By Linda Maclennan
The flies kept frying themselves on the lamp. They got caught inside the coiled energy bulb, buzzing as they burned. I imagined their charred bodies piling high and shuddered. The lamp was an effective flytrap Jack had said. “We don’t want loads of flies in the house, Meg, shitting on the sheets…”
Jack didn’t even have sheets now. He lay in the cold, night after night. Soon Jack would fry on the electric chair and there was nothing I could do to save him. He sat inside that box of a cell with bars and no glass. The flies could land on his soiled body, eat the shit that covered his legs and matted his hair. When I last visited he said that he didn’t mind. He ate the flies if he could catch them. We spoke through the bars of the door. Twice he tried to thrust his fingers out through the metal barrier and jab me in the eyes. His nails so straight and sharp. He could have slit his throat, and mine, with those nails.
The forest was being flattened.
All the trees surrounding us were being felled so that more houses could be constructed. When the first trees were cut down, the new government used axes, but it didn’t do the job quick enough. They needed bigger tools to flatten the trees. I watched the bulldozers come rumbling up the chalk path the soldiers had created. Soon the path became a road, tarmac poured crudely and left to set overnight.
“They’re all for expansion,” Jack said. “They don’t care about the green leaves, the way a tree moves against the blue sky, or the curve of the bark, and the depth of the colours.”
“What will we do?” I said, clinging to his shirt.
“I’ll tie myself to a mighty oak,” he said. “Use chains and locks…”
He left at dawn.
When I stepped on the road to look for Jack, the tarmac was sticky on the soles of my boots.
The mighty oak lay splintered, chains broken, as though giant hands had snapped them in two. At first, I thought Jack wasn’t there. I searched too fast, up and down the land, wiping tears off my face as I realized the last of the trees had been ripped down. Already concrete blocks were piled high in the clearings.
I kicked the shredded leaves. Not even autumnal orange, red, or gold, but stark green, bleeding sap. I dug the tip of my boot into a pile of them, uncovering Jack’s face all torn and bloodied, his eyes wide open even under all those leaves. I uncovered his naked body and found he was panting. It was as though he had been breathing through the pores of the leaves. I remember him telling me once that it takes seven mature trees to release enough oxygen for a human being to breathe for a year.
I ran to get help, and two of the villagers carried him back to the house on a makeshift stretcher.
He didn’t speak at first, just the rasping panting and the healer thought he must have broken a rib, or maybe it’d pierced his lung. Then he stopped all that noisy breathing and turned his face to the firelight. He smiled at me, yet his smile was crooked. I didn’t trust him somehow even though he was my husband. When a fly landed on the bulb of the lamp and fried, he chuckled. More and more of them were coming through the windows.
The bulldozers came, two abreast, as Jack lay in our bed. They scooped up the broken trees and took them away. Back and forth they roared. The lack of vegetation caused daylight to pour through our window like never before.
And one night when I stood at the sink and peeled potatoes Jack jumped up from our bed and dragged his shotgun out of the cupboard. He flung open the door and blasted one of the bulldozer driver’s right out of his seat. Took the top of his head off along with his bright blue baseball cap.
I tried to get Jack to run and hide, climb down into one of the holes we’d dug for drainage. He refused, choosing to lay back down on our bed and wait. Every time a fly landed on the lamp and sizzled he counted.
“Thirty two…” he whispered as the vile buzzing kept ringing in my ears. I wanted to scream like the flies. “Thirty three…” Jack carried on, staring up at the ceiling as he counted. “Thirty Four… thirty – fucking five…”
I’d had enough. “Why are you doing this?” I shouted, knowing full well what was wrong. He stopped counting and started to sob.
“What do you do if you’re a tree hugger, Meg, and all the trees are gone?”
The soldiers came for him in the night and I pretended not to hear. I pushed my face into the pillow until the struggling on the bed subsided. Jack was gone. The door was open. The dark tree-less night extended into my space. Jack was no longer part of my space.
A thin woman came to the village to inform me that I was entitled to visit Jack at the prison. Once a week. I was forbidden to take him anything. No food, alcohol, clean clothes, books, or photographs.
“We are very strict,” she said. “I hope you understand.”
“Of course,” I replied, noticing the way her blouse billowed around her shrinking frame. She looked half starved, sunken cheeks, yet maybe that had become normal in the city. People had learned to eat less. The crop fields were being concreted over. Farm animals were not fit to eat, kept in windowless pens, their diseased bodies force-fed a cocktail of antibiotics and growth hormones.
Jack was electrocuted last night. As he sat there on the open-air platform erected for public viewing I noticed something strange. There were no flies buzzing around the shit and grime that had accumulated over his body. I wasn’t sure at first, now I’m back in the house I know it’s true. There are no flies. The lamp hasn’t buzzed for hours. The door is wide open. The world is concrete and sterile.
Linda Maclennan originates from the Isle of Wight, in southern England. She graduated with a First Class BA (Hons) in Writing Contemporary Fiction at Southampton Solent University, and a Distinction on the MA in Creative Writing at Southampton University. She has been successful in local, national and international writing competitions