‘You have twenty-eight days to live, so make them count.’ That’s the first thing they tell us, as you well know, on the day we are born. It’s a fitting introduction, I think, knowing where the road will end as you take the first step on the journey. And just like life, the truth is hard. But that’s why they give it to us, in all its morbid glory, so that from the moment we taste our first mouthful of that stale, antiseptic air, we learn the first of a string of hard facts that life will teach us. The first three days will be wasted, of course; you’re a maggot then, the lowest of the low. Legless, useless, all you can do is eat. And think about the future, although I haven’t known many who did. In the next five days or so is, you learn about the world: explore things, feel the walls, rub your wings into soft, white carpet. The old ones, if there are any left by then, sometimes stick around. They teach you things. Tell you stories. Or perhaps they take some time to impart a little wisdom, as I am doing now, before the sun sets on their horizon. There are some things you learn when you live as long as I have, some truths that might help you to make better decisions. It won’t be easy to hear, the things I have to say. But like I said, the truth can be hard. And so, as flies, what else have we got time for?
The first fact is simple. You’re a god-damned housefly, freshly molted with a pair of strong wings, and don’t you forget it. You’re in the prime of your life, with nothing but rivers of shit and reproduction ahead on your golden, twenty-day horizon. Except, of course, for the shoes. And the swatters. And the rolled-up magazines. It’s not enough that we’re born to die in this world. No, everything seems to want to kill us on top of it. Now some of your brothers and sisters won’t be able to handle that heat; I saw many of my own siblings fly straight into those fluorescent bulbs until they were dead on their backs, legs stiff in the air. Do not waste precious minutes weeping for them. They preferred to go out on their own terms, rather than rough it through a life of pain and shit (I don’t mean the good kind). By being born into a world where your life is decided for you, can you really, truly blame them?
What about me, you ask? No. The thought never crossed my mind. That wasn’t the world I wanted to live in. Even as a pupae, I decided I wanted more. No shit heaps or rotting garbage, no small, safe alcove of a ceiling fan. Even the women, and there were women, did not appeal to me. Maybe that’s why, as I find myself childless, I have come to speak with you. Don’t get me wrong though– I have no regrets. The trodden path was no place for Phillip P. Phly. I wanted to be educated. Intelligent. Perceptive. It was an accident really: it was my first solo flight, right after leaving the Nursery, when I happened upon the book. It was just lying there, wide open, upon the desk. So I flew down, sat, and began to read. It was a quiet room, and rarely used, so I didn’t have to worry about someone discovering me. I stayed there for my entire first week, devoted seven precious days to expanding the confines of my mind. It was just me, alone, in a room full of dusty books. You might find it worth a visit. Even if you don’t read, the glue from the bindings tastes excellent. Simply excellent.
But soon I grew restless, as all flies do when they settle in one place for too long. One shouldn’t spend their whole life with their labellum in a book, you know. So I toured the Home, explored it from top to bottom. Oh, the things I was able to see! My grand-fly used to tell me, “The First Fly gave us all these eyes to see as much as possible, considering we don’t live long. Small wings too, so we’d have to slow down and enjoy the view.”
Now my gram-fly, Mother-Fly bless her soul, had a terrible temper. It would always upset her when my grand-fly would talk this way.
“Titis,” she would buzz at him, “The First Fly did it so we could always see the magazine coming but be too slow to get away.”
“Lucilia,” he’d spit back, “life’s all about perspective. What’s the point of having a thousand eyes if you only ever look at things one way?”
Then the conversation would end, usually with my gram-fly wishing she would have left the Home with that Bluebottle that was always sweet on her. And grand-fly would be off again, to the Toilet-Bowl Bar, wishing he hadn’t spoken as he drowned his sorrows in a heap of unflushed shit. His words always stuck with me, though. It’s funny, the things you remember and the things you don’t. You’d think that I’d remember everything, right down to the minute. Twenty-eight days is rather short, in the grand scheme of things. But alas, in life we find meaning in some things. In others, we don’t.
So instead of reading out of books or flying into window panes, I’ve decided to live. Just live. Exactly where I am. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories about it, what life must be like on the Outside. But it doesn’t really matter, small one, because your life is what you choose to make it. That’s why I’m here, sitting on this wall, showing you what I choose to do. I’ve done this a lot before, so it’s gotten easier coming in and out quietly; if you tilt your wings at just the right angle, you can move just as quiet as the smallest fruit fly. There you go! That’s just about it. When your friends ask you how you do it, remember my name. Fruit Fly Phil–that’s what you can call me.
Now you have to make sure you keep all your eyes open. These rooms are real big, almost threateningly so. A hand or a shoe could come flying out of nowhere to splatter you right here, on this yellow-papered wall. Why don’t we just stay out of sight, you ask? Well we wouldn’t get such a great view. You must learn to live a little, while you can. That’s why I like to sit right here, watching the man in the bed, who’s being watched by the woman in the chair, who’s also being watched by me. That’s the great thing about these eyes of ours; a fly can see an awful lot, but it’s focusing on the right things that really matter.
The man’s just lying there, as always, beneath that handsome blue blanket I’ve come very much to like. He’s always saying something to that woman but she rarely says much back. When she does, it’s almost always to that clipboard she’s holding. Oh, to be a fly on the wall for this conversation! You know, I might be too old now to start up a Fly Academy but maybe you could. Who knows? You might just spend a few days, just to lay the groundwork, then find someone younger to carry it on. Set up some sort of school in the library: like I said, it’s nearly always empty. Teach them to speak a little human, just a few words here and there. Maybe then we might improve the Human-Fly relationship… never mind. A fly does babble in his old age.
