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.