I run the crab shack by the marina. The crabs are good here, and the walk’s beautiful. Also people like me. Whenever I open up my big plywood window for lunch, people flock over here like boats to a lighthouse. Actually I guess boats try and avoid lighthouses. Or maybe they don’t. I’m a little hazy on the functionality of lighthouses — lighthouses aren’t my job, the crab shack is. And my crab shack’s popular, and I’m popular with it. I’m like a pillar of the community in a lot of ways. Two ways, really: good crab meals and nice service. I’m nice.
If there’s one thing I’m not nice towards, it’s flies. I kill them all the time. Part of the job. Of course flies are everywhere, but if customers see flies buzzing around the shack, they’re less likely to buy a crab lunch to eat while looking at boats at the marina. So I make sure to have extreme prejudice, fly-wise. I got sticky paper, swatters, rolled-up newspapers, poison, the whole deal. I’ve been pretty good at minimizing their impact on shack business — that is, until last week, when this whole problem started.
First time I noticed it was when a fly landed on one of the postcards on my refrigerator. The postcard was from my ex-wife Shania. After I started working at the shack, she got a little frustrated with our life together. Turns out she didn’t want to be married to someone running a crab shack. She wanted to explore more of the world than just the marina by the shack, so she divorced me and started travelling. Sends me the occasional postcard. I have loads of them, and I put them all up on the fridge. I still love her of course, so I’m protective of the cards — the only thing of hers I have left. So when I saw a fly land on one of them (Greetings from Venice) I made sure to give it a nice swat. But then another one took its place. I swatted that one too. Then another one took its place, same spot. I did this fifteen more times before I noticed a pattern. The pattern was that the flies sure liked this postcard. I closed the plywood window of the shack early, then I put my folding canvas chair in front of the fridge and decided to watch for more patterns. Within a minute, twenty more flies had landed on the fridge, each taking a spot on an individual postcard. Looked like another pattern to me.
“What are you doing, flies?” I asked the flies.
The flies started moving. A few more flies joined the group. They arranged themselves into word. The word was “Shania.”
“What about Shania?” I asked, leaning forward in my chair. More flies joined the group to help them out. They spelled a new word, above the previous one. This word was “I’m.” All together, the flies spelled out “I’m Shania” on top of Shania’s postcards from the world.
I was stunned.
After being stunned, I put out some crab meat on the table in order to attract more flies. I figure with more flies, they would be able to spell something with a bit more heft. I wasn’t expecting East of Eden or anything, just something more than simple identification-based declarative sentences. That’s not what I got. Instead, thousands of flies infiltrated the shack and coalesced on the fridge. Then the mass of flies started bulging out, making rudimentary shapes like tubes and spheres — like they were testing their capabilities. Then they formed one big huddle to strategize their next move. After a minute or two, it seemed they had a plan. The flies then shaped themselves into a buzzing, black, grotesque human form — a human form I instantly recognized. It was Shania.
“Hi Shania,” I managed to say.
By adjusting the frequency and speed at which they flapped their wings, the flies could manage to buzz a sound that was recognizable as human speech.
“Hi,” buzzed the horde of flies.
“You’re Shania?” I asked.
“Yes,” said the flies.
“How? What happened?”
“I was hiking through Cinque Terre when I tripped on a root and tumbled into a fly-hive. They ate me from tip to tip, and when they feasted on my brain they collectively subsumed my consciousness. I’m all these flies, and I’ve been flying here from Cinque Terra, one-by-one, to see you again.”
“Why here?” I asked. “Why me, now?”
“Honey, I hate to admit it, but my adventures weren’t all they were cracked up to be. The best times I ever had were here with you in the crab shack.” The horde of flies buzzed over to the kitchen counter and hopped up on it — Shania’s favourite spot. “I want to give it another chance,” it buzzed.
“Give what another chance?” I asked.
There’s no way that I can properly articulate how horrifyingly disgusting my ex-wife looked.
“Me too,” I said.
She walked over (I’m using the term walked loosely) and kissed me on the forehead (I’m using the term kissed loosely). I suggested we take things slow and she said she agreed. That night she slept on the living room couch in my houseboat docked in the marina. I slept in the bedroom, on the bed, except when I say slept I mean lie down not sleeping. I didn’t sleep. Thoughts kept on going through my head, thoughts like should I really be going through with trying to rekindle a relationship with my ex-wife when she’s now a horde of flies?
