When we left Alf last week he was lying in state at the front of the room while the rest of us sat politely listening to the pastor (who clearly never met his subject) reiterate the sterilized summary of his life as laid out in the obituary. I was doing my level best to stay awake and fend off the head-bob when the Fly first started buzzing around me.
This was just one of a number of remarkable photographs published in The Daily Mail. It was taken by physiotherapist Miroslaw Swietek at around 3am in the forest next to his home.
I was surprised. For one thing, it was hard to believe that something as wildish and chaotic as Musca domestica could survive in a place like that. The room felt as sterile and life-sucking as the sermon currently bouncing off its stark, white walls. Call me wrong but I’d have bet good money that anything smaller than, say, a finch or a bat would have died and dropped to the floor the instant it hit the atmosphere. Equally amazing was the fact that the Fly (fat, hairy, and droning) had to negotiate five doors and a security force of germ-phobic staff to penetrate that far in. Truly, this was one determined fly.
However, my wonder was soon replaced by consternation. The Fly, after buzzing in circles above my head a few times, commenced a series of land-and-crawl maneuvers targeting places like the top of my head and the side of my face. At first I just brushed it away while still maintaining my focus on the pastor, but after the third or fourth time The Fly finally had my undivided attention. I studied the situation. When I glanced at our Social Worker and Nurse on either side of me it was plain they were outside the fly zone. Neither displayed the harassed look I was rapidly adopting. And when I looked around at everyone else in the immediate vicinity I realized they weren’t being bothered either.
Naturally, this annoyed me. So the next couple of times I swatted the creature towards the Nurse, to see if it would switch victims and crawl on her instead. But it didn’t. It not only came right back at me each time, it seemed to redouble its efforts. That was when it struck me that, for some odd reason, the Fly seemed intent on making my life, and my life alone, miserable.
It got worse. After a few swipes the thing started dodging my hand, feinting to one side in the air before diving back in to skip across my forehead, my cheek, my nose. Or, if I swung after it had already landed and was doing the Tinkerbell dance across the back of my neck, it would leap into the air just long enough for me to slap myself before gracefully alighting again in a swift succession of tiny steps.
The Fly was really starting to get to me.
Yet it wasn’t until it began lifting my collar to crawl under my shirt and down my back that I truly began to panic. What the hell was this thing? It was like no other bug I’d encountered, intelligent, crafty, and motivated. Like something out of a Jeff Goldblum movie. I was right on the verge of making a full-blown scene, shrieking and jumping to my feet, writhing madly while trying to slap my back and tear off my shirt, when something stopped me. I had the strangest thought.
The Fly stopped in its tracks. It stayed still for a moment, huddled there under the fabric between my shoulder blades, then turned around and crawled back up out of my shirt, lifted into the air, and began to fly around in front of my face in a figure eight pattern. I couldn’t believe it. My mind was spinning. Just how is that kind of thing supposed to work? My imagination took off and I wondered wildly whether Alf had temporarily turned into the Fly itself, or if he had just rigged a tiny, leather bridle and bit and was now sitting astride its back, grinning and waving at me with a cowboy hat.
It was at that point that the Alf Cloud descended. I felt it wrap around me like something warm and soft, and then an image of him…smiling, standing with nary a wheelchair, walker, or cane in sight…exploded in my mind. It felt like he was right there in the room. I could almost smell the clean soap coming off him, feel something warm like body heat. He was chuckling and I almost laughed out loud, too, but then remembered where I was.
It was odd and wonderful and such a relief. He still felt exactly like Alf only without any of the weakness and strain. No frustration, irritation, or pain. He felt strong and easy and laughing, not at me but with me, like he knew that I of all people would appreciate this new-found freedom he’d found. And I did. I really did. The last tattered remnants of sadness and guilt washed away and there was nothing left inside but happiness for him.
I grinned. You rascal. And as soon as I said it, the Alf Cloud was gone. The Fly stopped its circling and meandered away, bumping into people and chair backs and walls as it went.
I told our Social Worker about the experience on the way home and we shook our heads, wondered what it all meant, then chatted for a while about what we thought might happen when we died ourselves. I told him I was hoping for a lot of love. He said he’d be happy if he could still experience anything that felt like sex.
The next day when I arrived at the office our Social Worker had already been there for some time and was sitting at his desk when I walked in, studying a small fly crawling around near his coffee mug. He glanced up at me and smiled.
I was just wondering, he said, then looked back down at the fly.
copyright 2010 Dia Osborn