Since I arrived at the Brush Creek Ranch five days ago, I’ve been surprised to find horseflies buzzing in and outside of my writing studio. All around us, the fields are covered in at least two feet of snow. Thin icicles still hang and drip droplets of water from the slanted roofs. Winter in Wyoming doesn’t strike me as a hospitable place for horseflies. But they are here in most of our artist studios.
Last night, while our communal dinner was wrapping up, a horsefly flew onto my pant leg. It rested on my thigh for a long while. He was a fairly big fly. While the other artists conversed, I snuck glances at it. I was unsure if it was a fly that was ready to die like the one I had seen the day before, lying wings down, legs lethargically moving to and fro on one of the snow-covered walkways. Without noticing it, the fly eventually flew off my leg and landed in the bowl I had used to sip a pea soup. Its six legs dangled in the air as it lay in the bowl. I took my napkin and held it over its legs. It clung on and unglued himself from the soupy remnants coating the bottom of the bowl.
Four of us artists remained at the table. I stared down at the fly while they conversed. I saw the fly flap his wings futilely a few times. Then, it took its front legs and seemingly wiped their tips a few times before it reached up and over to clean the top of his head. He did this, over and over again. I began to smile as I watched. Usually, flies this close to me would zip away. This was the first time I could remember seeing a fly use its legs for a specific purpose.
Beverly, a visual artist with a fantastic mischievous grin, noticed me and the fly.
Just smush him, she said.
I know, I know, I said. But I already did that last night to a fly I saw lying in the snow. I just—
I hesitated to smush it because I couldn’t tell if the fly simply needed to groom the sticky soup off its wings, or if it was in its death throes. Besides the fly I saw lying in the snow the day before, I had seen a few dead horseflies by the windows of my studio.
As so, I continued to watch the fly wipe the ends of its front legs a specific number of times before it proceeded to wipe the top of his head a number of times. There was a rhythm to it. By now, I was looking at the fly with wonder—and affection.
Just put him out in the snow—or you can take him with you! Beverly said with a smile. You can call him Fred.
I’ve already been thinking of that. I can take to my studio. There are two other flies there he can die together with.
I stood and grabbed a teeny cup from a cabinet. I carefully held the napkin that Fred clung to over it. Gently carrying the cup, I stepped out into the cold night. When I got to the end of the building, where the lights end, I stepped out into the snowy path that led up to my studio. It was dark. I couldn’t see what I was stepping on. I stumbled through the lumps of snow. With my free hand I reached into my pocket to grab my cell phone. Fortunately, its dim light illuminated the way.
By the time I flicked the overhead lights on in my studio, I saw that Fred was very still on the edge of the napkin. Somehow or another, the piece that he stood on was now wet. I laid the napkin on a table next to the wall. I cranked the heat on. For the next two hours, I wrote at my desk. From time to time, I stood to check on Fred. He continued to stand in just about the same spot. He looked like he had shriveled up a bit. Oh no, I said. There was a yellow crumb—or something—on his furry thorax. I tried to gently wipe it off. This was all new to me. I had never cared for a fly before. When I was a young boy, I often took delight in whacking horseflies inside our house with a swatter.
Once it was time to turn in for the night, I stepped over again to Fred. I leaned over him. He took a few steps, which comforted me. But once I was packed up and stood at the door, ready to flick off the lights and leave, I looked over at him and grimaced. I felt awful about leaving him alone in the pitch dark for the entire night. I figured I wouldn’t find him alive in the morning.
The next day, I stepped over to the table where I had left Fred. I did not find him on the tabletop. I bent and peered over at the floor around, to see if perhaps he had fallen off. I found two dead flies, but both were smaller than Fred. They were stiff, as though they had been in repose for a while. Once I began to study the floor in the entire room, I was surprised to find many dead flies. I swept them up and dropped them in the trash can. There must have been about 10-12 bodies—and there are more stuck on the blinds, or on the windowsills.
Today there were four horseflies buzzing about the studio. With the sun shining, they stick to the warm glass windows. I peered at each one. Fred? I even called out, once or twice to them. Two of the flies were hobbling up and down the window. I think one of them is my dinner buddy, but I can’t be sure.
I’m not sure what is becoming of me out here. I’ve never cared about one seemingly measly horsefly before, but now two of the four that were buzzing about this morning have dropped on the ground. It pains me to see one of their legs twisted, or their wing bent and broken, their legs struggling to and fro as though they still have the instinctual desire to live. I don’t know what to do with them when they’re like this.
I’ve been having a hard time with death lately.