They were at it again. A thud, then a woman’s muffled voice, with a crescendo at the end of her sentence. She wasn’t going to be interrupted. She wasn’t going to hear excuses. More thuds. Like steps, but awkward. Less rhythmic. Then, silence.
Cindy looked up from her dinner toward the ceiling. Were the couple upstairs at their own table? Apartments were stacked on top of each other with identical floor plans. Cindy often showered at the same time as her downstairs neighbor. His tenor cut through the wood frame and rushing water. The lady at the apartment office had mentioned once that he was with the opera before he retired to a quiet life, giving private lessons to only a very select few students.
Cindy minded her own business, kept her balcony clean, and only ran loud appliances during the reasonable hours of 10 am to 4 pm. She considered herself a good neighbor. She wished the couple upstairs would return the favor.
The fights weren’t often, but when they happened they were real knock-down drag-outs. Doors slammed, rattling the china in Cindy’s cabinets. The brawls seemed to take place on the weekend, on Sundays of all days.
When Cindy left for work the next morning, the woman had stepped out of her door and was leaning over the railing. She wore a loose, sleeveless top, no bra, and thin short-shorts. She had her arms crossed in front of her, her hip poked out. Not exactly Venus de Milo. Cindy turned and walked toward her car in the parking lot.
The woman shouted down a demand. Cindy heard the man, just a few feet behind her, door to his own car cranked open, call “Yeah, yeah.” Irritated, defeated. He got in his jalopy and slammed the door. Cindy had no doubt that whatever the man had just agreed to, he would never follow through. She knew the kind.
Cindy started her car and drove to work. She didn’t look in the rearview.
She came home that evening with groceries for a stew. She set the ingredients on the counter - roast, celery, potatoes, carrots - then went to retrieve her slow cooker from the back of the lower cabinet. When she stood, a fly was making jerking steps on the bloodied plastic covering her center cut roast. Disgusted, Cindy slammed the cooker down on the counter. She brushed a few curls out of her face in a huff. She prided herself on keeping a clean, secure home. How had a fly gotten in? She’ll have to take a candle to the windows, find the hidden entry point.
Cindy counted herself lucky that the fly didn’t appear again to bother her while she was preparing her roast. Her mother’s recipe called for two unusual spices, the identity of which was kept under lock and key. The mouthwatering result was the envy of every cousin she knew.
Before bed, she tossed in the roast and the vegetables she’d diced earlier. She set the cooker on low, went to the bedroom and called her sister LeAnn.
LeAnn was a meddlesome sort, and she liked to hear the latest gossip. Cindy suspected her sister imagined herself living a life of high drama akin to the characters on one of the soap operas she liked to watch. A waste of time, if Cindy had ever heard one.
Of course LeAnn was totally engrossed in the rantings and ravings of Cindy’s upstairs neighbors. Cindy never had the “juicy details” LeAnn requested, but she gave her the gist and tried to work out at what point she should call the police.
Just before Cindy hung up for the evening, her sister said, “What I wouldn't give to be a fly on that wall.”
Cindy woke the next morning to the savory smell of roast. She smiled and stretched, then felt a tickle on her nose. When she raised her hand, the fly flew for its life, landed on the bedroom wall out of reach. Cindy rolled her eyes and sighed. What a pest. A single fly, capable of so much damage. E. coli. Cholera. Disease.
Cindy rose to go to the kitchen. She cut off the cooker, then looked under the sink for a spray. Formula 409. The hard stuff. But by the time she went back to the bedroom, the fly was gone.
She kept the spray bottle on hand, just in case. She even sat it at the table like a centerpiece when she cut into her roast.
The rest of the week was a rush of deadlines and deals at work. Cindy considered herself an astute negotiator, and her colleagues seemed to agree. She’d been taking on more responsibilities lately, coming home extra achy and tired.
In the evenings, she chose to forgo her usual phone call to LeAnn and sit down with a book instead. If LeAnn wanted to speak with her, she was just as able to pick up the phone. It didn’t always have to be Cindy reaching out.
Each night the fly crawled, sometimes noticed, sometimes not, along the upper third of the bedroom walls. It seemed to know just how far it would need to be to stay just out of Cindy’s reach, and that of the caustic spray.
What Cindy didn’t realize was that it wasn’t always the same fly. Like child twins, the fly - or, flies - traded out with one another, never appearing at the same time. In fact, there were dozens. More.
By the time Sunday had rolled around, Cindy was starting to wonder about her sister. Maybe dropping the nightly phone call without warning wasn’t the most kind idea. She resolved that if she didn’t hear from LeAnn by that evening, she would draw a truce to the cold war and call.
Cindy didn’t hear from her sister by that evening. She didn’t hear from anyone. The neighbors upstairs were silent. Unfortunately, Cindy had barely noticed the peace.
Peace taken for granted is peace interrupted. Just as Cindy was raising the phone to her ear, her eye caught the flashing of lights, blue and red, behind her blinds. She went and peaked through. A funny lump caught in her throat. She lowered the receiver and closed her eyes. She imagined the knock at her door, but the knock never came. When she opened her eyes, she realized she was shaking.
The flashing colors were still going at her window. She heard a thud upstairs. Not a thud, a crash. An explosion?
Curious now rather than worried, Cindy cracked the door to her apartment. She heard men’s voices, but couldn’t make out the words. The neighbor across from her stepped out of his apartment and shouted up at the men. One of them leaned over the railing to answer, and Cindy saw the patch on his arm. Police. Sheriff. They had knocked down the door.
Cindy stepped back inside her apartment to grab a shawl, then walked back out. More neighbors were gathering, their hands to their mouths, looking up.
The two ambulances that had arrived were useless. Eventually, the coroner showed, his thick mustache full of mentholated cream. Then down came the bodies, covered in sheets, carried carefully. Cindy gasped, thought she made out the curvature of breasts, the smaller figure.
As they passed, an odor. And a cloud of flies behind. Cindy covered her nose and mouth, ran back into her apartment, slammed the door.
Horrified, Cindy went once again to the phone. Surely LeAnn would take this seriously. She would offer comfort instead of pumping her for any awful details. Sobbing, Cindy for once needed her sister, instead of the other way around. She dialed the number. The line buzzed.