Tiny Ferocious Things

Runner-up in the 2022 Food-Writing Flash Contest

It feels like the tiny hairs on her chest are whispering to each other. But when Melody looks down, there is a fruit fly nibbling on her breast, just below her left nipple. She flicks it away. Her skin splits. Clear liquid drips from the wound, sickly sweet.

For the rest of the day, whatever she touches comes away sticky. The fruit fly follows her from room to room. When she stops moving, it crawls onto her breast and begins to burrow. In the July heat, in the sealed jar of this room, her body has started to rot. 

In October, her belly starts swelling. She craves foods that taste fluorescent green: pickles, tamarind paste, Sour Patch Kids. Instead of scrolling through lists of baby names— Tabitha, Theo, Thalia—she searches WebMD. “An adult female fruit fly can lay up to 2,000 eggs,” she reads. “Within 30 hours, tiny maggots hatch and start to eat the decayed food.” When she looks up from the screen, a milky way of fruit flies hovers above her.

She can’t find a single maggot squirming under her skin. But every day there are more flies, and she has thrown away everything else that could rot: cantaloupe, apples, tomatoes.

Outside, she hears the honk of geese escaping the coming winter. But the flies are not flying south. They are here to feast. The time of humans is over, and the next world belongs to insects, to viruses, to tiny ferocious things.

In April her body is ready to burst. She is afraid of atmospheric rivers and mutations, of the world she’s helped create. The night before her due date, Melody sleeps with pennies on her eyelids. Safe passage for the dead. She begs the universe to release her.

But when she wakes, the room is cool. Her mouth tastes of copper. Her flesh is hers. Her daughter Drusilla is a maelstrom. If Melody tries to feed her anything except pureed mango, strawberry, guava, she screams. But when she gurgles, her eyes shimmer. Melody leans closer. She still hasn’t been able to find a name for the color of her daughter’s metallic, many-sided eyes.

Drusilla squirms away. When she falls, she doesn’t cry. She looks at the world’s sharp edges in wonder. She is not afraid of the future, or the past. She can see in a thousand directions at the same time.

Pauline Holdsworth
Pauline Holdsworth

Pauline Holdsworth is a writer and public radio producer in Toronto, Canada. Her fiction has appeared in The Forge, and The Penn Review, and she attended the 2022 Tin House Winter Workshop.