The Fly on the Wall
Every man’s dream with every woman he has ever known is to be the Fly on the Wall.
Every man’s worst nightmare with every woman he has ever known is to find himself the Fly on the Wall.
He had the blue eyes of a prince and was handsome to a fault and his charm and intelligence were the envy of all who knew him. He had money and he had expensive cars and a hundred suits and three times as many colorful ties.
What he did not have, or have enough of, were women to please his arcane and elusive sexual and emotional needs, and his peculiar sense of moral rectitude. So he roamed the world seeking the company of women, gladly paying for their pleasures, never ashamed of doing so. What he sought he could no more articulate than could a physicist explain to a child the meaning of four dimensional space.
In a grubby city in the Philippines, a city of orange dirt and shoeless men with tattoos of growling dogs, he met a young woman from a place to the north. Two hours and then more by jeepney is my home, she told him on meeting him. It was a chance meeting, on a crowded and wet street with one-eyed beggars. There was a quick exchange of smiles, and then there was more. The smiles changed to words, then more words. Then he could not resist doing what he habitually did all the time.
She did not initially appeal to his discriminating eye, he would later think. She was too slight of build, and her hair was too short, and he couldn’t decide if he liked the silver retainer, a thin line that seemed to cut her front teeth in half.
They stood there with a lonely yellow cat at their feet, and they talked. They talked about dying coral reefs and the obscene graffiti on the walls of vacant lots full of garbage. They talked about where she got the purple slipper shoes she was wearing and why she chose the color purple. They talked for more than an hour, standing, and then sitting in an all-windows restaurant, she sipping on a banana shake, he working on a rum coke that had turned warm. And then, seeing a sparkle in her eyes, and an invitation in her small mouth when the retainer slipped a fraction of an inch and she poked it with her tongue, he got up and went around to her and spontaneously took her by the hand. He squeezed it lovingly and they walked to the register and paid the bill and he left a millionaire’s tip. Then they strolled hand in hand over to an Italian restaurant where they sat near a window on the second floor and ate angel hair pasta and pizza with pineapple and pepperoni and made eyes at one another. He made her laugh, and he taught her small things she could not have imagined ever learning. He tried to explain in the simplest terms possible what a black hole is and how some are so big that they can contain twenty trillion suns.
Twenty million, wow!
It occurred to him that she had no concept of a number larger than a million. Why had he even brought to mind black holes and tried to tell her just how big they can be?
There was a long silence while he looked for something to say. He finally said, There is a peculiar kind of octopus that sometimes looks like a crocodile and eats a dozen different kinds of bottom fish.
Oh, really! Do they eat fish that Filipinos eat?
Don’t Filipinos eat any kind of fish?
She smiled, and he wanted to kiss her. He was still thinking of kissing her when she added, What kind of fish do Americans like to eat?
Great White Sharks.
I see, she said. Only Great White Sharks?
There are other kinds of fish Americans eat, he said. But I can’t remember their names right now.
He asked her to tell him something about herself. So she told him about a German twice her age who she had loved for nearly a year and how she saw him infrequently and when she did see him they never made love. She said it was just like with his German wife who divorced him because he was afraid to make love.
Did you try to help him make love? he said.
No, she said. I didn’t know how. I was afraid what might happen if I did something strange. But it didn’t matter to me that he didn’t want to make love. That was okay, cause he gave me 15,000 pesos a month.
He was generous.
It was his spending money, he told me. He also told me all the time he loved me.
And you loved him?
Oh yes! I loved him more than the man who was the father of my daughter.
Why did you love him? he asked her, thinking he knew the answer.
Because he only kissed me when I wanted to be kissed.
He looked into her eyes and he thought that she was telling the truth. Could this have really been the truth? How did he know when to kiss you? he now said.
I never asked him that, she said. He just knew when I wanted to be kissed. Don’t you know when you want to kiss a girl?
He put a hand below the table and scratched his balls. He scratched them a second and a third time.
This man with the blue eyes of a prince and so much more got a sudden urge to be with this young woman, to be with her intimately. To be all over her, and inside her. Maybe, he thought, it was because of her name, and the retainer inside that pretty and wide and full mouth. Her name was April, and it made him think of dewy mornings and wet grass and fuzzy tennis balls that rolled into sewers when the streets were full of little kids. It made him think of the quiet street in the northern town on another continent where he was born and made his fortune, and the day that he kissed his first wife without forewarning on the lips and she slapped him so hard that his mouth bled for ten minutes and he entertained the thought of beating the shit out of her. That was the day, or rather the night, that he got her pregnant and regretted it like nothing else he had ever regretted.
There was no mystery to the name April, she told him. She was named after the month in which she was born. He wondered what it would be like if he had been named January, the month in which he was born. Would that make him feel different than the name he had? A name that had been chosen by his father, and without reason that could be remembered, his father once told him. He once asked him mother if she liked the name his father had given him.
Why don’t you ask your father? she told him.
I asked you, he said.
I knew that the name he insisted on giving you would mean that you would be a failure in marriage.
And it all came true.
