Excerpt for The Moths by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

The Moths © 2018 by Foxglove Lee


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system.


This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, organizations, events or locales is entirely coincidental.


Cover design © 2018 Foxglove Lee

First Edition April 2018


The Moths


from the

Queer Ghost Stories

series


By Foxglove Lee






Olivia had just started cleaning out the closet when Shay walked through the door. It was nice, Shay having a key. Made Olivia feel like an actual grown-up person with an actual grown-up relationship.

“Brought a pizza,” Shay called from the kitchen. “Get it while it’s hot!”

Olivia rushed toward the pizza smell. “Did you get it from… you did!”

She hugged her girlfriend tight. Her favourite pizza was from the supermarket, which she didn’t tell a lot of people because it sounds weird, but they had stone ovens right there in the store and they put on tons of cheese. It was really delicious. At least, she thought it was. Shay wasn’t a huge fan of the sauce they used, but that just went to show what a great girlfriend she was: she brought the kind of pizza Olivia liked. She really cared.

“I was just about to clean out my bedroom closet,” Olivia said as they sat down to eat.

“Oh, that’s good. Listen…”

“Apartment inspections are coming up next week.”

“Sounds great. Look, I—” Shay cocked her head. “Apartment inspections?”

“Yeah, they do it once a year,” Olivia replied, not too worried that her mouth was full of pizza. “They come around, change the battery in the smoke detector, check that everything’s in working order, make sure you’re not a hoarder or operating a meth lab. Don’t they do inspections at your place?”

“No,” Shay said, scratching her head curiously. Her hair was getting long which, for Shay, meant close to an inch. She cut it herself with an electric razor, but it looked really good the way she did it. People were always coming up to her on the street and asking who cut her hair. “They inspect your closet too?”

Olivia laughed and said, “No, not my closet, but I always use the inspection as an opportunity for spring cleaning. Might as well, right?”

“Right, sure, good.”

“You haven’t taken one bite of your pizza,” Olivia pointed out.

“I know. I know I haven’t. Look, Livi, there’s something I need to tell you. Something I heard at school.”

“Oh.” Olivia put down her pizza. This sounded serious. Shay worked as a gym teacher at an all-girls school, and sometimes there were controversies with parents or even with other teachers about her being a lesbian. They thought she’d try to recruit her students to the dark side or something. It was all so stupid. “Is it that lady again? The mother with those twins?”

“No, it’s nothing to do with me, Livi. It’s more… teacher news. I heard it through the teacher grapevine.”

“Oh my gosh, do you remember the California Raisins?” Olivia asked. “Remember how they did that song? I heard it through the grapevine…”

Shay grabbed Olivia’s free hand and squeezed. “I need you to listen to me, okay? Can you focus please? I’ll make it quick.”

“You talk, I’ll eat,” Olivia said before taking a big bite of pizza.

Shay didn’t say anything.

So Olivia took another bite.

With a sigh, Shay looked down at her T-shirt and track pants. They had her school logo on them, which was a fancy-looking tree. Finally she said, “Mr. Davies died. I thought you’d want to know.”

The feeling Olivia got when Shay said those words was so strange. It was like someone picked her up and tossed her against the wall. She felt far away from herself, far away from her body. She was looking right at Shay, but seeing her through this long tunnel.

“Livi?” Shay asked. “You okay?”

Olivia didn’t answer. She didn’t even know the answer. She couldn’t process what she’d just been told.

“Mr. Davies died? He’s dead? Like, for real?”

Shay nodded solemnly.

“Is there a funeral? Should I go to it?”

“No, babe.” Shay squeezed her hand gently.

“No there isn’t a funeral or no I shouldn’t go to it?”

“There is a funeral, but you shouldn’t go to it.” Shay quieted her voice before saying, “When my abuser died I went to his funeral, and it brought up all sorts of—”

“He wasn’t my abuser!” Olivia shouted.

Shay obviously wasn’t prepared for that. She just stared at Olivia and said nothing.

Olivia slapped what was left of her pizza slice on her plate and stood from her chair. “Just because you were abused, you want to think everyone else was too. Well, I wasn’t. Mr. Davies was older and I was younger, but so what? Older and younger people can have a relationship without it being abuse. You’re older than me! Are you abusing me?”

“I’m older by two years,” Shay said slowly. “That’s hardly the same thing. Mr. Davies was your teacher and you were sixteen.”

“Yeah, so?” Olivia said. “That’s not the same as what happened to you. You were an actual child, like a little kid. I was a teenager.”

“You were underage and he was in a position of power.”

“So what? Stop telling me it was something it wasn’t. I loved him. He was my first love.”

“He was a married man sleeping with a student. There’s no redeeming what he did to you, Livi.”

Olivia picked up her plate and slammed it on the ground. She expected the stoneware to smash, pieces to fly all over the floor, but nothing like that happened. In fact, nothing happened. It didn’t even bounce. Just sat there on the parquet flooring with her slice of pizza sitting neatly on top.

Shay leaned down with more effort than it should have taken a gym teacher. She picked up the plate and put it back on the table.

“You’re just mad because I loved a man,” Olivia spat.

Shay seemed really tired now. She sighed. “I’m not mad, Livi. I just think you haven’t quite come to terms with what happened to you.”

“Nothing happened to me! I was in love. You’re just being like this because you hate bisexuals.”

“Oh my God.” Shay covered her face with both hands. “You’re reaching at straws, babe. I have nothing against bisexuals. If you’d gone out with a boy your own age, fine, but this wasn’t that. I think you really need to talk to someone, because what happened to you was not consensual.”

“Yes it was!” Olivia cried. “I consented. I bet I wanted it to happen even more than he did. He’s the one who kept saying no, we shouldn’t, it was wrong, he was my teacher.”

