My mother called to say my father had come back as a tiny flying man and was sexually harassing her. “He’s like Tinkerbell. His wings are pretty, purple with white spots, but he has that dumb head he had when he was forty. That alcoholic’s nose.”
Now I worried about her mind, although she was just seventy, and was fine yesterday. “Did he say anything?”
“No. He just flutters, with a little shit-eating grin. He only comes when I’m in the shower or in bed. He’s a pervert, touching my ass and boobs with those skinny legs, and feelers, and antennae . . . and what’s that long pokey thing . . . a proboscis.”
“Mom, have you changed your medicine?”
“No. I’m perfectly fine. Except for him. He comes into my bed and tries to tickle me with those wings, and probe me with that thing, in every place imaginable. He’s trying to seduce me. He never touched me this much in all the time we were married. I finally have to smack him so hard that he goes away. But then he hides. I can’t find him.”
“I’ll come over. Maybe I can get him.”
My father was a hard ass, a prison guard who liked his power, a kind of control he brought home with him. He roughed me up, wanting me to follow in his footsteps, as his only child, but I veered from the path, as far as I could get from him. I became a dancer, just to see his head explode. He took to the bottle, and his liver eventually caught up to him.
I went to the studio and found this giant net we had used in a production. In that show, I had caught a mermaid with this net. It was white with rainbow sparkles. I folded it into my backpack. Then, just for fun, I put on the Moth Man costume. That was my most famous dance. I could still fit into the skin-tight white leotard. I carried the glittering silver wings along and hailed a cab. The driver didn’t bat an eye as I gave my mother’s address.
My mother jumped when she opened her door. “Oh my god, I thought it was him!”
And for a second I glimpsed myself in the hall mirror. My head was covered with the stretchy material, so only my face showed. My resemblance to him made me gasp. Even the nose, because I’d been drinking more and more lately, a forty-year-old man alone, having lost the mermaid. (She was the only one for me.)
My mother sat, looking tired and bloated.
“Sorry,” I said. “I thought it might attract him.” I fluttered my wings.
“He may come to kill you. I remember when he saw you dancing as the Moth Man the first time. Jesus, that put him over the edge.”
I smiled, recalling him leaving from his VIP front-row seat.
“So,” I said, “how do we do this?”
I folded my wings and hid behind the dresser; my mother got into bed. It wasn’t long before a blue glow emerged from the closet. He was lit from within, flying erratically around the room, about six inches long, beautiful except for the pinched, devilish face. He landed on the bed and walked slowly up the curves of her body. Then he collapsed himself and slipped under the covers. He grew brighter; I saw the light working its way up from her feet. I wondered if a part of her was liking it — he’d never been tender. She was very still.
When he reached her neck she turned the covers back slowly. He circled her throat and she arched her back and made the slightest sound. I jumped out and tossed the net, which opened to cover the entire room. He dimmed, pulsated, but could not turn himself off, so I had him. My mother rolled free and I dove and pinched closed the section that held him. He fluttered with fury and made tiny coos and squeaks. He emitted a sticky, smelly goo. My mother turned on the light, and I held my empty whiskey bottle, squeezed his fragile body to fit him in. Once inside, his wings beat the glass violently, and the short chirping could only be the accumulated curses of his lifetime.
My mother studied him behind glass, and I stood on the bed to treat him to a little of the Moth Man dance, but I was rusty, and too old; my knees cracked and my legs cramped, and one of my enthusiastic kick-turns sent me crashing to the floor. My wings were broken.
“There,” my mother said. “Take him home with you.”
I put the bottle on my dresser. Already his wings drooped, looking more like a colorful, shiny cape that Liberace might wear. His light was going out. He hung his head and tears dripped to the bottom of the bottle. His flickering put me to sleep, like the night-light he never let me have: he believed real men slept in the dark, but it had made me afraid. Now I felt peace.
In the morning his eyes were closed. His face had changed, too, no longer showing anger. I knew he was gone. I’d preserve him in this bottle.
“I’m terribly sick,” my mother said. “You have to take me to the hospital.”
Her belly was huge and tight. The doctor did a CT scan, which showed, “Hundreds, maybe thousands, of small tumors.” He gave us the card for an oncologist, and we left.
“Your father had that thing in me,” she said, on the way home. “I feel these things moving. They are not tumors. They are cocoons!”
She gave birth to a roomful of moths, most in my father’s colors, others black or tan with the eyespots, some white, all with their light inside which pulsed rapidly, tiny beating hearts. Their bodies were furry, the heads male or female baby versions of me. My brothers and sisters settled on every surface, covered both of us, and softly vibrated.
I enjoyed it, but my mother said, “Creepy! Get them off!”
“I love it.”
“Then take them home with you.”
“It’s a miracle.”
So I did. They clung to me, no one left behind, and I walked home. I started spinning on the sidewalk, doing a little Gene Kelly dance. It was dark and their lights left trails. I could make this work as a routine. I could make money.
