“What fly?” said Stanley, trying to look innocent as he threw dirty paper plates and napkins in the garbage. A low thrum of laughter and music filtered in through the kitchen door.
“You did eat it, didn’t you?” Liz narrowed her eyes and and pursed her lips, storm warnings Stanley recognized all too well. His wife had invited her high-end friends and their perfect husbands over for a night of drinks and hors d’oeuvres, and she’d made Stanley swear to behave–or else. The fly had been buzzing in Stanley’s face when his tongue, seemingly of its own accord, flicked out and nailed it.
“It flew in my mouth,” said Stanley, “and I just swallowed reflexively.” Didn’t taste half-bad, he thought. Kinda nutty.
Liz huffed and looked to the heavens for guidance. “Take this tray of Swedish meatballs out there and lay off the goddamn insects,” she said. “The Joneses are here.”
Bill and Tammy Jones were the wealthiest, handsomest, most in-demand couple in the neighborhood and Liz was constantly trying to keep up with them. She glared at Stanley, held open the kitchen door, and waved him out.
Tonight the living room seemed especially bright to Stanley as he passed around the meatballs. It’s not the lighting, he thought, no, it’s the colors, they’re deeper, more intense. Not only did his guests exhibit rich skin tones, he could also see colored auras surrounding them, especially the women. There was an orange aura encircling Nancy Moore, light blue around Sarah Timmons.
“Hey, Stanley,” purred Tammy Jones.
Tammy was a hundred pounds of silicone, peroxide, and sex in a little black dress. A bright pink aura emanated from her and Stanley realized she was ovulating: prime time for procreation. When she leaned in to peck him on the cheek, he caught a whiff of her estrogenic musk and bit her neck, hard. She screamed and flailed her arms, knocking the tray of meatballs to the floor.
Flustered, Stanley knelt to retrieve the meatballs while Tammy rubbed her neck and hyperventilated.
A concerned Bill Jones appeared. “Are you all right, honey?”
“No, I’m not,” she said, glaring at Stanley. “I think we should go.” Tammy stormed out the front door, her bewildered husband trailing in her wake.
As he corralled the last meatball, Stanley sensed Liz’s presence. He looked up and saw a distinct black halo around her head. Whether it was due to the stained rug or the missing Joneses, Stanley was unsure, but black was the color of hate.
“It was an accident,” he said.
Great, I have a brain tumor, thought Stanley. It was well past midnight and Stanley was hunched over the computer in his home office, looking at MRI’s of brain tumors. The office was on the second floor of their garage and Stanley was probably going to be sleeping there for some time although it wasn’t official since Liz wasn’t talking to him. He’d spent the past hour researching “strange appetites”, “colored auras”, and “loss of impulse control”, and all roads led to “brain tumor”.
Probably frontal lobe and likely malignant, thought Stanley, an accountant by day, a cyber-doc by night, and a ’round-the-clock hypochondriac.
I guess I’m ready to die, he thought. I’ve got no kids, my clients certainly won’t miss me, and the neighbors all think I’m a loser. There was a time when Liz would’ve been devastated by my death, but now? She’ll get over it soon enough and thanks to my life insurance, she’ll be wealthy. There’s really nothing to keep me here except . . . who’s gonna feed Fred?
Fred was a rose-haired tarantula who’d been left to them by an odd, miserly uncle. The fist-sized spider was nestled comfortably between two rocks in a terrarium on the bookcase, dreaming spider dreams. Stanley could tell they were happy dreams by the spider’s golden aura. He found himself imagining just how scrumptious Fred would taste: nice and crunchy on the outside, sweet and gooey within. Stanley strolled over to the bookcase and was sliding open the top of the terrarium when his cell phone burst into Beethoven’s Fifth.
Jones, Tammy. 694-769-4695. Uh-oh.
“Tammy, I’m so sorry about what happened earlier tonight, I have a brain tumor you see, probably a glioblastoma, and—”
“I need to see you,” she interrupted.
