The fly, the spider, the bird, the cat, the dog, the hog, the goat, the cow, the horse, the bear, the elephant, the whale

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The fly, the spider, the bird, the cat, the dog, the hog, the goat, the cow, the horse, the bear, the elephant, the whale 2She died, of course. And we requested an autopsy, mostly because we wanted to know why oh why. Why did she swallow that fly? Was it an accident, an afternoon in the sun, reclining in a favourite chair, the sun through the window warm in her lap onto her knitting, because she knitted, something from the war on the radio, blue birds over those white cliffs, which we thought were white enough when we went there, that bit stood up well, as Dad said, the chair rocking gently, mind the tortoise she used to say, a challenge to us when we were kids, with first one tortoise then the next, and she yawned, maybe, an open mouth, a gaping maw, a fly flew in, she swallowed, was that why? Or did she wonder, after all these years on earth, she was nearing a hundred remember, after surviving the blitz and Thatcher and the mad cow disease epidemic, what a fly would taste like? What it would feel like in her tummy? I don’t know why we all believed an autopsy would reveal a thing like that. And then why the spider, of course, why all the others. How did she swallow a cow? We didn’t expect to find inside her what we found inside her when they cut her open and let us look, which you could do in those days only if you knew the right people. We found the parts of a cuckoo clock, the back opening bellows, the side opening bellows, the trapezoid tops, the bellow cloth, the weight, the chain, the wires, the hands, the rings and hooks, the nuts and bushings, the dial, the pendulum, the e-clips and of course the parasitic bird. We looked to the doctor in charge of her corpse for explanation. She must’ve wanted to know how it worked inside her stomach, and with such authority in the word ‘stomach’, he explained, confidently, which we accepted, except Ed, who said she’d never a day in her life shown any interest before in how things worked. You see, said Millie, lil’ Mil, trying to learn more will kill you stone cold dead. Did she swallow the fly to catch the clock, wondered Enid, but there was more. The doctor in charge pointed out to us a city in her tummy, the churches, the mosques, the temples, the malls, the fast food restaurants and the slow food restaurants, the convenience stores and the less convenient stores too, which were mostly visited now for special occasions, which we called specialty stores, or by people with enough money to resist the rolling swell of gentrification, the parks, encroached upon by the hotels, encumbered with multi-story carparks, overlooking school playing fields, sold to make room for estate housing, the cinemas, the museums, the galleries, the barracks, the aquariums, the markets, the bus terminals, the morgues, all inside her tummy, only visible after we’d removed the whale and the horse and the parts of the cuckoo clock and the goat. Why’d she swallow a city we asked the doctor, hoping for some more authority thrown in the way he said the word ‘stomach’. This must’ve been the city of her childhood, he said confidently. It’s not unusual at her age to swallow the city of your childhood. Hear that, said Mil, it’s normal. Normal? said Ed, that’s not the city of her childhood, it’s got a Blockbuster video store there. That’s to be expected, said the doctor, but he didn’t explain why. I don’t think it’s a real city, said Enid. Look at the people, and we looked at the people, and asked Enid what it was we were supposed to be looking for, and she said they’re all holding hands, and smiling, she was right, they were, and did you ever see a thing like that in a city, she asked. Even the doctor was flummoxed by that. And when we removed the animals and removed the parts of the clock and removed the city all that was left in her tummy was little versions of us, her friends and family, but without faces. I don’t remember the last time I spoke to her, said Ed. It’s been an age, said Mil. We’re just so busy, said Enid. She didn’t like to email, Dad said. And letters are so difficult to write. And you never knew if she’d pick up the phone. And each of us swallowed the silence that fell over the room, and it sat uncomfortably in our stomachs, and I wish there was something we could take to get rid of it.


Photo used under CC.




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Christopher James lives, works, and writes in Jakarta, Indonesia. He has previously been published online in Booth, SmokeLong, Tin House,, and Wigleaf, among others. He is the editor of Jellyfish Review.

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