These Things Happen
by Dennis Fridd
I can’t tell you what the last thing my father said to me was because he took off in the middle of a random moonless night. I can only tell you that it left just me and mother to tend the fields ourselves. Moms held it together for a while, but eventually she just lost it.
One day she threw everything in his workshop out onto the lawn and burned it. As tears ran down her face, orange from the reflected glow of the fire, she told me that when two people love each other they exchange little pieces of themselves, until part of you is in them and part of them is in you. And then when it all falls apart not only do you have a hole in yourself from the part of them you lost, but that part of you that you gave them, you can never get it back.
She was drunk. For weeks I had spotted the jars lying around the house. When she thought I was sleeping she would scrape the inner walls of our house and bottle them with yeast and sugar to ferment. Eventually her liver turned and she died.
Everyone in our town lived in buildings made of giant fruit. Our home was a pumpkin; city hall was a strawberry wider and redder than a barn. It all worked fine until the fruit flies showed up. First a crackling whisper, like a bad phone reception. Then the sky went dark and some of us thought it was an eclipse, but the science teachers told us those kinds of things are usually scheduled.
They ate every last building in town. You could hear their collective chewing for miles. After the destruction we gathered outside, standing around as withered and sluggish as cornstalks in a drought. Many wept openly. My yard contained all the possessions of our house dropped into a single enormous pile. The fruit flies didn’t care—when they ate through the second-story floor, beds and end tables and electric toothbrushes tumbled down onto the contents of the first until it all looked like a junkyard. Beside the pile a giant pumpkin stem lay as a shed snakeskin, unused and decaying. All around now pointless farm equipment dotted the landscape of our once prominent town.
So people packed up and left. Some drove. Some walked. Some hitched a ride on the back of one of the fruit flies, many of which were now as large as Cadillacs.
Not me. I decided to stay and fight. Nobody else did. That’s okay—never had much need for people.
My preparations are many. All week I’ve been making batches of homemade bug spray in the remnants of my kitchen. Enough bug spray to fill the tanks at the gas station to their rusty brims. By sun and by candlelight I’ve worked the fields, planting seeds, laying down glue and explosives and booby traps. Soon those seeds will blossom and the snare will be set. I am farming for a higher purpose now: I am farming for vengeance.
Why stay? Because this is my town. I was born here, in our pineapple hospital, swaddled in cotton blankets and bawling my eyes out. I got my first kiss here, my first fist fight, my first and only broken bone. Every scent is a memory, every street a history. I could walk for days in the catacombs of my mind devoted to these 25 square miles. When I was younger we rode our bikes down to McDermott’s and bought as much candy as we could carry. The good stuff, the kind that turns your spit red and long and stringy; Eric let his dangle halfway down his body before sucking it up and arcing it back into his mouth as gracefully as those dolphins doing flips on TV. Before I hit my phase and people stopped returning my phone calls, I sat up with Sara and watched the motionless infernos of the stars and wondered about our place in the world and what was going to happen to us when we got older. She twirled her cigarette and it looked like a firefly in the darkness. That summer – it was the summer before she cheated on me with David, who could grow bigger fruit than me. I wish I could capture that whole summer in a mason jar with two holes poked in the top, maybe a leaf for color. The point is I love this town. And when you love something you don’t walk out on it in the middle of the night.
I sit at the top of the tallest hill in town. I can see all of my preparations. I hear a faint buzzing in the distance. One memory of the devastation sticks out in my mind particularly. I remember little Katie Brightman. She was eating a peach when the fruit flies came. The juices were running down her face because seven-year-olds don’t know how to eat. The flies came and swarmed her. They covered her face like a carpet and you could hear the screams for miles. She barely survived. I am fighting for that little girl. So it doesn’t matter that everyone left. It doesn’t matter that there’s no high school anymore and I won’t graduate like I was supposed to. It only matters that this is where I belong. The buzzing is growing louder. I am ready.
Dennis is a microbiologist and Rochester native. He likes cats.