Weekly feature by: Salvatore Difalco
Must have been the hottest day of the summer. My T-shirt was soaked with sweat, arms and face sunburned. My mother was on day shift at the Brill shirt factory around the corner, where she sewed pockets. My father had been out of the hospital for a month or so. He was in bad shape, working on one lung. He looked caved in.
I’d been in the park across the street, hitting some baseballs around with my friend Vinnie. Being in the house with my dying father wore me down.
I dragged my feet up the porch steps. Flies buzzed through a rip in the screen door mesh. As I walked through the entrance hall they flew around my head, and bounced off the ceiling lamp and the walls. I had to plug that rip, my father couldn’t do it.
I walked into the living room and his black Naugahyde recliner, where he spent most of his days, and sometimes his nights, sat empty. It looked strange without his stretched, skeletal presence, but I could still smell him in there.
The flies hummed about chaotically. My mother would have freaked out if she saw them. We had a can of Raid in the kitchen and a fly swatter somewhere. I heard voices in the kitchen. My father had company.
“Where have you been?” my father asked me, his face lathered white, a white towel draped across his chest.
Cousin Angelo, black-haired and sweating in an undershirt, was shaving him. He had been a barber in the old country and would come over every few days to give my father a shave as he couldn’t do it himself and my mother had a nervous hand.
“Hi Angie,” I said. “I was at the park with Vinnie, Pa.”
“Hey kid,” Angelo said as he leaned into my father and swiped the straight razor down his cheek, leaving a fleshy stripe. He wiped the straight razor with a little towel on the table.
My father said, “At the park, at the park, always at the park. While your mother’s breaking her back at work, you’re fucking around like a child at the park.”
Angelo leaned in again and swiped off more lather. My father wanted to say more, but Angelo, face pimply with sweat, kept at it. Now and again he swatted away a fly that got too close to him or my father.
“Pa, I’m gonna get the Raid for these flies. And I’ll plug up the screen.”
“Yeah, good. Make yourself useful. I told your mother about the screen, but she can’t do everything.”
“Why didn’t you say something?” Angelo said. “Take two seconds to patch it up.”
“He can do it. He’s got nothing better to do.”
While Angelo continued shaving my father, I grabbed the green can of Raid from under the sink. The blood-specked fly swatter lay on the table next to the ceramic shaving foam cup with the brush in it. A stranded fly struggled in the foam. I watched it for a moment—it was taking a long time to die—before I went to the living room and hit the mass of flies with Raid. The fumes burned my nostrils. The flies didn’t die immediately, and didn’t quiet down.
I went back into the kitchen to get the roll of duct tape in the junk drawer. As I rifled through the drawer, I noticed a rill of blood worming its way down my father’s neck.
“It’s just a nick,” Angelo said, dabbing it with the small towel. But the blood kept coming. It stained the towel draped over my father’s chest. “Go on,” Angelo said, “you’re making me nervous standing there with your mouth open.”
“Get out of here,” my father said in a dry voice.
I grabbed the duct tape and headed to the front door. Dozens of flies convulsed about the floor, crunching under my sneakers, but the Raid had barely made a dent on the humming swarm, now blackening the room. I hurried to the screen door and clumsily unrolled a length of duct tape and ripped it off. I repeated this and taped up the hole. The flies still seemed to be pouring into the house. I checked for other breaches but saw none. I shut the inner door. My hands dripped with sweat.
As I walked through the living room I could hear yelling. The flies were so thick I could barely see in front of me. I entered the kitchen waving my arms, spitting flies from my lips. His face and hands greased with blood, Angelo leaned over my father, applying the blood-soaked towel to his neck.
“Call an ambulance,” Angelo said. “The bleeding won’t stop.”
“It’s the blood-thinners,” my father said. “For the embolism.”
“Geez, Pepe, you should have said something.”
“I’m saying it now.”
The blood kept flowing from the cut on my father’s neck, despite Angelo’s efforts at compression. Flies began to cloud around them.
“Hurry, kid, he’s really bleeding.”
“Do something about these fucking flies, you idiot,” my father said.
“Call the ambulance,” Angelo said.
“I’m telling you the kid’s an idiot,” my father said. “Takes after his mother’s side, fucking hillbillies.”
“Call the ambulance!” Angelo shouted.
I hurried to the telephone in the hallway.
My father and Angelo continued yelling from the kitchen. A shaggy mass of flies covered the telephone. I was afraid to touch it.
I went out the front door. I walked out to the park. Some kids in red jerseys were hitting balls at the baseball diamond. I sat in the grandstands and watched them lope around in the afternoon haze.
“Hey, wanna hit the ball around?” one of them asked me.
I could hear sirens.
“No, I’m good,” I said, still holding the roll of duct tape.