Driven purely by instinct, carried on a faint breeze from the open window, a fly, a big, fat, juicy one almost the size of a cherry tomato landed on the corner of my bathroom mirror as I shaved.
I swatted at it; really just a flick of my wrist, rather than a true coordinated attempt to kill it.
It flew away.
I resumed shaving. My lathered face, covered in foam a few inches thick, looked like Santa’s beard before I plowed my razor through it, clearing a strip of cheek from the bottom of my face to the subtle bulge of my orbital socket.
I worked slowly.
I was early.
Plenty of time until the big interview. I saw my weak, nervous, clenched pose in the mirror and straightened up, threw my shoulders back, bouncing on the balls of my feet. I bared my teeth and snarled, trying to summon primal, hunting jungle cat aggressiveness.
Plenty of time to be clean-shaven and neat. Professional. So, no razor bumps. Nothing to make me look young, clumsy, or inexperienced. Confidence in my appearance might make me confident in myself. Look good, feel good.
I retracted my lips, sucking them into my mouth to expose and tighten my chin, put the blade to it, and shaved an inch.
The fly buzzed, hopping and bopping its way down the wall from the ceiling, landed on the mirror and flew off again.
I paused, then shaved another inch of my chin.
The fly landed again.
I swatted at it halfheartedly again, and the fly retreated back to the ceiling.
I got to the hardest part, where the flesh right at the end of my chin gathered before the razorblades like water at a dam; transitioning around this critical curve to the hollow beneath my lower lip required a delicate, light touch.
Suddenly the fly came straight at me, right to my face, right to my nose.
“Huh!” I staggered back like I’d sneezed, my head ducking away from it.
The fly buzzed away.
I’d cut myself.
Not a nick, one of those forgivable little dots of blood or an abrasion that would fade by the time I donned the suit I’d hung on the back of my bathroom door to take advantage of the steamy bathroom air, but a deep laceration.
A throbbing pain started.
I looked in the mirror.
I’d sliced open my chin. Thick blood smeared it, dripping into the sink as I stood there. The shaving foam around it turned pink as the blood spread outward.
I was still holding the razor. I dropped it. It clattered into the sink, the running water from the tap diluting and cleaning the blood on the handle and razor housing, then washing away the blood trapped between the blades, leaving only a thin string of excised skin, which fluttered and then disappeared down the drain.
The fly looped back down, hovering, bobbing and weaving above my head, dipping, touching my scalp, rustling my hair.
I slapped at it, smacking my own head, and missed. Blood from my chin splattered onto my bare chest.
The fly rose into the air just high enough that my efforts to get at it, waving my arms over my head like I wanted to flag down an approaching plane, got me nothing as it circled the overhead light fixture.
I returned my attention to the mirror. I cupped my hands under the faucet and rubbed a palm full of water across my chin, gritting my teeth against the fresh, hot pain that caused, and gently explored with the prune-like pads of my soggy index fingers.
The water exposed the line of the cut; a gash, it was really a jagged gash more than an inch long, zigzagging its way on a leisurely downward angle across my chin like my earnings curve would appear, charted on a graph.
Blood welled up and stained the tips of my fingers as I played with the wound, breathing sharply against the pain.
No hiding this.
Human Resources guys are trained to cull the weak and the sick.
I could press on it with a wad of toilet tissue, do that for a while and then slather Vaseline on top to trap the blood inside the wound, like an old-fashioned cut man would do for a boxer and then maybe slap a band-aid over it, but that would broadcast my injury to the world as surely as leaving it free and bleeding.
First invented back in the forties to treat wounded soldiers on the battlefield, I had a fresh, unused tube in the junk drawer in my kitchen. But no pocket change amongst the junk, not even a corroded penny; I’d cleaned it out weeks ago.
The fly dipped low from the ceiling, to with arms reach, and flew back to the light fixture, landed on it, and walked upside down.
Forget Crazy Glue.
Rocking forward on my toes, my calf muscles tightened and flexed as I jumped, clapping my hands together above my head, so close to the fly that I actually touched it with the back of my knuckle as I missed.
It buzzed away, over the shower curtain into the shower.
I yanked the plastic shower curtain; two of the rings holding it to the metal rod broke off with a pop, and I entered swinging.
I slammed the palm of my hand against the tiled surface inside the shower a few inches too far to the left, so I slammed again and again, getting closer each time, the fly getting more and more desperate to get away as I swatted.
Finally it flew up, out of the shower and across the room, back to the ceiling near the window where it had started, back when I was just trying to get a neat shave so I didn’t look like a slob at my interview.
