By Lindsay Fudim
By the time my swatter cracks down on the porch railing like a court gavel the fly is a pancake. Again, I lift the swatter to the air and mercilessly bring it down on the dead fly’s companion, sending sawdust and splintered wood into the air as I do so.
“By God, what are with these damn flies? I’ve never seen anything like it,” Herman says,flicking a deceased fly off the railing and eyeing his own swatter with bewilderment. He creaks his rocking chair forward and swaps his swatter for his brandy, letting the ice cubes clink for several seconds before taking an expert sip. Locusts chatter nearby in the marsh, generating the sound of a thousand screen doors opening at once.
“Another one?” I offer.
“No,” he says through un-moving lips. The brandy has filed away at the corners of his mouth, captivating all his emotions into one linear line. “I’ll take this drink to bed.”
The door swings shut and I drop to my knees, wriggling an old floor board free. The overhead porch light flickers as I uncover a mason jar full of dead flies. Twisting it open, I sweep the new flies from this evening into my collection, not bothering to look over my shoulder. He ought to be asleep already.
I make my way down the porch steps and remove the cinder block that covers up the hole in the side. All this money and our house still looks like a Victorian home out of a ghost story. He’s too lazy to fix it himself, and to proud to hire someone else to do it. I plan to fix it soon, like everything else beckoning for a good patchwork in this house, but I have made use of this imperfection for the time being.
My pupils widen to make out the lumpy figure in the dark. Whatever it is, it’s dead.
My hands don’t wait for my brain’s command; they maneuver their way carefully around the animal trap and release its jaw. A well-fed rat falls limp, and I drag it our from underneath the porch in one swift movement.
With the dead rat slung over my shoulder like a burlap sack and the jar of flies tucked underneath my damp armpit, I enter the shadows of the marsh. The crescent moon quivers, casting a shaky sliver of light down the center of the wetland. Trees cower overhead as if to hide the marsh’s secrets from the stars. Tall grass painted gold by the day’s sun illuminates the narrow path ahead. Cool mud grips my bare feet with each step, frogs belch somewhere in the distance, licking the darkness with their tongues. Lightning cracks, revealing a shallow body of water approximately twenty feet ahead. The black water is tinged with a deafening stillness. A dense breeze nudges me forward.
I toss the rat towards the edge of the water. I then twist open the jar and shake out its contents.
A pair of eyes flash to life above the water’s surface.
Then another, and another. They pierce the darkness like floating lanterns, bobbing up and down, unblinking. A smile creeps across my face. Tomorrow, they will be ready.
I withdraw back towards the path that took me here, aware that I only have a fraction of a minute until my safety is jeopardized. I take long, purposeful steps, sheltering my head with my hand from the pelting rain, until I reach the house.
Nestled in bed, I listen to the snores of the man beside me compete with the thunder outside our thin walls. I watch his triumphant belly rise and fall like a tormented sea. There was a time when he was a gentleman; smooth, even, like the brandy he traded for his manners. I mustered the courage to tell him I was leaving once, but he dismissed me like I was one of his unworthy clients, mumbling some threat about fixing an arrangement so that I would never walk this earth again. I glance down at the mud still caked around my toenails, full of earth and full of life, and drift off to sleep.
The next day I wait eagerly for Herman to come home from work, something I haven’t done in over fifteen years. Flies circle my head by the dozen while I rock my chair dazedly on the porch, but I leave the swatter on the floor. I no longer have a need for dead flies.
At a quarter past six my neck cranes at the sound of tires swerving on grass. Moments later, a foul-smelling Herman wobbles up the porch steps, not even exerting the effort of lifting a disheveled eyebrow in my direction. He enters the house and composes to his evening orchestra of creaking cabinets, clinking glasses, and clattering ice cubes.
The hours pass, the marsh waits.
All sounds from inside come to a still and I take my queue to retrieve a wheelbarrow from the side of the house. I empty out the weeds from today’s gardening chores and go inside, returning seconds later dragging a flushed face atop a limp body. I heave Herman onto the wheelbarrow – a clunky but successful procedure – and begin my trek through the marsh. The locusts seem to screech louder tonight, possibly startled by the strong stench of booze invading their home. Last night’s rain make the wheelbarrow hard to push through the watery mud, and by the time I reach the water my muscles are trembling. I muster any remaining strength I have and turn the wheelbarrow sideways, letting Herman topple to the ground like a barrel of fish. He unleashes a throaty groan but does not stir.
I stay long enough to watch the hungry beasts waddle out of the water, their jerky movements revealing all angles of their scales. The first crocodile unhinges a jaw full of jagged teeth. I turn the wheelbarrow around as the sounds of snapping and screaming find their beat into the backdrop of the marsh.
(Bio: Lindsay Fudim resides in Long Island, New York. She is a healthcare administrator and plays pickleball in her free time. She is self-aware that most people do not know what pickleball is. She also enjoys walking her dog, Tucker. Tucker requests that her next story features a squirrel, preferably a slow one.)