Did you know that the common housefly, like the one circling the room now in a wide, counter-clockwise circuit, hums in the key of F? It’s true. They come in different sizes, of course, but their bodies scale so that the vibrations of their wings correlate to the pitch intervals in F major: F, G, A, Bb, C, D, E. The octave above. Their wings are made for this.

I didn’t know that back in 2015. There was so much I didn’t know. That summer, I didn’t know that you only had one year left to live. We stood beside each other in the tiny kitchen and prepared a dinner of rice and melted cheese, your favorite, as it reminded you of childhood, a rare pleasure from that time, and it helped ease the nausea from the row of pills you’d laid out on the table.

We told each other that we were living with cancer. That this was possible. The monsoon rains poured from the sky as thunder rolled over the peninsula from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic Seaboard. We’d rented a cottage on our favorite beach, with sliding-glass doors opening onto a sandy path that wound through iceplant dunes and soon gave way to tufts of sea oats and, fifty meters out, the salt of the tide curling into the boom of the surf.

I drank from a bottle of coconut rum. The rum added a sugary sizzle to our lips when we kissed. I can feel the tips of my fingers at the small of your back even now. Your hair brushing the side of my cheek. The fragrance of your hair after floating in the warm waters of the gulf, hour after hour, earlier in the day. The salt of the ocean on your skin.

There were days like this. Whole afternoons lived in suspension. Floating. Ruin stalled-out and gliding on its own silence, somewhere off in the distance.

The housefly circles past and I’ve returned to another unlivable year, 2020, with this fly humming in B-flat as I stare out the kitchen window. Its flight-path is reminiscent of the Earth’s orbit around the sun, and the note thrumming in the fly’s wings has a bittersweet timbre to it. Vivaldi, I think. The Four Seasons. It was composed with the sound of flies written into a figuration of notes, in F major, maybe the only time flies have appeared in classical music. And this housefly, so singular in its hypnotic focus, banks around me as though trying to spin me backwards in time.

But that earlier fly, the one on the coast in our little love-nest on the ocean—that fly was drunk on the moment. Its wings hummed along to “The Girl from Ipanema” as it swooned its way through the damp ocean air, dizzy with circling two lovers who circled each other. With a lifespan of only fourteen days, it swam drunkenly around us as we danced in the kitchen and laughed, the thunder rolling over and past and on toward some day we hadn’t landed in yet. Each grain of rice expanded with water as the heating element began to glow on the stove. Tree frogs sang to the storm outside. Inside, the two of us were multiplied in that fly’s vision, as the common housefly has between 3,000 to 6,000 simple eyes that comprise each of their two complex eyes. So many versions of us walked barefoot through the doors and into the rain. Kissing each other. Dancing. Laughing. And that fly’s tiny yet intricate brain gathered in each and every one of us. However incomplete. However fragmented. This a definition of love on planet Earth.

The fly would have these memories to think back on days later, when we packed up and drove home. That’s when the fly, resting on the windowsill, stared at the blue-green swells of the ocean rolling in, the sound of it muffled by panes of glass. The muscles in its legs slumped forward, then gave out. And maybe that’s when the fly remembered you saying that—as a young girl—you’d seen horses in the curling salt of the wave when it crashed, galloping toward shore. Uncountable horses. And when the fly looks for them, it’s true, there they are—with manes of salt pulled back by the wind, the horses shoulder to shoulder, galloping in.

Brian Turner has a memoir (My Life as a Foreign Country, W.W. Norton) and two poetry collections (Here, Bullet and Phantom Noise—both with Alice James Books). His most recent work is The Kiss: Intimacies from Writers (W.W. Norton). His wife’s posthumous collection of poetry (Angel Bones by Ilyse Kusnetz) was published by Alice James Books in 2019. He directs the MFA at Sierra Nevada University and lives in Orlando with a golden retriever named Dene. You can find Brian on Twitter @TurnerBriturn3

Photo by Christina Brobby