“Um . . . O.K., I’m in the office, let me look in my book.” Stanley began paging through his appointment book.
“No, I need to see you now!” Click.
Stanley heard a car door slam followed by footsteps on the stairs and an urgent knock on the door. He opened the door a crack and Tammy barged in wearing a full-length fur coat.
Stanley closed the door behind her and said, “What can I do for you, Ta—”
Tammy had shrugged off the fur and stood there, wearing just pearls and high heels. “Bite me,” she said.
Early the next morning, Stanley sat in Dr. Goldhorn’s waiting room reading Cosmopolitan, “7 Ways To Blow Your Man’s Mind in Bed”, and feeling rather well for a man who probably had a brain tumor. Tammy had known more than seven ways and none had involved his mind, come to think of it. She’d left at sunrise with a green aura, contentment, and a black-and-blue neck.
“Mr. Weiner?” said a grim, square-shouldered nurse standing in the doorway. A teenaged girl sitting in the corner snickered. Stanley got up and followed the nurse, wondering how different his life would have been as a Kowalski, or a Snyder, yet thankful he hadn’t been named after his father, Wally. The nurse led him into a chilly examination room, asked him to undress and put on a paper gown, and said, “The doctor will be with you shortly.”
An hour later, Dr. Goldhorn breezed in and said, “Hey, how’s my favorite accountant? Did you ever find out if I can deduct my Montauk trips?” Dr. Goldhorn had been traveling to Montauk to shtup his tennis instructor and wanted to expense it as continuing education.
“I don’t think so, Dr. Bob,” said Stanley. “Perhaps if you were a gynecologist.”
Dr. Goldhorn’s favorite accountant rubbed his double chin which felt swollen and irritated. “I’m very worried,” he said and launched into a long, extensive, and alphabetized list of his symptoms, starting with auras and ending with zerostomia, and conveniently leaving out all mention of Tammy Jones.
Dr. Goldhorn glanced at his watch and said, “Let’s do some tests.”
Stanley sat alone in Dr. Goldhorn’s private office and looked around the room. On the doctor’s desk was a framed photo of his wife and three children and a brandy snifter filled with golf tees. Lurking in the corner was a half-dead ficus and hanging on the wood-paneled walls were diplomas, licenses, and glossies of famous patients. A few of Dr. Goldhorn’s girlfriends were interspersed among the celebrities.
Stanley wondered if he could get a picture of Tammy for his office wall. After all, Liz never visited; she always called his cell when she wanted something.
Presently Dr. Goldhorn strolled in, resplendent in plaid pants and a crimson shirt, and leaned his golf clubs against the wall. Stanley noticed his furrowed brow and wondered if he was upset by the test results or peeved that he’d missed his tee time.
“All the tests came back negative, Stanley. Everything looks good except for the rash on your double chin.” Dr. Goldhorn took a practice swing with an imaginary club. “I’m gonna prescribe you some hydrocortisone cream and perhaps you could lay off the carbs a little. Any questions?”
“Well what about my eating flies?”
“They’re not so bad, mostly protein and very little fat. Better than potato chips certainly.” Dr. Goldhorn winked, grabbed his clubs, and hurried out of the room. Stanley was both surprised and disappointed to find there was no brain tumor. A rash on his neck would not get him back in his own bed. Perhaps he’d tell Liz it was lupus. Scratching his neck, he got up and left.
It was a gorgeous, sunny Sunday morning and Stanley was in fine fettle as he and Fred shared a dozen crickets. They were much tastier than flies but their legs tended to get stuck in Stanley’s teeth. When the last cricket was gone, Stanley broke out the dental floss and reviewed the whirlwind events of the prior week. The week had begun miserably enough with Stanley enduring the silent treatment from Liz, secretly gnoshing on the occasional insect, and sleeping poorly on the office couch. He’d tried several times to apologize but Liz was having none of it.
