A young boy’s scream echoes through the house, into the living room. It’s a high-pitched panicked scream that the boy’s father knows only too well. He looks over at his wife, who is alarmed and shuffling in her seat to get up.
‘I’ll go, this time,’ he says, waving her back into her chair.
‘But you’re tired, and you’ve got your work to go to soon,’ the wife reminds him, ‘it’s a long drive.’
‘I’m fine, really. And, you look more tired than I do. You’ve been running around with him all day. Let me go.’
The wife smiles and nods, settling back into her seat.
The father rises from his armchair and paces through to the boy’s bedroom. He finds the boy cowering in a corner, frantically waving his hands around. The father runs over and scoops the boy up into his arms.
‘Whatever is the matter, son?’
The boy begins to cry, relieved to be in his father’s protective arms. He looks behind him and spots the monster, and wails a bit harder.
‘Oh, come now, tell your Dad what’s wrong,’ the father says, wiping the boy’s tears with his sleeve.
The boy points to the wall. A nonchalant crane fly clings to the wall.
‘A monster,’ the boy says, afraid. ‘It flew right at me.’
The father spots the culprit and begins to chuckle.
‘That’s not a monster, son,’ he laughs. ‘Now, you’re six years old and you’re getting upset over something like this? It’s just a harmless fly. He was probably just saying hello. Do you know what we call this fly?’
The boy is calming down.
‘A Daddy long-legs,’ the father states.
‘A…Daddy long-legs?’ the boy asks, curious. ‘Why are they called that?’
‘Well,’ the father begins, taking a step towards the fly. The boy whimpers a little and leans away from the fly. ‘It can’t hurt you, I promise,’ the father reassures the boy. ‘Take a look and tell me why they are named Daddy long-legs.’
The boy fixates on the fly and slowly leans forward to get a better look. A tiny sideways smile creeps up his face.
‘Because they have long legs,’ he smiles.
The father beams, proud.
‘And it can’t…hurt me, bite me, right?’
‘No, they’re harmless, hey, trust me.’
The boy smiles.
‘I do trust you, Dad,’ he says, relaxing in his father’s arms. He stares at the fly. His expression turns to confusion.
‘But why are they called Daddy long-legs?’
The boy watches the fly as though it was doing anything other than nothing at all, and waits for an answer. An answer that, strangely, does not come. His father always had an answer. Whenever the boy wanted to know something about the world, he knew he could always ask his father. He turns to his father to see an expression on his face that he does not recognise.
‘Em…they… what was your question again?’ he stalls, clearly agitated that he does not know a particular detail pertaining to the fly, and his son has uncovered a gap, albeit a tiny one, in his otherwise impeccable knowledge. He thinks hard, resorting to making something up.
‘Why are they called Daddy…Daddy long-legs?’ the boy repeats, screwing up his face.
‘Because they’re someone’s Daddy, that’s why.’
The boy looks at his father, smiling in disbelief.
‘Someone’s Daddy?’ he laughs.
‘That’s right, son,’ the father says, straight-faced, adamant in seeing the lie through. The lie evolves. ‘Have you heard of something called reincarnation?’
The boy thinks for a moment.
‘Mrs Foster at school told us that…when someone…dies…’ the boy thinks harder, ‘they come back…to life..?’
‘That’s right, some people believe that when we die, we are reborn as an animal, or a bird, or…’ the father smiles, turning to the fly on the wall.
‘A fly!’ the boy says, delighted by the new information, and all the attention from his father.
‘Is that what you believe, Dad?’ the boy asks gazing at the fly like they are new best friends.
The father chuckles again.
‘Well, we just can’t be sure, son, but that’s why you should never hurt other creatures.’
‘Because they might be someone’s mum or dad!’ the boy smiles, working it all out.
‘Exactly! Or sister, or uncle!’
The boy kicks to get down, now confident, and the father sets him down on the carpeted floor. The boy looks up at his father.
‘Dad, what do you want to come back as?’
‘Oh,’ the father smiles, ‘ enjoying the interaction, ‘maybe a massive blue whale, or a soaring eagle.’
The boy giggles. He turns to the fly.
‘I definitely wouldn’t come back as a Daddy long-legs!’
They both chuckle together.
‘Maybe we don’t get a choice?’ the father teases.
The boy looks playfully shocked by the suggestion. He takes a sudden sombre turn.
‘If you died…’
‘Oh, I’m not going to die, son,’ the father says, rustling the boy’s hair. ‘Not yet anyway, I’ve got a good forty, fifty years left!’
The boy pulls his head away.
‘No but if you did,’ he says, glum, ‘would you come back and find me, even if you were a whale or an eagle?’
The father is touched by the sentiment and feels emotions rise inside him. He smiles through the temptation to cry.
‘Of course, son. Now, listen,’ he says, changing the subject, ‘I’d better get to work. I have a long drive tonight. But,’ he points to the fly, ‘you and Mr long-legs here…you guys cool, now?’
