Wednesday, October 11, 2006

dropping like flies

It made Kasia's head itch. Most of the flies were dying inside the striplight, but sometimes they came spiralling down between where they were sitting. She put her hand over her tea-mug.

- Triton, well that's a really hostile world, I mean cold, minus four hundred degrees cold, with geysers of frozen nitrogen. They're all hostile. Mercury wobbling in the huge sun, Venus in acid, Io erupting constantly inside Jupiter's radiation zones, on Uranus it's dark for twenty years at a time, and so right down through the list to Pluto and Charon, two evil bits of rock going round each other like those guys in Endgame.

He was living in a very compact flat. The bike was at the end of his bed, and if you opened the bedroom door you couldn't open the wardrobe, or the doorknobs snagged each other; he laughed when she did it and called them "Basher & Basher".

One of the flies was right in front of her on the table on its back. Sometimes it was motionless and she thought it might be dead. But then she'd suddenly notice the legs had started their absent knitting again and she'd wonder if it was a different fly because she was distracted by what they were saying to each other.

- It was amazing with you, he broke out.

Sometimes a fly would be on its side going around in a circle with its wings at a funny angle. Sometimes it would drop straight onto his hand and just sit there. HELLO. I'M DEAD. He jerked his hand and the fly flew off apparently OK.

Flying came more naturally to them than living. They're the most advanced, the most amazing fliers in the insect world, but of course they are rather stripped down. No-one had really thought about decommissioning and when the fly dies it does it in a grossly protracted way, like something going wonky when the batteries go flat or a printer when the chip gets screwed.

There was no sign of a dying fly feeling distressed. That was kind of a stupid thing to say, she knew. There it is lying there with no voice and a bone face that cannot hold an expression and you're saying to it: Dying, huh? Well you don't seem very upset.

- But, us...

- OK you. hey...

- don't chuckle like that, Kas, Cassie

But still, it's a lot more like a nano-machine than we are. Cut out a fly's brain and it still flies, eats and fucks.

She wanted to get back to the van. She went to have a wash.

Thinking about those terrible chills, those poisoned wastes, you think in contrast of the mild earth, food, warmth, us. The earth, they say, is slap in the ecosphere bounded by Mars and Venus. This little band is the only bit round a star that could feasibly support any life: outside it, no free water, not really worth thinking about.

And of course we are the earth's products, everything about the way we are just reflects the way it is on earth. But is the earth really so mild and friendly? Are the poles friendly? Are the tropics friendly? Is the middle of the sea friendly? Go out there - not to the window. Go outside the window. It's a mild night, but suppose you had nowhere to go, would it seem so friendly by dawn?

Your lifestyle is friendly, sure, you like your lifestyle. Suppose someone came and dropped you into the place of another human being somewhere else on this planet. You have to live their life. Chances are, you'd be terrified, you'd hate everything and understand nothing. Shouting, screaming, packed rooms.

Or faces you're used to, familiar faces you see every day, people you say Hello to and think you like. Imagine you went home with one of them, a fly on the wall, and spent their evening... wouldn't it probably turn out that you hated their lives, their incomprehensible TV programs, their endless phone conversations, their dirty ways, worn out by their excesses, maddened by their tedium.... Nearly every room in the town is like that. Nearly everywhere is hostile.

"Mildness" is the warmth and smell of your own body in the worn nest you've made for yourself and on the worn paths where you scuttle back and forth. You call that "the earth" but what you really mean is a tiny facing: you could go through it with a hand-drill.

He was still in bed and she threw her wet towel in his face.

They both stopped laughing, him first.

- You don't have to.

- My sister's waiting.

Her face, mobile and ruddy from the flannel, stopped looking so forbidding, her naked body flexed, tattooed, scarred, tawny.

- Don't go.

He didn't know how to follow it up. She turned away, pulling at her hair. He was putting on his trousers without underpants: that meant he was going back to bed again. Pacing through the streets to the van it was raining, but lightly, and the sky was patchy. She watched the coil light go out and set the motor juddering.

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