If Only Her Husband Were a Member of the Brotherhood of Flying Things  |  Elizabeth P. Glixman

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             The pest control man wore a dark blue uniform with the name Bob machine embroidered on the jacket pocket. His eyes were in shadow, framed by cascading frizzy hair and the purple visor of his baseball cap. There was a sticky substance on the jacket cuff.
             “Seen any roaches?” he asked.
             “None this year,” Harry said. “I did see a bug on the stove last night. It couldn’t be a roach. Roaches hate light.”
             “Not the babies.” Bob searched the cupboards with zealous eyes. “What color?”
             Bob pushed the proboscis of his gel gun into cabinets and under the sink. Harry heard air moving.
             When Bob was done, he said, “No problem anymore.”
             Harry opened the front door for the man to leave, but Harry saw insect wings flapping like accordion pleats under Bob’s jacket, as the bug man scurried toward the door. There was no truck in the driveway. The sky was covered with flying things.


             Harry couldn’t wait for his wife, Joan, to get home, so he could tell her about the pest control man. Harry didn’t believe it himself. He might have been hallucinating, like the time he drank twelve bottles of soda in two hours and had a hypoglycemic sugar dip where little tiny creatures crawled the walls of the kitchen, yelling, “We rule the world!” Those creatures were green and wingless.
             Joan told him he was a greedy pig, and if he did things in moderation, he would see the world as it really was.
             It was obvious Harry and Joan had problems. Most of the time, Harry let Joan’s hurtful comments slide off his curved, phlegmatic shoulders. He often did not tell her about the things he saw, like the herd of sheep in the backyard or the yellow elephant in the living room. But the rustle of wings was so strong in the bug man’s coat, it gave Harry a visceral rush. He had to tell her and risk her response.
             Harry recalled their first years of marriage. They were sweet like cotton candy with each other and warm like sand dunes in heat. Their love was hardcore (They watched porno flicks together.), yet soft inside. There was nothing they wouldn’t do for each other. As the years went by, Harry knew that, lately, Joan was not happy. There were no children. She had a uterus that would not hold one. She gained twenty pounds in the last year. She told Harry it was because of him.
             “Our relationship is so strained,” she’d say, “but I love you, Harry.”
             It was always that way with Joan. She told Harry something painful and then, said the opposite. His skin broke out with little red welts. The doctor said it was hives.
             “Is anything bothering you, Harry?” the doctor asked.
             “Not that I can think of.”
             The doctor gave Harry a bottle of calamine lotion and told him to come back if it didn’t work.


             Harry looked out the door. All he saw was blue sky, but he could sense the fluttering of wings. He read the Encyclopedia of North American Birds, while waiting for Joan to come home.
             When Joan came home with groceries, Harry saw the cheesecake peering out of the brown paper bag. He waited for her to sit down on the sofa, and then, he began: “The bug man was here today.”
             “So,” said Joan. “Did he find any cockroaches?” They had an infestation years ago, before the whole town flooded, six feet of water up to the third floor of city hall.
             “No.” Harry spoke faster, as if there were a hysterical train on the tracks, speeding toward him. “I know you won’t believe me, but I think he was a bug.”
             “Oh,” said Joan, and the “oh” was elevated in the air like the cry of a person who was being tickled under the armpits.
             “Yes,” said Harry, “I am sure he was a bug.”
             “Have you been overdosing on soda again?”
             “What makes you think he was a bug?”
             “The rustling. There was a rustling under his coat. I saw the frail wing tips, delicate, veined, and pulsating. I saw the wings in the sky, hundreds of them, after he left. It was like he was shedding. Like he was cloning himself. It was like the Brotherhood of Flying Things in the sky right over our head, Joan.” Harry did not know where the term Brotherhood of Flying Things came from. Maybe he had watched The Da Vinci Code one too many times.
             Joan bit into the cheesecake she had placed on the kitchen table for dessert for their dinner. “Harry, I think you need to go see your doctor, again.”
             “The wings are real.”
             “I don’t see any, Harry.” Joan opened the back door and said, “Not even one on the ground. Not one wing. Not one feather.”
             “They flew away, Joan. They flew away a split second after they appeared, and then, they floated from the sky like snowflakes and melted.”
             Joan stared at Harry, cheese on her lips. She said, “It is the doctor, or I am leaving you. My mother tells me every day to get the heck out of this insane asylum. All you talk about are creatures, winged ones and miniscule ones. Ten-toed elephants in the living room. This isn’t the first time you’ve accused normal people of being insects or animals. Remember my boss? When you saw her, you told me she was a wasp. When I went into the kitchen to get coffee and those Pepperidge Farm cookies, you actually told her she was one. I don’t know what to do. I really don’t know what to do.”
             “She is.”
             “A Wasp. Her ancestors came to America on the Mayflower.”
             Joan was not interested in genealogy. “She is not a bug. None of this exists. Do you hear me?”
             Harry did not doubt himself. He knew these creatures existed. He knew the bug man was an insect. To appease his dear wife, he made an appointment with the doctor.


