Nathan Alling Long

Nathan Alling Long

Flies. Lots of them. All over the table, in my coffee floating, landing on my arms and legs, buzzing around like a hundred toy planes.

I’m trying to enjoy my breakfast, but I feel like King Kong. So I roll up the newspaper and start swatting them, until one lands on my plate.

Then I cover my plate and coffee, put away the butter, jam, and bread, and go back to swatting. Thwack, thwack, thwack.

I have to say, I get pretty damn good at knocking these things off the wall. The real pleasure is hearing them land on the floor like tiny bits of paper, a faint sound, like a fallen angel. Killing is not so bad in tiny amounts, it strikes me now, and I wonder if I might be able to kill a person this way, one gram at a time. What if these flies are really one body, just broken up into tiny soldiers? A horrible thought—and it’s a good thing they don’t reassemble anything human. I don’t think I could take it, trying to slice down a fly man, not before my first cup of coffee at least, not before my toast.

I keep swatting ‘til there’s just a few clever ones left: they fly around the fan blades and only land on the ceiling. I turn the fan on, and they scatter. Then one by one I knock them off, until there’s just one pesky fly left.

That’s when Judy comes into the kitchen and asks me what I’m doing. “Swatting flies?” she asks, then laughs.

“Yes, swatting flies,” I say, not amused. This is serious work—man’s work, really, the taking of life. A pool of adrenaline has welled within me, and I feel myself now a man of considerable tactical skill.

“My grandmother used to catch them like this,” Judy says, snatching her hand once into the air.

“Good for her,” I say, “but that would take too long.” I look at Judy’s hand, still sealed shut. Then I look around the room and recognize that the last fly is gone. I know it has miraculously found itself in her palm of her hand. And sure enough, she walks over to the window, opens it up, and lets the insect fly away.

“How did you do that?” I ask, feeling a bit incredulous, and a bit wounded.

“Your hand just has to be in the right place at the right time,” she says.

“Huh,” I say, and sit back down, uncovering my coffee and toast.

Judy gets out things to make her breakfast: tea and cereal. I wait as she makes her meal then takes it into the den, humming.

Finally, I sit down and take a sip of my coffee. It’s cold. I unfold the newspaper, but now it’s dotted with blood. I can hear them outside, tapping on the window screen, as though dying to get in.


Nathan Alling Long’s stories are in various journals and anthologies, including Tin House, Indiana Review, and a previous issue of Monkeybicycle. His work is forthcoming in Salt Hill, Marco Polo Magazine, Fiction Southeast, and The Journal of Creative Geography. He live in Philadelphia and teaches at Richard Stockton College.


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