constantly. I hear every sickly croon that wafts through the crack in the wall. I wonder what kinds of disgusting things live inside these walls. Sometimes I’ve had to actually leave the apartment for all the scrabbling and scratching noises, and when I’d step out my front door, the neighbour’s dog was always there in the hallway, laying about like a queen in that weird way of hers: the front paws tucked under, the back ones spread out flat behind. An old fucking codger of a dog. Smelly too. I would have kicked her if the neighbour’s door wasn’t permanently open, watching.
The neighbour always notices when I come home with people. And she doesn’t like it. Clearly she’s jealous, because she has nothing in her life but the idiotic television and her princess dog. Or maybe she believes she’s my keeper, that God has appointed her the saviour of wayward young women’s souls if and when they happen to move into the apartment next to her. The only thing that provides her with any excitement is when I walk in or out my apartment door, sometimes with people. For a while, with him. She really didn’t like that. I tried to have extra-loud sex when I knew she was listening, her beady eyes fixed on the thin cracked wall as the hysteria of The Young and the Restless played out in her living room. I wanted to disgust her, frighten her. I imagined her pruney face splattered with our sweat and juices, and I would bare my teeth into an ecstatic snarl as the image floated before me.
It embarrassed him. That’s why he stopped coming around, I think, because of how she made him feel. He told me to let it go. But he didn’t understand. He didn’t have to live there.
I used to believe in love. That is, I thought that love, if and when it entered my life, would penetrate right through me, into my core. That it would fundamentally change the pattern of who I was and save me. I didn’t tell people about this belief because I know how it sounds. But I think, deep down, everyone believes it. Everyone hopes they’re meant for something. Something that will be their salvation.
I’m certainly nothing special. I’m as crappy and stupid and miserable as anyone. More, probably. But if I was loved. If I was loved, then the love would enlarge and lift out the good parts of me— those glittering crystals I believed were embedded somewhere inside. The bad parts slide and shift and swallow each other, like dark amoebas.
We’d met at a bar through mutual friends. It was a dim, smelly place with a wet patch for a dance floor and constantly clogged toilets. And when I met him, I thought: Maybe now. Finally. It’s going to happen. He will love me, and I will be cleansed. He bought me a beer. That might’ve been the first time a guy bought me anything. And for a while, I smiled and laughed and was happy. This new light and the fire of his body burned out all the rot and mold inside me. I could feel myself becoming lighter and lighter and I thought that maybe this was how some people actually lived, all the time. That maybe it was possible to live here, in this way, every day, forever.
But I’ve realized that, if it’s just part of your naturally rotten DNA, the darkness always grows back.
I discovered the spider a week after the death of the fly. I didn’t see it until I was already in the shower, naked and half-soaked. It was crawling along the top of the curtain, looking a little put out: it didn’t like having water beat down on its carefully strung web. It was striped and spindly, and it dragged a plump, juicy abdomen along with it. Indoor spiders are not supposed to be that big. The severed web fluttered and brushed my skin, my face.
I jumped. Maybe even screamed. Narrowly avoided slipping and bashing my head into the tile. Turned off the water and tumbled out quick. Never went back.
God knows how many of them there are now.
So the bathroom has become off limits. I spend a lot of time in the living room. I wash up in the kitchen sink and sleep on the couch. I use the toilet in the downstairs café when necessary.
I’m supposed to go to work. The phone has been ringing. They want to know where I am. Why I haven’t come in to their filthy dive to bend over for power-mad customers who enjoy making me run back and forth for more water more napkins extra sauce extra cheese extra fries that they cram into their fat wet grinding mouths. Who leave crusted change and hairs and pocket lint as a tip, while sweat and heat twist the smile strung tight across my face.
No. Not today. Not tomorrow.
Not ever again.
The television is a help, a distraction. But I only put it on for the noise, not to actually watch. The noise for company. He told me that I needed to work on my social skills. Because I’m a loner. Because I don’t want to frequent bars and talk to strangers at parties every weekend. So? Why should I? It’s a lot of work to talk to people you don’t know. And most people are boring. Their boozy breath on me, the stink of their cigarette smoke invading my hair and clothes, the ugly smear of their puffed-up comments about things they actually know nothing about. I guess he preferred those grisly people to me in the end.
We’re too different, he’d said.
It’s just not working, he’d said. It’s like that sometimes, you didn’t do anything wrong, I didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just. Not working.
What exactly? I’d said. What is not working? Some moving part, mechanics that I can’t see. Is there a bolt, a screw, a joint that needs oiling? Please be specific.
No, I didn’t say that. I just thought it. I had no fight in me. Nothing I could use to counteract his argument. It was the sort of argument that had no counter. That’s why he used it. He was clever, he knew how to talk. His words swelled forward, engulfed me. My mouth pressed closed and my skin tightened. Paralysis spread like a poison, took hold organ by organ.
The living room, which contains my front door, became off limits when someone came to look for me this morning. Not him, of course. It might have been my mother. The buzzer went off—short bursts at first, then long and insistent. If anyone got in the building, they would have seen my shadow moving in the living room. I can’t go in the bedroom anymore, because it’s too close to the bathroom. The spiders have spread by now. I don’t have to go in to know. The only safe place is the kitchen. I positioned myself in the corner where the wall meets the counter so as not to be seen in the window from any angle and eventually the buzzer stopped. The spiders’ crawling noises kept me up last night. I can hear the snap of their webs being strung. The panicked vibrations of the insects caught among them, the crush of their organs collapsing under venom. The whisper of corpse-husks as they collect into burial mounds on the floor. And now I hear that dog snuffling around the bottom of my front door, I can see its shadow lurking. The dust in the air settling around me, on me. The crack in the wall gapes, bleeds inhuman noises. The flies gather, circle and drone over my bed. The scuttling of all the spiders coming up the drain, the scuttling, the scuttling . . . »
from subTerrain #71