FLY AWAY by Melody Kowach
I kick my shoes off, plopping myself down into Aaron’s queen-sized bed and stare at the popcorn ceiling for a minute. Aaron should be coming home in about an hour and I’d prefer to be asleep when that happens. I roll over to open the drawer in his night stand and pull out a canister of weed and a small green pipe. After packing the bowl I take a big hit and lie down, holding the smoke in my lungs, withstanding the burning sensation in my chest for as long as possible before exhaling and trying not to cough. The world begins to spin a little and the ceiling looks like snow. I take another hit, put the pipe down, and close my eyes. Somewhere in the room a fly is buzzing.
It feels like my eyes have been closed for only a few minutes when Aaron comes into the apartment. Staying perfectly still, I listen to him move around the room. It wasn’t always like this. I used to stay up purposely, waiting for him to come home, wanting to be awake when he came into the bed and wrapped his arms around me. I used to lie in bed wearing only my underwear so that I could really feel his hand grazing across my side and around my stomach. I’m not sure when I began to feel differently, but at times I can barely stand being touched by him. When he leans to kiss me I automatically recoil, and though I usually catch myself in time, I know that he senses it too. I want to tell him that it’s not his fault and that it’s just me, but I’m not so sure it is.
I continue breathing deeply, pretending to be asleep when he gets into the bed and puts his arm around me. He stops mid-graze and pulls the covers back a little before shaking my shoulder softly.
“Grace,” he says. “Grace, wake up.”
“Mm?” I’ve been roused out of a deep sleep; an art that I like to think I’ve skillfully crafted over the past few months.
“You’re still wearing your school girl outfit.”
It occurs to me that I hadn’t changed out of the outfit that my all-girl band had agreed to wear for that night’s gig. And everything had been going so well. “Mhm.”
“I kinda like it,” he says. He touches my cheek softly and turns my face towards him to kiss me.
I open my eyes and smile sleepily before kissing him back and turning fully to face him; it’s easier than getting into a fight. “How was work?”
“It was okay. Would have been better if you had come by to visit.”
I smile sympathetically. “I’m sorry. I was really tired. Did you make a lot of tips?”
“Of course,” he says.
“That’s good.” I kiss him once more and then turn onto my side, away from him. He draws closer to me underneath the sheets and slips his hand under my shirt, kissing my neck. I’m still high, which helps, and the world still seems to be spinning. I try to stay still and don’t respond, but he pulls my shoulder down and turns me towards him. Kissing me again, he slips his tongue into my mouth. His hands are underneath my bra as his lips move down to my neck and I stare at the snow on the ceiling. He is on top of me now, pulling my underwear off and slithering his way between my legs. I let him, because I have nowhere else to go.
When I wake up in the morning, I can hear the fly that I had heard while drifting off to sleep the night before. I open my eyes and watch it throwing itself against the window above the bed, trying again and again to get outside, buzzing loudly with each failed attempt. I realize that I’m still naked, so I carefully crawl out of the bed and make my way into the shower. Like I said, it wasn’t always like this. I didn’t always feel dirty after sleeping with Aaron. The first month or two that we were together, it seemed like I couldn’t get enough of him, like we made love every night. These days I’m usually asleep by the time he gets home and we just have sex. I wonder if he knows the difference.
Standing in the shower, the scalding water beats against my neck. For a moment I want to go home, to San Diego, to my mother’s house, but I know that I can’t. It’s not my home anymore and I don’t really want to go back; I just miss my mom and sister. The hot water beats down on me and I turn around to stick my face under it, washing the tears off. I’ve got to get out of here soon.
Aaron is awake when I walk back into the room wrapped in a towel. He’s smiling at me in that sickly sweet way that I used to love.
“I never understand how you can be up so early and ready to go the way you do in the morning. Especially after a late night gig like last night,” he says.
I’m not sure if by gig he is referring to my band’s show at The Back Alley or the late night sex. “Well you’re a night person. I’m a morning person,” I say, slipping my underwear on underneath my towel. I’m really not a morning person; I’ve just gotten into the habit of trying to sleep before he gets home, so my internal clock is off. My back is to him, but I can feel him watching me. Turning around, still wrapped in my towel, I sit on the bed and kiss him on the cheek. “Go back to sleep.”
He smiles at me, turning over and closing his eyes. “Don’t have to tell me twice, but wake me up and say goodbye when you go.”
I say that I will, but when I am fully dressed and ready to leave, I don’t.
I drive over to the post office and write a check to my mother, slip it into an envelope, and stick it into the mailbox. This is the primary reason I’ve been having a difficult time saving enough money to move out, but it is an obligation that I must fulfill. I have no resentment in doing it, even though I know that in some ways I am not really helping my mother’s situation, but somebody has to help her feed my half-sister even if her own father won’t.
