Fly

Livvy struggles to contain her obsessive compulsive urges. Sometimes she hides them well, sometimes they drive her to do things she knows no one else would do. After a night of drugs and passionate sex, she finds herself tortured by an unwelcome presence.

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1. Fly

  “You have to go now,” I say, because the sight of him in my bed is making me want to screw up my eyes and say the word “safe” four times and one for luck.  I resist because he’s looking up at me now.  I’m standing next to the bed, with a towel round my body.  I’ve already showered last night off me.  He grins.  He wants me to come back to bed with him but I say it again, to show him I mean it.

  “Well, that’s me told,” he says sarcastically, throwing back the covers and huffing through his nose.  I can’t believe I felt so different last night.  It’s always the same.  The night is exciting and passionate, sexy and coke-fuelled.  The morning is horrible and dark and I feel wrong.  Why do I do it?  A fly brushes close to my face and I waft at it, then I turn away because now I have to screw my eyes up so tight they hurt and the black world behind my lids is filled with blotches of colour.  Safe safe safe safe.  And one for luck: safe.

  I walk out of the bedroom.  “Livvy,” he calls after me, quite gently.  I’m shamed that he remembers my name.  I can’t remember his.  He knows nothing else about me though.  He doesn’t know I’m a fucking weirdo.  I can hide it for a while, like when I’m out with my friends and I’ve had a couple of glasses of wine, like last night in the club.  When he came over, I couldn’t look at him at first, but he thought that was because I’m shy.  That’s what they always think.  Boys seem to like that.  I’m not shy though.  It’s just that sometimes I can’t look at people because I’m afraid my eyes can hurt them, like give them cancer or something.

  I scrunch my eyes up really tight again until the blotches come, to get rid of that horrible word, and then I go downstairs.  Safe safe safe safe.  Safe.  The filth in the house makes me feel sick.  There are just too many out-of-reach corners and surfaces in a big old place like this.  That bloody fly seems to be following me.  I hate flies, but they are always too quick to kill so I end up putting up with them.  While no-one’s around, I take the opportunity to open my mouth really wide until it stretches at the sides and feels as if it’s going to tear and I can hear that rushing in my ears like when you yawn.  I’ve been needing to do that for ages.

  God, why can’t I just be normal?  I know I don’t need to do these things.  I know my eyes can’t give people cancer and I know the house isn’t filthy.  But even though I know all that, I feel the opposite.  And my feelings are stronger than my knowing.  I can’t stop myself.  As I reach the kitchen, I even have to do the one where I stretch my arms, legs and neck so that all my joints burn and I’m standing on tip-toe until my body feels cleansed.  Then I relax, worried that he might have followed me downstairs and seen me doing that.  I turn, he hasn’t.  The cleansed feeling will only last for a few minutes and I’ll have to do it all over again.  I can tell it’s going to be like that today.  Probably because of what I did last night, on some sort of deep, psychological level that I’ve never managed to unpick.

  I put the kettle on and stand in the middle of the kitchen with my arms folded and shoulders hunched up.  I can’t quite bear to touch anything unless I have to.  In my head, I’m re-living last night, in disjointed, non-chronological chunks: the sex, mostly, but also laughing in the pub with Lisa and Hannah.  God knows what happened to them!  I do manage to have a laugh sometimes, after a bit of self-medication.  Sometimes I manage to forget the weird thoughts and obsessions which fill my head, and just get on and have a laugh, like normal people.

  I see that fly sitting on the work-top.  It must have found a crumb or something.  I try not to think about its horrible mouth-parts, but I already know from my GCSE days that they are like enormous red lips on the end of a trunk-like tube, with grooves all the way up inside, lined with little serrated teeth, and as I watch they are puking bile onto the crumb and sucking it up as the crumb is reduced to a bubbling froth by the bile.  They vomit in reverse: their bile digests the food before they eat it, then, when it’s all turned to sick, they suck it back up, relishing the taste of their own pre-digested dinner.  It makes me want to shriek.  I look around for a way to kill it, grab a tea-towel and take a swipe.  The towel slaps the work-top but the fly escapes, and settles on the ceiling, looking down at me triumphantly.  And now the tea-towel has got fly-puke-dinner on it so I’ll have to boil-wash it.  In fact, I might never be able to bring myself to use it again.  I might as well just keep it as a fly swat now.  Safe safe safe safe.  Safe.  Eyes-scrunch.  Mouth-stretch.

