You ever get the feeling someone is talking about you?
Iím right at the
end of the movie when the speaker starts popping and
I hear these words. Once a week, right when Iím finally
starting to relax around this spiderweb of power cords
and surge protectors, Iím reminded I can never trust
the wiring around here. Never move somewhere just because
you like seeing a river out your window.
I remember when a nearby
lightning strike fried something inside the picture tube
and put a freaky green line through the middle of the
screen. That green line was there for about six months,
mercifully getting smaller and smaller and almost fading
away until it was just a glowing yellow smear in the
corner of the TV, like Iíd smashed a lightning bug on
the glass and never cleaned it up. I donít know if this
room is some sort of electric Bermuda Triangle, but I
canít risk any more equipment and thatís why I move fast
whenever I hear a speaker snap, crackle or pop.
Iím ready to pull the plug
when suddenly Iím hearing two voices from the speaker
that arenít part of the movie. I know this because the
movie was at the end, right at the part where everyone
gets what they deserve, and all I should be hearing is
gunfire, one-liners and big, dumb music. However, this
whispered conversation is something youíd hear in the
middle of a flick, maybe the beginning, when youíre not
sure what the characters are really up to and youíre
supposed to be all suspicious of everyone.
The sad thing is he
has no idea I hate his guts.
I sit down by the speaker,
actually thinking about getting a glass to put between
the television and my ear to hear the voices better.
Remember his last story?
Even the goddamn dog was rolling his eyes.
I adjust my legs to get
comfortable, hoping the reception lasts a while. I know ďhearing
voicesĒ is supposed to make you nervous, but it happens
in this building sometimes. A couple times, a year back,
when my surround-sound speakers were still working, I
picked up some random banter between truckers. Itís the
bad wiring that does it. Sometimes, youíll suddenly get
three more people in the middle of your phone call, and
youíll find yourself answering a question about the first
time you stuck a finger up someoneís ass instead of answering
your grandpaís question about car insurance.
But those fractured conversations
lasted a minute at the most, and they were nowhere near
as clear as this. This is like Iím holding the tomato
cans between two people, but their stringís coming out
both my ears.
If that bastard had
any idea what people sayÖ
Right then, the speaker
crackles and the voices are buried under static. I lean
in closer and bang my head on the glass. Thereís a final POP! and
I yank the cord from the wall. I sit with my back to
the TV, feeling the electricity tickle my neck as both
me and the equipment power down. I reel in the cord,
wrapping it around my knuckles, working to bend the prongs
I hold my breath when I
plug it back in. Thank Christ it still works. I stare
at the green stain in the corner of the picture. Itís
back, but it doesnít bother me. Iíd watch TV if the whole
screen was green. Nothing happens in the corners of a
movie anyway. A green sunset in this western? The gunfighters
wonít even notice.
00:00:03:57 - love without
a life jacket
When I say thereís a long
list of things about her that used to drive me nuts,
Iím not talking about a sheet of paper, or even a stack
of paper with both sides filled plus illustrations in
the margin and a flip-cartoon in the corner to re-enact
the top ten, Iím talking about the kind of list where
you could stand at the top of the stairs and you let
the pages drop and they bounce down the steps and unroll
out the door and down the hill and across the street
and over the cars and stray dogs are crashing through
it like a finish line. Thatís how long my list is. And
at the top of that list? That would have to be the way
she used to walk into the bathroom to use the phone.
It drove me crazy. Well, crazy enough to ruin my day.
Luckily, thatís one thing I donít have to worry about
anymore. This new girl I got? She stares right at me
when sheís on the phone. She letís me listen to the even
her most embarrassing conversations. Sheís never turning
the volume down on the receiver in case the caller says
something I shouldnít hear. Sheís never pressing the
phone hard against her head, so afraid a secret would
sneak out while she was talking. So hard her ear looks
like a ripe tomato slice when she finally snaps the phone
This new girl? Sheís got
nothing to hide. Sheís in the bathroom right now, and
I trust her so much Iím not even turning down the volume
to listen to her piss.
