Fly on the Wall

Clare Bakhtiar

One’s experience of time is ordinarily at its thinnest and most malleable first thing in the morning. A five minute snooze can feel like hours of sleep, and a half hour can vanish in a single subject of thought. It is these moments that time is most clearly perforated and measuring it seems most absurd.

I wake alone. Even when I have company, this is how I wake; a self not yet dressed for the day. I emerge from the sludge of a dreamless sleep in an empty bed, and I’m glad of it. Waking to the smooth expanse of my white cotton sheets is a grace. I don’t often feel an absence as I become conscious; I feel intrusion. I notice the sun shooting through the holes of my disintegrating black-out blinds. The dust floating through the beams makes the atmosphere feel close even though the air is cool. The holes look like a spray of pellet gun fire and they’re becoming numerous. My bedroom is being assaulted by the day.

I’ve always preferred the darkness. I think it’s because I was born in winter. My mother said my black hair and white skin was like naked trees in the snow. I was pretty as a picture, a winter scene, she’d say, and stroke my cheek. I didn’t understand what she meant, but I liked her touch. She was beautiful and fair, but we shared the same blue eyes. When she left I planted snowdrops and white roses in the garden hoping that she’d notice them when she passed. I wanted her to know I was waiting for her. Eventually I collected myself and took bouquets of white carnations to her grave. She’d never liked lilies. A year later I planted black hellebore and summer snowflake around the headstone. After that I never returned.

Darkness is nature’s privacy. It’s for hidden things and that’s why I like it. Some people find it threatening; the dark forest is always inhabited by dangerous creatures in fairy tales. Witches and wolves wait in ambush if you wander off the path. But the darkness can protect you. It’s at night people free themselves, lighting up the blackness with artificial colour as they loosen the shackles of industry and propriety. Night is for adults. And morning is the night unclothed. It takes time to adjust. Nagājunā, an ancient Indian philosopher, said of sleep, “at night your bed is a source of refuge, in the morning it’s a bed of snakes.” I agree with him, but probably not in the way he meant.

I lean over the space where someone should’ve been and grapple with the cord of the blackout blind. It creaks and groans far enough up the window to allow a beam of yellow light through. I flop back onto the bed, squinting. Behind the dusty sunbeams I see make-up and pocket debris littering the surface of a chest of drawers. The bottom drawer is held together with tape. I should fix it, but I can’t see it when I’m asleep and in the morning I can’t be bothered. On the floor next to me is my ashtray and tobacco pouch. I lean over and roll a cigarette. I’ll give up smoking when I fix the drawer, I think to myself. As smoke curls around the sunshine, I feel cocooned.

I finish my cigarette. A large black fly buzzes into the room as I stub it out. The fly is like a frantic rage. It batters the wall and stings my nerves. I want to kill it. Everything about this fly is disgusting; its bulbous black body, the invisible legs that appear for a second when it touches a surface, the cracking of its wings as they hit the wall. I think of it teeming with microbes and germs from the shit it’s been crawling in. But it’s the sound that runs through me and I clench my teeth. It dominates my mind and makes my nervous system feel scourged. But I can’t kill it. I watch it instead.

It lands on the window and doesn’t stop buzzing. It flies to the top of the glass and then fizzes down. I feel my chest tighten. If I can open the window, maybe I can free us both. I lean over the bed and gently prise the windows apart but the fly clings to the glass. Goddamn it. The way it bounces reminds me of water globules hissing and rolling on hot plates, except the fly won’t evaporate. It will die and land on my windowsill, hard, substantial, crunchy.

And then, suddenly, it’s gone.

Out of the window.

I’ve lived three lives today already.

My watch tells me it’s early, 7.30 am, but the day has already begun. I reluctantly swing my legs off the bed and let my feet touch the unvarnished floorboards. I need a cup of tea.

I’m looking out of the window holding a mug in my hand. Each room is a new scene. I don’t know why I feel frightened.

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