The kettle clicks off, the water bubbling inside it like fly-bile on a crumb, and footsteps on the stairs make me turn my head.  “Great place,” he says.  “I hardly noticed it last night!”  The place is actually pretty odd: an old chapel with lots of open-plan spaces and mezzanine floors.  Very modern, in an ironic sort of way.  In fact, the ironic thing is it was modernised in the early 90s and it’s all looking a bit shabby now.  He’s only wearing his boxers, and he’s breathing his breath into the air I have to breathe.  He’s grinning laconically, as if we have a shared appreciation for last night’s naughtiness, and I am suddenly frozen by the thought that he might try to kiss me.  He’s coming towards me, swaggering as if he’s proud of what he achieved last night, and then the cat-flap clatters and in comes that little tabby cat that seems to think it lives here.  I can barely bring myself to touch it, but it gives me a chance to duck away from the encroaching kiss, and I grab the cat, turn it round and shove it straight back out of the flap.  I move the bin in front of it so the cat can’t get back in.  I feel guilty now, because sometimes I welcome the creature in, and let it sit on my lap while I watch Hollyoaks.  I even stroke it sometimes.  But I can’t do that today.

Now I’ve got cat-lick all over my hands, so I push past the human intruder and run the hot tap.  Over my shoulder I say, “I have to go out soon, so you’ll have to go.  I’ve got to get ready.”  But he comes right up behind me and puts his hands on my waist.  He dips his head towards my neck, moving my hair out of the way with his stubbly chin.  All I can think about is his skin-cells detaching themselves from his face and losing themselves in my wet hair.  I don’t care that the towel I’ve got around me isn’t long enough to cover my cellulite, and his hands are on the fat around my hips.  I just care about the air coming out of his lungs, through that mouth and round those teeth that haven’t been cleaned, and the skin-cells he’s shedding onto me.  I’ve got cat-lick on my hands and I’m about to have his dirty mouth on my neck and I want to swat him away with the tea-towel.  I twist so he can’t quite reach me with his lips, and I start to wash my hands, even though the water isn’t properly hot yet.  The water has to be scolding hot, otherwise it won’t kill the germs.  He thinks I’m joking though.  He can’t believe I can be acting like this when I was so into him last night, but he doesn’t know me.  I am fickle in the extreme.  I’m scrubbing my hands and he’s trying to kiss my neck and I’m twisting away from him and I’m scrubbing hard even though the bloody water refuses to heat up and he refuses to give up until I elbow him sharply in the ribs.  He gasps and backs right off.

  “What the fuck?” he says.  “What was that for?”  Still rubbing my hands together, the water finally getting hot and painful, I say to him, “Like I said, I’ve got to go.  Sorry.”

  “Christ, what did I do?” he says as I scrub.  He’s still standing there and I can smell his morning breath, and I see it in the air like a yellow gas and I hold my breath for as long as I can.  Finally, only breathing out, not in, I manage to say, “Nothing.  It’s just me.”  I dry my hands on the towel I’m wearing, and walk out of range of his breathing.  I open a window, then think about the fly and imagine others coming in to join it.  Why is it that flies are only ever capable of flying in through a window, not out?  I close it again, and hold my breath.  I feel as if I’m going to scream at him if he doesn’t go, and I wish to God I could remember his name, but I can’t.  I’m desperate to do the eye-scrunch mouth-stretch thing, and I’m saying safe safe safe safe under my breath, but I can’t do any of it properly because he’s looking at me.  He has very pretty, dark eyes.  If I wasn’t trapped in this OCD bubble I’d find him very attractive.  I did last night.  But he’s started to tell I’m a bit mental and he seems reluctant to delve.  At least he’s realised we’re probably not going back to bed today.  Maybe he’ll go now.  Funny, I’d thought he was kind.  He does look it.  Thank goodness he isn’t.  The kind ones always want to make me look at them in the morning even though I can’t, and think they can make me feel better by saying something gentle.  They think I’m being shy and embarrassed, when what I’m really thinking is I wish they’d fuck off out of my house.  This one though, he seems to realise he’s not wanted, and he doesn’t seem to care that much.  He got what he came for, and now he’s going.

He smiles one last wry and cheeky smile, then heads back upstairs.  I take in a very long breath.  I notice the cat is sitting on the windowsill now, looking into the kitchen.  I’ve not lived here long, and I think the lady who lived here before me used to feed it.  I wonder if the cat even realises I’m not her.  Last week it brought a dead mouse in!  It left it in the hallway.  I was having one of my bad days and when I saw the mouse I couldn’t bring myself to go near it.  I couldn’t leave the lounge.  All I could think about was rodent-juice seeping from decaying flesh and running into the gullies between the terracotta tiles, and rodent-gas rising into the air.  I ended up having to climb out of the window and knock on my neighbour’s door.

Safe safe safe safe.  Safe.

That bloody fly is driving me mad.  It’s dive-bombed my head several times as if it’s trying to piss me off.  I’m going to have to kill it.  I lash out with the tea-towel, slapping several surfaces in quick succession as it darts from place to place, but it’s like they move in a different time-zone to us.  No matter how quick I whip the towel through the air, it sees it coming and casually side-steps it.  I wish I wasn’t so mental.  I wish I wasn’t so paranoid about using fly-spray, but if I release some of that stuff into the air I’ll be breathing it in.  How do I know it won’t give me cancer (safe safe safe safe, eye-scrunch, mouth-stretch) or some sort of hideously debilitating nerve disease (safe safe safe safe, eye-scrunch, mouth-stretch)?

