The fly house. It was a beautiful two-story house built on a farm that was once the livelihood for my great aunt and uncle, but had since been abandoned. All that was left was a dilapidated barn, rusting farm equipment, my cousin’s goat that bleated in a backyard pen and miles of fields that stretched out into the middle of nowhere. We called this house the fly house, because when we moved into the house it was completely covered in thousands of dead flies. There were dead flies on the counters, dead flies in the bathtub and dead flies on the windowsills. The flies must have bred during the previous summer and died the winter that we moved in. We spent weeks cleaning this house, which soon became the backdrop for a very brief portion of my childhood.
During the fly house years my dad was just beginning to get used to his bachelor life-style. He was just a year shy of the divorce with my mom and was freshly obsessed with his newest catch–a fun blonde named Beverly. On the weekends she would come by. She would always bring a sense of order to the place; helping us clean it up, making dinners and exploring the farm with us. When we went back to our mom’s house for our week-long custody she would stay with my dad turning our “new” house into a home by helping him buy kitchen accessories, properly stocking our pantry and (doing a really terrible job at) decorating.
One afternoon, during a late lunch of macaroni and cheese, we received a rare call from our aunt Mel. She was calling to let us know that our cousin Hannah had been sent home from school with lice. Since Hannah had just been at our house the previous weekend she warned us that we might have been exposed. The best thing to do was to have the whole household treated. My dad freaked out at first. He was totally unaware of how to handle these types of situations. In fact, up until that point he had been hiring our grandma to take care of most household tasks–cooking, cleaning and laundry included. He eventually figured out how to handle the situation though in the best way he knew how. He wrote down everything Mel had learned from the school nurse, called our Grandma for more advice and then called Beverly over to help him out.
Beverly soon arrived with de-lousing supplies, bleach and laundry detergent. She helped my siblings and I bag up all of our clothing while my dad washed some towels, blankets and our pajamas in hot water so that we could properly shower and start treating our hair. Once the towels were dry Beverly started washing our bedding and bagging our toys. My 11 year-old self watched as my Christmas gifts–white Barbies, black Barbies and all of their clothes were bagged in plastic garbage bags alongside my little sister’s teddy bears and my brother’s favorite stuffed animals. I wouldn’t see them again for weeks. After the bagging, I helped my dad ruin all of my hairbrushes by letting them boil too long in a big pot of water. Following that, Beverly had us all bring the rest of our laundry down into the laundry room located in the basement. We all rotated between helping with cleaning the house and taking showers. The whole process took hours because there were so many of us, there was only one bathroom and each treatment took more than an hour per head.
The sun finished its descent as my sister emerged from the bathroom, officially completing the last de-lousing treatment of the night. There were stacks of bedding left to wash, but Beverly had to go home that night since she had an early morning appointment the next day in the city. She told my dad to leave the upstairs off-limits. She would help him clean it in the morning. We were all ordered to camp out in the downstairs living room and get some sleep. In the morning we would go to our mom’s house while her and my dad finished a thorough deep cleaning of the rest of our house- free of our distraction.
My dad forgot to wash his own bedding during the fiasco so after tucking us into bed, he went back to work washing his sheets and bedspread so that he too could get some rest. I couldn’t fall asleep with all of the noise he was making, but I tried to make myself tired by studying the details of the living room. We moved a lot throughout my childhood, but I remember the living room of the fly house quite well. I can recall specifically the dark brown wooden baseboards, the off-white paint that covered the walls and the popcorn ceiling that flowed from beneath a low-end Home Depot light fixture from the 90s. The carpet was just as cheap looking–a mottled mixture of dark blue, medium blue and light blue patches a type that I had never seen before and haven’t seen since.
The moon must have been full that night, because I remember the light blue patches of the carpet glowing in its light. A draft made its way between the windowpanes and the curtains were fluttering, which gave me the creeps. I closed my eyes as tight as I could and wrapped myself up in a freshly washed quilt. My eyes opened when I heard an indistinct noise. I imagined that it must have been my dad still doing laundry, but I wasn’t sure. In the midst of my anxiety the curtains began to waft about again, but faster this time. I tried calling out my sister’s name to see if she was awake: “Amber…amber…” but she was asleep. My sister Tiffany and my brother Billy were too.
