Virtue
Sara McAulay
Hayward Fault Line Winner


It’s hard to remain civil when everyone around you is stupid, crazy, willfully obtuse or some combination thereof. Nevertheless, civility is a virtue, and it is your duty to pursue virtue no matter what form it takes.  You have always believed this to be true. It’s what you were taught as a child, what your parents were taught, and their parents before them. Even if not true in the dim past, time has hardened the concept, polished its veneer. You can almost see your face reflected back from the glistening flanks of dutiful Virtue.

If there were no more to it than this, there would be no story. For there to be a story, the smooth glistening arc of received knowledge has to develop a flaw. Every smear of ointment needs its fly.  And so it came to pass, in the interest of story, that on your 50th birthday, while you vacationed in the Caribbean, a fly buzzed in and settled on the face of Virtue.

As flies go, it was not the worst. The wings of some Puerto Rican flies are an appealing iridescent violet; this one's many-faceted eyes gazed in your direction (and simultaneously 100 others) with what could almost be described as benevolence. Its body was shiny and black. Still, it was a fly, and Virtue was not happy.

“Kill it,” said Virtue.

You looked around whatever room you were in, say it was la cocina. A reasonable person might be expected to keep a fly swatter handy here and there in a beach-house described in the ad as almost new, which apparently translated to "most walls not attached yet." No such luck that day, your birthday, with guests arriving soon and a cake that still needed the frosting applied. You spared a moment to feel just a little sorry for yourself … what did it say about you that you were baking your own cake? And then you picked up the spatula and slapped at the fly with it.

Of course the fly, well, flew. The spatula smacked against Virtue’s face, leaving a mark. “You idiot!” said Virtue.

And that’s when it changes. You see Virtue for the sneaky, mean-spirited little bitch she has become — if in fact she was ever anything else. You’ve been chasing her and chasing her and she’s always somewhere else: in a closet, under the furniture, creeping along behind you when you go to the bathroom at night. And now it’s your birthday and she shows up for cake, and wants you to commit murder.

The fly returns, no longer a fly but a beautiful dragon. “Kill her,” you say, and it does.




First published:August, 2017
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