Before Heidi came along, Michael did everything he could to keep the damn faeries out of his apartment. Every night he washed and dried his dishes, never left one dripping in the drying rack. Always fished the food particles from the drain, took the trash out, sealed his cereal in glass jars.
An Exodus of Wings
by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
I. The Shower
Before Heidi came along, Michael did everything he could to keep the
damn faeries out of his apartment. Every night he washed and dried his
dishes, never left one dripping in the drying rack. Always fished the
food particles from the drain, took the trash out, sealed his cereal
in glass jars.
But then he met her. Heidi, her name was, as she told him through hair
that kept blowing over her mouth–such long hair, too long, always in
the way. Once she became a permanent fixture in his apartment, he lost
the drive to keep clean. Love does that. Makes you forget the rigorous
regime of your single life, the boring ritual that once kept you busy
enough to not feel alone with the TV and your thoughts. And once
Michael ceased his diligent cleaning, let the dishes pile in the sink
in leaning towers, let the old rice grains and botamochi crumbs rot in
the drain, the faeries took over.
They found their way in through the pipes and the hole in his pantry
wall. At first, just a handful. Then more. Soon any time Michael and
Heidi returned from a silent dinner or flipped on the kitchen light
after emerging from the bedroom for some amanatto or chocolate peanut
butter, they were greeted by a flurry of wings and flailing limbs the
same checked pattern of his dinner plates–a camouflage–as the
When Heidi wasn’t around, Michael made a game of chasing the faeries
with a fly swatter through his overcrowded living room, dodging his
oversized computer station; the pillows his mother had shipped him
from Japan to liven up what she considered a dump; and his life-size
poster of Michael Jackson, his American namesake. After his rampage he
sprayed the walls with vinegar and scrubbed away their blue-green
blood, peeled their flattened bodies off and tossed them out into the
community compost bin. But he’d noticed how Heidi’s eyes followed the
faeries as they collected around the faucet water any time he turned
it on, and he hadn’t dared harm them in her presence. She was so
difficult to understand that he clung to this little way to please her
like he did to her hand in the night. Some women, he knew, went gooey
even for pests, like those teenage girls in the subway who fed the
He didn’t worry so much about the faeries when in her company, anyhow,
partly because Michael and Heidi spent most of their days between the
sheets. Lying beside her in a room lit only by the humming street
lights outside his window, which extended the shadows across his puny
abdomen and under her narrow eyes, he would run his hand along her
belly and shiver against her skin, smooth as stone. When making love
she was like stone, cold and still, but deep beneath he felt her buzz,
as if she wanted to burst apart and scatter her pieces across his Iron
After a haze of three weeks with little effort on Michael’s part to
eliminate the pest problem–and the faeries were a problem, breaking
into his packets of dry noodles and scattering them across the kitchen
floor, teaching themselves how to turn the faucet on when Michael
wasn’t home so that his water bill appeared in the triple digits,
depositing their pellet scat on his kitchen counters–the faeries
migrated to the bathroom. There were so many of them now that they
couldn’t fit in all their kitchen hiding places anymore, and no longer
did they scatter in the light or at the sound of footsteps, as they
had realized that they were in no danger as long as Heidi was around,
which was nearly always. Now when Michael showered–alone, as Heidi
refused to shower with anyone–the faeries danced through the water
spray, the beat of their wings like a fleet of tiny helicopters. In
bed Heidi was a welcome hiatus from the frantic flapping. Even though
he knew her silence was troubled, forced, it still comforted him to be
able to not speak. He could count the conversations they’d had on two
hands; her presence was more to him than words, a comfort like a
heating pad, a child’s stuffed bear, these youthful traditions matured
into a woman he wanted to crack so he could keep her. But she was
solid all the way through.
Then one night he woke to a single laugh like a brief night song,
muffled. The space beside him empty, he rose and padded into the hall,
his slippers thudding against the carpet. Steamy light leaked from the
cracks around the door. He heard shower water falling. He opened the
door. The curtain was closed. He pulled it back.
Heidi stood beneath the stream with her head dropped back, her hair
stringy wet. She must have sensed him there, for eventually her head
jerked to the side, but it felt as though time had stopped, and he
stared at her for what, looking back, seemed too long a time for her
to have remained oblivious to him. Later he wondered if he really had
taken in all the detail he remembered, or if he had made it up, dreamt
it, if he had only seen a glimpse before she noticed him and wrapped
her arms around her chest. Nevertheless, he couldn’t forget how she
Faeries balanced on her shoulders, digging into her skin with their
toes. They wove in and out of her hair, sliding down strands until
they dropped to the bottom of the tub, changing color from the
reflectionless black of her hair to the stark white of the tub as soon
as their feet landed against its surface. Two of them perched on her
stiff brown nipples so that it appeared her breasts had gone misshapen
in the night. She wore a closed-mouth smile that spoke of something he
would never understand, an eyes-closed kind of feeling he had never
felt, would never feel. It was then he knew that he would lose her.