Anyway, I was talking about that man who’s dying in the bed. How do I know? I’ve witnessed death all my life, dear friend! An old fly like me, or any fly for that matter, knows death when he sees it! Look at his skin, with that bluish tinge of a lady Bluebottle. Or his face: it’s the same greenish hue as that poor cricket who was squashed in my second life-week. Oh, the sounds he could make with his wings. You couldn’t imagine! I tried and tried for nearly two days but I just don’t have the ridges. The gifts some are just born with… if I’d had more time, perhaps I might have learned, too.
But it’s getting to the end now. See his chest rise then fall? Too fast, much too fast. Like flies, humans shouldn’t shake when they exhale. These are his final breaths for sure. He knows it, too. He must be terrified. Touch your antenna to the wall, right here: can you feel it? His heart is pounding like a drum. Listen to it: going, going, going. Gone. He’s dead, over and done with. The man bit it harder than a non-biting midge. Poor bastard.
I remember the first time I came here to watch. My grand-fly took me then. It was a different man, of course, in a different bed. The nurse was different too. But every time, it’s exactly the same. Like I said, death and I had become acquainted early on–of my three hundred brothers and sisters, only thirty of us had lived to that point in time. But this time had struck me different and, in pursuit of my life’s goal, I wanted to know why.
“But grand-fly,” I had asked, still in the spring of my youth, “why can’t the humans just pick a nice windowsill to die on while they watch the world spin outside, like gram-fly did?”
“Well, Phil. Every human thinks they’re special. They live most of their lives like that, rushing to grow up and then wishing they could keep going, on and on and on.”
I was shocked to hear this. What creature could want time to move faster when there’s already so little as it is?
“You see,” my grand-fly said, “humans and flies are exactly the same. However much they despise us, look down on us, or try to kill us, this much is true. We’re all born, we live, then we die. Plain and simple. Humans hate us because they can’t stand that we’ve accepted that one, simple truth. We accept our lot in life, however hard it might be, and choose to live the best we can. Humans would live forever if they could, I think. But then, no one truly wants to die.”
It was then when my mind burned with questions. I asked him about life, about his life and what he might do if he had years and years of time to live it. I asked what our world might be like if we could take a lifespan and double it. Triple it. Multiply it by 1000. I asked him these and many other questions. It was probably the only time in my life when I thought about what could be instead of what was. If you are like me, you might have your own questions. But first, would you like to hear what my grand-fly told me?
“Phil,” he buzzed, “I don’t think I would know what to do with myself if I had that much time. I might just sit there, existing, if life didn’t have a deadline.”
“But humans have a deadline! They die here every day! But they have time, grand-fly,” I told him, pointing my antenna at the dead man, “I want that much time too!”
“Look at his final moments. No one understands mortality like a fly. Have you ever seen a fly crying when his time was up? Think hard, Phil. Or don’t, because the answer will always be no. That’s because a fly knows his life has been lived so he dies content. He finds peace on the sill, smiling as he watches the world spin by one last time.”
At that moment, he turned his eyes from the dead man so that all two-thousand lenses were focused, solely, on me. Have you ever seen someone focus so hard on one thing before? Or felt what it was like to have someone peer into your soul? I felt it, young one, on that day; it was beautiful and awful and wonderful all at the same time. Let me tell you, to have someone you love see you like that is something else entirely. So I will never forget his final words. Not ’till my dying day.
“A human,” he told me, “will waste their last moments crying or cursing or pleading, while the others around them will curse and plead and cry. That’s why, despite their flaws, we should feel sorry for them. No matter what they do to us, or what those other flies might say, I come up here to sit on this yellow-papered wall so that they know, in their final moments, they do not face death alone.”
Grand-fly stayed too long in the same spot one day though; they scraped him off the wall, a single black splatter beneath a rolled-up Reader’s Digest. He didn’t move fast enough and that was the old fly’s end. Maybe Gram-fly was right about the First Fly after all. I don’t know. That book I mentioned, the one from my younger days, had been filled with poetry. I remember the page and the poem, written by a Dippinson or a Diccansome. It was about a fly, much like you and me, who had devoted his life to watching. I rather like the idea that that fly was my grand-fly, and then that fly was me. It could be you, too, but only if you wanted it.
You are a lot like me, you know. You see things a little different than everyone else. If you didn’t, then why would you be here? So I’ll tell you one last thing, because these legs are getting tired, and let you fly off to meet your friends. Once, and only once, I broke the cardinal rule and flew down to land on this old woman’s head. I don’t know why but something about her just called to me. I simply had to feel her before they carted her away. So I perch, light as a moth, on her forehead and start rubbing my hands together, praying to the hallowed Mother-Fly to take her quietly into that good night. I read that once, in a book, but couldn’t turn the page to finish the story. But anyway, so I’m giving this woman the royal send-off and the damned nurse tries to squash me. Squash me! Right on that dead woman’s head. A dirty, common fly: that’s all she saw in me.
They would call it profiling where I’m from. The cockroaches know all about profiling: you should spend a day in the basement just to hear their story. It’s a heart-throb. I would have gone down there to tell them and they might have raised a little hell for me. But that nurse? She wasn’t worth my time. Forgive and forget, that’s my motto. Anyway, you should think about starting up that Fly Academy. You might make something of us all someday. Tell our story. Bridge the gap. Maybe communicating is the key to understanding one another, even just a little bit. But I’m talking in circles, as old flies often do. Go off now. Fly forward. Don’t worry about old Phil. I think this old fly might just go find a window to stare out of for a while. That seems like a fine way to spend a day.