Calmly, Shay replied, “This is what I’m saying: he knew it was wrong and he did it anyway.”

“It was only wrong because he had a wife,” Olivia said, as though she were making some sort of concession. “It was wrong of me to sleep with a married man.”

Shay’s head started shaking side to side like it was saying no, no, no. She had to actually hold it still with both hands to make it stop. “Oh, Livi. Oh, Liv. Oh, honey, you did nothing wrong. He did. What he did to you was wrong. It was wrong. It was so, so wrong.”

A burst of anger surged through Olivia’s body and she said, “How dare you speak ill of the dead?”

Shay didn’t seem to have any response to that question.

“I want to go to his funeral,” Olivia went on. “I want to say goodbye.”

Shay nodded slowly. “I understand that. Trust me, I understand what you’re going through. But it might be harder than you think. His wife will be there, and his children. It might bring up emotions you didn’t even know you had.”

“No it won’t,” Olivia snapped. “I’m going. When is it?”

Shay breathed in deeply and exhaled, sounding destroyed. But she said, “I don’t think I want to tell you. If you really want to know, it’s easy enough to look up. But I don’t think you should go to his funeral.”

“Well that’s too bad because I am going, and if you were a good girlfriend like I thought you were, you would come with me!”

Slouching forward, Shay set her elbows on her knees and placed her head in her hands. She remained so motionless Olivia wondered if maybe time was standing still. But then Shay breathed in really deeply. Her back went up and she said, “I don’t know if I can do that, Livi. I’m just not sure I could handle it.”

“You’re not sure you can handle it?” Olivia shouted. She was standing over Shay with her arms at her sides, hands clasped into fists. “What about me? The first man I ever loved is dead and you’re worried about what? That his funeral might trigger some bad memories? Big surprise! Is there anything in life that isn’t triggering for you?”

Shay shifted out of her chair without answering Olivia’s question. She grabbed her jacket and jingled the keys in her pocket. Without looking Olivia in the eye, she quietly said, “Sorry, but I need some space. I’ll be staying at my place tonight.”

Olivia froze. She couldn’t believe her girlfriend would abandon her in her time of need. What a lousy way to treat someone who was grieving!

“Fine!” Olivia snapped. “Leave! See if I care!”

“I’ll call you later to see how you’re feeling,” Shay offered.

“Do whatever you want.”

Shay opened the door, but instead of walking straight out into the hallway, she turned around and stared at Olivia’s feet. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“No you’re not!”

Slouching her shoulders, Shay left the apartment.

Olivia should have thanked her for the pizza, but too late now. She locked the door and turned on the TV and ate another three slices while she stared at the screen.

After that, she went back to the closet.

She’d been so excited about it cleaning out before Shay came over. Some of the stuff at the back had gone undisturbed for years. In fact, there was a funny old purse in there—no, not a purse, like a quilting bag or something—that Mr. Davies had given her. It used to belong to his wife. He gave it to Olivia, thought she might like it. And she did, or else she would have thrown it away. Sort of strange to keep something that belonged to your ex’s wife.

Your late ex, now.

She still couldn’t believe he was gone. How was that even possible? What did he die of? See, this is why she needed to go to the funeral. This is what Shay didn’t understand. She would never truly believe he was gone until she saw his body in a casket.

The quilting bag was cute and funky, something an old lady would have made but a young woman could use as a purse if she had Olivia’s quirky fun fashion sense. There it was at the back of the closet, just where she’d left it so many years ago. Felt like another lifetime. And, in a way, it was. Before she met Shay, that’s for sure.

Olivia grabbed the bag and pulled it out, set it on the bed. Oh, weird, there was a little beige moth crawling up the handle. She pinched it between her fingers, and it left a powdery residue on her skin. She brushed it off and opened the bag to see what she’d stored inside.

Something blue.

A sweater.

A wool sweater, the one Mr. Davies used to wear to class all the time. It was his favourite, and her favourite on him. He looked so good in it, with a pale blue shirt underneath. Did he even realize he’d left it here? Probably not, or he would have asked for it back.

That’s why she’d hid it all those years ago. She wanted to keep it for herself.

She pulled the blue sweater out of the bag to get a good look at it. That sweater paired with grey trousers and, ahhh, he looked so teacherly and smart. The glasses helped, too. She loved his glasses, even though they were nothing special. She loved everything about the way he looked.

But wait… was that a hole?

Yes, yes it was. And not just one. Little holes, little holes, little holes. It’s not like you could see right through the garment or anything, but if you looked closely you could definitely see tiny perforations in the fabric.

She shook it out and a cloud of smoke rose from the sweater. No, wait, that wasn’t smoke. It wasn’t grey. It was creamy beige and palpitating!

Wings, wings! Flying things!

It was starting to make sense now: those holes were moth holes. Mr. Davies’s sweater was being eaten alive by moths!

The moths shrouded Olivia in their creamy beigeness. Were they landing in her hair? What was happening? Shouldn’t they be like bears, more afraid of you than you are of them? But these moths, they seemed to want to settle on her head. She could see them descending upon her. She could feel their dusty wings kissing her cheeks as they rushed around her face.

This was too much. Too much to handle. She shook her head side to side, and then raced from her bedroom, ran for the shower. She closed the bathroom door behind her and turned on the water, hot as she could handle. Once she’d stripped off her clothes, she jumped under the needling assault. The only thing she brought with her was Mr. Davies’s sweater.

Why would she bring a moth-infested garment into the shower?

Well, she had to wash it, obviously. She threw it to the floor of the tub and let water soak into the woolly fabric. Then she squirted shampoo on it and stomped on it the way they used to stomp wine grapes in the olden days. If there were any moths left in there, they were dead for sure. Hot water, shampoo, foot stomps. That would be the end of them.