Then the toilet flushes
once, twice, and chokes on a third attempt. She walks
back into the room, then slides down to her hip in a
quick motion that would make any gunfighter shake in
his boots. My smile slips when I see her phone drop into
ďI thought you drowned,Ē I
00:00:28:09 - bugs canít
Itís too cold to have a
fly on the window, on either side of the glass. Thereís
no leaves on trees. The birds are long gone. The morning
before, I had to dig my car out from under the wake of
a snowplow with red fingers. Thereís nothing alive outside
without fur, nothing alive out there smaller than a rat.
But there it is.
One of those big, blue-eyed
garbage flies, crawling around the edges of the glass
like it was summer out there, like there isnít a kid
kicking the head off a snowman two houses down. In a
daze, I pull the black tape off the window, taking some
of the paint with it, knowing itís going to take another
hour to seal that window back up. I yank it up with a
grunt, cold air freezing the snot in my nose. Itís the
first time Iíve ever seen a fly trying to get in instead
What the hell do you feed
it? Usually, youíre trying to stop a fly from drinking
off the edge of your pop can instead of keeping it alive.
So I just stand back and let it ricochet off the walls
like a drunk hoping itíll find a stray cornflake or damp
toenail to munch on. I watch it circle the room about
six more times, increasingly confused by its behavior,
cruising frantic figure-eights about a foot from the
ceiling. Finally, I grab a stuffed animal still upside
down in a corner from three ex-girlfriendís ago and chase
it toward the bathroom. If Iím going to have a pet fly
it should be near the bowl, right? I mean, Iím a pretty
clean dude, but I figure if thereís anything around this
place a fly can eat, itís going to be in there. Hell,
cats and dogs get water bowls, donít they? I should write
the name ďSpikeĒ on the side of my toilet.
am I gonna eat what exactly?
The next day, this new
girl comes over to watch a movie. Halfway through, the
speakers start popping again, and while Iím screwing
with the wires in the back of the box, she sighs and
runs to the bathroom. And suddenly, Iím listening to
her piss even though sheís 100 feet and a closed door
away. Itís splashing so loud I flinch and think she squatted
down over my head.
Thatís when I remember
Same old shit,
you know? Why do I come over here?
The voice is fading, so
I crawl over to my bookbag and pull out my headphones.
I quickly try plugging the headphones directly into the
TV and I get zapped with static instead. Like a fool
I sit there, with the headphones unplugged and dangling,
still listening for the voices. The headphones are new.
Theyíre the kind that go into your ears instead of over
them, sometimes too deep, the kind that you might lose
in your head if you scratch too hard. Like I do. And
just like they always told me would happen when people
are talking shit, my ears start burning.
I have to go watch
the rest of this horrible movie, if he ever gets
it to workÖ
Iím so excited about hearing
someoneís voice through unplugged headphones that, at
first, I donít care what sheís saying. Itís not like
the truckers I heard before. This time I can only hear
one side of the conversation. Her voice is a non-stop
sigh, like the endless hiss of a tire valve.
Maybe Iíll pretend
Then the toilet flushes,
and itís as loud as a hurricane. I grab the sides of
the TV in case I start spinning around a drain and get
sucked down. Iím so wired about this discovery that Iím
smiling like a maniac when she comes out, struggling
to keep my new eavesdropping skills to myself. By the
time we finish the western, I realize itís not just the
headphones. The fly was in there with her.
Öthe first time
Iíve ever seen a fly trying to get in instead of
This new power is coming
from the fly.
00:01:34:07 - spiders
are not our friends
After sheís gone home,
Iím thinking I should call NASA or whatever government
office deals with the physical manifestation of metaphors.
Or, at the very least, spy on about ten more people I
suspect are talking shit about me. Iím already making
a mental list when I go back into the bathroom.
The fly is dying. At least,
itís moving slower. My eyes follow its sluggish path
until it vanishes into a crack in the porcelain box behind
the toilet. I panic and shove the clock radio and empty
box of tissues onto the floor and take off the lid, shaking
my head in disbelief as I look inside. Impossible.
The fly is caught in a
spiderweb, flailing like a drunk trying to navigate a
beaded curtains at a party. Spiders in the toilets? Flies
in the snow? Whatís next?
