HED: Pete the Fly
DEK: A chapter from PAUL COLLINS’ New York Stories
I am finally settling in to my new faux two-bedroom apartment on the Hudson River in downtown New York. I am alone for the first time in I don’t know how long, after two ex-wives and a 14-year-old son who is living with his mom. It will take some getting used to before I can get down to the business of constructing a productive and useful life. Right now I have got the basics: a table, some chairs, a bed and some lamps, pots and pans and my books. I am happy about that because as usual I got them all for next to nothing at flea markets or even better for free off the street.
Not since I was 17 and living in Hells Kitchen have I had this experience; back then it was easy, after living at home with my family it was a relief to be on my own and everything was new and exciting. Now I don’t know what to do with myself and I don’t want to kill too much time watching TV.
As I putter around the house and try to imagine the bookcases I need and the wall I will have to put up when my son will eventually come to live with me, I notice that I have company; there is a fly in the house. In the old days when I was still married, my ex would insist on either shooing him out the window or, if that failed, swatting him so he would be dead. Now I just ignore him; he will die on his own or fly out the window, I say to myself. He is a respectful fly though. He doesn’t land on my arm or my face or cause me any discomfort, no 10-ton leg that pins you to the bed so to speak, so live and let live, he’s not doing me any harm.
As I continue trying to get comfortable and productive, I forget all about him, but he doesn’t go and he doesn’t die. I can’t believe that after what seems like days, there he is. Sometimes it seems like he is actually following me around the house, at a safe distance, but still, there. I have always had a deep respect for anyone or anything for that matter that shows persistence, for that has been my by line for my entire life, and this fly seems to have it. I decide that if he wants to stay with me he should have a name, so I call him Pete and I think he likes it.
Pete and I have been living together for what must be weeks now and we get along fine, it’s nice to come home and know that he’s there, just hanging around—and I have to say that he is a great roommate. It’s fun sometimes trying to find him; Hey Pete where are you?
One day when I came in he wasn’t any where I could see, I went into the kitchen and noticed that I had left my coffee cup out with out rinsing it, I am fastidiously clean by nature, and as I picked up the cup to clean it there he was, floating in my last bit of coffee. I was heartbroken. Through my own stupid carelessness, I lost my friend. A shot of pain ran through me. “Pete!” I cried. “You’ve drowned!”
Instinctively I quickly got out a piece of paper towel and laid him on it, hoping against hope he wasn’t dead. Then his wings fluttered a bit, Pete had survived! As he lay there on the paper towel reviving himself, I promised I would be more careful and admonished him to never try to drink my coffee again. I realized that I would have to be more careful with Pete.
I am still smoking after numerous failed attempts to quit. As I am on the seventh floor and it is not too convenient to go all the way downstairs to the street, I just open one of the large windows I have and lean out to get my nicotine fix. Its winter here and quite cold, but after a smoke I will leave the window open a bit for the fresh air. The other day Pete, the rascal that he is, flew out the window. "No," I screamed "Pete, come back!” But he was just fooling with me as he made a few passes in and out, only to come back and alight on one of his favorite spots, the kitchen cabinet. He loves to hang out there and watch me while I cook or do the dishes. He will buzz around close to me but never does he land on me, as he knows I wouldn’t like it. Other times he will jet around the house, enjoying what must be for him oodles of space and getting his exercise. I talk to Pete like you would talk to any roommate. How’s it going Pete? What did you do today Pete? I always use his name; we have a respectful and formal relationship. As I am writing this I take a quick peek around to see if I can see him, but he’s off somewhere, maybe he’s sleeping I don’t know.
I am content with his company, just knowing he is here buzzing around, he makes his contribution to the household and he helps me overcome the loneliness I am feeling. I have come to depend on him, this one small fly in an ocean of people and things. Here in New York City, with him, I don’t feel so alone, and when he goes, because everyone does at one point or another, I will miss him.
Hey Pete, where are you? I want to read you something.