Olivia washed her hair, washed her skin, but she could still feel the moths all around her. She didn’t want to leave the bathroom. She stayed in the shower until her fingers felt pruney.

The phone was ringing when she left the bathroom. Shay. Who else would it be?

“How are you feeling?” Shay asked.

Olivia told her all about the cloud of moths that had risen out of Mr. Davies’s old sweater.

She expected Shay to agree with her that the moth story was a good one, but instead Shay asked, “What are you doing with one of his sweaters?”

“Don’t you keep things from your exes?” Olivia asked. “Doesn’t everybody?”

Shay didn’t respond, but Olivia knew what she was thinking. That Mr. Davies wasn’t an ex, he was an abuser—which he most certainly was not! And even though Shay hadn’t said the words, Olivia was still mad at her for thinking it.

“How do you get rid of moths?” Olivia asked to prevent Shay from talking about Mr. Davies.

“I don’t know. Moth balls?”

“Isn’t that chemicals? I don’t want to use chemicals. Mr. Davies’s sweater is already full of holes.”

“Oh!” Shay said. “I heard somewhere that it isn’t actually moths that put holes in fabrics. It’s their larvae. They like natural fibres and stuff that hasn’t been washed. They’ll eat right through it.”

Olivia shivered when she thought about creepy-crawlies living in her closet. “Well, how do you get rid of the larvae?”

“Throw out the damn sweater,” Shay said gruffly. When Olivia didn’t answer, Shay went on, “If they’re anything like bedbugs you can either boil them or freeze them. But if it were me, I’d throw that sweater down the garbage chute so fast it would make your head spin.”

Shay kept talking, but Olivia couldn’t think about anything other than the blue sweater in the tub. Her shower had been hot, but not boiling. Did that mean there were still little moth larvae crawling around in the wool? The idea made her cringe.

“I gotta go,” Olivia said. “I love you lots. Talk to you later. Night-night.”

Olivia hung up on Shay, then tossed her phone on the couch. She was still dripping from the shower when she filled the kettle and set it on the back burner. While she waited for it to boil, she padded into the bathroom and swapped her towel for a robe. She squeezed water from her hair into the sink and then glanced at the lump of wool in the tub.

How could you tell if your sweater had larvae in it? How big were larvae? Were they visible to the naked eye? She didn’t see anything moving.

When the kettle came to a boil, Olivia grabbed it from the stove and carried it into the bathroom, trying not to get burned by any of the water shooting out the front. She’d filled it a bit too full, looked like.

The water made a sizzling sound when it hit the wool. Seemed practically alive, but it was probably just the fibres seizing. Wool was one of those things you weren’t supposed to wash in hot water because it would shrink. But that shouldn’t be a problem at this point, because Mr. Davies would never wear it again.

Never, ever again.

Once she’d poured all the boiling water over the sweater, she reached down to touch it, but the wool was so hot it burned her fingertips. That was stupid. Why did she always do such stupid things? Shay always told her not to think that way, but it was true. Just like her mother always told her: “Think! You don’t think!” She didn’t think. And then she got burned.

She took the kettle back to the kitchen, and when she got there the burner was still red hot. She’d forgotten to turn it off. One of these days she’d burn the whole building down, she was sure of it.

Maybe working would take her mind off all this stuff. She’d been putting it off all day, but she actually liked her job. It was relaxing. Or it was something to focus on, at least. Her job was to type out captioning for all kinds of stuff, from movies and TV shows to internet videos from online courses. She learned a lot from the courses, although it all fell out of her brain five seconds later. And the movies and shows were usually ones she’d never normally watch, so they expanded her horizons too.

Best part was that she could work from home, sitting in her living room wearing nothing but a housecoat.

After she’d been working for a while, her fingers needed a break, so she decided to check on Mr. Davies’s sweater. It was still warm to the touch, but not hot. She tried to wring it out without warping the wool.

Had the boiling water killed the larvae completely? How could she be sure?

When she lifted the garment out of the tub to see if it had shrunk, she noticed that yes it definitely had, but she noticed something else too: some of the dye had leeched out when she’d poured the boiling water over it. Now there was a blue patch at the bottom of her tub. She’d have to try bleaching it later.

Right now it was time to fold this baby, shove it in a plastic bag, and stick it in the freezer.

If the larvae hadn’t boiled to death, they could certainly be frozen.

Olivia had never felt so satisfied with herself. She was taking care of business, or at least taking care of pest control. This was all going very well.

With Mr. Davies’s sweater in the freezer, it was time to put on pyjamas and then possibly eat more pizza. Without Shay around, there was plenty more. Olivia sauntered into the bedroom and tossed her housecoat on the bed. She thought she caught some kind of movement out of the corner of her eye, but it was probably just dust floating around from when she’d yanked Mr. Davies’s wife’s old bag from the closet.

She flipped her pillow over. Her pyjamas were underneath. She’d kept her pyjamas under her pillow for as long as she could remember. Mr. Davies thought it was very cute, when he’d been in her bedroom. That was back when she lived with her parents, a weekend they were away. They trusted her completely. She wasn’t the type of girl to have boys over.

Mr. Davies hadn’t stayed the night, of course. What would his wife think if he didn’t come home? In fact, he hadn’t stayed long at all. Just long enough to get the job done.

Once Olivia had put on her patterned cotton bottoms and the purple long-sleeved top that came with them, she picked up her robe and turned around. Her plan was to hang it on the hook on the bathroom door. That was the plan. But when she saw what was behind her… well, that plan went right out the window.

Why did she think that cloud of moths had evaporated into thin air? What a stupid, stupid girl she was, just like her mother always said. Moths don’t disappear. The ones that had flown at her head hadn’t disappeared when she ran to the shower. They just found somewhere to settle. Temporarily.

