Her first memory: rising from a water-filled paint bucket. It is abandoned on a highway shoulder next to a grease-soaked fast-food bag. Her next memory: her abdomen swells with 200 eggs.
She knows she needs blood—thirsts for it with a longing that fills her thorax, her proboscis. Her focus tunnels, and she overlooks needing blood not only for her eggs, but for her own nourishment. Is her purpose simply to provide for her babies? Who provides for her?
The cars race past on the highway, and she fights to fly straight. Their speed rattles her antennae, and she puts a foreleg on her abdomen to protect her eggs.
It is dusk, and a gas station creeps into view. Humans. She locates blood through the carbon they exhale. She doesn’t know how she knows this.
She zeroes on a human with fleshy arms, legs, a neck. From a few feet away, she can smell its tobacco and cough drop breath. Her eggs tingle.
She hovers next to the human’s neck. As it turns away, she stabs her proboscis into its clavicle. The blood is warm and sweet. The taste is pleasurable, and she half believes she is more than a vessel for her eggs. But her eggs vibrate and push against her insides like prisoners trying to escape, reminding her.
She feels less hungry, but guilty. She likes that she can find use in what humans expel. But did the human feel pain? Stealing its blood happened so naturally.
Was she supposed to question something she could not resist?
The human notices the pinch of her proboscis, hears her wings tinny in its ears. It swats at her, but she dives before it can beat her down. Her and her eggs, she remembers. Now she understands she must take so she can give. Without this blood, her eggs would die.
The temperature cools as the world loses its light. She needs to lay her eggs, so they can hatch, mature into larva, pupa, adults, mate, lay eggs of their own, die …and so on.
Her body is heavy; her wings slow their beating. She slugs herself back to the bucket. The coolness of the air stifles her movements. The weight of the cold crushes her. Her hindlegs trail behind, limp like death.
She just needs to get to the water. She just needs to lay her eggs, then she can die.
She knows she will die either way, but she longs to pass on a part of herself. Will her babies suffer like this when it’s their turn to reproduce? Did the human suffer for no reason?
Her vision eclipses. The bucket is a foot away, but she’s flying through jelly, her movements weak. Her last memory: paralyzed, falling at the rim of the bucket, tumbling not inside but onto the asphalt, her eggs still in her belly, swathed in blood, frozen.
WHAT THEY LEFT IN THEIR APARTMENT
In the fridge: her empty bottle of André, their crystalized raw beef juice glued to the bottom shelf, his curdled protein shake.
His coffee rings on the basin of the pure white ceramic sink. Chips of paint missing from where she scrubbed bleach until her fingernails splintered.
Nails hammered into the living room wall like an invitation to play connect-the-dots. When they first moved in, she chose the artwork, and he hammered—we make a perfect team, she’d thought.
An orange wax blob crusted into the living room carpet.
When he’d come home after a late night at the office—a lie, she would later learn—he’d sweep her off the couch and they’d dance to no music. One night, they bumped into a burning candle and ignored the spill because they didn’t want to pull apart. They were that in love. She smelled the bourbon soured on his breath, detected a hint of perfume, but she shook off these scents as paranoia and continued to sway.
Zig-zag scrapes along the cheap laminate floor from the dining room chair she sat in, eating alone most nights. She made extravagant meals to incentivize him home for dinner—bacon-wrapped pork tenderloins, crab cake burgers, honey roasted duck, creamy spinach stuffed salmon in garlic butter. It didn’t work.
Soil in the shape of an exploding firework trailing down the wall from where she threw the heart-shaped bamboo he had given her their previous anniversary.
A ripped half of an apology note he scribbled on Dollar Store ruler-lined paper. In the days after D-Day—that’s what she called the day she found out about the affair—she wouldn’t talk to him, so he communicated through smeared ink scrawls.
A blood red silk robe in the linen closet—the tags attached. A gift from him after D-Day when he smothered her with gifts in hopes she’d forget or forgive.
A burnt crust of fish sticks and pizza rolls on the oven’s bottom from when she stayed at her sister’s for a week.
Dust sphered pieces of dog kibble under the refrigerator from the dog they gave back after two days. As if taking care of something could fix everything.
A punched hole in the pantry door from when he realized she would no longer look him in the eye, touch him, or speak.
Tufts of his hair congregated into corners from when she left him for good. He paced the apartment, the sound of him ripping hair from his head echoing off the bare walls and furniture-less rooms providing him comfort.
Courtney Clute has an MFA from the University of South Florida. Her work has appeared in Passages North, Fractured Literary, Flash Frog, Emerge Literary Journal, The Lumiere Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, and more. Courtney's chapbook, The Fermi Paradox, was recently published with Alien Buddha Press. Her flash fiction has been nominated for Best Small Fictions and Best of the Net. You can find her on Twitter at @courtney_clute.