by Hugh Behm-Steinberg
Because of global warming, or maybe some GMO backfiring, new insects we had never seen before would visit. Most we only saw once and they were dreamlike in their intensity, or they’d come in swarms smashing against our windshields, make a sticky mess and that was that for them. But many stuck around. They glittered and made sweet trilling songs at dusk. These new insects flourished, and because they were so goodlooking my husband and I thought ok, nice to have something nice happen for a change.
Still, over that fall our married friends began to break up, and in that spring everyone began to wear yellow and violently avoid the color blue. Some days our fevers would only be sated by eating packets of saccharine, other days we’d wake up shaking and only gospel music would soothe us. We would forget where we were going, or what we looked like, or we would suddenly know things about complete strangers and have to lock the door and call the police when they’d show up at 3:12 in the morning to tell us how much they loved us.
The diseases they carried were so subtle we hardly thought of them as diseases. Rashes replaced tattoos, sometimes literally. You’d be in bed with someone you weren’t married to, admiring the photorealistic camellia on their shoulder, and then you’d notice a tiny white inchworm working its way across the petals, erasing each one painlessly, fleck by fleck.
One week I have a husband, the next he’s undoing all of our narrative structures.
“Do you want to know what happens next?” he kept asking me. “Do you want what happens next to happen to you, or to someone you love more than me? Have you figured out how much of us is who you are, and how much is a gift one of the bugs brought you?”
Will we ever get smart before it gets too late? There’s a war that’s always on, between a mystery flooding into the world, and that mystery leaching out of the same.
I’m going to a party, and in my purse I have a tiny red cardboard box containing three iridescent flies, and when I get there like everyone else I’m going to let them go. I don’t know what will happen. I only know my ex-husband will be there.
Hugh Behm-Steinberg’s prose can be found or forthcoming in Jellyfish Review, Gravel, Sand, Joyland, Vestal Review, Gigantic and Pank. His short story “Taylor Swift” won the 2015 Barthelme Prize from Gulf Coast. He is interim chair of the adjunct faculty union at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, where for ten years he edited the journal Eleven Eleven.