in honor of Anton Chekov
… it came with a certainty, it seemed, and that strangest of times
remains indelible in my memory: a half-sunny day during
molting season when thousands of mother-flies lay their eggs and
I sat on the bed, that spring afternoon, when one of them landed
in front of me and slid nearly fifteen feet across the hardwood floor
of the studio apartment. It flipped on its back, and buzzing, spun
around for several seconds and died. Just like that, as they all
did. Across from me on the other side of its inert form, an open
suitcase lay on the plaid-covered couch. An auburn-haired girl sat
beside the suitcase, watching me with eyes asking the questions in
her pained voice.
“Shall I leave, is that what you want?” – she, Connie, was my
girl, or least she had been for the last five months.
“No,” I said.
“Shall I stay?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?
“No,” – our relationship had become assumption by now, and oddly,
this only our sixth real falling-out in five months, apparently
hopeless, senseless. I felt trapped, mocked by memories from the past
which burned distantly in the russet reflected from Connie’s hair in
the late-afternoon sun.
Another fly began its dance of death; Connie paused in her
packing: “Well, like, do you still love me?” – the insect’s silence
punctuated the plea in her voice.
“Yes, of course I love you,” I replied.
Her eyes remained unwavering: “What’s our problem, then?”
As she spoke, I admired her, admired her citadel which seemed to
hold her in contempt of looking for broken fingernails at such
moments. For in her tall, young loveliness, she was neither ice nor
“I don’t know what’s wrong,” I said.
Connie raised her eyebrows. “You don’t know?” she prodded
me. “Just what do you know, like, your own name?”
I shrugged: “Of course I do.”
“Uh-huh, and what year is it?” she nudged.
“Okay-y, and what’s the date, today?” she continued prodding.
With rising frustration I countered, “April the fourth, dammit!”
“Uh-huh!” she triumphed, “So you do know something after all!” – a
strangely seductive taunting had crept into her voice now: “So what’s
our problem, then?”
“I don’t know!”
“Actually, it feels like it’s someone I don’t know, a missed
“A missed connection? What the hell are you talking about? Have
you been seeng someone else behind my back?… maybe, like, Melissa? -
you kind of like her, don’t you?”
“Yes-s,” I admitted.
“… or maybe it’s Wendy. You think she’s kind of nice, too, don’t
you?” – and Connie stretched her leg forward with ominous
determination, smothering a fly with her shoe: “Is that who it is?”
“No! I… I didn’t mean!…”
“… or maybe it’s Joan, or LaTasha!” she interrupted me, “or
Marybeth or… “
A knock on the door interrupted her.
Connie stopped short of crushing another fly before looking toward
the door: “Who the **** is it?”
Her citadel had begun crumbling now. She’d also quit packing. “Oh,
hell, come in!” she called out, “The door’s open!”
After a moment of prurient hesitation, our neighbor Randy opened
the door and thrust his lanky nose inside. He was the tall, brash,
young painter from down the hall of our apartment building.
“Yo, Tinkerbell and your better half!” he chimed, “I need help but
not from you, her,” – and he directed a bony finger at Connie as he
insinuated himself into the room without closing the door behind him.
“Yes?” I ventured.
“Oh, no big deal, it’s just that I have this important painting I
have to finish before the end of the week, and I need a model. How
about it, Connie? By the way,” he continued, looking condescendingly
at me, “I promise she can keep her clothes on.” He fixed oddly
impervious eyes upon her again: “Will you do it, girl?”
Somewhere I felt lost seconds ticking over the edge of lost time;
the tilt of Connie’s head, meanwhile, was articulate: “Wel-l-l, I
guess… like… sure, I’ll do it while he decides what he knows!” and
she pointed a long finger at me. Already, a sense of increased value
had begun to inform her attitude as she rose to her feet.
“Now, just a… !” I spluttered, suddenly smitten with a
realization that something like this moment had always been between
us through all the moments we’d occupied each other’s lives since
Connie had asked me that college calculus question before class five
months earlier. I felt her unawareness – of me, as she walked
resolutely toward the door. My hand, raised in protest, fell to my
“Jeez, that was easy!” Randy chirped, “Obviously a woman who knows
her own mind!”
The door slammed behind them, upon my mind – and I… I sat there
on the bed, trying not to think how it wouldn’t do any good to think. Soon,
the body of a deceased fly began teasing my vision out of the corner
of one eye, and another out of the corner of the other. There were many
insects, many dead bodies. For a brief, terrifying moment, I felt tempted
to count them all. Instead, I decided to concentrate upon what I’d been
doing. I continued sitting, thinking how it really wouldn’t do any good to
After a while, I began feeling the weight of an uneasy oppression.
I stood. I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. For the
first time I realized that I’d never known, never understood the
person I saw in it’s reflection. As though drugged by a deadening
poison, I stood there. As I did so, I heard Connie’s shriek, perhaps
of pleasure – sensual, recognizable, yet unfamiliar – down the hall.
I bristled and felt the rise of a decision to ignore the sound.
Instead, I decided to concentrate upon what I was doing. Transfixed
with a numbness, that I might never understand, never know, I
continued looking at myself in the mirror… looking and looking…
The apartment door opened. Connie came in and I followed her into
the living room. I almost reached for my suitcase – at the foot of
Connie didn’t seem to notice.
“Do you know any more than you did?” she cheerfully asked.
“N-o-o-o, actually, yes.”
“… good!” she interrupted me even more cheerfully. Tossing her
head defiantly, she took her pink blouse from the suitcase.
Turning briskly toward the shallow wall-closet, she hung it with
a certain wild abandon. She hung her woolen sweater and gray
pantsuit. Next, she placed two pairs of shoes on the closet floor,
and with that same abandon, hung her blue dress. And her tight, faded
jeans, and finally, her red dress.
That was all.
Oh, there was a fourth pair of shoes, her gray, suede pumps, which
she laid on the closet floor. Then Connie abruptly dissolved into
Listening to her silence, I rose to my feet: “I just don’t know,”
I softly said.
As I began walking toward the door, the whisper of my self-
dialogue, the sound of my footsteps, seemed overwhelmed.
“Dammit!” Connie sobbed through her tears, “Gaw-wd dammit!”
I felt her words through me like a shot. Engulfed by the sounds of
death around me, I stopped as I reached for the doorknob while a
fly slid across the floor, flipped on its back, spun around for
several seconds, and died. Just like that – and then another one…
and another… and another…
I in mine and she in hers, we occupied our places…
… Connie softly cried…
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