You should have seen them all lined up like a little winged army. All lined up at the top of the wall, near the seam of the ceiling. All on the same wall, too: the one with the closet, the one with the bedroom door. That wall. One big long line of moths overhead.

These were little moths, not big ones. Not the kind that are sort of pretty, that look a bit like butterflies. These were small and dusty beige. They didn’t have their wings outstretched. No, they looked like little pieces of something as they clung to the wall. Like if you chopped up dried grass into bits. That’s all. They weren’t big. It’s just that there were so many of them. And they were all just waiting.

Waiting for what?

Olivia didn’t wait to find out. She raced for the front hall and grabbed a shoe with a nice flat sole. Perfect. Also, the step stool from the kitchen that Shay had bought her so she wouldn’t have to climb up on the countertops every time she wanted to reach those cupboards over the fridge.

A shoe and a step stool. That’s all she needed.

She hoped.

The step stool was a good one. It had two steps, so Olivia would be able to get right up close to the ceiling no problem. She set it inside the bedroom, right in front of the open door and prepared to whack the life out of those moths. She didn’t feel bad about it. Sure they were living things, but they weren’t living things she cared about. They were just moths. The world had plenty.

She climbed the step stool and started whacking.

As soon as her shoe struck the wall, the whole line of moths reacted. They must have felt the vibration and known what was coming, because they swarmed. Again. Exactly like they’d done when they flew out of the purse.

Why would moths go after a human? People were so much bigger than them! They didn’t seem to care. They fluttered all around Olivia’s head, but not pretty like butterflies fluttering. This was like fluttering rags. Dusty rags spreading their powder all over her hair and her skin.

Had she even managed to kill one, when her shoe met the wall? One single, solitary moth? She couldn’t be sure, and she couldn’t whack them now because they weren’t on the wall anymore.

She dropped her shoe on the floor. Wouldn’t be needing that.

As they flew around her, Olivia started clapping her hands in front of her face. Yes! This was working. She didn’t know how she knew, but she knew. She kept clapping her hands, trying to crush moths between her palms, and fully expecting them to fly away. That’s what she would do if she was a moth. But that’s not what these guys did. Not at all!

As she clapped her hands into the cloud of moths, the moths moved closer. Closer than close. They landed on her wrists. They landed on her wrists and crawled inside her shirt. Not all of them. Just a few. But a few was more than enough.

She could feel them crawling inside her top. Why would they do this? Why?

She jumped down from the step stool and shook out her sleeves. That didn’t work. She had to roll them up, and when she did she found moths casually strolling along her arms.

Why weren’t they trying to escape?

What did they want with her?

She smacked them like mosquitoes and they died a quick death. But they didn’t fall and flutter to the ground. They just stayed there, smashed against her skin, until she peeled them off.

Part of her wanted another shower, but what would be the point? She’d just have to fight the moths again when she got out.

So instead of a shower, she grabbed the vacuum. The stick vac. If you took off the bottom part, you could use it like one of those handheld ones. Olivia had discovered this by accident.

She plugged it into the socket in the hallway, just outside her bedroom door, and waited for the moths to settle in their safe space at the top of the wall. They’d already started. There was a good line-up going on. But she wouldn’t begin until they’d all stopped flapping around her bedroom.

They were lazy, from what she observed. They didn’t like to fly. Maybe that’s why they’d landed on her wrists. It was just the closest place to settle.

“Okay, moths,” she said. “You don’t like me and I don’t like you…”

No, that sounded really mean.

“I shouldn’t have said that,” she corrected herself. “I don’t dislike you. If you were out in the world, I would have nothing against you. But you’re in my bedroom and you’re flying in my hair and I don’t like that one bit. So I’m gonna have to suck you into this vacuum and throw you down the garbage chute. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it’s got to be.”

She turned on the vacuum and got it up against the wall before the moths had a chance to react. They weren’t too quick off the draw, and Olivia used that to her advantage, sucking up every creature in that long line. It was easy.

Almost too easy.

She wasn’t sure if getting sucked into a vacuum was enough to kill them, and she wasn’t going to wait to find out. Yes she was in her pyjamas, but desperate times called for desperate measures. And if her neighbours saw her in her PJs, so what? It wasn’t the end of the world.

With the stick vac in hand, Olivia rushed to the garbage chute. She opened it and dumped the contents of her vacuum’s reservoir down the hole without looking. If she looked, they might fly into her hair again, so she kept her face well back while she smacked the trap.

She reassembled her vacuum in the hallway. No signs of any moths.

Could it really be that easy? Were they really gone for good?

The elevator dinged down the hall, so Olivia ran back to her apartment before whoever was getting off could see her. She shoved the stick vac in the broom closet, then made her way to the bedroom.

A moth.

One lonely moth right up at the top of the wall, near the ceiling. But a different wall this time. Instead of perching above the closet, this moth had found its way over to the wall that had a desk pushed up against it. She never worked in the bedroom anymore. The computer in there was old. Nothing really wrong with it, she just liked her laptop better.

Her swivel chair wasn’t the most comfortable thing in the world, but it worked for climbing. She rolled it away from the desk and turned the back to the wall. That should hold. She stepped on the seat, and the chair wiggled beneath her. This might not be the smartest idea she’d ever come up with. She’d have to kill that moth fast.

The problem was that she wasn’t tall enough. Or the chair wasn’t high enough. One or the other. Either way, she couldn’t reach the moth to smack it.

Her swivel chair had armrests, and they seemed pretty sturdy. Made from durable plastic. If she climbed them, one foot on each armrest, that should do the trick.