The boy laughs giddily.
‘Yeah, we’re cool.’
The father leans down and kisses the boy’s head and makes for the door.
‘See you later, son,’ he calls, over his shoulder.
‘Bye, Dad,’ the boy says, over-confidently reaching out and touching one of the fly’s legs. It immediately springs off the wall, and takes flight, its wings buzzing loudly.
The boy is startled and screams, terrified once again, and runs after his father.
EIGHT YEARS LATER
The boy, now a teen, is walking home from school. He is dressed in his school uniform; black trousers, black trainers, black hoodie. He mostly wears black clothing nowadays, in and out of school.
It’s the usual route; down Wagon Road, through Lemon Terrace, passed the hut-shop, and home. He passes by the hut-shop, his head hanging low, his eyes fixed on the pavement. He hears a voice calling to him.
‘Hey man, I heard your Dad has got quite a temper.’
The boy is hurt and bites his bottom lip, and walks on. He knows that voice. The local bully-boy, stands outside the shop, alongside his twisted side-kick, who speaks next.
‘Yeah, you should tell him not to lose his head.’
The bullies laugh sadistically. Tears brim in the boy’s eyes. He lowers his head and picks up his pace.
‘Hey how is your Dad, anyway?’
The laugh again.
‘Oh shit, yeah, sorry, we forgot.’
The boy powers home, upset and fuming. He finally gets in and slams the door closed and falls to his knees and cries, hard, like he hasn’t in a long time, around eight years or so. After a short while of vacant gazing, lost in reverie, he picks himself up and enters the kitchen. There is a note on the kitchen table.
I’ll be back later tonight, usual time.
There’s stuff in the freezer for your tea.
Careful with the oven. Don’t burn the house down.
Oh, you’ve still to do the dishes.
The longer you leave it, the more it mounts up.
I do not want to see them still sitting there when I get home, okay!?
See you soon.
The boy turns and glances at the huge pile of dirty dishes in, and around, the sink.
‘Great!’ he yells, and angrily pulls off his hoodie and throws it on the floor.
He huffs and puffs, and eventually approaches the sink. He plugs the sink-hole and turns on the hot water tap. He finds the washing up liquid and a sponge in a cupboard under the sink. He squeezes an excessive amount into the water and it immediately begins to foam and bubble. He scoops up the first plate and begins to scrub. After a while, he places the last of the cutlery onto the draining board. He jumps when he hears a loud buzz quickly approaching his left ear.
‘Jesus!’ he cries, and ducks down.
He scans the room, looking for a wasp, or bee. He finds nothing. He picks up another plate. The buzz swoops at him again. He ducks down again.
‘What the hell is that!?’ he yells, scanning the room. He turns to the left. Nothing. To the right. Something small and dark flies towards his face.
‘Christ!’ he yells, trying to identify it. But it is gone.
‘Where the hell did it go?’ the boy asks himself, agitated by the home invasion.
He hears the buzz and turns to see the intruder flying close to his face.
He has an immediate, and strange, impulse to blow it away, and he does. It works, but only temporarily as the intruder is determined and returns.
‘I’m not in the mood for this,’ the boy yells, and swipes at the intruder with a wet, sudsy hand.
His hand connects and the intruder is sent crashing down on to the kitchen table, where it lies, twitching.
‘There!’ the boy cries, victorious, looking down at the defeated crane fly. ‘Maybe now I can finish the dishes in peace!’
He grins and returns to the sink. As he picks up a plate, his grin is already dropping.
There is an awful feeling, that he can’t understand yet, creeping up on him. Something bothering him.
‘It got in my face,’ he tells his conscience.
His father’s words ring in his ears.
That’s why you should never harm other creatures.
‘It’s just a…’ he says, angrily, turning to the fly, ‘Daddy…long-legs…’
He’s suddenly back in his bedroom, eight years ago. The memory of that day. That day. The last day he ever saw his father. He recalls their conversation. The fly. The name. Reincarnation. Coming back, from death. He sees himself as a child, looking up at his father.
If you die, the child asks, would you come back and find me?
His dad smiles. That smile that the boy has missed so much.
Of course, son…
The boy snaps out of his memory and quickly glances at the quivering insect on the table. He drops the plate in his hands and immediately runs to the table and kneels down, his face close to the fly. Tears begin to stream down his face. He opens his mouth, but can hardly say the word.
‘Dad..?’ he whispers, shaking his head.
The fly very slowly begins to crawl towards the boy. When inches away, it halts, and shakily holds out a leg. The boy breaks down.
‘Dad?’ he cries.
He reaches out a finger and delicately touches the fly’s leg, before it gently lies down and dies.
‘Dad!’ the boy yells, nudging the fly, hoping it might revive it.
His efforts are to no avail.
The boy weeps, uncontrollably.
‘I’m sorry!’ he screams, into the air. ‘It’s just a fly! It’s just a fly!’