So the fly lives and I feel a rage rising inside me.  “Get out of my house, you fucking little shit!” I yell so violently that it scrapes my throat.

  “Alright, alright, I’m going,” comes the irritated reply as the man-with-no-name comes down stairs pulling on his T-shirt.  I should tell him I didn’t mean him, but instead I just storm past him as if we’ve had a row and I’m not speaking to him.  I know I’m being ridiculous, and totally unfair, but he has to go.  His presence is making me want to cry.  I can feel him looking at me as I head upstairs.  He must be completely confused, but at least he’ll have something to laugh about with his mates.

  Upstairs, I pace, waiting for him to go.  I need to clean the house.  I need to wash the bed sheets and all of my clothes, even the ones I haven’t worn.  I need to scrub the bathroom and hoover the carpets.  I can’t start while he’s here because that would defeat the object, so I stand there staring at my bed with its pile of duvet spilling onto the floor, and the used condom leaking onto the rug like a rotting mouse...

  That fucking fly.  It’s followed me upstairs!  I can’t believe it.  It flies round my head and lands on the bed-side table.  I haven’t brought the tea-towel with me.  What can I kill it with?  I look for my slippers.  I find one, and stalk, very slowly, very carefully up to the fly, raising my arm so gently that it’ll never suspect what’s coming... but it flies off before I’ve even begun to bring the slipper down!  I swipe and slash the air uselessly and stupidly and the horrible little creature buzzes away.  But I’m not giving up.  Quickly, I grab the pillow that’s had his head on it, pull the case off, and now I have a better weapon.  The fly lands on the curtain.  It’s not inside one of the folds, it’s right on the outside of one, quite near the bottom.  I have a plan.  I used to be great at stinging people with the very end of my towel in the changing rooms at school.  If you get it just right, it acts like a whip, the tip of it going so fast it can bring up a red welt on a naked thigh.  Just think what it could do to a fly!  I control my breathing as I line up the pillow case.  I’ll have only one shot at this.  I try to clear my head and relax.  I do it!

  The pillowcase snaps at the fly; the curtain recoils; the fly drops to the floor.  I am victorious!

  But, I can’t bring myself to touch it.  I crouch down, which is quite hard to do when you are wrapped as tight as I am in a bath towel, and look at it.  Is it dead?  I get up and look for something to scoop it up with.  It has to be something I don’t want, or won’t ever need to touch again.  I look at the photos blue-tacked around the outside of my mirror.  They’d be perfect, but they are all of people I care about.  I couldn’t use one of them to scoop a fly up with!  I glance back to make sure it’s still there.  I can’t see it at first, so I go back over to where I know it is.

  The fucking little fucker’s gone!  I must have just stunned it.  I look around all over the place but I can’t see it.  I grab the pillow case, making sure I’m not touching the end that hit the fly.  I’m like a hunter now.  There’s no way that thing is going to escape.  If I have to tear the house apart I’ll find it.  The crazy thing is, that isn’t a joke.  I have to find it now.  I am obsessed.

  I hear a noise downstairs.  What’s he doing?  Hasn’t he gone yet?  Out on the small, mezzanine landing, I peer over the banister.  I can’t see him, but I can hear him in the kitchen, running the tap.  He must be getting a drink.  God, if someone had yelled “Get out of my house, you fucking little shit!” at me, I wouldn’t be hanging around to get a drink.  I clench every muscle in my body now, and try to make every joint hurt.  I thump my own head repeatedly, until stars splatter my vision.  I know this is mental, but I can’t help it.  Why won’t he go?

I turn to go back into my bedroom, and I see the fly.  At least, I think it’s the same one.  I can’t even bring myself to entertain the possibility that there’s another one.  It’s on the window, a very tall, wide window that almost runs the full height of the house.  The mezzanine landing is about two thirds of the way up it.  There’s a gap between the mezzanine and the wall, and the window is sunk even further away into a deep recess, which makes it bloody hard to clean because I can hardly reach it and cobwebs often gather under its arched top.  I literally have to risk life and limb if I want to reach those, standing on the metal banister looking down through the gap between the mezzanine and the window at the tiles on the hall floor way beneath me.   I do it though, because I am that mental.  It’s alright if I get a chair and hang on to the wall lamp beside the window, and remember that if I’m going to fall, fall backwards, not forwards. 

Some of the window’s glass panes are coloured.  The fly has landed on a little blue one.  I think about going and fetching the chair from my bedroom but I hardly dare take my eyes off the fly.