             “How’s the itching?” asked the doctor.
             “That’s not the problem,” said Harry.
             “What is?”
             Harry told him the story of the bug man. He told him about the elephants and tarantulas that sang, “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime.”
             “Anything else, Harry?” said the doctor, as he listened to Harry’s heart.
             “I forgot about the invisible crocodile in the backyard, who wants a swimming pool. He told me to go to Home Depot. The pools are on sale this week.” Harry told the doctor about Joan’s boss being a real wasp, not just a cultural one, and about his fear of brown sticky substances, especially the goo on long paper strips Joan hung in the summer on the porch.
             The doctor shook his head, took notes, and said, “Harry, when you see these creatures, ignore them. They will go away in peace. By the way, you have a good ticker.”
             “Like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz.”
             “You have a good heart, Harry. Don’t worry about the crocodile or the bug man. They won’t be here for long.”
             Harry was getting in his car in the parking lot outside the doctor’s office; he heard the rustling of wings. He looked into the sky; there was the doctor in flight, his strong and firm wings holding the fervent night air.
             Oh, God, thought Harry. You can’t trust anyone.


             What will I tell Joan? wondered Harry. I will tell her the doctor gave me tranquilizers. That will make her feel better. I will tell her I know there are no creatures in the house. I don’t know what else to do. Maybe I could tell her that the doctor is an insect who told me I have a good ticker? I don’t think Joan will buy this. She will probably call 911 and have me removed, get power of attorney and take my decision-making powers away. I can’t let that happen.
             “What did the doctor tell you?” said Joan. She was sitting on the couch in her pink chenille bathrobe, eating chocolate cream pie.
             “He said for me to get rest, take tranquilizers, told me to stay off the soda, and said my wife needs to understand the strain I am under, considering I was laid off for the fourth time in four years from my job at the fly tackle store. It isn’t easy, Joan. These lay offs are stressful.”
             “Honey, I am sorry. Here, have some pie. You will always be my snookie-wookie man.”
             Harry did not like lying to Joan, but he had to. She just did not understand. “You are my fuzzie-wuzzie bunny,” he said back to her. Terms of endearment and good pastry always refreshed their relationship.


