To spray them would be to fumigate herself. She grabbed a magazine, rolled it up and began swatting. The immature flies were too inexperienced and slow to outwit her. After twenty minutes there were small black carcasses covering the window sill, the radiator, and much of the floor beneath the window. Some were still wriggling. She began to sweep them up. Suddenly it occurred to her to look inside her small workroom. It also had a window with a wooden shade and it faced out onto the same courtyard.
As soon as she crossed the threshold she sensed them in there. She went back for the magazine and began again; sweat seeped out of her pores, down her face, out from under her armpits, along her sides. The soles of her bare feet left wet marks on the floor. She brushed a small clump of squirming flies off the sill. She brought the broom in from the bedroom and swept a legion of tiny winged babies into the trash, then sat down on the floor depleted.
The day before, she had passed a neighbor coming up the steps and he remarked how terribly it smelled out there. On the ground floor, near the entrance to the building, was a small alley leading to the interior courtyard. Four garbage dumpsters sat there. They were overflowing. In the stifling heat, she imagined that the uncollected trash was creating the stench, but she should have recognized that smell. Years before, an old Jewish man in Williamsburg called the police at night complaining that someone in the neighborhood was burning dead bodies. He was dismissed as a crackpot, but he persisted. He had been in a concentration camp as a young man and, while fifty-odd years had gone by, he knew that smell could only mean one thing; the police had better have a look. The charred bodies turned up in a dumpster two blocks from his apartment.
The next day, in the stairwell, she overhead one of the tenants being told that the man in the apartment directly above her had died. He had been dead on the floorboards above her head for five days and no one had noticed his absence.
Maggots travel in "maggot masses." They like company. They have something on their bodies called a posterior spiracle that allows them to breathe while eating twenty-four hours a day. A maggot mass can heat a corpse up to 127 degrees Fahrenheit. It can get so hot that even the maggots need to take a break on the sidelines just to cool down. Warm temperatures speed decay and make the maggots' work easier. The warmer it is, the faster they grow. It must have been 90 degrees that entire week.
There was no smell in her apartment. Outside, the stench had been vivid, but lying in bed, with his body on the floor directly above hers, she hadn't sensed him.
A fly can lay blow-fly eggs twenty-five to a hundred at a time. In warm weather, maggots can eat sixty percent of a human corpse in less than a week. Based on the number of tiny migrants that had gathered by her windows, there couldn't have been much left of the man upstairs when the police arrived. A good portion of his material remains had found their way into her apartment. A second coming. And she; she had not understood and, unwittingly, she killed him.
Susan Silas is a dual American and Hungarian national who has built a diverse career as a visual artist and writer during the past two decades. Her recent work has focused primarily on Holocaust issues, and she has produced and exhibited several major photographic and video works exploring this subject. Her writings include a meditation on her work Helmbrechts walk and numerous short stories and short non-fiction pieces, and a number of her essays were featured in ArtNet magazine. Silas received her BA in History at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and her MFA in Fine Art and Photography at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California. She currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Her website is susansilas.com.
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