On Thursday, however, he’d come in for lunch and found Liz and Tammy Jones in the kitchen, laughing and sipping Chablis. Tammy, who was wearing a turtleneck top despite the hot day, gave him a big hug and a kiss—right in front of his wife—but her aura was weak and Stanley wasn’t turned on. Liz, on the other hand, must have been aroused by Tammy’s display of affection, or perhaps her re-appearance in the Weiner home, for later that night she invited Stanley back to their bed. She went a solid if unspectacular nine innings under the covers and even allowed a few mild neck bites. There was the faintest green glow around her head when she fell asleep.
Late the following night, Tammy interrupted Stanley’s research on auras, this time wearing just a raincoat and rubber boots, and last night after dinner, Liz bit Stanley’s ear and took him upstairs for a rousing double-header.
So all was well in Stanley’s world on this glorious morning, all except for a worrisome new bump just above his butt. He finished flossing, checking with his tongue that all the cricket legs were gone, and walked over to the tiny office bathroom. In the mirror he saw that his double-chin had gotten bigger and redder, despite the cream, but he didn’t really mind the look, it seemed to fit with his new life of sex, insects, and more sex. With great difficulty he turned around, dropped his drawers, and took a look at his behind. It was visible, the bump: a hard little knob right where his spine ended, like the beginnings of a tail.
Stanley got on his favorite medical website and researched whether brain tumors could migrate down the spinal cord and exit out the bottom. But he found nothing except the case history of a boy in Indiana who grew a small tail and began barking at people. After reconstructive surgery and years of psychotherapy, the boy had recovered and eventually become a successful liability lawyer.
I’d better call Dr. Bob tomorrow, thought Stanley, before I start barking at people, or worse, start suing them. He jumped when a car horn blared from below, and then rushed out of his office and down the steps to where Liz was waiting in the car, the engine running. Liz and Stanley had dinner every Sunday at her sister Rose’s house. Stanley had to admit, he enjoyed spending time with Rose, her husband, Joe, and their little boy, Danny. But he dreaded every minute spent with Liz’s mom, Conchita, a sharp-tongued harpy who’d worn black ever since her husband died. She’d sit at the head of the table and critique the food, her doctors, the weather, the United States government, and the entire known universe, her ill-fitting, absurdly-white dentures clack-clack-clacking all the while. She saved her best barbs, however, for Stanley who in addition to being an unworthy husband and an ingrate of a son-in-law, had committed the ultimate sin of not siring a grandchild. Picturing his mother-in-law, Stanley made a sour face and backed the car out of the driveway too fast, almost causing an accident.
An hour later, he sat at his in-laws’ dinner table, picking at his pasta. The crickets, apparently, had filled him up.
“Sorry, Rose,” he said as she took his plate away, “I don’t seem to have much of an appetite.”
“You’d never know (clack) by your double chin,” said Conchita, who was finishing off her second helping. She grinned, revealing smudges of red lipstick on her teeth.
“Be nice, Mom,” said Liz, “Stanley’s just been diagnosed with lupus.”
Stanley was stunned to hear his wife defending him, the double-header must have really agreed with her. She glowed a deep sea-green and had a good-sized hickey on her neck.
“Uncle Stanley, guess what?” said five-year old Danny.
“Your grandmother’s moving to Florida?”
“No, silly! I just got a hamster named Bucky,” said the boy. “Wanna see him?”
“Sure, Danny, I’d love to,” said Stanley, getting up from the table.
“It certainly beats helping with the dishes (clack),” said Conchita.
Stanley strode towards his mother-in-law, the reptilian portion of his hind-brain determined to throttle her, but then he caught a glimpse of her aura. It was gray: she was dying. Fists clenched, Stanley passed her by and went upstairs with his nephew.