In the morning I offered to make eggs and coffee but Shania said she wasn’t hungry and by the way is there anywhere nearby where there’s lots of exposed shit? This was a red flag. Shania left for a while, so I made breakfast for myself and read the morning news. Another war — when will it ever end? — and then she came back and asked if we could go for a post breakfast constitutional along the beach for old times sake. We used to hold hands. I agreed, and braced myself for the handholding, which I told myself couldn’t be so bad.
The handholding was so bad. Imagine holding hands with a bunch of flies that are in the shape of your ex-wife’s hand, and that’s exactly what it was like. Worse was the looks we got. People on the beach were giving me looks like what’s going on? and is the crab shack guy holding hands with a horde of flies? and should I run away right now or just be paralyzed with fear? Looks like that. I know it sounds selfish, but honestly I was worried about my reputation. I’m the guy who runs the crab shack by the marina and people trust me. This is not the kind of behaviour that people want from their crab shack operator. I loosened my grip on Shania’s “hand.” We didn’t speak much on our constitutional. I wasn’t feeling confident in the 2.0 version of our relationship.
The next few days were even worse. Shania kept on hovering over my food whenever I was trying to eat. I also saw stray members of her body fly away and pester customers. She’d also pester me occasionally, and reflexively I’d respond by swatting. Shania would get mad at me for killing a part of her body, and I’d apologize, but really am I to blame in that situation? She’d also do that thing where flies rub their arms together in a weird way, except she’d do that with her human-style arms and it looked really creepy. I told her to stop, but that didn’t go over well. On lunch Thursday, a little girl peeked into the shack and saw what she called a “giant fly monster” lounging on the counter and then the girl cried for hours and hours. After that I asked if Shania could be more discreet around the customers, and maybe we should only go out in public at night.
That request struck a nerve.
“Are you embarrassed by me?” she said. It seemed like she was crying, but there was no fool-proof way of determining that.
“No, no, no, of course not, honey. I’m glad you’re back,” I replied, probably stressing the wrong syllables.
“But…” she said, hinting that there was a “but…”
“But, well, things are different.”
“I’m the same,” Shania said, buzzing defensively. “My mind is just the way it was. I have the same intellect, the same sense of humour, the same kindness. I have the same memories — memories of falling in love with you, memories of missing you, memories of wanting you back. And now I’m here, the same person that you fell in love with too.”
“But your body—”
“Well if you’re going to be shallow about it—”
“It’s not shallow to say I feel uncomfortable that you’re a horde of flies!”
She sat on her spot on the counter and wrung her “fingers” through her “hair.” Her tone was more sombre when she spoke again.
“I could start wearing clothes,” she said. “Would that be helpful?”
“Maybe a little bit.”
“And I can control my form, you know. I can shape my body any way you want, you know, breast-wise.”
“That’s not what this is about.”
“Do you love me?”
“Then love me.”
“It’s difficult,” I said.
“You think it’s difficult? Look at it from my perspective! You think I enjoy this? Being me is a lot more difficult than being you.”
“I know that,” I said. “But it doesn’t change anything.”
She buzzed a sigh.
“This won’t work, will it?”
“No,” I said.
“Then I’ll go.”
The flies formed into the shape of a heart, then that heart cracked in half and then every individual fly left the mass and bounced against the shut plywood window, trying to escape. I walked over and opened it up, and watched my wife fly away into the ocean, piece by piece.
To this day, I regret how I treated her. I was given the second chance I wanted with Shania, and I blew it. Shania is wonderful and I don’t deserve her. I’ve never seen her again, but every time a fly lands on a piece of crab meat, I think of her.
Jordan Moffatt is a writer and improviser living in Ottawa. His work has appeared in many places online and in print, most recently or forthcoming in Bottlecap Press, Bad Nudes, tenderness yea, and This Magazine. He was shortlisted for Matrix Magazine’s 2016 Lit POP Award. Find him online athttp://jordanmoffatt.website and on twitter @jordanmoffatt.