II. Puck’s Pest Control
I can always tell an asshole just from where they live. The last night
on the job, I was going to meet this guy I’d already diagnosed as
such. He lived over off Bluestone in these trashy apartments that had
been built for rich white dickheads. When he opened the door, I was
surprised to see that he wasn’t, in fact, the white I’d thought he
would be. He was paler white, my white, the white of those crazy beech
mushrooms my immigrant great-grandfather used to cook up all the time.
I didn’t revise my judgment. Probably he was already judging my
appearance; dreadlocks and a parka and my decidedly western gut.
Probably he took one look at my name tag–Akira–and sneered at the
fact that I clearly speak little of the language.
Soon as he opened the door, the skunk smell of weed upheaved me. I
coughed. I knew his type. Never grew up, too sheltered by his
frightened parents to notice that life is supposed to change once
you’re out on your own. Probably he’d been blowing his smoke on the
faeries, making them loopy. Probably he thought it was funny to
torture the poor things like that. I mean, I enjoy a toke every now
and again, but I wouldn’t dream of inflicting a helpless animal,
unaware of what’s coming up at him like the harmless clouds outside,
with a surprise stoning.
“They’re all over,” he said, motioning around the kitchen. His
apartment was pretty clean for how infested it was. Eyes peered from
the cracks in the cabinet doors, and wings glinted from the top of the
refrigerator. All I saw in terms of a mess was a single coffee mug in
the sink, filled with water. It was the only target I had for him.
“Can’t leave stuff like that,” I said, dumping the water. “They don’t
need a lot to live off.”
“Doesn’t matter. They’ve figured out how to turn on the faucets.”
I wanted to smile but stopped myself. Clever buggers.
“How’d it get so infested? Looks like you’re a pretty clean dude.”
The guy shrugged, looked at the floor. “None of your business,” he
said, and I could tell from how he said it that there was a girl
involved somehow. Or a guy, whatever. He did have a Michael Jackson
cut-out in the next room. “I’m paying you to get rid of them. So just
do it, already.”
I nodded. “Gotta bomb the place. Best if you get gone for a while.
Come back in two hours. Got somewhere to go?”
The dude huffed. “I’m not paying you until they’re gone.”
Why not? I thought. Can’t waste daddy’s small change? But I waved him
on, ’cause I couldn’t stand the smell of him anymore, like mothballs.
When he left, I realized it wasn’t him, just the apartment. Even so
the next part was my favorite. I lay on his Iron Man bed, looked in
his bedside drawers full of condoms, sat in front of the computer that
took the place where a television should be. In his bathroom a faerie
family hovered around his bathtub. In his trashcan, I found a
new-looking toothbrush and a near-full bottle of women’s shampoo.
Thirty minutes before he was due to come back, I lugged a huge crate
from the truck up the stairs to his apartment. I opened the crate’s
gate, and the honey sugar smell filled the room. The faeries emerged
from hiding, an exodus of wings. As they disappeared into the honey
crate, their skin changed from cabinet white to wood brown. They were
too busy licking the honey off their fingers to realize that their
feet were stuck in the honey goo that coated the crate floor. Then I
did the bathroom.
“The fuck is that?” the dude asked when he returned reeking of scotch,
his face red. It surprised me that he wasn’t a beer drinker, as I
would have guessed.
“For the bodies,” I said.
For a minute, I thought I saw his humanity in a quiver of his lips,
but he turned away too fast to be sure, fished around in the cabinet
above the sink, pulled down a checkbook.
“Thank you,” he said, gripping my scarred hand as he handed me a check
a hundred dollars over my quoted price. His name was on the top left
corner–Michael, also a surprise, not even a traditional name–and
below that, the paper claimed he owned a website design company. I
felt red in the cheeks for a second, afraid to look him in the face,
having been so wrong about him. I folded and pocketed the check, then
hauled the crate back to the truck. I felt the warmth of his touch
even later, in my own duplex apartment, on the couch where I watched
the faeries unfurl from the honey and crawl their way from the crate.
Beside me sat the book I was trying to convince myself to read–the
solitary activity only ever fed my loneliness, as I knew I would have
no one to share the book with once I reached the last page–and I had
stuffed the book with the pink eviction notices my landlord had been
peppering my door with for the past week. The woman never liked me,
and then she found an excuse; on a routine inspection, she discovered
my free-loading roommates gathered around the sink, sipping from the
water bowl I left for them.
Once free, the faeries scurried up into the rafters. Some of them
needed me to wipe the honey from them, the ones who accidentally stuck
their legs together. I helped these emerge from the crate, and with a
damp cloth cleaned them down. They nipped at my skin. My hands were
already covered in circular bite marks the size of aphids; my hands
will always be clouded blue and purple, monster hands.
