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My wife vs. the fruit flies

In which Libby's quest for vengeance turns her into Captain Ahab


Emily VanDerWerff

Jul 06 2020

10 min read


My wife hates fruit flies. Hates them, hates them, hates them, hates them. When summer rolls around, and they start trickling into our house, she becomes obsessed with the thought of destroying them.

She sets up traps she buys in a store (which tend to be tiny containers one fills with apple cider vinegar, which the flies then crawl into and can’t crawl out of). She invents new traps — this year’s version was a blackberry stuck to a piece of flypaper and eventually blackberries sandwiched between two pieces of flypaper. (This worked surprisingly well.) She buys giant cans of Raid and goes through them at an alarming rate. She stares at their congregation on the ceiling with increasing consternation. She snarls at them and damns them to hell and curses them at length, and still they come, in great clouds, in great swarms. Still they come.

The problem, every year, is finding out the source of the problem. This year, after examining every piece of food in our pantry and every piece of fruit in our counter fruit bowl, we concluded they must be coming from our garbage room, which is just a few doors down from our apartment. This has happened before — flies making their way through the vents into our apartment in an attempt to devour our beautiful, beautiful farmers market oranges.

Fruit flies! All over a lime!

We did our best to block the path from the garbage room to our apartment, yet still they came. The plague felt downright biblical, like we were being infested and punished for unspecified sins.

And then one day, when I was working away at some thing or another, my wife walked into my office with a strange glint in her eye.

“Have you looked at your pumpkin recently?” Her smile sang of victory.

Flashback: In October, I purchased a pumpkin to set out on our patio for the Halloween and Thanksgiving months. I didn’t carve it so it would last. It was properly festive, hopefully a source of delight to our neighbors.

And then I… I didn’t forget about it, exactly, but as the winter cool settled over California, the pumpkin sat and sat and sat. I would look out at the balcony every so often, and say, “Oh, hey, pumpkin, there you are.” It felt like I had accumulated a lumpy, orange son, whom I kept outside because if I brought him inside, he might start to rot away from the inside.

At the start of quarantine, I went out to the balcony to sweep it off, because it had gotten quite dusty, and I liked sitting out there to read. That’s when I saw my boy again, and I decided to bring him inside and turn him into a Jack o’lantern, the sort of thing that would delight all who saw it in a time of stress and difficulty.

Then I set it down on the floor next to our cats’ food dishes, so I could finish cleaning off the balcony, and I forgot about it again. Every so often, I would see my boy and think, “I should put a knife in him and give him a new face.” Did I do this? No. And so my cats ate and ate and ate, growing fatter and sleeker, and my wife and I stayed at home and stayed at home and stayed at home, growing at once closer to each other and more irritated by each other.

And still our son sat, nature slowly destroying him.

And then the flies came.

In any marriage, there are so few moments when you are allowed the great grace of being able to blame the other partner while remaining blameless yourself that you find yourself relishing and celebrating these moments. Most things that go wrong have both parties at least somewhat at fault. But every so often, your partner fucks up so badly at something so minor that you might be mad at them, but that anger will quickly be replaced by the joy you feel at something you have to hold over their head for at least the next month.

So it was with the pumpkin. When I attempted to lift it to put it in a trash bag, it sagged in the middle, like a deflating balloon that is slowly descending from the ceiling where it has hung out. I held it still for a few seconds, feeling it quiver, and then it very quickly disintegrated, covering my hands and the nearby floor in pumpkin goop. Some of that goop got in my cats’ food dish, even though they, too, were blameless.

A swarm of fruit flies shot up from the pumpkin, where they had been feeding and roosting and breeding. My wife was grossed out and couldn’t watch, but I could tell the energy of self-righteousness she felt would power her through quarantine for several more days.

When I asked my wife how she felt at that moment, she said, “Like Marie Kondo, I wanted to keep that pumpkin just to gloat.”