Standing outside of the post office, I pick up my phone and dial the number to the house that was once my home. The cool autumn breeze rustles my hair, cobwebbing across my face and into my eyelashes. I turn towards the wind, listening to the phone ring as post office workers walk by, along with people who actually have places to go. The phone line clicks and the low raspy voice that I want to hear the least answers. Of course he’d still be home.
“Rick. Is my mom home?”
“Hola niña. Why don’t you want to talk to me?”
“I’m not a little girl y por favor just give mi madre el teléfono.”
“How’s your gringo boyfriend?”
“How’s the job hunting? Have you gotten off your lazy drunk ass to support mi madre y tu hija yet?”
“Pendeja, don’t talk to me like that.”
“Pues I didn’t call to talk to you. Just give my mom the fucking phone.”
He starts to curse about me to my mother, his voice muffled, probably with his hand over the receiver. His voice fades away and it is quiet when my mother’s voice, always sounding energetic, answers. “Graciella. Que pasa mija?”
“Nothing Mamí. I just wanted to let you know I sent another check your way today.”
“Ay. Cuantos tiempos necesito decirte que no necesitas mandarme dinero?” She always tries to sound disapproving, but I can hear the relief in her voice.
“It’s okay Mamí. I’m making enough con la banda y los estudiantes. I want to make sure you guys are okay. Besides, Rick still doesn’t have a job, verdad?”
My mother hesitates. “Ricky is trying. He’s been looking for jale pero you know, it’s difficult con la economía.”
I’m glad my mother can’t see me because she hates when I roll my eyes. She used to say it made me look like I was possessed by el Diablo when I was little. I don’t say anything and the silence is filled with wind blowing around me and into the phone.
“He’s getting better,” she says again.
Those terrorizing nights in that house; the nights that made me leave as soon as I could, suddenly pop into my head. I focus on the brightness of the sun and it’s warmth on my face. “Alright Mamí. Give Angelica un beso for me.”
I hang up the phone and walk back to my car, hesitating at the door and turning my face back up to the sun. It probably doesn’t feel this nice in San Diego; it’s usually too cold down, too near the beach. Los Angeles is far enough away that it’s usually the perfect temperature for me. Maybe one day my mom and Angelica can come visit me, but I definitely need my own place before that can happen. I get into my car, unsure of where to go next. I don’t have any students on Saturdays and I don’t want to go back to Aaron’s, so I give Brandon a call.
I’ve been to Brandon’s house before but never during the day. I realize that it’s actually much bigger in the light than I had realized. I park my car, walk up to the house and knock. He seems to be at the door almost instantaneously as it opens only moments later. Brandon’s face is like a breath of fresh air. Seeing him seems to bring me away from San Diego and from Aaron’s apartment in a way that only being physically absent from those places doesn’t, or perhaps it’s just his weed.
“Sorry for coming over without a heads up.”
“No problem,” he beams at me.
We walk into the living room and flop down onto the couch. He’s got the TV already turned to Comedy Central, the channel we always watch together, and the bong sitting next to the coffee table already has a bowl packed in it. It’s like he knew I was coming.
“Is that bowl for me?” I ask, nodding my head towards the glass piece, wondering for a minute how they’re made anyway.
I smile. “Alright, maybe in a little bit. I don’t want you to think I come over here just to smoke your weed.”
“You know you’re always welcome to it.”
“Yeah.” I put my feet up on the coffee table. “Oh and thanks for coming to our show last night.”
“No problem. Best all-girl rock band I know.”
I laugh. “Only all-girl rock band you know.”
I’ve known Brandon since our freshman year of college and he’s been to every one of my band’s gigs since. We were both in the Introduction to Music Class and with his Classical Piano major and my alternative drumming style our friendship was a bit of a surprise to the both of us, but smoking, cigarettes or otherwise, brings people together in unexpected ways.
We chat for a little bit, watching the TV every now and again until I pick up the bong and take a hit. My body melts into the couch and any lingering thoughts of the home that I no longer belong to have dissipated with the smoke and any thoughts of Aaron with them as well. For a minute I forget that I even exist, until my phone buzzes. I look at the screen, concentrating to read Aaron’s name. I put it down on the table without answering it.
“Is it the boyfriend?” Brandon asks.
“How are things with him anyway?”
I glare at him.
“What? I’m just asking. Are they that bad?”
“I don’t know. Things are different and not in a good way. Things with him just feel,” I pause, looking for the right word before continuing, “too sober, even though I’m high at his place all the time.” The words leave my lips, moving as slowly as the time feels like it’s passing, as slow as the smoke swirls around in the air above us. I laugh.
“Well, that’s what happens when you move in with somebody before you’re ready.”