She grabbed hold of the chair back for balance, but as soon as she raised her foot, the whole thing started turning. Maybe if she shifted her weight, she could guide it back around. She lifted her other foot, but prematurely. Oh God, she should have waited. She was really swivelling now, clutching the back of the chair for dear life

The sound of a key in the door rang in her ears.

Before she knew it, Shay was running at her, crying, “Livi, are you trying to kill yourself?”

“No, I’m trying to kill a moth,” Olivia explained.

Shay helped her down from the chair, lecturing her all the while. She didn’t need the lecture. She knew it was stupid to use a swivel chair as a step stool. But everybody did stupid things once in a while, when they were feeling lazy or whatever and, anyway, what was the story behind the dollar store bag looped around Shay’s wrist?

“Oh. Right.” Shay opened the bag and brought out a bunch of lavender-scented air fresheners. “Moths hate this stuff.”

“I’m gonna smell like an old lady.”

“Better than living with moths for the rest of your life.” Shay picked up Mr. Davies’s wife’s bag and asked, “What’s this?”

“It’s nothing.” Olivia grabbed it from her and tossed it in the closet. “Why are you here, anyway? I thought you needed space.”

With a sigh, Shay sat on the bed, beside the pile of air fresheners she’d tossed there. “I did. I do. But it seemed like you probably needed me more.”

“Aww, that’s so sweet!” Olivia mewed, wrapping both arms around her girlfriend’s neck. “You’re the best. You really are. I’m sorry about the stuff I said before. I was upset because of Mr. Davies, that’s all. You didn’t deserve it. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. I understand.”

“I know you do.”

They kissed, just softly, but then Olivia pulled away because she hadn’t showered since the second time those moths swarmed her. Plus, that one moth was still up there on the wall. No, wait… now there were two.

She grabbed the tall step stool while Shay tucked the chair under the desk. Back where it belonged.

Shay offered to slaughter the two moths. While she was up there she saw a third, and she crushed it too. Then they both needed a shower, so they took one together. That was good. It was just what they needed at the end of a night like this.

After spraying lavender room freshener all over everything, Shay said it was time for bed. She had to get up early most mornings because she coached all kinds of sports before school. But Olivia worked best at night, so as soon as her girlfriend was sawing logs, she slipped out of bed and opened her laptop. In the living room, of course. The bedroom smelled like eighty-year-old potpourri.

She fell asleep on the couch.

By the time she woke up, Shay was long gone. For breakfast, she felt like toaster pastries, but when she opened the freezer, her gaze landed on an anomalous plastic bag.

Mr. Davies’s sweater. She’d forgotten about it. Already.

That’s why she liked sleeping. You always forgot about real life stuff while you were asleep. It was only when you woke up and got into your day that you remembered all the bad things. All the very bad things.

She took the sweater out of the freezer and banged it against the countertop. Solid as a rock. She tossed it in the sink, bag and all. No, she couldn’t wait for it to thaw. She was too impatient. She ran cool water over it, like defrosting a piece of fish. Eventually the block of fabric turned loose and very cold to the touch.

The boiling water had definitely shrunk the sweater. She couldn’t even really see the moth holes anymore. They must have closed up during the shrinking process. Well, that was good. That was great.

Olivia drained the water from the sink. She felt Mr. Davies’s sweater inside and out. The outside felt like wet wool, but the inside felt different, felt pilled. When she inspected the fabric closely, she could see that there were little somethings on the inside. Little whats? They were hard like grains of sand, only slightly bigger than grains of sand.

Larvae.

Dead larvae. She was sure of it. All the little dead things clinging to the inside of Mr. Davies’s sweater. She’d boiled them and frozen them—and killed them, she was pretty sure—but they hadn’t gone away. They were still hanging on.

She’d have to wash this sweater for real. In a washing machine. And dry it in a dryer. What time was it? The laundry room should be open by now. But she should probably get dressed before going there.

As far as Olivia was concerned, her moth problem was over. She’d killed every last one of them. That’s why she jumped when she noticed a flutter on the drapes in her bedroom.

So they’d relocated, had they?

Olivia wasn’t going to stand for this. The moths would not be allowed to take over her life. She dressed quickly, then grabbed the stick vac and set it loose on her curtains. It didn’t work too well on fabric. Or maybe it worked too well. It sucked the curtains, allowing most of the moths to escape unharmed.

Luckily they didn’t fly at her this time. They settled on the wall beside the window, and that was easy enough to get at. All she had to do was stand on her bed. This time the vacuum made easy work of those little flying dust machines.

As soon as she’d gotten them all, she took the vacuum out into the hall like she’d done the night before. She dumped its contents down the garbage chute.

Enough of this.

Olivia grabbed her laptop under one arm and tossed the wet wool sweater into a dry plastic bag. Before leaving her apartment, she sprayed the drapes with lavender air freshener. She sprayed her bed, sprayed her couch, sprayed her rugs, sprayed everything. She sprayed that stuff around until she couldn’t breathe. If moths hated the smell so much, they could choke on it and die. Olivia wouldn’t be around to suffer.

In the laundry room, she was able to get some work done while Mr. Davies’s sweater went around and around the washing machine. The building had set up free WiFi in the laundry room, probably because the Laundromat down the street was way cheaper. Most tenants had started going there instead, and the landlord obviously wanted tenants spending their laundry money in-house. It really adds up, especially if your whole load is just one sweater.

When Mr. Davies’s wool sweater came out of the dryer, it looked better than it had when he used to wear it. Way smaller, but that didn’t trouble Olivia. She felt the inside. All the dead grains of larvae seemed to be gone, or else she wouldn’t have put it on.

