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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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ALONE, IN THE HOUSE

 

by Justin D. Anderson

 

 

 

Flies are all around us. They’d multiplied severely this summer and there was nothing I could do about them. I can’t even diagnose where they’re coming from. I’m in my bathrobe at the dinner table and with both elbows on the surface rub over the back of my neck with my hand and look down at my untouched food. Then I look across the table at my son eating green beans one at a time. He looks at the glass globe in the middle of the table. A broad candle burns inside. We have an overhead light on too and it cancels any warmth of candlelight with yellow incandescence that makes both of us real and unreal. The robe smells of the dried salt on my body.

 

Flypaper hangs all over the house. So far the flypaper has only caught a few. It’s useless. Flies land on my food and his food. Flies swarm around us and touch on our hands and faces. I swat them away. But my son doesn’t seem to notice them. Or care. I watch one land on the tip of his nose and he just sits there chewing on a forkful of mashed potatoes and looking at the candle in the globe. I rise off my chair and reach across the table and brush the fly off. This doesn’t register with him. I sit back down and put my elbows on the table and knead my forehead with my fingertips and moan.

 

“What’s wrong, dad?” He does not look away from the globe.

 

“Nothing. How’s your dinner?”

 

He shrugs and goes on eating. I look over his head out the window of the back door of the kitchen and though the sun is almost down, I can still see the neighbors’ horses moving through the woods on the hillside. I don’t know the neighbors. They live down the road in the bottom and I never go down there. My wife once threatened to call someone because the horses looked so skeletal but I talked her out of it and she never brought it up again.

 

“I love you,” I say to my son. “You should know at least that much.”

 

“I know,” he says with a mouthful of food.

 

“You do.”

 

“Of course.”

 

I turn away from the table and sit in my chair sideways.

 

“Tell me what love is,” I say. I watch him, but he doesn’t answer me so I let it drop. He keeps eating until there is nothing left. Flies are landing everywhere.

 

“Did you get enough?”

 

He nods and looks in my face. “You?”

 

“Not all that hungry.”

 

He nods again and looks back at the globe.

 

“How is it at school?”

 

“I don’t know. It’s okay.” A fly clings to his forehead. I reach across the table and brushed it away.

 

“What are you learning?”

 

“Things.”

 

“Things,” I say. I look up at the ceiling dotted with flies. Then I look down at the dead ones scattered all over the kitchen floor that stick to the bottoms of our feet. I look again out the back door and can just barely see the horses walking in the bare woods crisscrossing up toward the ridge.

 

“Things around here are good?” I say and light a cigarette. It’s like he hasn’t heard me. I go for my glass and have to pick a drowned fly out of it before I drink. I turn back to the table and lean on my elbows and smoke.

 

“Tell me about yourself,” I say. “You tell me about yourself and I’ll tell you about myself.”

 

He looks at me confused. He pushes his empty plate aside and lays his chin down on the backs of his hands on the table and looks at the globe.

 

“I will tell you the story of my life,” I say. “This is a story you don’t know.”

 

He isn’t interested. Not even the flies that land on his hands and face interest him. I do not continue. I smoke and take another drink.

 

“I can tell you where your mother got that glass globe,” I say. “I can tell you the story of everything in this house.”

 

He shrugs.

 

“I can tell you the story of your life,” I say. “How about that? I can tell you things you don’t know.”

 

“I can do the same,” he says, not looking at me. I don’t say anything because I do not want to hear what he might know.

 

“Those horses over there,” I say and point over his head at the door. “Your mother tried to save them once. But they didn’t need saving.”

 

He moves his eyes over me then back to the globe.

 

I saw that,” I say. “I saw that they could take care of themselves.”

 

He lifts off the table and sinks back in his chair. Two flies land on his face.

 

“I don’t want to hear about horses,” he says.

 

“But they’re right there,” I say. I point again around the burning cigarette. “And this is a good story. A true one.”

 

“It’s boring,” he say.

 

“Boring?”

 

“I don’t want to talk about horses.”

 

I look but can no longer see the horses. It is too dark.

 

“Your mother, she said that the neighbors were starving them,” I say and swat away a fly. “She wanted to call the police.”

 

He doesn’t say anything.

 

“That was her problem,” I say. “She never understood the sanctity of one’s own business.”

 

He keeps looking at the globe and I can see that what I am trying to tell him doesn’t mean anything.

 

“Look, let’s not get dramatic here,” I say. “I just want to talk to you.”

 

“You are talking.”

 

“I mean I want to really talk to you.”

 

Again, I can see that the implication of this statement means nothing to him so I do not press. But in the silence between us the hum of the flies is unbearable.

“I don’t really know all there is to know about you,” I say. “But you know even less about me. And I want you to know.”

 

“Dad, I don’t understand what you’re talking about.”

 

I crush out the cigarette and sit back in the chair.

 

“Well, let’s outline this,” I say. “We can sit here, together, like we are now, like a couple of strangers, or we can talk and I can’t really think of anything else to talk about right now except for us to tell each other about who we are or who we have been. And that’s valuable talk.”

 

He looks at me as I wipe flies from my robe.

 

“That’s boring,” he says and lays his head back down on the backs of his hands on the table and looks into the globe.

 

“And watching a candle burn is exciting?” I say. When I realize the anger coming, I light another cigarette and sit again sideways in the chair. It’s not me. I look at him and his face is getting covered in flies. I reach across the table and disperse them. “You keep watching the candle. It’s okay to keep watching.”

 

I stand from the table and a horde of flies lifts with me and orbit my body as I clear the dishes and things from the table and carry them over to the sink. I let the hot water run over them and I reach over to flip off the light in the kitchen to let the candle reign. I look back at him in the shadows and see flies covering his hands and arms and face. There isn’t much more to say here. I pass out through the kitchen and living room and out onto the front porch into the dark with my drink. I pull my cigarettes and matches out of the pocket of the robe. I smoke. The crickets sound all through the valley. The air is still hot and wet, but not as hot as in the house. Over the din I can hear the horses moving through the dry dead leaves. They move and stop and I can hear them chewing the bark off the trees. I’d seen them do this before. Some of the trees the horses have stripped clean as high as they can reach. My wife had seen this too and it had upset her. But it did not upset me. And now not being able to see them only makes this act of theirs more significant. The sound of it carries down off the hill and sweeps up through the wide yard and meets me there smoking. He must hear this. He must know this sound. I call in the front door for him to come out and listen but he does not come out and he does not answer me. It is better that he doesn’t. Because this is just another thing he is too young to understand.