             Joan worked as a cleaning lady at Scientifica Excursion Laboratory, where the mad scientists (They were mad because of lack of government funding.) were studying UFOs and aliens. Joan’s boss told her daily that it was only a matter of time before some creatures tried to take over the world.
             “Look at us,” her boss said. “We are an uninventive species on the brink of no distinction.”
             Joan had to agree. Life was one boring routine, and that is what Scientifica Laboratories wanted to change. They were interested in creating rockets that took people on space excursions. Joan often thought of asking if Harry could go on the test rocket. It wasn’t that she didn’t love Harry. It was that it was hard living with a man who hallucinated.
             Joan went to work, like she always did each Monday. Shortly after she left, Harry heard noises at the front door. He opened it. There was the bug man, Bob.
             “I’ve come back to check on the situation,” Bob said.
             “No bugs,” replied Harry.
             “Let me check anyway.”
             “Okay.” No harm, Harry thought. A follow-up is fine. Bob was being pushy. The bug man went into the kitchen. Harry heard the cupboards opening and closing.
             “No bugs,” Bob said.
             Harry heard a rustling. He saw through the window the flock of wingless creatures in the sky. He saw Bob smile. Harry felt uncomfortable. He felt itchy. Then, he heard popping from his cotton shirt, and to his horror, he had wings—large, long, tapered wings—coming out of his own body.
             There was a knock at the door. He opened it. There was his doctor.
             “I thought I would check on you,” the doctor said, smiling an evil ear-to-tooth grin.
             Harry saw the wings growing from the doctor’s side. Harry went to get a fly swatter, then stopped. I can’t swat my doctor. They will take me off my HMO.
             “A house call, how nice,” said Bob.
             Harry was levitating off the ground. The sound was stronger, like a symphony orchestra. Harry feared the conductors would appear in the living room imminently, maybe that longhaired one from the Boston Pops. It seemed like they were all levitating. What would Joan think? He must have eaten too much liverwurst on rye for breakfast.
             The doctor didn’t seem to notice that Harry and Bob were transforming. Harry had flown dangerously close to the ceiling. He looked at the molding around the living-room ceiling. He thought about how much Joan and he had fought over what type of molding to get. She wanted it simple. He wanted it ornate. He was glad she had won, as his new delicate body bumped against it.
             The doctor kept talking like everything was fine. “I had another patient with similar visions of strange creatures in his yard,” said the doctor. “Actually, I had two this week.” The doctor looked at Bob and Harry. “I knew the world was disintegrating, but not this fast. I thought we would remain Homo sapiens for at least another millennium.”
             “The time frame has changed,” said Bob. “Orders from the big Latin insect. All the men on Earth need help. I hate the damn itching, Doc. Isn’t there anything you can do?”
             “Sorry, Bob. Itching is part of growth. Haven’t you heard that your enemies, those who crank your butt, are your greatest friends? Think of itching as a friend.”
             “Haven’t heard that one,” said Bob.
             “What change?” asked Harry.
             No one answered. They were all fluttering. Harry looked through the window that Joan had draped with sheer lace curtains, against his manly wishes. He saw his neighbor, Mr. Mahoney, and his recently neutered Doberman Pinscher flying in the sky with large creatures with wingspans the length of a football field.
             “The big one, Harry,” Bob finally said, his face morphing into two little eyes and a few antennae. “Join us. We are the males leading the way into the Brotherhood of Flying Things.”
             The Brotherhood of Flying Things. There is that phrase again, thought Harry.
             “We are ancient,” said Bob, “and selective. We find men who want to get away from their wives and help them to start a new civilization where men can wear mismatched clothing and watch football and do anything they want.”
             Harry floated closer to the ceiling. He heard Joan’s car pull up in the driveway. When she came inside, she found the doctor and Harry sitting on the couch.
             “Honey, you look kind of pale. Is anything wrong? Why is the doctor here? What is that sound?” Joan asked.
             “I feel lightheaded,” Harry said.
             The doctor added, “Joan, it is something going around. Come sit with us on the couch. Did you ever wonder what flying would feel like?”
             “Flying? Do you mean flying in an airplane?”
             “No, Joan, ” said the doctor. “Men need freedom to fly. That is the kind of flying I am talking about. Flying to new heights.”
             “I can’t hold them in anymore,” said Harry, as his wings broke loose from his mohair girlie sweater Joan had knitted him for his fortieth birthday. Joan watched as her knit four-pearl, two-pattern gift broke apart from the puncture of wings. She watched with her eyes popping, as Harry, the doctor, and the bug man—who had appeared from nowhere—flew out the door.
             Even though Harry felt the medical community had failed him once again (not telling him the truth—that he was clairvoyant), Harry felt buoyant, free as a bird, with no Joan to tell him what to do.
             When the whole thing was over and the house was empty of insects, Joan’s eyes became normal circles. She turned on the television to watch Springer and ate the leftover liverwurst on rye. She was not sure why she did everything in slow motion. She felt suddenly queasy.
             “Damn,” she said, as her eyes opened. Harry was sleeping beside her with his baseball bat to ward off any creatures that entered their room. “Damn,” she repeated quietly. “He is still here.”
             She would tell Harry to go get a check-up tomorrow at the doctor’s, hoping the doctor really was a card-carrying member of the Brotherhood of Flying Things.

♥ End ♥

Elizabeth P. Glixman is a poet, writer, and artist. She is the author of four poetry chapbooks: A White Girl Lynching, Cowboy Writes a Letter & Other Love Poems, (both by Pudding House Publications) and The Wonder of It All (Alternating Current Press). Her latest chapbook is I Am the Flame (Finishing Line Press), available on Amazon. Her work has been published in numerous print and online magazines and anthologies, including Her Circle, The Pedestal Magazine, Frigg, HEArt Online, r.kv.r.y. Quarterly Journal, Grey Sparrow Journal, storySouth, and Journey Poetry Anthology (Eden Water Press). One of her short stories was included in the Million Writers Award Notable Stories of 2005. Elizabeth was the long-time Interview Editor for Eclectica.org. You can read her interviews with poets, writers, and other creative people in the archives. This story first appeared in Lady Jane’s Miscellany; Vol. 1, Iss. 1; Online Edition.

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liz young said...

That story was seriously weird but I loved it. what an imagination you have!

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, seriously weird is a good way of putting it!

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