I can see the words taking form in the smoke and coming towards me across the space between us and I want to put my arms up to deflect them. Instead, I laugh again. “Well, what choice do I have?”
He shrugs. “You can move here. Stay with me.”
I laugh a third time, realizing in my laughter that he’s being serious but it’s too late, I can’t stop. “I’m sorry,” I say in between chortles. “I don’t know why it’s so funny.” The thought had never occurred to me and perhaps that’s why it’s so funny; it’s too perfect. Brandon’s house has three bedrooms, two of which are occupied by him and his brother; however, the third is more of an office, but there is in fact an extra bed for any friends that may be too drunk or too high to drive home. I feel like something inside of me has opened up, something inside that I forgot I had. Perhaps my soul. It was crushed down like an aluminum can, and with Brandon’s offer the can was pulled open again; it still has all of the wrinkles and lines from being compacted, but there it was a can again rather than a crumpled piece of aluminum.
“Would that really be okay?” I ask. “Your brother wouldn’t mind?”
“Of course not. You’re one of my best friends and my brother loves you too. It could be fun.”
“I’d love to, but I wouldn’t be able to pay any rent.”
“I already know this. Look, I just don’t want you to be miserable and lately, I can tell you’ve been miserable.”
I shrug. “Let me think about it.”
That evening, when I get back to the apartment, it’s late enough that Aaron has gone to work already; a benefit of dating a bartender, especially when you don’t want to be dating him anymore. I pull my drum set piece by piece out of my car and set it up in the living room. Taking a seat on my throne, I tap each drum once to check if they’re the right height. After adjusting one cymbal I tap it a few times and then sit for a minute with my eyes closed, thinking about what I should play. Maybe a jazz beat, or perhaps Latin, smooth and soothing, or maybe I just want to bang on stuff. A buzzing interrupts my thoughts. I keep my eyes closed and tilt my head in the direction of the sound, probably the kitchen window. That’s quite a journey from the bedroom to the kitchen for you little fly, I think to myself. The buzzing is in the same odd rhythm as this morning. It makes a small tap against the glass, some buzzing followed by another small tap or two and then buzzing again. With a smile on my face, I open my eyes, bringing one of my drumsticks above the snare, listening for the cue. There is the tap and I drop my stick on the snare to buzz with the fly. I do it a few times, a light roll on the snare for the buzz, a light thud on the kick bass for when the fly hits the window.
Within a few minutes that almost nervous feeling I get when I open my eyes during a gig and see the crowd dancing to the beat that I’m laying down begins to stir in my gut and suddenly, the rhythm springs out of me like my stick rebounding off of a drum. I have to control it with my arms and legs; a flurry of movements seemingly independent from the rest of my body. The beat isn’t Latin, or jazz, it’s faster than those but slower than rock. It’s in between. Uncategorized. Alive. I can speed it up, or slow it down. The control is here—in hands. With these two simple pieces of wood I can control so much.
I’m not sure how long I’ve been playing, but just as suddenly as I had started, I stop. Sighing into the silence I listen to the fly, still trying to get out. I go into the bedroom and pack another bowl. I look at it. Then put it down. The leaves outside of the open window are shushing the silence and a siren goes off in the distance, overpowering the buzzing of the fly.
I must have fallen asleep because I wake up when Aaron crawls into the bed beside me, a ritual that I used to think I’d never get enough of, but somehow I had. I stir only when I hear the flick of the lighter and smell the weed. I’ve fallen asleep still wearing my clothes for the second night in a row, so I get up to change into pajamas and then crawl back to my side of the bed. Without saying anything, he passes me the pipe and I take a hit.
“I missed you all day,” he says.
I nod and smile my half sleepy, half high smile at him.
“I tried calling you,” he says.
“I’m sorry. I totally passed out.” I take another hit and pass the pipe back to him. The hit was too big and I cough for a long time until I lie down, gasping for air. He lies next to me and rubs my arms, kissing my shoulder. I can’t breathe. He moves close to me, spooning me, sliding his hand around my waist, encircling me in his arm. The world seems to spin, sending the bed into a strange wave-like motion. He breathes quietly behind my ear and I shut my eyes to calm the waves underneath the bed. When the bed is still, a rhythm enters my head, telling me to leave in the morning.
When I wake up, I follow through with my usual routine, except that I fill one of my duffel bags with as much clothes as I can and as quietly as possible. With one bag filled, I take it to my car and load it along with my drums. I go back in and grab another duffel bag for the rest of my clothes. As I fill the second duffel, Aaron wakes up. He watches me from the bed for a few minutes before it dawns on him what I am doing.
“Where are you going?”
“To visit my mom.”
“But I thought you hate going back there.”
I don’t respond.
“Is everything alright?” he asks.