Safe safe safe safe.  Safe.  Eye-scrunch - I hold it for ages so that the blotches get really bright, and I do the mouth-stretch too until it feels as if my jaw is going to break.

I’ve stunned the thing, but if I slap it with the pillowcase its foul guts will spread themselves all over the window.  The thought literally makes me shudder.  If I’m clever, I can get it without making any mess.  As quick as I can, I make two hurried journeys back into the bedroom and return first of all with the chair, and secondly, with a tall beaker of water that I’d fetched at some point last night.  I tip what’s left of the water into the pot-plant in the corner.  I know that the fly is stunned.  It’s used its last reserves of energy to get up as high as it can, and that’s where it wants to stay.  I hitch up the towel I’m wearing and clamber onto the banister, steadying myself against the wall.  Behind me is the landing and in front of me is the window.  Between me and the window is the drop.  I know how ridiculous it is that I’m more scared of cobwebs and dead flies than I am of a twenty foot drop onto stone tiles, but that’s the way I am.  Below me, I can just see him now, the man-with-no-name, just his shoulder and elbow and the side of his head.  He’s putting his shoes on I think.  He doesn’t know I’m right above him.  I look ahead of me at the fly.  Its wings move, but only slightly.  It isn’t very well.  Really slowly, one hand gripping the wall-light next to my bedroom door, I reach forward with the glass, stretching across the gap towards the window.

I hear the front door open.  Thank God.  He’s finally going.  But then I hear, “Hello, cat.”  He says something else that I don’t catch, and seems to laugh.  And the door slams behind him.  Through the window’s rippled glass, I can see him walking down the path, and out the gate.  I know he’s let the cat in, but at least I haven’t cleaned the house yet, and a cat is much easier to get rid of than a fly, so I put that out of my mind.

The beaker is hovering towards the drowsy fly.  My arm is stretched as far as it can go and, just as I realise I can’t reach the window, the wall-light snaps off and I fall forwards.  The beaker hits the window pane, sliding slightly sideways with a horrible screech, and I find I am a bridge: my feet on the banister rail, my body across the gap, and all my weight pressing hard against the beaker in my hand which in turn is pressing against the little blue glass panel.  And trapped inside the beaker is the fly!  I would laugh but I’m busy flailing my free hand around desperate to find something to grab onto.  There’s no way I can hold this gravity-defying position for long.  I never was much good at gymnastics.  I adjust my feet, curling my toes to brace them against the sharp edge of the metal banister.  My whole body is beginning to shake.  My free hand can’t find anything to hold onto so ends up on the beaker with my other hand, all my weight pressing into the beaker and into the window.  What the hell am I going to do now?  I’ve got the fly.  There’s no way I’m going to let it get away.  And then I realise three things, all at the same time: 1) I’ve got nothing to slide under the beaker.  How could I be so stupid?  As soon as I remove the beaker the fly will escape.  2) The cat has come up the stairs and is sitting on the landing, just out of my field of vision.  I can feel it watching me.  3) This window, the one almost all of my bodyweight is currently pressing against, is not going to hold.  It is made of lots of little panes held together by lead, some sections framed by thin struts of wood.  It’s one big sheet of flimsily connected squares and rectangles of glass.  I can hear the wood splitting, and can see the lead joins bending outwards.  I have to get down from here.  But that would mean letting the fly go.

And then I notice something on the tiles beneath me that wasn’t there a few moments ago.  I stare at it, trying to bring the dark shape into focus.  Oh my God.  Is that what I think it is?  The cat has left me a present:  the most enormous rat I have ever seen in my whole life.  It’s laid across several tiles, on its side, its tail curled round and its red eye open.  And there is blood coming out of its mouth, and guts hanging out of its stomach.

My head spins.

The cat sits on the landing, watching me, as if waiting for my delight at this wonderful present.

The window creaks, and a popping noise comes from one of the wooden struts.

Safe safe safe safe.  Safe safe safe safe.  But I’m not safe.  No matter how many times I say it.  I have to get down from here, but I can’t.  I can’t bring myself to release the fly.  Even if I can, straightening myself up will mean pushing hard against the window.  It will break, and then I won’t be going straight downwards through the gap, I will be going forwards, through the window, like an Olympic diver.  I already feel as if I am mid-dive.  The only thing I can possibly do is to drop straight down through the gap.  Right now.  Right this second.  This is how mental I am: it isn’t the drop that worries me, it’s what I’ll be landing on.  The rat just lies there, obliviously rotting its way into my lungs and eyes and hair even from this distance.  Horror prickles its way up my body, bores its way into my mind and no amount of eye-scrunching and mouth-stretching can stop it.

I have left it too long.  I have prevaricated myself into a very nasty dead end.  As the window explodes outwards and I find myself plunging forwards, I see the fly seizing its moment, recovered from its concussion.

I fall.  The fly flies free.

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