Oh, it was so nice and cozy warm from the dryer. Felt like a big hug from Mr. Davies, from when he loved her. From when they loved each other. She could feel his presence all around her, and she hugged herself to feel him more. She could even smell him on the sweater, probably because he smelled like Tide.

She hugged herself harder, enjoying his presence, wanting him back in her life, wanting him to come back to life. They’d never really said goodbye. Not in a final way. Not the way people say goodbye in the movies, when one of them is dying in the hospital. Not like that.

An old man walked into the laundry room and he seemed embarrassed when he saw Olivia lost in her own embrace. He laughed nervously and asked, “Am I interrupting something?”

She didn’t answer, just grabbed her laptop and left the room, returned to her apartment. Already she’d forgotten about spraying all that air freshener. When she opened the door, the scent of lavender smacked her in the face. She rushed to the windows, opened them all. The air outside was still quite cool. Good thing she had on this cuddly warm sweater.

There were moths in the bedroom, but this time she wasn’t surprised. Obviously they weren’t living in the sweater anymore, so where were they living? Olivia shook her bedroom drapes, and a few moths flew out, but mostly just dust. She’d never cleaned her drapes. She wasn’t sure if they were supposed to be dry cleaned or what, so she just left them up.

As she backed away from the window, she tripped over something. Really tripped. Landed on her butt so hard it hurt.

Beside her on the floor sat the purse Mr. Davies had given her, the one that belonged to his wife. Hadn’t she thrown it in the closet last night? When Shay asked her about it? Yeah, she definitely had. Shay must have gotten up in the middle of the night and dug around until she found it. That’s how curious she was about what Olivia was hiding.

Well, Shay would never know just by looking at it that the bag had once belonged to Mr. Davies’s wife. No one would know that except Mrs. Davies herself.

Maybe the moths were living somewhere in the lining of the bag. Maybe it was time for Mrs. Davies’s purse to find a new home in the garbage chute. It’s not like Olivia needed it for anything. She wasn’t even completely sure why she’d kept it all these years.

Out it went. Olivia didn’t even have any emotions about throwing it down the garbage chute. No emotions at all.

When she got back to the apartment, she went straight to her laptop. She meant to get more work done, but she found herself searching for something on the internet. Searching for Mr. Davies’s obituary.

Reginald Davies died suddenly…

She didn’t read the rest. Obviously it mentioned his wife and his kids, but it didn’t mention her. He’d told her she was the love of his life, but his obituary didn’t say that.

So she skipped to the end, to the part where it said where and when his funeral would be. That’s what she really wanted to know.

Funeral was tomorrow. Tomorrow morning.

She wanted to go. She planned to go.

When Shay came over after work, the first words out of her mouth were, “Where’d you get that sweater?”

“This old thing?” Olivia tugged at it. “I’ve had it for a long time.”

Shay replied with suspicion. “I’ve never seen it before.”

“I don’t know what to tell you. I found it in the closet, washed it up…”

“It’s a men’s shirt.”

“How can you tell?”

“Buttons are on the men’s side.”

Olivia didn’t know buttons took sides, but she said, “So what? You wear men’s clothes all the time.”

“Yeah, but you don’t.” Shay gave her a serious look and said, “That’s Mr. Davies’s sweater, isn’t it?”

“No,” Olivia sputtered.

“I thought you were going to throw it out. I thought it was full of moths.”

How long did she plan to keep up this charade? Shay could obviously see right through it.

Olivia said, “I washed it. I got all the moths out. I boiled it, I froze it, I ran it through the washer and dryer. The moths are gone.”

“That’s not the point,” Shay said, holding her head like it was about to fall off her shoulders. “Why are you keeping something that belonged to him?”

Olivia played it cool. “Look how much it shrunk. It fits me perfectly.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about, and you know it!”

“Yeah, I know what you’re talking about and I don’t want to talk about it because you’re wrong and you refuse to admit that you’re wrong and it’s really annoying.”

“Oh, it’s annoying, is it?” Shay asked. “It’s annoying that your head is buried so deep in the sand that you won’t even let yourself see he took advantage of you? Even now that he’s dead? That’s annoying, is it?”

“Yes! It’s annoying when someone tells you you’re in denial but you aren’t.”

Shay backed away, jolting, like she’d been shot. Actually, her skin was even a different colour. Green, almost. She didn’t look okay.

When she was up against the door, she said, “Look, I’m sorry, Livi, but you know my history. You know my trauma. I can’t be having this conversation. I’m sorry for your loss and I really want to be there for you, but it’s forcing me to relive way too much, and I really can’t handle it right now.”

Why did Shay always have to make everything about herself and her trauma? Couldn’t anything be just about Olivia and what she was going through? “You can’t handle it? I’m the one whose first love just died! How do you think I feel?”

Shay looked her plain in the face, muttering the words “first love” over and over again. Finally, she shook her head and said, “I don’t have the slightest clue how you feel.”

“That’s right,” Olivia replied, maybe a bit too aggressively.

“I’m sorry, Livi. I need to go.”

And she left, just like that. Slipped out the door. Gone.


Olivia didn’t see any more moths after Shay left. They must have been living in that bag she’d tossed down the garbage chute. She didn’t want to think about anything Shay had said. She didn’t want to think about Mr. Davies.

But she still went to his funeral the next day. Sort of.

She took the bus to the funeral home. She even went inside. There was a nice lady greeting people. Not Mrs. Davies, just a lady who worked at the funeral place. The lady asked, “Davies or Chung?”

“Huh?”

Olivia glanced past the woman. She could see a bunch of people milling around down the hall. Wow, a lot of people came to his funeral. And some of them looked really familiar. Was that… yes, it was. Ms. O’Connor, her Grade 11 chemistry teacher. Ms. O’Connor was talking to Mr. Yip, who’d never taught her, but if she recognized him he’d probably recognize her.