I smile at him. “Of course. I’ve already made arrangements with my students. Everything is fine. I just want to see my mom and sister.” I feel like shit. He really is a nice guy and deserves better but I don’t know what else to do. Running is all I’ve ever done. I don’t know what I would say to him if he were to ask me why, so it’s better to pretend that nothing was wrong. Even if I tried to tell him that he loved me too much and that I’m just a fucked up person who can only do what I wished a thousand times that my mother would do to Rick, I doubt he’d understand. I grab my pillow and blanket as casually as possible and leave the room.
He follows me into the kitchen where I put my bag down on the counter and grab a pop-tart.
“Well,” he says, sitting at the kitchen table. “When are you going to be back?”
Never. “A few days, maybe a week.” I stand by the kitchen window, peeling the wrapper of my pop tart. The clouds outside seem so soft and calm, hanging in the blue sky, floating by ever so slowly. At the bottom of the window sill, lying dead in the dust and dirt is the fly, so close to that crystal sky that it probably killed itself trying to get to.
I can feel Aaron staring at the side of my face, as if he knows that something is wrong but won’t say it.
“What?” I ask, turning to him nervously.
He shakes his head. “Nothing.”
There is something about his expression that I can’t quite place and for a minute it makes me wonder why I’m leaving. “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t know. I’ll see you later.” I pick up my bag to leave.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?’ he asks.
I smile and kiss him. “Sorry. Bye.”
“See you later.”
I walk out of the apartment and into the late autumn air. I won’t be back and I’m not sure if I’m happy about it.
It’s a little bit awkward driving around all day with all of my things stuffed into the back of my small car so after I finish all of my lessons I head over to Brandon’s. He’s not home yet and I sit inside my car to wait for him. I give him a call but I know that he’s at work. I sit and wait, playing Tetris on my phone. This is what I would end up doing if I really had nowhere else to go; I’d live in my car. I could do it. I’ve heard stories of my grandmother’s sisters, living homeless in the streets of Guadalajara, selling whatever they could, including themselves, in order to make it to the United States. Apparently they made it. My uncle has told me that he and my mother were products of my grandmother’s journey across the border. I wonder if I’m a product of some mistake my mother had made long ago, even though she’s told me my entire life that she loved my father and that he just loved somebody else. I’d always suspected she was lying, even more so that night on Cinco de Mayo so many years ago when she and Rick got drunk and they told me that they loved each other and that they were going to get married. The only good thing that ever followed that night was Angelica.
It is dusk when Brandon finally comes home. He is surprised to see me and lets me into the house, helping me carry some of my things.
“I’m sorry I didn’t let you know ahead of time.” I’m always apologizing.
“That’s okay. Make yourself comfortable.”
I set my things down in the spare room without bothering to open any of them. We spend the evening like we normally would together; on the couch. Brandon packs a bowl for the bong and offers it to me. I shake my head.
“That’s a first. Are you sure?” he asks.
Again I shake my head. He shrugs and takes a hit, setting the bong down on the coffee table. Sitting on the couch, I can feel something inside of me pulling me; as if the bong has its own gravity and I’m rotating around it. I try to focus on the TV but Brandon takes another hit and sets it closer to me. My instincts tell me to reach for the bong, but there’s a rhythm in my head that stops me.
In the middle of the night, I lie awake, watching the darkness swirl around me. I’m sinking into the bed and the bed is sinking into the earth. I notice a fly buzzing against the window and think for a moment that it might be the fly from this morning. I grab the empty cup next to the bed and carefully chase the fly from the top of the window to the bottom corner where I catch it inside the cup. I watched my mother do this a thousand times when I was little because the screens in our house always had holes in them and the flies always found their way in but could never find their way out. I tread lightly through the dark house to the front door, letting the fly go outside. Gently, I shut the door and head back towards my room. I lie in my bed for a while, staring up at the ceiling. I can feel it in my head. The buzzing. I close my eyes and try to sleep but the world is still, not rocking in the way I’ve grown accustomed to, so I crawl out of bed and make my way to Brandon’s closed door. I stand at the door and listen carefully before pushing on it gently. The latch is already undone and it swings open quietly. He is still awake.
“Grace?” His voice rises from the dark.
I pad over to the side of his bed and crawl in.
I take a hit from the pipe on the side of his bed as he slides his hand across my stomach underneath my shirt. The world swirls around me again. I make little circles on the nape of his neck with my fingertips before pulling him towards me. Somewhere I hear another fly in the house, I’m sure of it.
Melody Kowach is currently earning her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside where she is also on staff at CRATE literary magazine. Originally a screenwriter, she has recently transitioned into writing fiction and is currently working on her first novel. In addition to being a writer she is also a musician, teaching violin and piano to young children. She resides in Chino Hills, CA.