The Fly and the Cricket

June 16, 2013
“I didn’t mean to marry you.”

The words were mumbled and nearly swallowed up as his cotton mouth closed heavily over the last syllable and the “you” was caught in a thin skin of spittle across his maw, ballooning into a tiny bubble that drifted deliriously across his bloody lip. The bubble hung there, a tiny echo of his words, reflecting the blue hospital light in a tiny burst of color before bursting with a sprinkle across his chin.

It was perfectly orchestrated. A beat for the bubble to burst, a beat for Eliza’s smeary, mascaraed eyes to crinkle up, and a beat for the animalistic sob to wrench itself from her tired chest. Then another three beats for her to dash out of the room, black tears running in furrows down her dyed cheeks. Two more for the doctors to stare after her, impassive as white clouds. And another for the medics to return to their incessant shuffling of papers and painkiller. Abby stood, no longer a presence in the white room where vaulted emotions and the stench of blood hung thick, like Buddhist incense. Now she was the eye of the hurricane, a whirlwind of white robes suddenly flying about her, spraying briny solutions from their needles.

White. It was all very white. The smooth, shadow-less walls, the doctors’ coats which billowed and swept like the wings of so many albatrosses, the bed encrusted with starch and antiseptic, its aura coaxing faint tears along the rim of Abby’s swollen eyes like an oversized onion. The bed had three sheets peeled back to reveal the bloody, battered face at its heart. And here, that face was the small oasis of color in the white desert, a pleasant circle of rusty reds and browns with a touch of green where the unfortunate patient’s rheumy eyes had cracked open. Abby felt her eyes drawn magnetically towards this face; the doctors, the room, even the complex piece of machinery that buzzed out its pulse like a metronome, nothing held attraction like the battered visage that lolled, nearly comatose before her.

The mucus-coated green orbs cleared, and then fell tiredly back into their former darkness. “I didn’t mean to,” came a second delirious mumble, louder now, crecendoing uncontrollably into a groaning bellow. The raised lumps beneath the blanket began to jerk like invisible marionette strings were tugging on the man’s limbs. An organized chorus of shouts erupted from the hovering medics, and they swooped in upon the writhing maggot beneath the blanket with a predatory sharpness. Abby paid them no mind, gliding forward across the tile floor with an unwavering gaze. The bevy of white coats parted, floating gently off in her wake as she approached the dark face. His eyes again flickered with momentary light, locking on hers.

“Abby, this is Hugo. You remember I was telling you about him?”

Abby ventured hesitantly forward, her head inclined towards the shadowed floor. It was unfortunate, really. She'd been doing such a good job of staying invisible, melting away against the backdrop of genteel circles of people chatting amicably over their victuals. But Eliza did have a way of picking her loitering sister out in a flock of party goers. Abby's eyes reluctantly flickered up from their primary occupation: observing a smallish, black speck that skittered nervously across the glistening hardwood. Dark hair, moderately tanned face, smooth skin, well dressed, heavily cologned, suave with thick hovering eyebrows that cleanly arched up over a quietly confident expression, his deep hazel eyes blazing with bravado. Abby’s highly imprint able mind comprehended all of this in a cursory glance before dropping back to the floor to continue tracking her scurrying companion. She’d seen the man’s type before: Homo sapien, originating from some northern Eurasian population, judging by the color of his skin, and “in heat” judging by the way he was regarding her sister Eliza next to him. There had to be at least a billion others like him. His very presence was obsolete.

“Nice to finally meet you,” Hugo gushed, unnecessarily, extending his brawny arm towards Abby in an effort to appear kind and well-mannered. He was seeking approval. But, in doing so, he stepped forward, his patent leather shoe falling heavily over the speck on the floor that Abby had been carefully observing. Abby felt her face twist up involuntarily. She tried to force her features back into a relaxed state, but her cheeks merely twitched in grimacing spasms. She ignored the hand.

Hugo frowned and stepped back, revealing a black smear where once the specimen had innocently crouched. “Are you okay, Abby?”

“Gryllidae nemobiinae, ground cricket,” Abby muttered, angrily. “At least I think so. But we’ll never know now, will we?” She stalked away.