“Are you alright?” the nice lady asked.

Olivia didn’t answer. She heard the door open behind her, and she glanced back, scared that it would be another one of her high school teachers. It wasn’t, thank goodness. She couldn’t face them. She knew that for sure. She couldn’t make small talk and act as if Mr. Davies had only been a teacher to her.

He’d been so very much more.

The people who’d come in the door said they were there for the Chung funeral. Olivia mumbled, “Yeah, me too,” and followed them into a chapel of rest laid out with lots of white flowers. She took the lucky money envelope handed to her and clutched it against her chest as she took a seat.

Pretty much the entire funeral was done in Chinese. She pretended to understand. She looked like she should. It’s not as if she didn’t fit in. In some ways, she fit in better here than she would down the hall.

Anyway, she’d rather sit in on a funeral she didn’t understand than face a room full of her old high school teachers.

And Mr. Davies’s wife. And his children.

She’d convinced herself the one thing that would give her closure would be seeing Mr. Davies in a casket. So what did it say about her that she was passing up this one opportunity? She wouldn’t get another. In a couple of hours he’d be in the ground, and then what? No closure ever?

Maybe she didn’t want closure.

Maybe she didn’t want to let him go.

As the Chung funeral continued, Olivia looked down at her outfit. She’d worn black stockings and shoes, a black skirt, black turtleneck, and over that… Mr. Davies’s sweater. The blue looked grey and dusty against so much black.

She hadn’t worn a coat, even though the weather was chilly enough to warrant one. And why fail to wear a coat? Maybe because she’d planned to turn every head when she walked into Mr. Davies’s funeral. All those teachers would vaguely remember that this was his sweater. His wife and kids would recognize it for sure. They’d see her wearing his clothes and they’d know what that meant. They’d know what she’d meant to him.

The Chung funeral was really long. After she left, she worked up the courage to poke her head in on Mr. Davies’s. But it was over too. She might have guessed. All the people were gone. The casket was gone. Some floral arrangements remained.

The nice lady who worked there was picking up programs and used tissues off the floor. She had her back to Olivia, and she jumped when Olivia said, “That’s so gross.”

The nice lady swivelled around to look at her. She seemed more frightened than she ought to be. Maybe they got a lot of ghosts at the funeral home. That would make sense. If you were a ghost and you saw your own funeral going on, that would be really trippy. Especially if there were things you wanted everyone to know about your life, but the people giving the speeches were just talking about stupid things you didn’t care about.

“What’s gross?” the nice lady asked gently. She had a blue glove on one hand, like the kind they use at hospitals, and in the other hand she was holding a small garbage pail.

“It’s gross that people throw their snotty tissues on the floor for someone else to pick up. It’s disgusting. These people, these are educated people. They know better. But sometimes people who know better think they are better. They think they can do whatever they want, even if it affects someone else’s life. People are so stupid and gross and disgusting.”

Olivia just wanted the nice lady to agree with her, that’s all. But instead, she said, “When we’re grieving, we sometimes act in ways we otherwise wouldn’t.”

That’s not what Olivia wanted to hear. She turned on her heels and left the funeral room, rushed past the crowd of Chung mourners, and skittered down the front steps. It was raining now. Of course it was. Rainy days were made for funerals. Except the bus stop she had to wait at didn’t have a shelter, and she hadn’t brought an umbrella.

The bus took forever. By the time she got on, she was soaked to the bone. For some reason, the driver had turned on the air conditioning.

She sat at the back, hugging herself, shivering. Her teeth were chattering too. To warm up, she tried rocking side to side. It didn’t work, but no one sat near her. She wished someone would. Someone with a lot of body heat. Someone like Shay. Someone who would wrap both arms around her and tell her this wasn’t the end of the world. April showers bring May flowers. That sort of thing.

When she got home, she hoped Shay would be there. It was early, but there was always a chance Shay might pop by over lunch. No, that was unlikely. Shay supervised the weight room during her lunch hour. She was a devoted teacher, Shay. Spent so much of her spare time with those girls, those high school girls. Young athletes. Sprinters, swimmers. Students in uniform.

Did Shay look at them the way Mr. Davies had looked at her, at Olivia, when she was that age?

Olivia got a sick feeling in her stomach. She kicked off her mushy shoes and padded into the kitchen, leaving wet footprints across the floor. Felt nice and toasty warm in here, but she’d have to get out of these wet clothes just as soon as she’d eaten some crackers. She hadn’t had breakfast, had she? Or lunch. She’d been too nervous about the funeral.

Hadn’t she heard somewhere that you could dry your clothes in the oven? Yes, that sounded right. If you set it to a very low temperature. So that’s what she did. She let it preheat while she made her way to the bathroom. Stripped off her wet clothes. They didn’t want to come off, particularly the stockings. She should probably take a hot bath, but first she’d have to supervise her clothes. She didn’t want to put them in the oven and then walk away. After all the effort she’d put into salvaging Mr. Davies’s sweater, the last thing she wanted was to burn it to cinders.

Olivia unhooked her robe from the bathroom door and wrapped it around her shoulders. That was better. Cuddly warm. Just the feeling she’d been hoping for all the way home.

Should she put the clothes on a baking sheet? Sure, why not? She laid out her garments neatly on the metal tray, and then slid it into the oven. Oh, that was nice and warm. Dry heat. She pulled the step stool close and sat on the bottom rung with the oven door open. This was probably terrible for the environment, but she was just so cold. Cold to her bones.

The only problem was her feet. They were still freezing. She’d have to duck into the bedroom to grab a pair of socks from the dresser. It would only take five seconds, ten at the most. Nothing could burn that fast.

