Waiting for the Quiet
By Teresa Yang
They just appeared one day, these huge black flies rubbing their legs together as if anticipating a roast beef dinner. My husband accused me of leaving the front door open for too long and allowing the invaders into the house.
These days the front door remains closed. Any opening is strictly as needed and transactional, to grab the UPS delivery. I leave the package on the table near the door, where the hostess gifts used to sit, so any residual virus can die a natural death.
That Saturday, though, the door was ajar for a full ten minutes. I was excited to see my friend Flo. I hadn’t seen her since February, since our last restaurant meal in a crowded, overpriced Santa Monica eatery where the virus was surely replicating as it was being invisibly transported on the burrata salad plate.
Flo’s visit had purpose. She was picking up some medical grade masks, ones that, to my surprise, I had offered to procure on her behalf. Flo’s mother had a heart valve replaced last year.
Mother’s lost some weight, Flo said.
Even though I no longer have a dental office, I continued to cold call my suppliers in search of masks and disinfection wipes. Once I even awoke at 5am to call a national dental supplier on the East coast.
I saved my rationed purchases like lifeboat seats, risking trips to UPS during quarantine to send protection to my children and elderly father.
When Flo’s shipment arrived, I inspected the flimsy boxes for the telltale ASTM3 label and could find none. So, from my dwindling supply, I gave Flo some authentic ASTM level 3’s.
Reclined in the front seat of Flo’s car, her mother said, “I’m going to compare these to my non-medical ones.” I was glad I had switched the masks. Flo’s mother knitted and crocheted, her eyes expert at detail work.
The flies must’ve snuck in during those ten minutes.
These flies were big, slow and lumbering. I retrieved an old rag and used it like a whip to snap at their sunbathing bodies. Sometimes there was bloody splatter. Other times I only succeeded in stunning them. If I didn’t swoop in immediately with a paper towel to pulverize the insect, it would wobble like a drunk and then fly away.
When I realized my kill count was in the double digits, I considered keeping a tally.
Our days were marked by a steady influx of flies. I covered the recently baked blueberry pie. I didn’t leave half consumed glasses of water lying around. My husband assiduously alcohol wiped remnants of fly legs.
“They’re not coming in through the front door,” he finally admitted.
We became fly hunters, searching leaky plumbing and festering trash. More of them seemed to congregate in the bathroom. It grossed him out that he was stepping barefoot on imagined larvae or drying himself off with a fly contaminated bath towel. We began flushing after every use rather than leaving the accumulated urine for a scheduled conservational flush.
He used the Raid ant spray, adding to the bathroom toxicity.
Like regaining our sense of smell, we suddenly remembered from several weeks ago the vile odor originating from inside the kitchen wall. It made me gag even when I was chopping onions. It reminded me of the occasional dead rat in the garage, corpses hiding behind the old refrigerator.
Had that stench been a harbinger to the fly outbreak? I pictured maggots multiplying in the rat carcass, giving birth to a squadron of black fuzzy flies.
At night I went to sleep with trepidation, worried that a fly would land on my nose or mouth. It was the same fear I felt for my son, whose girlfriend worked in an urban hospital. I started sleeping face down.
In the morning I would awaken to find several dead in the bathroom, legs up and lying on their backs like they were preparing to do morning sit ups. No doubt the Raid was working. My wrist now flicked with muscle memory, whipping the rag like firing neurons. With each snap, I pretended I was the president, doing good.
Then one day the flies were gone.
We didn’t trust it initially. I left my towel whip handy, next to the bathtub. We gradually reopened the screen doors part way.
By week’s end I sighed with relief. There were no fly carcasses anywhere. With precious bleach, I washed the filthy rags that had become my weapons. We returned to our carefree pre-fly infestation existence, one where our house was a sanctuary against the other infestation we couldn’t see.
But was it over? Or were maggots silently reconvening inside the wall? Would unwrapping the blueberry pie taint the remaining uneaten slices?
At night, after I’ve watched yet another autopsied corpse on yet another crime show, I listen for buzzing noises. I know, though, that these flies are quiet, sedentary, rubbing their legs as if practicing hand hygiene.
About the Author: Teresa Yang is a dentist living in Los Angeles. Besides dental publications, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in HerStry, Potato Soup Journal, Mutha Magazine, The Writing Disorder and Little Old Lady Comedy. She is currently working on a work memoir about the secret life of a lady dentist.
Image Credit: Fauna Germanica, Diptera Nuremberg (between 1793 and 1805) Public Domain. Image Courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library