Nonfiction / Kristin McCandless

:: Buzz ::

Next to my chair there is a fly. There is a frantic buzz buzz that sounds like she is moving, but she is caught in place, shaking her body and legs and wings, unable to escape the web. The more she struggles the more it twists around her body.

Within one of eight arms’ reach is the spider, focusing so hard on its prey that it doesn’t notice me inch closer, or doesn’t care. It dances its two front legs back and forth, operating some sort of invisible pulley system that jerks the fly, rolling her around, playing with her, almost.

The fly may feel more alive than she’s ever felt. She may have already given in.

Regardless, the spider works. I cannot comprehend how it never gets tangled, never sticks to its own creation like every other piece of debris or bug or human.


My memories of my mother are slipping away. This stirs in me a desperation, knowing I’ll never be able to make more in the future. I replay them in my mind to make them stick, but each time I do, something changes. More uncertainties. More distance. When a person is reduced to something as fallible as a memory, how long before they’re completely erased? Before they’re nothing but a fictionalized character stitched together by others’ ideas of them—exaggerated and distorted? I want to find a way to wrap up the truths of my mother until she’s perfectly preserved into the web of my brain, but I don’t know how to weave the strands. Not with the delicacy and precision of the spider; not without getting caught up myself. I can feel her shaking free from me.


I watch the fly struggle and wonder if she understands the magnitude of her situation. I want to know if she can sense that I’m here, if she knows how easy it would be for me to break her free. I hold life and death in each hand and I freeze. Flies land on my legs and whizz past my face and are so busy being alive they don’t seem to know that their kin is right next to them, seconds from a cruel death.

The fly must think there is no escape. If she knows that I can help her, she doesn’t ask.

The buzz grows faint. Or maybe I grow accustomed.


The last year of my mother’s life she confined herself to a bed as if the sheets held her in a straightjacket. The room around her transformed into an at-home hospital, complete with IVs and shower toilets and boxes of needles and bags of liquid and stacks of instructions and sometimes even a nurse, official in scrubs, stopping by to check vitals and replenish supplies and prick and prod and poke at my mom with her long, bony arms, flipping her this way and that in the cocoon of a bed.

I moved back home and my mother put me straight to work, switching out the IV hose and managing supplies. 1.75 liters of Popov Vodka in the plastic container, stat, she’d request, then slip me cash and tell me not to tell Dr. Dad. I’d stare at the bottle in my passenger seat, turn up the music, and scream. Upon delivery she’d smile at me, tell me I was a good daughter. It was the only time I’d see life rush up to replace death on the surface of her skin.

When changing the IV, you have to make sure there are no bubbles. I told her I read a book once where someone was murdered that way. Don’t screw up, then, she said, closed her eyes. She showed me how to administer her shots. The worst was to be injected each night before bed, a thick syringe straight into the stomach. You had to stab it in with a punch to make sure it took and was deep enough. I didn’t ask if she was scared. I didn’t ask anything.


The fly is completely contained the next time I check. No movement, no struggle. I tell myself what is done is done. That I’m no type of goddess, that I have no business toying with life or death or interfering with whatever course fate takes. The spider drags the fly across its web, and the fly is at its mercy, tucked in tight to herself. It drags her up against the wall where I can now see the stash of bounty, life forms bundled up into an unrecognizable death. I have a hard time not believing this one was taken in excess. Even for a family of four, sometimes there must be wrong in death, sometimes the unfair play of others or of greed or of selfishness can alter the trajectory of an existence, and if so, then an unfair advantage of support or generosity or assistance is the only thing that could have balanced things out. That should balance things out.

The web would fall so easily under my fingers. The spider would run. But I stare at the fly with pity, not empathy. I stare at it on its death bed and think of nothing but what a nuisance it would be to me were it free.


Eventually, I walked away from my mother. Left her to administer her own shots, to find dealers to deliver vices to her door, spiders who would tease her just enough so that she’d squirm and struggle deeper into her own grave.

I try to focus on the memories that came before she was caught, but it’s hard to see past the cocoon, past the yellow that crept across her skin and into her eyes. The last time I saw her I hugged her and her bones felt as though they were hollow and gelatinous, bending from all the restraints she put on herself. I remember thinking, she will die soon, but what is a thought if no action goes with it, where is the value in words unsaid?

I hugged her and heard that slow, steady buzz beyond her bones. I could hear its exhaustion. I did not doubt that it struggled, but I knew it saw no escape.



From the writer

:: Account ::

This was the first piece I wrote, or was able to write, about my mother after her death. It took almost half a year. At the time I was experiencing a lot of fear about my own life. Fear that I would be unable to handle such a blow and would also fall into addiction. Fear that grief had broken my ability to write, that I wasn’t a “real writer” because I couldn’t write through the pain and instead only wanted to run from it. Fear, and shame, for my part in her death. Afraid to think of what I had done versus what I had failed to do.

I had run from all traces of the life I had when she was living and found myself numb, sitting on a porch in the middle of nowhere, Oregon. I couldn’t ignore the buzzing of this fly and was captivated when I realized a spider was wrapping her up in its web that very moment. I got as close as possible and watched, never once thinking I should interfere. I was so caught up in my own moral dilemma between human and fly that for a short time I was able to pretend that I wasn’t thinking of my mom and began writing about this fly. Of course, what quickly poured out were some dammed up emotions for my mom, and I’ve been able to keep squeezing them out since. I’m thankful for that fly though I still don’t have an answer as to whether I should have saved her or not.

Even in telling this story I ask if I have permission to share something my mother would have been horrified to read. I can only stand by my belief that sharing stories can help someone who is experiencing or has experienced something similar. That it might help them to cope or that it might help them grapple with action versus inaction. That it might help someone somewhere with something. I know she would have granted permission for that.

One of the most infuriating and comforting things about grieving is that there will never be a guidebook to get through it. It is completely individualized and different each time. For now, at this exact moment, I am grateful to be able to find comfort in writing and sharing words.


Kristin McCandless is writing, reading, and living out of a van somewhere around the U.S. Her love for words is currently matched by her love for animals, hot food, and friends with driveways. She has an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University of Los Angeles.