In July, the spare room on the second floor of their rental fills with flies. They try getting the landlord to do something—anything—about the flies, but they’ve only been in France a month and can’t remember how to say please. They keep the door to the Fly Room shut tight.

***

Mark buys puffed rice instead of cat litter because the ink Karen wrote the grocery list with what looked like strawberry jam, all hot and sticky, and the ants on the Metro ate away at it. The cat doesn’t mind puffed rice.

***

Karen doesn’t tell her mother about the Fly Room when they talk on the phone, because her mother will blame Mark. They talk about other things: the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay, the way the tiles of her bathroom don’t match up quite right, the church bake sale, horrible rheumatism, political climate, how tall the Eiffel tower is and if it could puncture the sky. She makes sure to tell her mother there are no flies, no room full of them. Her mother believes her, of course.

***

Mark starts vacuuming the flies. At eleven they get home wine-drunk and red from the cold and he pulls the vacuum out and sucks up flies until they notice him and crawl into his mouth. Then, he shuts the door and spits out bug guts like they’re cherry pits. Raw and bloody.

***

They eat slower and never at home. They can’t pronounce the names on the menu so they point their stubby fingers and smile. They don’t bother learning French because they know they won’t be there long. A year, maybe two and it won’t matter anyway.

***

They buy a Christmas tree and keep it till June and let the pine needles collect in a brown ring on the floor. She wants to burn it outside, but he says he doesn’t want the smoke. When she takes one of her lavender and rose scented baths he sneaks outside, rolls brown needles in between his fingers, and smokes a cigar until the air is thick and heavy.

***

On New Year’s Eve, a strange man kisses Karen in the street.

***

On New Year’s Eve, Mark punches a strange man right in the middle of the street.

***

During the day her cat stares at the inside of the vacuum, at all the mashed up fly parts. The flies have started moving to the top of the stairs. Mark tries to vacuum them every night, but in the morning there are more in their place. He decides he never really liked the second floor anyway.

***

Mark likes to sing old Bob Dylan songs with the record player while Karen dances in nothing but her underwear. When he’s drunk she’s a bitch, when she’s drunk she’s beautiful. They drink red wine out of coffee mugs at night. The moon in Paris is the same moon everywhere else, but it doesn’t feel that way. When she’s angry with him she sends him to the Fly Room and when he’s angry with her he makes her sleep out in the cold.

***

She’s a face full of something he can’t remember, her cheeks stained blue from that colored mascara no one told her went out of style two years ago and her eyes clamped shut when she tells him she wants to go home.

***

Mark starts practicing French with their next door neighbor and the two of them sit on their front steps to smoke cigars so their wives won’t get angry.

***

Karen becomes enormous, but not fat, she tells her mother. She grows an inch every day, gets tall and sturdy and beautiful. Her feet hang off the edge of their mattress and freeze. Her boss fires her because she can’t fit in her cubicle. She tells Mark she wants to go home and become a model, but Mark doesn’t see why she can’t do that here. Mark doesn’t see a lot of things.

***

In the mornings they talk about getting a divorce over breakfast. She flips pancakes and tells him they should settle it themselves; lawyers are too expensive. Mark doesn’t want to bother. Says there’s too much paperwork and “why can’t we just separate?” Karen sighs in between bites of her bacon and says she’ll do the paperwork; apathy is an easy emotion to swallow down with orange juice.

***

Whenever she’s stressed she presses herself against their wood floors, breathes in solid oak and roots herself. She’s angry when Mark’s around, but once he leaves for work or the bar, she’s exhausted. Her calls to her mother become a series of increasingly frantic questions:

“How much caffeine can I drink in one day?”

“Are flies bad for cats to eat?”

“Does eyelid removal surgery exist??”

“Where can I refill my prescription for Xanax?”

“How much does a boob job cost in Paris?”

***

It rains for a week more flies appear and start to migrate down the stairs. It is dry and warm inside their house. Welcoming. Karen blames him, says they’re here because he smells like a corpse. When Mark calls her a bitch, she says, “thank you,” and tells him to clean up the fly guts her cat threw up.

***

He notices the cat is gone first. It had an awful habit of hissing whenever he opened the front door. Whenever he did anything, really. When he came home the cat was gone which meant Karen left, too. It was exactly the sort of thing Karen would do, leave without saying anything. In the living room, she’d set the Christmas tree on its side and put a matchbox on top of it. In their bedroom, the drawers were pulled out. Mark could tell she’d ripped them open from bottom to top, the way he’d seen burglars in the movie do it. He imagined real burglars did the same.

***

Mark had only ever minded the flies because Karen yelled at him constantly about them. Now that she had left, they didn’t see so horrible. He’d found one in his bedroom the day she’d left; by the next week there were more than thirty. Mark had gotten good at counting flies. The Fly Room became the Fly House and Mark became the Fly Guy. When he came home from work they were waiting for him. On his way home, he’d stop outside the grocer and look for half-rotten fruit in the trash. They’d swarm on mushy pears and black-spotted apples and in between paychecks Mark would join them, take a bite out of a week old peach. Before bed he’d scrape out their little bodies from between his back molars; floss well and head upstairs.

.

.


Jaclyn Grimm is a freshman at Wesleyan University. Her writing has been published in The Washington Post, USA Today, The Chicago Tribune, and Forbes, among others. She works as a prose reader for The Adroit Journal.