You did not become what I wanted you to become.
You wanted me to stay with a woman who had no heart and thought that sex of any kind was a deadly disease.
Every man must learn to live with what he has chosen.
I made a mistake.
That was not a good reason to leave her. Sex is not important. Anyway, people are supposed to live with their mistakes.
He had had this conversation many times with his mother. And others that were not much different, when they discussed, or he tried to discuss, the other mistakes he had made with other women he had married. With each divorce his mother became increasingly convinced that it was because of the name his father had given him. He tried, right from the beginning, not to think that his mother was completely irrational. He tried to imagine where she got the idea that got her to see an inextricable link between his name and his three marriages and divorces. Three marriages to women that his mother claimed to love as much as if they were daughters. He simply could not imagine what made his mother think the way she did about his ex-wives; he could only see that these women had thoughts that were just as irrational and incomprehensible as those entertained by his mother. Surely women aren’t that hard to understand, but then why did he understand almost nothing about his three wives, and not much more about his mother?
It was not long before he found himself with April in his hotel room. And it was not long after that that she was naked and in his arms and providing him with a kind of warmth that he cherished. How was this possible? She was so small, little more than half the weight of any of his wives when just beyond their prime. How could he be attracted to a young woman who looked so utterly different?
He was content to have April beside him, coiled around him as she was able to do, and wanted to do, it seemed. He wondered if this is how the German felt. He wondered if this feeling with this particular young woman was better than making love. He had never been able to decide what people meant when they say that they have had good sex.
Over the next several days they hardly left the hotel room, and only then to dance at a place that was not really meant for dancing. It was a small and cold club where two brothers with long ponytails sang popular western songs. He felt both funny and exhilarated dancing with her. Dancing was something that none of his wives had ever wanted to do. It has been six years since April had last danced, the year she left high school. She could hardly believe how much she enjoyed dancing. In one dance, she said to him—she whispered to him, Would you tell me later when we are in bed why black holes are black?
He told her little about himself, and he didn’t ask her a great many questions about her own life. He knew that she was poor and had a daughter that was three. He learned that she had asked her husband to leave. He was a good man, April told him, but he was not man enough to get a job. A man not man enough to get a job is not a man worth having around, she told him.
He never told her that he had not worked for more than twenty years.
One afternoon when April left him and said she had some errands to run, he was lying in bed and wondering what he saw in her, because she was so different and had so little education. He now had had sex with April several times. She was so small and there was so little to hold, and yet she felt so good.
Alone, not knowing when April would return, he closed his eyes and he fell asleep. While sleeping, or was he sleeping? he was visited by a fly. The fly landed on his forehead and said, Do you want to be me for a short while?
Why would I want to do that?
Then you will know what you want to know about April.
And what is that?
You will know when you are me and doing what a fly can do. She will reveal herself.
I don’t know, he said. I don’t know if I really want to know anything particular about her. I think I am content the way things are.
This is the only chance you will have, the fly said.
Okay, he said. In that case I will take your offer. But tell me, what do you want in return?
Nothing more than the food on the table that you and April did not eat.
And that is all?
And so he became a fly, and he flew out an open window, and he dropped down onto the hood of a trike he saw in the distance. It was zigzagging, hurrying up the street, its destination not obvious. He flew into the cab and to his astonishment he saw April. She was seated next to a young Filipino. The two of them were talking, back and forth, in Tagalog and English. April had a hand resting on his knee. In her other hand was a pink rosary. She was fingering the rosary, rolling the beads between two fingers.
The fly landed on April’s shoulder, and listened.
I couldn’t find it, she said.
Did you look where I told you to look?
I did, honey. I looked when he was in the toilet. I looked when he went down to the main desk to do something.
He must be an American.
Why you say that?
They do crazy things. When you go back take off the light switch plate and look there.
Use your nail file.
Oh, okay honey. If you say so.
Do you like him? her Filipino boyfriend said.
He is sweet and he treats me well. He is warm and he holds me close. He is like a blanket I do not own.
He is soon bye bye. You must try harder.
I will honey, I will. She squeezed his knee, then brought the rosary to her mouth and kissed the cross. She whispered, Please, Jesus, help me.
The fly jumped and fluttered its wings, then shit on her shoulder.
April’s boyfriend took out a cigarette and lit it. April squeezed his knee. She turned to kiss him on the cheek, but stopped short of doing so. Again she brought the rosary to her mouth with both hands and again she kissed the cross. It was a lingering kiss. Please, please, Jesus, I beg you to help me.
The fly took shook its head in disgust and flew away and returned to the room. It went to the bed and landed on the pillow.
When he woke, woke as something else, a man with a name chosen by his father and hated by his mother, there was a knock on the door. He did not know who it was. He imagined it was April. Who else could it be?
The person knocked several times. He did not answer the door.
An hour later he checked out of the hotel and found another one a block away. On leaving the room he saw that the note he had pinned to the door was gone. It was an old twenty peso note on which he had written: Happy Hunting April. I will always remember you.
He never saw her again. He thought of her often and how she played with her retainer with her tiny Filipina tongue.