Bucky the hamster was sleek and beautiful, with shiny black eyes and the cutest little pink toes. Stanley and Danny took turns holding him, then put him in an exercise ball and watched him motor around the bedroom. While Danny went to fill up his water bottle, Stanley held Bucky close and sniffed him: he smelled absolutely delicious! Danny returned, put Bucky back in his cage, and held Stanley’s hand as they walked downstairs to rejoin the family.
The rest of the afternoon passed uneventfully as Stanley pretended to watch baseball with Joe while basking in the warm sunlight from the picture window. He swallowed a small spider when Joe wasn’t looking, but it was bitter, a discovery that certainly improved Fred’s long-term prospects.
It was dessert time now and Stanley was ravenous. But he found the cookies and cake unappetizing and the coffee undrinkable. He sat there, smiling vapidly and fiddling with a spoon, until finally, it was time to go. He handed Liz the car keys, said, “Start the car, honey, I have to use the bathroom,” and went upstairs.
As Liz and Stanley were pulling into their driveway, her cell phone went off.
“Hello? . . . Oh no, poor Danny! . . . that’s just terrible . . . please tell Danny we love him . . . yes, I will, bye, Rose.”
“What’s up?” said Stanley, turning off the engine.
“Poor Danny, his hamster escaped and they can’t find him!”
Stanley covered a burp and said, “That’s too bad.”
That night, Stanley tossed and turned in his sleep. In his dream, he and Conchita were alone at the dining room table.
“You’re even a crappy uncle (clack), you broke Danny’s heart!” said Conchita.
“I was starving,” said Stanley, “I just did what lizards do.”
“Well you’re not a lizard (clack),” said his mother-in-law, “You’re just a loser.”
Stanley’s double chin turned bright red and puffed out threateningly.
“Spare me the dewlap display,” said Conchita, “I’m not impressed.
Stanley lunged across the table and sank his teeth into Conchita’s throat, and she spit out her dentures and made gurgling noises as he savaged her. Expecting warm mammalian blood, Stanley was surprised to find his mother-in-law was full of feathers and he began choking on them.
“Wake up!” cried Liz, shaking him, “Stanley, wake up!”
“Aaack,” said Stanley, sitting up and spitting out feathers. He blinked a few times and noticed he was covered with the remains of his pillow. He felt his double chin and it was still irritated but seemed to be about normal size.
“You were screaming and biting your pillow,” said Liz. “What on Earth were you dreaming about?”
“Um . . . I dreamed I was a lizard,” said Stanley, “and I was trying to kill this annoying old bat.”
Liz laughed and kissed his forehead, then went to get the vacuum. She was so sweet and kind lately, not one cross word about the ruined pillow. As she vacuumed up the goose down, Stanley stared at the bruises all over her neck, ranging from deep purple to faded yellow. She’d be devastated to know that her new best friend, Tammy, had the very same bruises. They’d been spending a lot of time together recently, shopping, shooting the breeze, and drinking Chablis, both of them wearing turtlenecks in the middle of July. Some of their more impressionable girlfriends had even started wearing them.
This has got to stop, thought Stanley, I need help.
“Did your father ever touch your privates?” asked Dr. Sigfried, stroking his gray goatee and sucking on an unlit pipe.
“Never,” said Stanley quickly. Dr. Sigfried’s rate was five-hundred-dollars an hour and Stanley was trying to move things along.
“Hmmm,” said Dr. Sigfried, stroking and sucking, “Veh-ry in-teresting,” He languidly crossed his legs as the second-hand sped around the old-fashioned clock on the wall. “And did you ever think you were a snake?”
“No, doctor. No other animals, just a lizard.”
“Hmmm, I see. Fah-scinating.” The psychiatrist steepled his fingers and stared at them. Stanley was becoming increasingly impatient, especially when he saw the doctor sneak a peek at his pocket watch.
“Do you enjoy sushi?” asked Dr. Sigfried.
“No!” said Stanley, a little louder than he intended. “Listen, Doc, all I want is to stop acting like a horny lizard and go back to being who I was.”
