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Home DUCTS.ORG Issue 12 | Winter 2003 the webzine of personal stories
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A Fly

Philippe Stessel

These things happen, Dave told himself. You're in Minneapolis on a business trip with a colleague of the opposite sex, someone you find attractive. You're both young and unattached. You love that strawberry blonde hair. The two of you eat dinner with a customer. You trade looks. Afterwards, you slam a few drinks at the hotel bar, just the two of you. Her idea. The bar closes early but it's too bloody cold to go outside again. Hell, you suggest, there's always the mini-bar in your room. You remember cracking open a couple of beers. That's where things start to blur.

Dave propped himself up on his pillow. What a colossal headache. He swore that if he could just live through this one day, he would never, ever drink like this again. He didn’t remember getting undressed or Illustration: "A Fly"anything. From the looks of the sheets and covers it appeared that a lot of thrashing had gone on. He stood up, but the room tilted him back onto the bed. He sat for a moment staring in disbelief at all the beer cans, pecan shells, airline-sized bottles of Johnny Walker Red and Smirnoff Vodka littering the room. How was he going to explain this mini-bar bill to accounting? What the hell happened last night? Focus. He seemed to remember some moments of affection and tenderness, but it could have been lascivious groping. What time did Valerie leave? My God, she could be down in the lobby, sobbing, talking to the police right now.

The phone chirped, snapping him out of his stupor.

"Valerie? Hi. Breakfast? Sure. Give me ten, I'll meet you in the lobby."
How bad can it be, he thought, if she still wants to have breakfast with me? Dave splashed his face with cold water from the ice bucket and gave his black hair a quick comb. Thank God it was Friday and they didn't have any client meetings today before flying home to Chicago.


Valerie, poised as always, sat in the hotel lobby in her forest-green parka, synthetic timber wolf trim on the hood. Dave did not detect any signs that she might be upset with him. Valerie insisted on leaving the hotel for breakfast. Never mind that it was forty below in a dead calm. The desk clerk at the hotel told her about a place just a few blocks away, had a nice homey feel to it. Whatever. Dave just wanted coffee and some grub, something good and greasy to ease his hangover.

The warm, coffee-laden air of Jimmy's Diner gave sanctuary from the arctic blast outdoors. They took a seat by the window. Everything in the diner was either pink or baby blue. A young waitress in a pink uniform and white apron introduced herself as Brenda. She brought menus and poured them coffee. "It's gonna be a cold one, dontchya know." She apologized for being short-handed this morning. Betty, the second waitress, couldn’t get her car started.

Dave looked out the window to the nearly deserted street. "What would it be like if they had never invented windows?" he asked. Valerie gave him a blank stare. Her hair, pushed up and held back by a powder blue headband, looked amazing even under the garish fluorescent lighting. Damn she was beautiful, even with a hangover.

Valerie took a sip of coffee. "Blech! This coffee tastes like dishwater."

"Really?" Dave said.  "Tastes good to me."

Valerie flagged down Brenda and ordered tea.

Dave picked up his menu, dog-eared, food-stained and torn. He sighed. A mess. Just like his life. Every time he fell for a girl he ended up doing something stupid, like getting drunk, forgetting what happened and never hearing from her again. On top of that, this was his third job in two years -- running around the country selling adhesive products. And, he wasn’t any good at it, unlike Valerie who made top salesperson three years in a row. He’d begged Ray, his boss, to give him a chance to work with Valerie, on purely professional grounds. Dave really believed he could learn something, and, in fact, they’d done quite well on this trip. Even though they’d called on all of Valerie’s customers and she always did the talking. Dave had tagged along to learn and instead he fell in love.

Valerie ordered two eggs, sunny-side down on whole-wheat toast. Dave scanned the list of items on the menu.

"I’ll have two eggs over easy on . . . no, on second thought make that the Everything Omelet."

He asked Brenda if the Everything Omelet really had everything.
"You betchya!"