Suddenly, I know what to
do. I tie it outside the bathroom window, and, just as
I hoped, the cold air seems to revive it. Itís moving
fast again, but it never gets back to full speed. Itís
not going to last much longer. I check the clock radio
on the bathroom floor to try and estimate how much time
the fly has left. The display is flashing a green ď12:00
a.m.Ē since I never figured out how to set it. Now, Iíve
got two problems. A time limit, Iím not good with math,
and I canít get everyone into my bathroom to spy on them.
Staring at the word ďSpikeĒ on
the bowl, I decide I should take my fly for a walk.
Once, my grandpa told me
he used to stick flies to his fingers with honey when
he was a boy.
ďWe were bored as hell
back then,Ē he said, ďNow, donít think Iím reminiscing
so I can tell you how it built character or any noble
shit like that Ďcause the only thing playing with flies
does is make you wish you had toys instead.Ē
He told me his flies didnít
fly too long because he always smacked them just a little
bit too hard to slow them down, sort of like my grandma.
Well, mine wonít
last long either. I have to move faster than I am.
I look around the bathroom,
find some dental floss the last girl left behind.
I have no trouble grabbing
it out of the air, and itís still sluggish enough to
tie a leash around its body without risking a swat to
stun it, but the floss is too thick for a knot. I look
around and around and around, and finally my eyes stop
on the answer stuck to the side of my toilet, underlining
my pet flyís name. I crouch down to get closer.
All this time I thought
it was a crack in the porcelain but itís a long black
hair stuck to the moisture on the side of the bowl. I
peel it loose and hold it up to the window. Black. One
of hers. I half-expect it to twitch like a severed spiderís
leg. And even though itís just a hair, even though I
havenít cleaned the bathroom since she left, Iím still
amazed to find a piece of her still here. Iíd be less
surprised to find a five-foot-five layer of skin sheíd
shed, rustling and drying in a corner.
I tie the leash quick.
Too easily. I decide itís because I had one of my hands
buried in her hair for so many years that, when theyíre
not connected to her head anymore, they still know my
fingers and sometimes I can still get them to do what
The fly grabs her hair
and starts stroking it with two front legs. Does that
damn thing have thumbs? Impossible. If bugs had tiny
thumbs, they would have already invented the tiny wheel.
I tie it to my finger where
the skin is still white from the ring she gave me. Then
I put on headphones plugged into nothing, a power cord
dangling down and tucked into a belt-loop. I start my
bringing a fly to a fist fight
Iím out the door looking
at my watch, and I see itís time for free doughnuts.
The gas station makes new ones and throws out the old
ones at exactly 8:00 every day. Theyíre always real cool
about giving me those old ones, but you got to time it
just right. The fly tugs on its leash, circling my ring
finger, then resigning to wrap itself around the steering
wheel. I worry about a sudden turn breaking the leash,
so I pull over and carefully unwind the hair without
breaking it, thinking about the old westerns my grandpa
used to make us watch, and the way the cowboys made their
horse stay put by dropping a leather strap across a bush
or twig without even tying it up or anything.
Inside the gas station,
the girl behind the counter smiles, and I grab one of
each kind of doughnut before the kid can slide them into
the trash. He sighs and waits for me to drop them into
my bag, then he quickly clears the case. I take longer
than usual because Iím trying to keep one hand behind
my back. I donít know what would be worse, someone thinking
that flies follow me around, or someone seeing that I
keep one a tiny little leash.
When sheís counting the
cigarettes behind her, I tie the fly to a bag of peanuts
near the cash register, not really tying a knot, just
winding the hair around the peanuts one time, then I
run out to pump my gas.
Inside, I see the girl
at the counter talking to the next guy in line and he
throws a thumb my way. I quickly pull the headphones
from inside my shirt and pop them in to see if this guy
is talking shit. Amazingly, he isnít. But she is.
He just tries
to act like he had no idea they were free even though
he was in here last nightÖ
My head down, I run in
and grab my fly. For the first time since I started going
there, she talks to me.
ďYou paying for those peanuts,
(continued on page 2)