“The desire to go back in time is quite common,” said the shrink, putting his briarwood pipe back in its stand. “Speaking of time, ours is up. I’m going to write you a couple of prescriptions and I’d like to see you again in a week. Helga, my nurse, will set you up.” Dr. Sigfried stood up, smoothed his gabardine trousers, and said, “Sorry to run but I’m late for a lunch date with my mother.” And with that, he flew out the door.
Stanley stared at the prescriptions and wondered whether they were written sloppily or in Mandarin. He loathed taking medicine but truly wanted to get well and besides, the pharmacy was right next door to the pet store. A dozen crickets would taste awfully good about now, and if the medicine worked, it would be his last bug lunch.
An hour later, Stanley sat on a park bench, contentedly soaking up the sun.
He was full of crickets and anti-psychotics and nicely tanned from his recent love affair with the sun. Sunlight seemed to calm him, unlike his love affair with Tammy Jones. He’d begun to hate all the lying and sneaking around, and he had no idea how Tammy hid the bite-marks on her neck from her husband. On the other hand, Tammy’s constant presence in the Weiner home seemed to stimulate both Stanley and Liz, they were like newlyweds again.
I feel like a wild and sexy animal, thought Stanley, and my wife and my girlfriend love it when I bite them. Am I ready to give all that up?
A cute little chipmunk scurried by the bench, saw Stanley and froze. As Stanley looked it in the eye, he sensed the creature’s abject terror and his mouth began to water. He was about to pounce on the chipmunk when two of Liz’s friends came walking around the corner and said, “Hi, Stan-ley,” in unison. They both wore sleeveless turtlenecks, the newest rage about town.
“Hey, ladies,” said Stanley, “lookin’ good!” He feigned a friendly smile and when he looked down, the chipmunk was gone. Yeah, I’m ready to give all this up, thought Stanley, I’ve got to.
Stanley began to feel dizzy and now the sun seemed much too bright. There were rainbows around the trees and the buildings, and an odd buzzing sound in his ears. Stanley stood up, somewhat unsteadily, and wishing he’d remembered to bring his sunglasses, he trudged to the parking lot.
After a couple of aspirin and a glass of Cabernet, Stanley felt much better and had a nice, relaxing dinner with Liz. But later that night, he had the mother of all headaches and the lump above his rump ached like the devil. He tiptoed up to his office and looked up all the possible side effects of his new medicines. Stanley was shocked at all the dangerous conditions the drugs could cause, however, “mother of all headaches” and “achy rump lump” were not on the otherwise impressive list. Now there were powerful auras pulsating around everything, even his lamp and his desk, as well as strange, putrid odors in the air. Just then there was a familiar knock on the door. Jeez, not now, he thought.
Tammy burst into the room but stopped before dropping her bathrobe. “God, Stanley, you look like shit!” she said.
Stanley limped to the bathroom to see for himself and sure enough, Tammy was right. He barely recognized the pale swollen face in the mirror and worse yet, there was a thick gray aura swirling around his head as an invisible jackhammer tried to crack open his skull. I’m dying, thought Stanley, and he stepped out of the bathroom and collapsed at Tammy’s bunny-slippered feet.
Stanley saw a bright light but couldn’t remember exactly what to do. Are you supposed to go towards the light or away from it? It seemed like a critically important decision. And now the light was turning green. Green . . . of course, that means proceed safely through the intersection. Stanley went to step on the gas but there was no gas pedal and there was no car, he was in a hospital bed surrounded by banks of blinking, beeping medical equipment.
“How’s my favorite accountant?” said Dr. Goldhorn, wearing green surgical scrubs.
“H—, H—” Stanley licked his lips. “H-hi, Dr. Bob. What happened?”
“You’re a lucky man, my friend. You had a cerebral aneurysm, a blood vessel that was rapidly expanding in your brain. As it expanded it pressed against portions of your frontal lobe, causing your strange symptoms. It finally ruptured and you would have died,” said Dr. Bob, smirking, “if Tammy Jones hadn’t happened to drop by.”