After they ordered, Dave didn't know what to say. He wanted to know what happened last night and how Valerie felt about it. Valerie sipped her tea and gazed out the window, giving up nothing. Their food came. Dave emptied half the bottle of ketchup onto his eggs. Valerie looked on, aghast. Dave asked Brenda for Tabasco sauce. He slapped half a bottle of that on top of the lake of ketchup already floating on his eggs. Valerie's jaw dropped.

"My God, you're not going to eat that are you?"

He looked down at his plate, half yellow, half red. "Yeah, why not?" He dug in, savoring every forkful. He concentrated on eating, one automatic mouthful after another. Nothing had ever tasted so good. He glanced up at Valerie. She looked so together, neatly and calmly eating her food.

He wanted to say something. Should he apologize, thank her, say he had a good time, ask her how it was, if it was, tell her that he loved her? His fork stabbed another bit of omelet. He began to utter something, he didn't know what yet, when something made him stop. A small black blob worked its way out from among the American cheese, ham, spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, peas and hash browns cooked into his omelet. What was it? He looked closer. He poked it with his fork. First he excavated the furry leg then the broken wing and finally the listless, glistening eye of a plump, dead fly. By this time Valerie noticed what was going on and cried, "That's disgusting!" She pushed away her plate.

"Yeah, it kinda is."

"Tell them to take it way."

Embarrassed, Dave beckoned Brenda.

"Hi. It seems that my Everything Omelet does have everything -- including a dead fly."

She looked at his plate with agony in her eyes. "Oh noo! That's terrible. I'm so sorry. First, I wanchya ta know you’re not gonna pay for that." She pulled the order tablet from her apron pocket and ripped up the check. "And I want the owner to see this."
"No, that's ok. Just take the plate away," said Dave.

Too late, Brenda had already bounded half way to the kitchen.

Jimmy, the owner, was also the chef. He stood six foot four over the table. Permanent worry creased his face. His once-white apron looked like an even dirtier version of the menu. Jimmy shook his head and offered his apologies. He didn’t understand how this could have happened. The exterminator was just there two days ago.

Dave looked at the fly and all the adults crowded around the table. He thought, in the dead of a Minneapolis winter, a fly lives out its short life in the kitchen at Jimmy’s diner. A luxurious existence, never wanting for food nor drink nor warmth, hardly noticed by anyone, except perhaps as an annoyance. Then, one day, no longer satisfied with scraps from the garbage pail, the fly makes a play for the omelet pan. It lands and scarcely has a chance to rub its front legs together and take a slurp when an avalanche of eggs bury him alive. Hopefully, he dies instantly, spared the torment of a slow, scorching death. The fly made a bad decision, but did not die in vain. In death, this fly attracted more attention and consideration than most flies, living or dead. Maybe, this fly was trying to tell him something.

Brenda cleared away the plates and Jimmy returned to the kitchen. Valerie stood up to leave.

Dave blurted out, "Valerie, about last night . . ."

"Don’t worry about it."

"Don’t worry about it?"

"It was just as much my fault as yours."


Valerie applied some lipstick.

"Listen, Ray called me from the office this morning. He doesn’t think things are working out. Of course you can use your plane ticket back to Chicago, but today will be your last day. No need to return to the office. We’ll have your desk packed up and shipped to your house. HR will give you a call on Monday to finish up the paperwork. I know it’s tough, but that’s the way it goes sometimes."

Dave, stunned to silence, helped Valerie put on her coat.

"I probably won’t see you since I’m spending the weekend in Minneapolis with friends. It was nice working with you."

Valerie shook Dave’s hand and walked out the door as Betty, the second waitress, walked in. A gust of frigid air blew into the diner and slapped Dave in the face. Betty hurriedly took off her coat and hung it on the rack in the corner. Brenda walked up still holding the plate with the fly in the omelet.

"Betty, take a look at this."

Betty, smoothing her hair and apron, looked down at the plate and shook her head.

"Oh noo! Not again!"

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