Leave the Window Open On Your Way Out
A Love-Adjacent Story
I loved the sound of a million wings flapping inside of her, even if it drowned me out. “It’s a medical device,” she would lie, and I never wanted to see right through it, but something inside me always did. And maybe it was when she said things like Did you know that you can buy 1500 live ladybugs on Amazon for two dollars? or when she told me Insect screens give the illusion of freedom but stop just short of the real thing, but I started having my suspicions early on in the relationship that she might be a bunch ladybugs in the mantle of a person.
I met her at the onset of an early Spring; caught her trying to fish my wallet out of my back pocket. I was taking a walk in the park, eager to feel something on my skin that was not the Februarian chill I had grown accustomed to. When my hand caught hers, fingers wrapping around her wrist, sliding my palm into her own palm, I got what I wanted. She was warm, and the skin on her hand vibrated gently against mine. She gasped, and my eyes caught hers, and the sound of a million ladybugs flapping inside of her was momentarily eclipsed by the butterflies inside of me. I wanted that feeling to last forever.
I loved it, the noise inside of her, and for months, I stayed that way. It felt like something was sparkling in there, shuffling around, constantly in action, and that’s all I ever wanted. Inaction is cold, and action is warm, and maybe together we could seek some sort of equilibrium, between heat and the devastating lack thereof. But I was too still for her, and all she ever wanted was more of her and the exact same amount of me.
I remember finding her at my computer with my credit card, ordering fifty dollars’ worth of ladybug eggs, and in my desperation to feel something, I doubled the quantity. She gave me a peck on the cheek, and for the first time, I almost recoiled. She’d gotten so loud, and there she
was blaring into my ear. I felt so small compared to the noise. The kinesis inside of her was met by a reciprocal stillness inside of me, and every moment with her, it felt like it was only a matter of time until she enveloped me like a swarm of ravenous locusts, picking my skin clean off my bones before I even had time to break my stillness and run.
The day came when she exploded into a million ladybugs, the moment I told her, “It needs to be over between us.” I don’t know what made me say that. Maybe it was a spare moment of silence that let me think for a moment, but I was in my kitchen, cooking dinner, and it came to me. “It needs to be over between us.” And then her skin melted away, and she became like thousands of drops of blood suspended in air, clinging to each other, and in a torrent of sound, they dispersed.
That’s all there was to it, was flapping, and it filled up the room and clung to the walls and little by little, over what felt like days or weeks or sleepless months, but was actually a select few moments, it ebbed out the windows, through the holes in the screens, through the cracks under the doors, all the while flapping and scuttling in a disturbing cacophony that made my ears want to bleed. After it was all over, there was that clarity of emptiness, where something that was always present is no longer present, where everything inside of you tries to hear a sound that’s stopped, but there’s only a dull ringing nothing to be found. I had to check for my wallet in my back pocket.
Three months later, on a formless autumn Sunday, my new girlfriend discovered a ladybug in that same apartment: a lonely little thing buzzing silent circles in the air above the two of us on the couch. I was content to leave it be, but she got up and cracked a window. The screen was still there.
“If she’s going to die in here,” said my girlfriend, “she might as well get some fresh air out of it.” She returned to my side and cracked her book back open.
The open window let in a draft that blew my papers off my table and nipped at my skin, and as the little dying ladybug strained against the wire mesh of the insect screen, stopped just short of freedom, I could not help but wonder, what was the point of being kind if it was just going to kill her? The little ladybug keeled over in minutes. Was that fresh air worth it?
My girlfriend shivered briefly, drew herself into me, let her meager heat become mine and mine become hers in one still moment of shared tepidity.
Leave the Window Open on Your Way Out first appeared in Gargoyle Magazine in 2022(ish). The author would like to acknowledge two dear friends and one former situationship for their passive inspiration of this short story.
About the Creator
Steven Christopher McKnight
Disillusioned twenty-something trying to meander his way through this abject mess of a world. Aspiring garden hermit. Future ghost of a drowned hobo.
So original! Wow. Congrats on placing in the challenge. Now I hope this doesn’t give me nightmares. 🐞