The crane fly only had three legs. It sat on the whitewashed garden wall next to the river, back legs splayed at one hundred and eighty degrees. It hadn’t moved in at least twenty minutes and Daniel wondered if he had killed it.
A group of boys from the village, camouflage skinned with grass stains and dried mud, shouted and splashed upstream but Daniel didn’t want to join them. He preferred spending time with smaller creatures; the dive-bombing dragonflies and stripe legged spiders that buzzed and crawled amongst the weeds. He had been sitting in his usual spot by the garden gate since lunchtime and he was practising keeping still. It was easier to concentrate that way and he didn’t disturb the insects.
He had noticed the fly, black and immobile like a scribble against the bright painted bricks and felt a strange camaraderie with the hamstrung creature. Daniel didn’t know how many legs a crane fly needed to stay alive. He didn’t know if it would hurt to have three missing legs and he didn’t know if he was perhaps witnessing the fly’s silent demise. Daniel pressed a smudged hand to his forehead, a whisper of pain curling behind his left eye. The weight of the question was making him tired.
If it were still alive, would it be able to fly? Its criss-crossed wings looked sturdy enough but perhaps it needed all six legs for take-off or for balance? Daniel knew that crane flies didn’t need to eat, that their sole purpose was to find a mate, and he wondered if this particular crane fly would ever be able to join the others flitting above the water as the sun went down.
Daniel shifted his weight. He felt his belt tighten and dig into the soft folds of flesh around his middle. He could hear the muddy boys upstream running and jumping and whooping. His head thumped behind his eyeballs and he bit his lip hard, tasting blood. He wondered what it would be like to dangle a leg in the cold, clear river. What would it feel like to swoop the waters surface like a tiny helicopter? What would that kind of danger feel like?
But none of these thoughts would change the fact that this particular crane fly only had three legs and that this particular crane fly might be dead and that Daniel, just by concentrating on it, might have killed it. Daniel decided that he had to know.
He started to sweat as he edged closer, tongue slicking his lower lip in concentration. One sticky hand pressed to the wall, he tilted forwards until his nose was level with the fly. For a moment he stayed there, transfixed by the pearlescent gauze of its angel wings, its mottled caterpillar body and its two tiny gemstone eyes. He shaped his lips into a kiss and breathed out, a tiny warm breath at first and a then little stronger and a little stronger until the crane fly’s wings rippled and it struggled into the air.
Daniel watched it, dry mouthed, his heart pounding and plunging as the fly dipped and dragged to the top of the wall. He gasped as it lifted itself into flight, its three spiderweb legs dangling like loose ends of black cotton. A laugh bubbled from deep inside his chest as the fly circled sleepily and headed out over the water.
Daniel’s hand trembled on the wheel of his chair.
Katherine Clements writes in Guildford, Surrey, UK and is currently completing her first novel. Her work has been published in Mslexia magazine.