Pen

The Best of Times Short Story Competition


Spring 2018 Results




Time Flies

Copyright © Tony Lang 2018


Henry Wilks was regarded by his neighbours as a trifle odd; a belief shared by his wife, Louella. Simply put, the problem boiled down to differing philosophies.

Henry prescribed to a belief that every living creature had a right to live its life regardless of its impact on humanity. Fleas didn’t ask to be born fleas so they should have the right to live out their lives peacefully. He applied the same philosophy to others that shared the family house, such as flies and cockroaches. Louella hated them all. Henry knew she killed them. He found a used flea bomb in the house one day and accused his wife of mass murder.

Henry was only too well aware that his wife’s tolerance of his oddities did not extend to the well-being of household pests. If he happened to be out of sight and she saw a fly on the kitchen wall or window and a fly swat was handy . . . Henry had nicknamed the kitchen wall ‘the wall of death’ and the window ‘the window to eternity’.

Louella regarded Henry’s ‘catch and release’ policy for flies to be so far from normal as to be abnormal.

Henry’s conviction extended to accosting pest exterminators when he saw their vehicles outside his neighbours’ houses, then haranguing them about the rights of those they regarded as pests. He stared sorrowfully at the neighbours if he saw them buying insect sprays.

During a mouse plague one year Louella, who was terrified of mice began setting traps, but by the second week the traps had found not a single victim – traps sprung, cheese gone.

One day she found a tiny piece of paper on a sprung trap on which a little note had been written: Ha ha! Missed! At once she knew the culprit and sought an explanation from her husband. He denied having anything to do with it, claiming it was obviously the work of a tiny paw. At the end of the plague the total score for Louella’s traps was zero.

Shortly after, Henry wrote a paper titled The Rights of Mice & Lice, Rats & Gnats and did a letterbox drop. It achieved nothing, apart from further alienating his neighbours.

Most were careful not to be in their gardens when Henry walked by, and equally careful to avert their gaze when walking by Henry’s. The general consensus was that Henry’s mental state drifted somewhere on the far side of eccentricity and lingered on the shore of insanity.

Her garden was Louella’s pride and joy, her passion. She and fellow members of the local gardening club got together monthly to talk gardens. Unlike her husband, Louella socialised with the neighbours, and she loved to talk. Although she realised her husband was ‘unusual,’ which was how she described him to her gardening friends, Louella was deeply fond of him. She liked to read aloud to him, usually a gardening article. She rarely required a response, apart from an occasional ‘Uhuh’.

One day Louella was reading to Henry a section from Gardening Australia as he stood near the sink, in which there was a dish being soaked in warm, frothy water.

As he listened, making his automatic ‘Uhuh’ responses, he saw a fly land on the froth in the dish, probably not realising it wasn’t solid, and disappear. He plucked the little creature from its warm bubble bath but it appeared to be quite dead. Still listening, Henry got a tissue, on which he placed the fly’s body, hoping to dry off some of the suds. He rolled the fly back and forth on the tissue for a while, but there was no sign of life. He lightly brushed more moisture off its back, revealing delicate, lacy wings, hidden under a layer of lather. As Louella’s voice droned on, Henry put the fly on the end of his finger and lightly blew warm breath on it, restarting, he hoped its tiny heart.

A minute or so later, as Louella, engrossed in the article, read on, Henry was delighted to see the fly’s front feet start to move, cleaning more froth from its legs and eyes. Overwhelmed with mingled feelings of success and relief, he couldn’t resist a cry of triumph.

Louella looked up from her reading. "What was that for?"

"I just saved the life of a little fly."

"Oh." Louella, who accepted the fact that her husband’s mental plug had never been pushed fully into the socket and was well-used to his strange and inexplicable utterances, went back to reading aloud Gardening Australia.

Realising she was completely preoccupied, Henry stepped outside with the fly sitting groggily on his finger but showing every sign of being successfully resuscitated. He walked out into the sun, with the now increasingly active fly still on his finger. Out in the warm sunlight, he was better able to make out the lovely green sheen of its body, superb against the finest transparency of the wings – truly a masterpiece of nature, Henry thought.

A fly’s voice-box is too tiny for human ears, but Henry could feel waves of gratitude emanating from it.

Suddenly the fly was gone! It took off vertically and vanished in a flash. Henry had a feeling it had landed on his back, so returned inside, where Louella was still reading aloud, so preoccupied she hadn’t realised that her husband had gone out and returned.

"Louella," he interrupted, "Is there a fly on my back?" and turned for her to see. If the little fellow was still there he intended to walk straight out again and encourage it to stay away from certain death inside.

Louella gave a little shriek. "Yes – there IS!"

Before Henry could move, Gardening Australia was smashed into his back with such force it propelled him forward and onto his knees.

Louella shrieked again. "Got him! What made you think there was a fly on your back?"

Henry realised then that she hadn’t heard a word about rescuing a fly. Wheezing a little from the blow, he picked up the small victim, now crushed beyond recognition. He could just make out the delicate shade of green, and knew that the battered corpse was his rescued fly.

Something inside Henry snapped. He knew he was bellowing and yelling and waving his arms wildly, and didn’t care. His was a keening wail for the dead fly.

Louella reeled back, shocked, and began to scream. It was a side of Henry she’d never seen before. All she could think of was flight, and turned to flee.

Three paces into flight, her foot caught the ironing cord.

'I meant to move that cord!’ was her fleeting thought before she crashed headlong into the wall of death.

Henry heard the crash above his yells and turned to see his wife’s inert form lying on the floor.

Louella, unlike her victims survived the wall of death and was released from hospital after a few days, nursing a broken jaw.

The police dismissed Louella’s truthful account and put the incident down to an open and shut case of domestic violence.

Henry was charged and taken to court. He told his story to the judge who praised his imagination and told him he should write books, before giving him a month inside for assault. The neighbours, Henry learned, were delighted.

Henry enjoyed the month in the lock-up. It gave him a chance to befriend a number of flies and cockroaches doing time in his cell.

After the month he was released into Louella’s relieved arms, and all returned to normal.

The good news, as far as Henry was concerned, was the fact that the fly hadn’t died in vain. Louella had to eat jellies and similar foods for a few weeks – and the doctor urged her not to talk too much for a couple of months at least, until her jaw had completely set. She complained that it seemed like a lifetime, but as Henry kept reminding her: time flies.