MY MOTH • by Charlie Britten

There’s something horrible in the bath, trapped in the small puddle that collects around the plughole. In a minute it’s going to drown, another smudge on white enamel, dirty and unhygienic. No butterfly this, but a humble brown moth, with a slimy bug’s body under its powdery wings. How long will it take to die? I avert my eyes as I walk out the bathroom.

I’m the type who puts out nuts for the birds and milk for the hedgehogs. I brake for rabbits charging across the road, for badgers, foxes, even rats, but moths I can’t cope with. The doctor says I have a phobia, amongst all my other problems. I just hate the way they charge towards light bulbs, their wings knocking against the lampshade, again and again. Stupid things. They never learn. They nip. They gnaw holes in my jumpers and even bite people.

As I pass the children’s empty rooms, I say ‘Hello’ to the soft toys propped up on their pillows. They wait weeks and months for a well-loved voice, a familiar step, heavier and firmer than hitherto, attached to an adult’s body which knocks them off the bed as they get into it. Once, we snuggled up together, Toby on my knee and Lucy’s downy head pressed against my shoulder, clasping in her chubby arms two, three or, even four, furry animals. I used to read them stories of apron-wearing mice, sweeping their little houses with tiny brooms, and of geese in bonnets carrying wicker baskets. For a few blessed minutes they all listened to me — the children and the toys.

As I rearrange the books on the shelf in Toby’s room, Thomas the Tank Engine alongside university textbooks, I notice the chink of light shining through the bathroom doorway. I thought I’d shut it. I’ll close it now, because I don’t want the death rattle of its filthy wings to creep in here. This part of the house is clean.

Walking back along the landing, I try to reach for the door handle without seeing inside, but I have to look. It’s still moving. Not dead yet. What is going through its moth brain as it surveys precipices of white enamel on all sides? It’s trapped. I decide it’s a she.

See, now, she’s flapping her wings. How can she do that so hard and fast without becoming exhausted? Yet she can’t heave herself out the wet gunge, and her legs, now splayed out sideways, adhere to the surface. I remember Lucy falling off the swing, her fractured arm bending below the elbow, where nature intended no joints. Like broken machinery, it muttered in shame, “I am no use anymore.” Maybe my moth considers sacrificing a leg, or several. Perhaps she has already tried, and failed.

Needing air, I open a window. The window cracks pistol-shots as I wrench it open, ripping apart hinges stiff with disuse. Flakes of paint drop on the ledge. I wince. If I tore off my arm, would particles of bone fall to the ground, little specs of white flecked with pink? Would I hear a noise like the window, as bones snapped and tore from sockets?

We took Lucy to hospital. Now, she tells me, she jogs every evening. I see her, in my mind’s eye, in pink Lycra, pumping iron with her arms thrusting forward in time with her thudding feet. I wish she’d run home.

Maybe if I could just…

A leaflet from one of my pill packets, that will do. Goodness only knows, there are enough of those, seeing as my doctor believes, still, that it’s possible to fill emptiness with drugs. I’m not going to touch her… not an insect, a moth. The edge of the paper shunts her a few inches up the side of the bath.

For a moment, I don’t breathe. She’ll be all right, won’t she? She’ll find the window, go out of her own accord. But she falls back into the water.

I try again, but her body’s too soggy. I’m afraid of hurting her. I can’t bear it. I step back on to the landing, even placing my foot upon the top stair… but I know what I have to do, even though my stomach retches as I rehearse it in my mind.

There, I’ve done it. Her body feels soft and brittle between my fingers. One false move, too tight a squeeze, and she will break, like a baby. I tiptoe across the tiled floor to the window. I open out my hand.

Slowly she stretches out her wings, catching gentle eddies in fresh summer air, heavy flower scents dissolved in recent rain. I watch her fly away, an ever-diminishing speck, threading her way through brambles and roses with old woody thorns. She will live for another day… or two.

Can I do the same? Throwing open the medicine cabinet, I chuck my pills into the bin.

Charlie Britten writes in Suffolk, UK.

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  • The voice was superb throughout this piece until the very end.

    The story didn’t feel like it should have a hopeful ending – or perhaps I’m just a miserable old git.

  • Randy

    I couldn’t agree more. A very well written story but I can’t imagine the struggle with depression could so easily be dealt with. Having said that, the story was very tight. Thank you.

  • An excellent story, one with which I found it so easy to identify, beautifully told and nicely paced. I agree about the ending though, a bit of a “chicken soup for the soul” finale which spoiled it somewhat for me.

  • Joanne

    Agree with all 3 commenters above.

  • I thrive on disagreeing. Not with the fact that it is an excellent story, it most certainly is a well-written piece and one I can identify with quite easily; but with the ending sounding false. I think his throwing his medication out is believable. I also believe he took them out of the trash somewhere between fifteen minutes and an hour later.

    That’s the great fun of flash. You can keep the story going.

  • The narrator and the moth will be able to fly away, not right away, but after some time when their wings have dried.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    I’m with #5 &#6. I thought the tension here between revulsion and compassion was brilliantly done. Surviving a small act that seems monstrously impossible can give a surprising amount of courage and hope to someone who hadn’t had them before. For many of us it’s the small things that seem insurmountable; the big ones that we’ve lived through leave no energy for anything else. A really superb story–five stars.

  • Been there but with spiders – it’s a tough call! I think this is a well expressed primary story that carries the secondary one of trapped helplessness extremely well. Nice work Charlie B.

  • Katherine

    Good story, well-written. I loved the ending.

  • Tom O’Connell

    I really enjoyed this. The writing was focused and the MC’s headspace was well conveyed.

    I had no problems with the ending. The comments above seem to imply that it’s cheap, or saccharine. I don’t think so. If it is, it certainly isn’t overwrought.

    The whole piece is very affecting. Well done.

  • joannab.

    good story.

    to ajcap, #5, i thought the MC was a woman.

    it looks to me, from the comments, that the ending could go either way. so, again to ajcap, #5, i think the way you continued the story in your comment (retrieving the meds from the trash) was an eye opener for me. your ending might have been hope and despair alternating. like life.

    the writing in this story was excellent, the picture of the two adult children, the “Maybe if I could just …”

  • JenM

    Somethong about this peice makes me lof it. Five stars!

  • Joanne

    Joannab, I also thought the MC was a woman.

    Ajcap, I think you are right about the MC retrieving the meds.

    The writing is excellent and, despite my comment @#4, I actually gave this piece five well-deserved stars…it’s just that, as Randy said above, depression is not so easily dealt with. Also, the “detox” from some anti-depressants is as bad as the depression itself, so I wanted to grab those pills out of the rubbish bin and shout, “Noooo, you need to taper off!” But the story itself was wonderful.

  • Beautiful writing, I agree with the comments above. Although the ending felt unearned, possibly just too quick, it’s still a moving and thought-provoking 5 stars.

  • Gorgeous writing!

  • Mariev Finnegan

    Beautifully written, and yes, with a female voice, which makes it even richer. But the ending seems contrived. Still, this story will haunt me.