I went to the studio, fixed my wings, and put on my costume. I set up my video camera, started the music, and performed the Moth Man routine. They clung to me throughout. When I watched it, it was better than I thought. They were all slowly beating their wings in unison, so it looked like my body was breathing. Oh, this was good. I looked at some of the faces. They were maturing rapidly, looking teenaged already, complete with my zits. I knew they wouldn’t live long. What could I do? I should not have let my father die.
I was excited to upload my video to the internet. After I completed that, I put down bowls of water all over my apartment for them to drink through those long curved tubes of theirs. I opened a new whiskey bottle and had half to celebrate, and several of my siblings insisted on a capful. I told them they were too young to drink, and that they had responsibilities now, they had the dance. Barely audible, their mutterings were like a hum of electricity. It lulled me to sleep. They covered me like a blanket. I dreamed of being delicately probed, and of having every one of their faces pass before my eyes.
In the morning I discovered we had 100,000 hits! I jumped around. I made some coffee. Everyone zoomed around. I gave them coffee as well.
A man called and said he was from Letterman. I swore it was Sal from the studio, but he kept insisting, he wanted to meet and see the act, he had full control to book. I gave him directions downtown. Ten o’ clock. They latched onto me and each other (I swear they were growing) and we were like a big tree floating down the sidewalk.
The agent was treated to the most amazing performance yet, because the moths were stronger and had figured things out, had applied their own nimble yet air-controlling brand of physics which rendered me their doll, flying and flopping me around. It was like they were taking after their father, who had always wanted to do this to me, make me the dancing fool, a weak tool of others. I was dizzy and breathless, and fell when they put me down. The agent clapped and thought it was awesome. He even used the term, “epic.” “The way they pulsate,” he said, “that kills me. How do they do that?” I assured him that I had built them, and it was all done with batteries. He shook his head. “Those faces. They really are ugly fucks.”
I got my mother a ticket, but she said it was sick, she wouldn’t be a part of it. “You always needed the spotlight,” she said.
On the day of Letterman, they got into my energy drink, and then I had to get them into boxes for the short Limo ride. They were going crazy in there. I kept one out to ride with me, the one whose face wasn’t all weird; the one I decided was my sister. She was white, green-edged with green spots. She had a beautiful face, and black hair wound at her forehead. I named her Lily. I could tell she didn’t want to hurt me. She perched on my shoulder and the driver eyed me nervously in the mirror as the boxes thumped.
It was a disaster. The first thing Dave said was, “Look, ladies and gentlemen. Mothra and friends.” Something about him really pissed them off. They flew me about fifty miles an hour and we dive-bombed him so he had to go under the desk. Paul was still making up one of his stupid songs: “It’s the moth man . . . the moth man . . . ” We knocked his glasses off, chased him behind a curtain. A security guard came to spray us with a fire extinguisher, but just then Lily came from the wings and butted him between the eyes. The audience loved it, but we didn’t stick around. They flew out the exit and carried me home.
It had taken a lot out of them. Their lights were fading, the pulses slowing. They lay on their backs in formation with their wings touching and put their feet in the air. Their faces shriveled like dried fruit.
“Lily?” I said. She was on my shoulder. Her wing brushed my face. I held her in my hand and noticed her face was not aging. “You’re different,” I said.
I was tired and felt pain in my chest. I lay on the bed and she fluttered onto my belly.
My chest throbbed and I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I would vomit. Lily tried to fight what came out of my mouth, but it enveloped her immediately in its darkness, and then wrapped her tightly in a sticky thread. I retched one after another, pitch-black moths, evil inbred mutants; some two-headed, some without heads; some with red eyes, clawed legs. They smacked my face with their wings, lashed at my throat.
I was about to lose consciousness when my mother appeared. In her hands she held my father’s blackjack. She swung it like a baseball bat, her thin arms suddenly mighty, to avenge all the hurt in her life. She hit home runs, the creatures exploding off my wall in black dust. She yanked them from my throat one by one and bashed them until they were gone. Winded, she sat next to me. She looked at all her dead offspring on the floor and asked, “Is this over now?”
“Lily,” I said.
“My sister.” I extricated her from the stickiness, unfolded her wings. She opened her eyes. She had a tiny round mouth, which curled into a smile. Hesitantly, my mother rubbed her soft furry body.
“She’s pretty,” she said.
She helped me get some boxes and we stacked the other bodies in them. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with them. Then she studied my father in the whiskey bottle. He was starting to fall apart, iridescent flakes of his wings covering the bottom. His face had collapsed, leaving what looked like an empty black hoodie. She tapped the glass. “Let’s go get rid of him.”
We walked by the river, Lily riding on my shoulder. It was a pleasant evening, and her wings stirred with the breeze. My mother shook the bottle, turning my father to dust. She emptied him into the water and tossed the bottle into a dumpster.
She took my arm and said, “Now. Let’s get something to eat.”
I jumped onto the concrete wall and danced.
GARY MOSHIMER’s recent stories appear in Frigg, Molotov Cocktail, Pentimento, and Camroc Press Review.