art by Eleanor Bennett
An Exodus of Wings
by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
***Editor's Note: Adult story, complete with adult language***
Before Heidi came along, Michael did everything he could to keep the damn faeries out of his apartment. Every night he washed and dried his dishes, never left one dripping in the drying rack. Always fished the food particles from the drain, took the trash out, sealed his cereal in glass jars.
But then he met her. Heidi, her name was, as she told him through hair that kept blowing over her mouth--such long hair, too long, always in the way. Once she became a permanent fixture in his apartment, he lost the drive to keep clean. Love does that. Makes you forget the rigorous regime of your single life, the boring ritual that once kept you busy enough to not feel alone with the TV and your thoughts. And once Michael ceased his diligent cleaning, let the dishes pile in the sink in leaning towers, let the old rice grains and botamochi crumbs rot in the drain, the faeries took over.
They found their way in through the pipes and the hole in his pantry wall. At first, just a handful. Then more. Soon any time Michael and Heidi returned from a silent dinner or flipped on the kitchen light after emerging from the bedroom for some amanatto or chocolate peanut butter, they were greeted by a flurry of wings and flailing limbs the same checked pattern of his dinner plates--a camouflage--as the faeries scattered.
When Heidi wasn't around, Michael made a game of chasing the faeries with a fly swatter through his overcrowded living room, dodging his oversized computer station; the pillows his mother had shipped him from Japan to liven up what she considered a dump; and his life-size poster of Michael Jackson, his American namesake. After his rampage he sprayed the walls with vinegar and scrubbed away their blue-green blood, peeled their flattened bodies off and tossed them out into the community compost bin. But he'd noticed how Heidi's eyes followed the faeries as they collected around the faucet water any time he turned it on, and he hadn't dared harm them in her presence. She was so difficult to understand that he clung to this little way to please her like he did to her hand in the night. Some women, he knew, went gooey even for pests, like those teenage girls in the subway who fed the rats.
He didn't worry so much about the faeries when in her company, anyhow, partly because Michael and Heidi spent most of their days between the sheets. Lying beside her in a room lit only by the humming street lights outside his window, which extended the shadows across his puny abdomen and under her narrow eyes, he would run his hand along her belly and shiver against her skin, smooth as stone. When making love she was like stone, cold and still, but deep beneath he felt her buzz, as if she wanted to burst apart and scatter her pieces across his Iron Man bedspread.
After a haze of three weeks with little effort on Michael's part to eliminate the pest problem--and the faeries were a problem, breaking into his packets of dry noodles and scattering them across the kitchen floor, teaching themselves how to turn the faucet on when Michael wasn't home so that his water bill appeared in the triple digits, depositing their pellet scat on his kitchen counters--the faeries migrated to the bathroom. There were so many of them now that they couldn't fit in all their kitchen hiding places anymore, and no longer did they scatter in the light or at the sound of footsteps, as they had realized that they were in no danger as long as Heidi was around, which was nearly always. Now when Michael showered--alone, as Heidi refused to shower with anyone--the faeries danced through the water spray, the beat of their wings like a fleet of tiny helicopters. In bed Heidi was a welcome hiatus from the frantic flapping. Even though he knew her silence was troubled, forced, it still comforted him to be able to not speak. He could count the conversations they'd had on two hands; her presence was more to him than words, a comfort like a heating pad, a child's stuffed bear, these youthful traditions matured into a woman he wanted to crack so he could keep her. But she was solid all the way through.
Then one night he woke to a single laugh like a brief night song, muffled. The space beside him empty, he rose and padded into the hall, his slippers thudding against the carpet. Steamy light leaked from the cracks around the door. He heard shower water falling. He opened the door. The curtain was closed. He pulled it back.
Heidi stood beneath the stream with her head dropped back, her hair stringy wet. She must have sensed him there, for eventually her head jerked to the side, but it felt as though time had stopped, and he stared at her for what, looking back, seemed too long a time for her to have remained oblivious to him. Later he wondered if he really had taken in all the detail he remembered, or if he had made it up, dreamt it, if he had only seen a glimpse before she noticed him and wrapped her arms around her chest. Nevertheless, he couldn't forget how she looked.
Faeries balanced on her shoulders, digging into her skin with their toes. They wove in and out of her hair, sliding down strands until they dropped to the bottom of the tub, changing color from the reflectionless black of her hair to the stark white of the tub as soon as their feet landed against its surface. Two of them perched on her stiff brown nipples so that it appeared her breasts had gone misshapen in the night. She wore a closed-mouth smile that spoke of something he would never understand, an eyes-closed kind of feeling he had never felt, would never feel. It was then he knew that he would lose her.
Puck's Pest Control
I can always tell an asshole just from where they live. The last night on the job, I was going to meet this guy I'd already diagnosed as such. He lived over off Bluestone in these trashy apartments that had been built for rich white dickheads. When he opened the door, I was surprised to see that he wasn't, in fact, the white I'd thought he would be. He was paler white, my white, the white of those crazy beech mushrooms my immigrant great-grandfather used to cook up all the time. I didn't revise my judgment. Probably he was already judging my appearance; dreadlocks and a parka and my decidedly western gut. Probably he took one look at my name tag--Akira--and sneered at the fact that I clearly speak little of the language.
Soon as he opened the door, the skunk smell of weed upheaved me. I coughed. I knew his type. Never grew up, too sheltered by his frightened parents to notice that life is supposed to change once you're out on your own. Probably he'd been blowing his smoke on the faeries, making them loopy. Probably he thought it was funny to torture the poor things like that. I mean, I enjoy a toke every now and again, but I wouldn't dream of inflicting a helpless animal, unaware of what's coming up at him like the harmless clouds outside, with a surprise stoning.
"They're all over," he said, motioning around the kitchen. His apartment was pretty clean for how infested it was. Eyes peered from the cracks in the cabinet doors, and wings glinted from the top of the refrigerator. All I saw in terms of a mess was a single coffee mug in the sink, filled with water. It was the only target I had for him.
"Can't leave stuff like that," I said, dumping the water. "They don't need a lot to live off."
"Doesn't matter. They've figured out how to turn on the faucets."
I wanted to smile but stopped myself. Clever buggers.