Over her shoulder, she heard Eliza whisper consolingly, “It’s okay, it wasn’t you.”

The blue light pulsated throwing its bright beams across Hugo’s eyes like a lighthouse on the water. From within the dense fog of his throbbing temples, Hugo came to with the nauseating disorientation of realizing that he was already awake, but had not been fully conscious of it. His disorientation quickly morphed into a spinning panic. From beneath the film of bitter liquid that formed a small lake across Hugo's eyes, a pair of obsidian pupils stumbled blindly into focus, adjusting for the painful light above him. His head rolled to the left like an unanchored buoy and, a pleasant image burst across his vision, a vengeful sun through parting clouds.

"Eliza!" The word plummeted blindly off of his sticky lips, meeting the nearby woman's ears even as the disappointed pit dropped sulkily in Hugo's stomach. He felt like a moth, then, who'd just battered its feathered skeleton against, not the moon, but a burning piece of glass encasing a single ghost-lit thread. Not Eliza, but her incandescent doppelganger.

"You drove her off. It's just me."

"Just you. Just Abby."

Hugo had never minded being stared at. Especially not by a woman. In fact, he welcomed it. He studied up on fashion to an acceptable degree, kept his hair and his personality preened, and spared little expense parading his showy montage of possessions. He was far from modest. Looks darted in his direction over passing shoulders and from beneath curtains of dark lashes were the fruits of his labor. He basked in these furtive glances, appreciating the god-like feeling he attained by them.

At least, that was how he'd normally felt.

She was looking at him, still. Her eyes had been burning into his figure for over an hour now over the brim of an alabaster mug that he swore had not once touched her lips. She sat at one of the only other tables in that sparse coffeehouse with eyes as steely as a falcon's. No feminine embarrassment or shame at staring flickered across her thin face. Hugo was unnerved.

What unnerved him further still was the uncanny resemblance of the onlooker to the woman sitting with him at the table. In hue and shape their faces were eerily similar. Dark hair, bright, intelligent eyes, slim figure, curved nose, and sharp ears. However, the woman chatting happily with him, unaware of his distraction, had fuller lips and a pleasanter smile. The other woman staring at him was smaller, almost emaciated and was harder of gaze.

Hugo knew who the staring woman was. He remembered meeting her. The name was there too, just buried beneath the surface. Abby.

"Your sister," Hugo had begun that night in conversation with Eliza. "Are you twins?"

"Mmm," Eliza answered, retreating from the cozy gold light of their apartment sitting room for a moment before returning with a bent photograph. In it, an elfin girl lay, limbs slack, on the mattress of a hospital bed. A vermillion bandage circled her swollen brow.

"Who's this?" Hugo leaned forward on the deep couch and accepted the picture.

"That's her. She was four there, got an intense concussion in a car wreck driving home with my dad. I'd been at home. It damaged her brain some. She's sane and all, for the most part. Just has people troubles. But she's a genius! Always a star in math class. She's almost got her doctorate in science."

"What does she study?"

"Insects. Cockroaches, flies, crickets. She works with these big, brown, freaky bugs from Madagascar. They hiss like cats." Eliza laughed, a rosy blush forming on her beautiful cheeks.

Hugo smiled, then asked, "Why, exactly, did you show me this?"

Eliza's expression hardened as she answered, "Because Abby needs me. And if we're together, I need you to know that."

And certainly Abby did need her sister. She followed them everywhere, appearing stealthily and suddenly like a mist on a cold morning. Hugo, though, desirous of Eliza's company, grew accustomed to having four dark eyes on him, even on private dates. Those eyes followed him everywhere. Eventually, there were four eyes observing his marriage proposal. It even seemed to Hugo that, on his wedding day, there should have been a second ring for a second finger.

Abby was the phantom, the ever-present shadow of his wife, the ghost he'd never meant to marry.

Abby gazed down at the rusty head of her sister's husband as jumbled syllables tumbled in slurred heaps out of his mouth, quietly forming her name. Hugo's eyes then disappeared beneath a rising tide of foamy tears.

"I almost died." His voice cracked with blood. "I could feel it. I could feel it while I was asleep. I could feel the blood leaving. I felt my heart stop."