The fact that I was the only one awake freaked me out even more. As a child nothing scared me more than being alone in my own universe. Complete isolation was my idea of the twilight zone and there I was in an isolated reality with glowing carpet and shadow dancers who were obviously trying to frighten me by appearing and disappearing across the length of the walls. I felt then that the house must certainly be haunted; if not by the thousands of dead flies whose carcasses I had so carelessly removed from the counters and floors, then by a human who lived here long before me. I thought of the possibilities of other ghosts too, remembering the gnome-faced tree outside the window and the little lice-ghosts that must certainly exist now after the evening’s killing spree.
The newness of the place, my brother’s awful snores and the wind that kept shifting the shadow dance across the only still corner of the room made my thoughts real. I needed my baby blanket, but where was it? Normally when I was scared at night it was my baby blanket that I held close to calm me. I remembered then that it was probably in the last load of laundry Beverly had put in the dryer. I was sure that if I went downstairs I would be able to find it, feel safe again and finally fall asleep.
Typically I would be afraid of basements, but I knew my dad was still awake. I began to plot my trajectory, but suddenly I heard the floor creak somewhere above my head and then the door to the upstairs began to swing back and forth. With that I just got up and ran. I was running so fast that I nearly flew down the staircase to the laundry room. Like a hero I was determined to find my baby blanket and return to the couch wrapped up in the warmth of its safety.
I ran down the steps and saw no sign of my dad so I covered my eyes with one of my hands out of fear of seeing a ghost. I opened up the dryer door with the other hand and started to dig around for my blanket knowing I could tell what it was just by its texture. All of a sudden I heard footsteps coming down the stairs. I buried my head further inside of the dryer, my heart race sped up and I started sweating. I searched more and more frantically for my blanket. For a moment I was completely convinced that the lights flickered and that a foot-step ghost was closing in on me. Finally I found it–my blanket! I prepared myself to run and spun around, turning face to face with….
A penis…my naked dad…a penis again…. and then a laundry basket in front of a penis. Or rather… my naked dad standing in front of me holding a basket of laundry.
“What the hell are you doing down here!!!!!” he yelled in a tone of voice I had never heard him use with me before- an assaulting mixture of anger and embarrassment.
“Getting my blanket! I couldn’t sleep! What are you doing!?” My voice was robotic like a fourth of July e-card. I subconsciously matched the pitch of my dad’s voice note for note as if sonic repetition would help to cancel out the naked image in front of me and also eradicate my dad’s anger. I didn’t know if I should look at his face or at the floor or just close my eyes. I ended up just keeping my hand against my face as if I was blocking out the sun.
“I’m doing laundry!! What do you think I’m doing??!” My dad yelled in a hushed whisper as he carefully readjusted the basket.
“Get the hell out of here! Go to sleep! What the hell were you thinking, huh???” My dad yelled at me again as I turned my gaze to the staircase and ran as fast as I could away from him.
The run to the couch grew into a crescendo of feelings- shocked, scared, embarrassed, sad and terrified. I buried myself beneath the couch quilt and my beloved baby blanket and felt my childlike reality bursting into a million ashamed pieces. My heart continued pounding at the thought of my dad being mad at me or hating me and I didn’t know yet what to do with the visual information that was now an official part of my brain archive. On top of all of that I was also just really annoyed that my dad was doing his laundry naked. I commanded myself to fall asleep and quickly did- ignoring the sound of my dad’s footsteps in the distance and trying to forget.
My days at the fly house spilled on and on. During that time my brother and I caught a pet mouse in the garbage, my sister Tiffany found my diary in which I had written a request to the universe to give me proper boobs and we all four caught a family of barn cats and tried to turn them into our very own pets. We drank copious amounts of Welch’s grape juice, spilled candle wax all over our TV screen and sat around on the marbled carpet to meet our brand new little sister for the very first time- brought to you by my dad and Beverly. I learned then that moments are temporary and that while you can get rid of some things other things are forever. My parents’ marriage gone, but love continued in its place. The lice gone, but the objects we removed them from still intact. As time goes on I wonder what will replace a remaining relic from those years- remove it and make me forget, but try as I might I can not. You may be able to get rid of lice, mice, marriages and thousands of dead flies, but one thing I swear you can never get rid of is the image of your dad naked, holding a basket of laundry in the night.