I reached for it and stopped myself, knowing that no matter how high I jumped, no matter how far I stretched, I couldn’t reach the fly where it was.
Overhead, it bounced around from the ceiling to wall by the window, to the other wall, floating effortlessly back and forth between the three surfaces in the corner it had chosen for itself.
Cornered. I had it cornered.
I grabbed my damp towel. It snagged on a rolled up lumpy section too fat to fit between the plastic rod and the wall.
Snarling, I jerked the towel free as the plastic rod broke, the pieces hitting the floor behind me.
Striding towards the toilet and the corner where the fly made its rounds, circulating and buzzing from one wall to the other to the ceiling and back to the first wall and around and around, I folded the towel over and wrapped it around my fist, leaving me with a plush, terrycloth mace.
I whipped it at the corner space.
It thumped against the wall with a deadly solidity that made me smile even though I missed.
I whipped it a second time, but misjudged the distance and the end of the towel caught on the ceiling, stifling the arc.
The fly skipped and skimmed along the white, shiny textured ceiling, leaving the safety of the corner it kept retreating to like a retracted jack in the box.
I watched its path, giving it a second or two before I cocked back my arm, readying the towel, keeping my eyes focused on a spot a couple inches ahead of the fly, giving it the lead time it would need to meet the full force at the end of my swing, the way a hunter aims ahead of a moving target.
I swung and-
-tripped over one of the pieces of the towel rod.
My momentum carried me across the room; I got my hands up just before I crashed into the wall beside the toilet, lost my balance and fell, crying out.
I landed in that dark, shadowy spot between the far end of the toilet and the wall. The dull red plunger wobbled in its plastic dish a few inches from my face. The back of my head rested against the plastic case that held the bristled toilet brush.
A layer of built up dust and lint and dirt and little hairs and paint chips stuck to my body where I lay; I could feel the grit sticking to my spongy, still glowing skin.
I turned over in this filth, getting my knees beneath me as I drew a breath. I’d knocked the wind out of myself, falling.
The fly bobbed around the light fixture.
A surge of adrenaline coursed through me, and I sprang up.
The back of my head caught against the toilet flush handle, an ornate plastic thing that could be easily depressed and triggered in the dark, even when drunk.
I cried out again, sinking back down. What a loser I was. No wonder no one wanted me. My hand went to the injured spot and gingerly inspected the wound, wincing again.
But already a welt had formed that would turn into a deep bruise with a nice goose egg in the centre of it, right on the back of my head.
I started getting up, mindful of the toilet flusher and the underside of the windowsill.
Something on the open shelf beneath my sink caught my eye. There, among the canister of scouring powder, the toilet bowl cleaner and a few spare bars of soap was a bottle of spray cleaner.
I reached around the toilet bowl and grabbed it, then heaved to my feet.
I fingered and pumped the trigger until a heavy mist of cleaner squirted out of the nozzle.
The fly had disappeared.
I looked around the room, taking in every nook and cranny, listening for the buzzing, until I located it in the shower, circling the faucet head. I approached it slowly, slowly raising and extending the cleaner bottle in my outstretched arm.
I fired, squeezing the trigger as fast as I could.
Heavy clouds of sudsy mist sprayed out, engulfing the fly.
It took off, shooting back toward its favourite spot on the ceiling above the toilet corner. I crossed the room quickly but under control, kicking away the closet rod I’d tripped over.
I pulled the trigger the entire time, aiming upwards, cleaner spewing from the nozzle of the bottle as I got as close as my reach would bring me.
The fly came out of the corner, but as it crossed in front of the window, it slowed down and crashed feebly to the windowsill.
It crawled, its wings saturated with caustic cleaner.
I didn’t let up, continuing to spray, getting the nozzle within inches of it, until it fell on the floor, landing upside down, legs flickering up at the ceiling.
I stepped on it.
It offered a little resistance and then burst open like a grape, the moisture of its insides warm and wet beneath the sole of my foot.
It was dead.
I looked down on its crushed body, then picked it up and dropped it into the toilet with no sense of ceremony or honour. I didn’t even bother flushing.
I turned the shower on, stepped back inside and quickly washed off the floor filth. Out, I shaved the rest of my face without cream, dragging the razor around. My chin bled.
Maybe the glue, maybe the Vaseline. Maybe neither.
I still had a few minutes before I had to leave.
Alexander Jones has published short fiction in Bastion Magazine, FarCryZine and (the) Squawk Back; his poetry has appeared in Juice Magazine. He has a BA in English/Creative Writing, a novel making the rounds at agencies and publishing companies, and a cool day job he is grateful for.