A tall, bespectacled nurse entered the room and asked Stanley if he needed a pain pill or something cold to drink. Stanley said yes to both and added, “I’d like some ginger ale if you have it.” The nurse nodded and left.
“Um, what were we talking about?” asked Stanley.
“I was saying, you had an acute dissecting aneurysm but an old golfing buddy of mine, Dr. Wong, just happened to be in the hospital and he took you right up to the O.R. and did a magnificent job of stopping the bleeding and resecting the damaged artery. He expects you to have a speedy and complete recovery.” Dr. Bob glanced at his watch and added, “And while they had you under, they removed an infected cyst from the base of your spine.”
Stanley reached up and touched the thick swath of bandages surrounding his head. Odd that his head didn’t hurt although his butt sure was sore. At that moment he heard footsteps in the hall and turned to see Liz enter the room, followed by her mother and Danny. Liz rushed over and hugged Stanley tightly, her warm tears anointing his cheek. After a minute, her sobbing subsided and she stood up and dabbed at her eyes with some tissues.
“I’m glad (clack) you’re alive, Son,” said Conchita from the other side of the bed. “I prayed all night to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and (clack) she answered my prayers.”
Maybe she doesn’t hate me, thought Stanley, she called me “Son”. He could no longer see her gray aura, in fact no one in the room had an aura. Stanley noticed Danny peeking out from behind his grandmother.
“Hey, buddy,” said Stanley weakly raising his hand towards Danny. The boy stepped forward and gave Stanley a tentative high-five.
“Are you gonna be O.K., Uncle Stanley?” he said.
“Sure, Danny, I’m fine,” Stanley lied. He was dying of thirst and his behind was on fire. “Do you know what we’re gonna do as soon as I get out of here?”
Danny shook his head.
“We’re gonna buy you a new hamster, that’s what we’re gonna do.”
The boy brightened and gave Stanley a big, gap-toothed smile.
The no-nonsense nurse returned with Stanley’s medicine and ginger ale and asked everyone to say their goodbyes so her patient could rest. As she exited the room, Dr. Goldhorn leaned over and said, “Gotta run, Stanley, I’ve got an important tennis lesson.” The good doctor winked and departed.
“I hope you feel better, Son,” said Conchita, taking Danny by the hand, “We’ll be back to visit you tomorrow.”
“Thanks”—Stanley gulped hard—“Mom. See you tomorrow, Danny.” The old lady and the little boy slowly made their way into the hall, the boy waving goodbye as he disappeared.
Liz smiled and caressed her husband’s face. “I love you so much, Stanley,” she said, her dark eyes glistening, “I swear I’ll never take you for granted again.” She kissed him softly on the lips, brushed away a tear, and left.
Stanley was left alone with his thoughts and his soda, which he sipped on to relieve his parched throat. Despite his wounds and near brush with death, Stanley felt pretty darn good and best of all, he felt like himself again. He had no desire to ever screw Tammy again, nor did he feel like killing Conchita. In fact, he might even get used to calling her “Mom”.
Stanley realized that he loved his life, and more importantly, he loved his wife. Still, when Liz had leaned in to kiss him, he’d felt an almost overwhelming urge to bite her neck. This was most disturbing and as Stanley was obsessing over whether he had a “biting problem”, a big black fly flew by and landed near his ginger ale. He whacked the fly with his hand, killing it, and picked it up.
Stanley inspected the fly closely and waited to see if he felt hunger or revulsion for the lifeless insect. Strangely enough, he felt nothing—perhaps he was still a little fuzzy from the anesthesia.
Only one way to be sure, he thought, and opened his mouth.
Pete McArdle is a bipedal, carbon-based life-form who thinks he can write, and worse yet, thinks he’s funny. A recent spate of published stories has not helped any with his delusions of literary grandeur.