by Hilary Fifield

High up and looking down at the desolate beach from the parking lot, she couldn’t see them, but lying on her back on the sand by the water she could see billions. Swarms of the smallest flies slanted over her head. The waves lapped as if miles away, muffled by the rust colored seaweed. The sickly salty smell hung around her nose, but wasn’t unpleasant enough to make her leave. Her head rested on Adam’s swollen arm. “Look at them,” he said, regarding the startling mass of flies overhead. Their small black bodies heaps of pinpricks on the fading sky. His arm rose in goosebumps suddenly and something in his arm flexed. She turned her cheek so her skin was against his own and the goosebumps pressed into her jawbone.

“Where are they coming from?” she wondered out loud, not needing the answer, but desiring what was solid under his skin. She imagined his muscles twitching beneath her face like licks of fire that could scar her. “They’re from the seaweed.” He was speaking into the top of her head, his breath hot. She imagined her arms and neck decorated with gifts from him: bracelets, necklaces, where his hands held her. He was so much taller than she was. He reminded her of her father.

“It’s like high traffic,” she said. “Exactly what I was thinking.” He said that often, and she had to guess whether he was inclined to love her more for this. Most of the flies sped across their small field of vision, while others hung suspended in the air, so slow she could make out the legs on a few, dangling from their rounded bodies. Others bravely bolted against the current, struggling to find space, before getting caught up and moving forward with the rest.

She indulged him, nearly regretfully, asking, “Why are they all going this way?” The flies careened down the length of the beach.

“The wind is blowing that way.”

She sat up to feel the wind that didn’t stir loose pieces of hair around her cheeks.

“You can’t feel it, you’re too big.” She felt grains of sand shift under her weight. She watched them and knew he was watching them, too, and didn’t mind him calling her big. Her father used to say it the same way when he would come home from business, then when he visited from his other home, and when he remarried and had children smaller than her.

The sky shifted in hot colors that rivaled the coming foliage. One of the last days before autumn. One of the last days before summer ended, one of the last days of vacation before classes started again at the university. Hers in Maine. His in Chicago. It was one of the last few hours before the sun set. The flies darted across the ending sky, and she remembered when her father stood in the finishing light from the sun and told her she was old enough and didn’t need him anymore.

“They’re like shooting stars,” his voice sounded muffled as she pressed her ear against his shirt.

She had a habit of saying what she never believed, “Yes. You are right.” “It’ll have to be a quick wish. These flies will only live for two minutes.”

Who do we become to make the people we need stay?

The flies dissolved into the darkening sky. Her body was cold and miles away though his arm was underneath her head, his body beside hers. She let him carry on wishing while she watched the sky turn black.