To throw out the pumpkin, I couldn’t just lift it up. I risked further covering myself and more of our apartment in goop. Thinking quickly — and by quickly, I mean that I tried to sort of roll the pumpkin into a trash bag and, instead, smeared more strange and foul juice over the floor (the cats stared up at me as if to say, “why are you persecuting us?”) — I grabbed a dustpan and scooped it under the pumpkin with a mighty squelch. I got most of it and dumped the pumpkin into a garbage bag, then managed to get the rest. I hauled it to the now also blameless garbage room, and we waited to see if, indeed, the pumpkin was the problem.

A few days later, the flies had dissipated. “I think maybe it was the pumpkin,” I said, trying to be magnanimous about my great failure. My wife furrowed her brow at me and said, “Don’t jinx it.”

Fewer and fewer flies appeared over the next few weeks, and by the time we were down to the handful of flies that appear in any apartment in any California summer, doomed from having gotten caught inside instead of swarming around outside after making exploratory forays into our apartment on days when the balcony door was open to cool off. It was clear what had happened, but it also hung over my head, lest I say something at the wrong time and jinx it.

Then, two weeks after I had thrown away the pumpkin, she came to me with a dark look on her face. “Can we talk about something?” she said. Of course, I said. We could always talk about things. Her face immediately broke into an unfettered, joyful smile. “I think it was the pumpkin.”

What I’ve been up to: This week, I officially sunset “What Day Is It Today?” for at least a few months, until we start quarantining all over again (which feels inevitable at this point). I also wrote about the trans narrative in Midsommar, to the general delight of the entire internet.

But reconsider the very premise of the film: Dani travels to Sweden with her boyfriend and his male friend group. She is an outsider, an interloper. They bring her along somewhat grudgingly, seemingly aware that Dani will only get in the way of them having a good time when they want to kick back and get high or ogle hot Harga girls. In other words, Dani is a buzzkill.

There are plot reasons for her buzzkill status. Midsommar opens with her losing her entire family in a gruesome murder-suicide — but Aster shoots early scenes where she’s with the group of guys in such a way that she is removed from them, detached. (A notable early shot takes great pains to show her reflection in a mirror but not her physical presence, in the same room as Christian and his friends but not really.) The guys keep assuring Dani she’s fine, she’s part of their group, they’re excited to have her. But she can tell from their tone of voice how little they actually mean that. The filmmaking betrays their true feelings by isolating her.

Thus, Midsommar is a movie about a woman who hangs out with a bunch of guys, never quite feeling welcome, or like any of them understand her. She’s always out of place, disconnected from what’s happening, even as they laugh and celebrate jovially around her. Cis women can certainly have this experience when hanging out with their boyfriends’ pals, but male group dynamics typically shift to avoid seeming too bro-y (for good or for ill) when they know a woman is present. For whatever reason, the guys Dani goes to Sweden with don’t shift their behavior in similar ways. What Dani goes through is almost a universal experience for trans women before they come out. They’re in the party but not of it, always feeling like there’s some joke they’re just not getting.

And guess what else is up! It’s the second season of Arden! I am so proud of this season, and I hope that you will check it out. If you haven’t listened to season one, we hopefully do a good job of getting you caught up, so you can just dive in.

Read me: I have been blown away by the recent run on Real Life Comics, whose creator is in the process of coming out as trans over several weeks of strips. I can’t precisely quote it, because it’s a comic, and I’d rather not reprint one of the images, but I will link you to the start of the storyline and hope you click through to read more.

Watch me: I am struggling to watch a lot of TV shows in quarantine, because I feel a bit exhausted by the prospect of watching a TV show. (Granted, I am also doing a lot of creative stuff right now.) But one show I have gotten through is FX’s What We Do in the Shadows, the goofily genius vampire comedy whose second season is one of the best things I’ve seen on TV in a while. It’s all on Hulu, so check it out!

And another thing… My friend Katelyn Burns is one of the best reporters around, and she’s looking for people to subscribe to her Patreon to help support her after she loses her temporary job at Vox. Take a look and see if you can support her at least somewhat. And also: My friend Alexis is having a fundraiser to achieve her goal to get HRT. She’s one of the kindest people I know, and I hope you will support her!

This week’s reading music: “Got You Where I Want You” by The Flys

Episodes is published once per week and is about whatever I feel like that particular week. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox

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