by Thomas Shahan. For more information, visit http://www.thomasshahan.com/#photos

by Thomas Shahan. For more information, visit http://www.thomasshahan.com/#photos

Vigil

by Sarah Pascarella

The night Ruby died we killed fifteen flies in our apartment. We had returned from vacation two days before, and everything had appeared as normal—nothing different from how we had left the place. And then, that first night home after work, they were everywhere: clinging to the curtains in our dining room, clustering at the window screen in our hallway, lazily buzzing through our kitchen. They flew slowly, and in skittish patterns, as though their bellies were full or their minds foggy with drink—buzzed. They were easily swatted, and left unseemly spatters of blood and viscera in their wake.

We checked the house for open windows, cracks in the screens, but couldn’t find any breach.

Ruby was our family dog of twelve years, and my mother’s choking sobs as I picked up the phone told me all I needed to know. I couldn’t quite process the news, at first. My parents had gotten Ruby when I was long out of the house, a few years after I had graduated from college, and I forever associated her with my young adult years and her own youthful exuberance she had shown as a puppy. First impressions stick. She had been so unusual, both in lineage and appearance, having the face of a collie, the barrel body of a husky, and the short legs and speckled tongue of a chow chow. Her coloring had always been an oatmeal/golden hue, with undertones of white, gray, and black—all the better to mask the aging process.

Ruby was the first pet my parents could enjoy, post-kids, in their empty nest years. She had a gentle disposition and a strong bond with my mother, her alpha. Ruby used to cry in my mother’s absence: If she deviated from her standard routine and didn’t show up when expected, Ruby would whine first, then howl. Listening to my mother cry over Ruby’s absence that first night on the phone, I thought how cruel it was that these roles had been reversed, and in such a permanent fashion.

It seems strange to say it, but I never thought of her as getting old, nor dying. Our family pets had passed when I lived at home, and it was an event I associated with growing up, an occurrence unique to childhood. To have it happen as an adult seemed, irrationally, against the natural order of things. And as reality started to impress itself upon me, I cried along with my mother, and later throughout the evening, long after hanging up the phone.

The next night the flies were back, and after killing several in our apartment and stairwell, I went to the Internet to find out what exactly was happening in my home. Cluster flies show up in late summer/early autumn, usually spurred by something dead in or around the property, one message board read. It could be a dead bird or rodent in the walls, chimney, or vents. I scoured the common areas for any trace of the dead culprit, but there was nothing, and no hint of it, either: no foul odor, no debris. It was as though the flies had appeared with my grief, despite Ruby’s carcass being 400 miles away. They lingered as I mourned her.

I swatted after them, relentless as a vigilante, on the hunt to track each one down. They were easy targets, returning to the exact same spots their comrades had fallen, choosing flight patterns obvious to any beholder. I slaughtered these insects one by one without remorse, all while weeping for a dog.

If the flies keep coming back, you’ll need to call an exterminator, one message board member had posted. Three to five days is the limit.

The third day I woke up to two flies in my dining room, and swiftly killed them both. One more in the hallway, then two in the basement. That evening, after work, one in the stairwell. I looked up names and numbers of local exterminators, but didn’t yet call.

They came in seeking death, perhaps, in the form of more food. And they found it, but not in any way that could sustain them. They came inside, under our door jambs, through whatever cracks we couldn’t see, thinking they had found a safe haven and potential bounty. Not knowing their own demise awaited them here.

The fourth day, none. One tearful email message, with a photo attached.

The fifth day, none. No phone calls or emails.

None since.

SarahPascarella

About Sarah Pascarella

Sarah Pascarella is a Boston-based writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Travelers’ TalesThe Boston Globe, and USA Today, among other publications. She has a Master’s in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College. Her novel, The Virgin Mary Hotline, is available via Kindle and Nook. She is currently at work on her second novel.

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