"They brought you back," Abby answered. She looked down into those green eyes which had now resurfaced and were seeing again, but with a wide stare like a deer's. He looked at the ceiling, but saw only darkness which had nearly engulfed him. She didn't need to lie beneath the ivory covers to know that.

Abby remembered the accident that had altered her mind more than she ever let on. There was not a day that went by that the memories of lying comatose beneath worried faces and a tiled ceiling did not haunt her thoughts. But they did not understand, those faces which had so desperately sought to pull her out of the inky blackness into which she had fallen. They could not. Even as her breath and feeling returned, Abby still felt covered in the darkness. It infested her soul, she could feel it dripping from her, a virulent black ooze. And yet, those angelic beings above her continued to prattle on with their insidiously frivolous voices, trying to distract her. But they had not tasted the bitter poison. They could not understand the iron hold it had taken over Abby. It was not until the day that she looked up to see the white tiled ceiling that had become her clouded sky and beheld the tiny fly that broke free of a brown arachnid's snare and buzzed down to her that she let light back into her thoughts. The fly settled lightly on her hand, whirring its wings to rid them of a few gossamer threads. Without that fly, Abby might never again have learned how to smile.

Abby watched the thundering storm clouds settle over those tortured, hazel circles and glanced up towards the ceiling above. The absence of insect life startled her more than perhaps it should have. No web and no fly with its god-sent allegory hovered above, a saving grace. There was only her.

Abby's hand lifted, involuntarily, as if picked up by a renegade draft and drifted down onto Hugo's with the lightness of a downy feather.

Hugo had felt as though he was drowning in a cold river with strong undercurrents pulling him down into bottomless depths. Since he'd awakened, he'd been able to feel a dual presence within himself, one side unhurt, full of life's memories, the other, dark and horrifying, sending spurts of images of his near death experience like a geyser through his thoughts. Each time he'd bury these flashes of pain with happy memories, they'd flare up and pull his conscious back down beneath the tide.

Until he felt Abby's hand alight on his.

In all the years he'd known her, been haunted by her spectral presence, she'd not once touched him. From the first missed hand shake, to the withdrawn hug at the wedding, to the pat on the back that she'd shied away from only that morning like a skittish horse. Every one of his advances had been for naught.

"She doesn't like the be touched," Eliza had explained to him, once, which wasn't entirely true. Abby would enfold Eliza in a hesitant embrace now and again. But the sister was the only exception. Abby was a distant will o' the wisp to Hugo, a tendril of mist that could be seen but never grasped.

Until now.

Some time later, Eliza reentered the room, her eyes baring, still, the crusted scars of her tears.

What she saw astonished her.

Abby, the timid, scientific soul that had had clung so shakily to her and had since the accident which had robbed her of her contact with others, stood stoically next to her languid husband, her hand in his, their gazes entwined. Hugo's expression was one of frightened reverence which, as Eliza watched, morphed into a slow calmness. Abby's expression remained unchanged, but in it Eliza thought she saw a faint reflection of the girl with the reddened bandage wrapped about her head, the strained, yet serious gaze which had emanated from under the brown-stained, hospital sheets all those years ago.

Abby had heard her come in.

"It's okay, he was delirious. He didn't mean what he said." Abby didn't look up.

"I know," Eliza's tremulous voice answered.

Abby withdrew then, and Eliza rushed to her husband's side. She drove her gaze into his clouded eyes, but they looked past her, unseeing. He was staring at Abby.

Hugo held the little cage in his good hand, knocking on the apartment door with his opposite, swollen appendage.

No one answered.

Hugo sighed, then pushed at the handle. The door swung open.

The apartment was a dark maze of stacked books and manuscripts, a scattered field of dangerously leaning obelisks. He set his package on one of these paper stacks where the resident, Abby, would surely find it. Then he retrieved a piece of paper from his breast pocket and scribbled a quick note. He nodded, smartly. Though they hadn't spoken since the hospital, his few scrawled words would say all that needed to be said. Hugo left the package and note and departed.

In the gloom of the unlit room the words upon the paper read: "I'm sorry. Thank you. Now I understand. I found this for you at the pet store. Please accept. Yours, Hugo."

Within the cage, a lone cricket chirped a happy song.

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