If I shone a flashlight into the ceiling, I would see a pattern that
at first might appear to be a million tiny dolls on the beams,
dangling their feet. The wooden floor of my apartment was always dirty
with specks of feces and urine, and even though I cleaned nightly, I
guess it was still a reason to kick someone out of their home. I’d
trained a lot of them to use the toilet, as they loved watching the
water swirl down the bowl, but it took time, and the newer ones had
yet to learn.
I didn’t know what to do with them all. If I left them, the landlord
would bomb the place for sure. And I couldn’t take them with me.
Couldn’t keep living under their shadows, waking in the night to their
dance across the mountain of my stomach, couldn’t keep buying pounds
of bread just to feed house guests who would have been happier on
their own. They deserved the air, the sun, real clouds. A new
beginning, a clean floor.
III. Out of Your Body and Into the Next
You found yourself sitting on a rock beside a lake in a park. The sun
glared, but you’d covered yourself in an emotional shell so thick that
not even the sun, so much harsher these days, could get through. You
had just left a man’s apartment for the final time, a last swan song.
You had broken it off with him a week ago, but then you had gone back.
You told yourself it was to see the faeries. You could have been
lying, because when you got there and the faeries were gone–he said
he’d lured them away with sugar water–you fell into his bed anyway as
if his touch would make them return. Afterward you came to the park
because of the water. You loved the water. You loved the way it
listened. How when you stuck your finger into the chill, ripples
radiated from that single point of your intrusion all the way to the
Michael did not listen that way. He tried, but failed. He did not
listen to you because you did not talk, and he was foolish enough to
believe that talking is the only way to see into someone. Because he
felt this way, you talked to him as little as you could.
Ripples rolled in from a faerie landing on the other side of the
shore. You wondered what the faerie wanted to say to the lake. You
wanted to swim across the way and find it, let it know that you know
there are many ways to communicate, that even faeries and people can
tell each other secrets. You’d seen it happen. Had marks like little
bruises on your shoulders for proof. You stood, bent to grab your
purse. That was when you saw the faerie on the rock, smashed flat
where you sat on it.
Suddenly you felt too large to live. You wanted to jump out of your
body and into the next. There was a feeling in your stomach like a
rock you might have swallowed. You looked around. The next body turned
out to be a fat Japanese man with dreadlocks on a bench only a few
feet from you, wearing a wool parka despite the sun. Your ex was of
Japanese descent, and perhaps this is why you couldn’t stop looking at
the man on the bench. You no longer wanted to be in the next body you
saw. The man had a huge wooden crate beside him.
He looked up at you. He nodded.
“I’ve killed it,” you cried, because it felt like you had to tell
someone or it would be in vain, the faerie’s death. “I sat on it and
The man looked away, then back. You wondered if this was because he
found you attractive, as you’d been told you weren’t bad on the eyes.
Then he walked toward you, his steps wide and unsure. When he got to
you, he peered down at the faerie. By then you’d forgotten about the
one across the lake.
“So what?” he said. “I killed hundreds before. Own a company, or used
to, I guess. I did it for money, which is worse.”
You remembered being a kid, eyes in the dark under your childhood bed,
the kiss of wings against your cheeks as you slept. In the morning you
used to wake with welts; your parents thought you had caused them
yourself and dragged you to the doctor again and again. Once you were
older, you no longer heard the songs. Now you only dreamt them, and
you felt like you’d lost more than the song that used to cover your
parents’ fighting, the sounds of love souring like milk in the fridge.
“Before?” you said. “Before what?”
He shrugged. “Before I lost the stomach for it.” You stared into the
dirt, disappointed. You’d hoped for something more profound.
“Wanna see something?” he asked.
The man showed you a world of golden lava floors and faeries posed
like dolls inside the crate. Only they weren’t posed, you realized as
the light trickled in on them, but posing. Eyes closed, leaning
against each other and the walls and the floor, playing dead. You knew
they were only playing because one of them opened an eye, and then
shut it again.
“They’re alive,” you said.
“Of course they are,” he said. “I have to let them go.”
“What’s stopping you?” you asked, but he didn’t hear you and you
didn’t have to know the answer to know the answer. Throughout your
life you’d also had a hard time keeping friends, keeping people
around. The man looked out at the water and you wanted him to
understand without you saying that the lake was a kind of friend that
would never leave. Instead you reached over and grabbed his hand and
squeezed. His hand was like a purple catcher’s mitt, but it didn’t
scare you. Together you knelt at the lake shore beside a sign which
read Do Not Feed the Faeries, and you pulled each faerie from the
honey and dipped its feet in the water. They bit you, and you winced
and squeezed your eyes shut but did not stop, did not stop, did not
stop until all of them were free.
You sat with him on the bench and your purple hands touched only at
the sides and you didn’t feel romantic, not sure if you ever would,
but he felt like a puzzle and the faeries thick as a cloud across the
sky could be pieces. You buried the dead one in a grave you dug with
your aching hands. Afterward you washed your hands in the water
fountain. You swore that this time you would keep them clean, that you
wouldn’t go back to that apartment where you no longer belonged.
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