Closing the oven door, Olivia got up from the step stool. As she crossed the kitchen, she avoided the wet footprint splotches all across the floor. Didn’t want to fall and break her neck.

She took her time getting to the bedroom, even though she was in a rush. For some reason, she felt really anxious about going inside. And when she stood facing the dresser, she knew why. Above the vanity mirror, there was a moth on the wall. No, she was wrong. Not one moth, but two. No, three.

Three moths shouldn’t bother her so much, but they did. They did because she’d never seen moths on this particular wall. The other three, yes, but not this one. And, more than that, she’d convinced herself they were gone. She’d done everything in her power to kill them. She’d boiled and washed and frozen Mr. Davies’s sweater. She’d thrown Mrs. Davies’s old bag down the garbage chute. She’d sprayed the entire place with lavender. What more could she do?

She felt disheartened. That’s what it was. She’d done all she could, and the moths were still there.

But only three of them. She could kill three with her bare hands. Shay would tell her to grab the step stool, but she wouldn’t be able to reach the wall, not with the dresser in the way. It would be easier to climb the dresser itself. That’s what she’d have to do.

She pulled out the bottom drawer and the middle one, making them into stairs. Wobbly stairs.

When she placed one foot on the first drawer, the mirror shuddered. This was a bad idea, but she only had to get on top of the dresser. Once she was standing on it, the whole thing would be stable. It was a sturdy piece of furniture. It could support her just fine.

Grabbing the top of the dresser, Olivia pulled herself up. She raised her left foot off the floor and planted it on the second drawer. Just when she thought she might get away with it, the dresser started to tip. She knew it would be better to jump down, but instead she leaned her weight forward, trying to create a counterbalance effect.

Her mind worked faster than time itself.

Even as she tried to heave herself up on the dresser, she knew it wouldn’t happen. She had this horrible feeling, sicker than sick, like a knot in her guts. It just got tighter the more she struggled.

When the dresser tipped, so did the vanity mirror. It swung on such an angle Olivia could no longer see her own reflection.

As she fell backward, time stood still. It stood still for just a moment, just long enough for her to see what the mirror wanted to show her.

At the top of the wall, right above the closet, an army of moths lined up single file. Same thing on the wall with the desk pushed against it. Moths as far as the eye could see. Waiting, calm as anything. Waiting for their time to come.


Shay picked up a bouquet of tulips on her way to Olivia’s place. Whether or not Olivia had gone to Mr. Davies’s funeral, it was bound to be a rough evening. Olivia could keep the flowers if she wanted them, or, alternately, Shay was prepared to drive her to the cemetery. That way she could lay them on his grave without prying eyes watching.

When she got off the elevator, something smelled funny. Burning, but not food. It only got stronger as she approached Olivia’s door.

The second she set foot inside, she knew there was something in the oven that shouldn’t be. She took a hard left. Tossing the tulips on the counter, she opened Olivia’s oven.

“What were you thinking?” Shay called out, turning the dial to OFF. “Are these clothes in here? They’re burnt to a crisp!”

Olivia didn’t respond. She must have put this stuff in the oven, gone out, and forgotten all about. Such a Livi move. She was probably the most forgetful person Shay had ever met.

Grabbing a tea towel, Shay yanked the baking sheet from the oven and tossed it on the stove. “What on earth was this girl thinking? Who puts clothes in the oven?”

The smoke detector chose that moment to start blaring. Fortunately, Olivia set it off so often Shay was a bit of an expert at shutting it off. She grabbed the step stool and set it up in the hallway, climbed up, pressed the button to deactivate it temporarily. She was about to return the stool to the kitchen when something caught her eye. A flutter by the bedroom.

“Moths,” she said to herself as she headed that way. “You’ll never be rid of those things.”

When she arrived at the open door, her heart stopped. Her feet froze. She tried to move, but nothing happened. Tried to cry out, but no sound emerged.

At first, she wasn’t entirely sure what she was seeing. It took a moment for her vision to focus. That’s when she realized she was looking at Olivia on the floor with a dresser crushing her legs and a mirror covering part of her torso.

In her mind, Shay was telling herself to go to her girlfriend, perform CPR or something. She had all that training. But in the pit of her stomach, she knew Olivia was no more. Her neck had obviously snapped. You couldn’t be alive when your head was facing the wrong direction.

The worst was her open eyes, or maybe her parted lips. She didn’t look like she was sleeping. She looked dead.

But if she was dead, how could her chest be moving like that? Palpitating. Trembling. Her heart must still be beating under that silky beige sweater. Olivia had been right when she’d said Shay hadn’t seen every item of clothing she owned. Shay had never seen this one before. Strange, the way it seemed to be moving. Her eyes must be playing tricks on her.

“Livi,” Shay called out. She fought against her motionless muscles, struggling forward, tripping over her own frozen feet. This was her own personal hell, seeing her girlfriend in need of help and not being able to offer it. She slid across the bedroom floor, dragged her body closer.

Should she lift the dresser first or slap Olivia’s cheek? She knew she couldn’t lift in this sorry state, so she opted for the slap, but chickened out at the last second. She couldn’t hit her girlfriend, not even to shock the life back into her.

Instead, she reached for Olivia’s shoulder and shook it. The girl was dead weight. Her head jostled slightly, but she didn’t acknowledge Shay. Her eyes remained open. So did her mouth. She didn’t respond even as Shay shouted, “Livi? Livi, say something, please! Tell me you’re with me.”

As Shay pleaded with the body, she felt a strange tickle against her skin. Her instinct was to believe those were Olivia’s fingertips on the back of her hand. But, no, it wasn’t fingertips.

Not fingertips. Moths.

They scattered, but not as much as Shay would have thought. They seemed to be coming at her rather than flying away from her. Landing in her hair. Landing on her jacket. Crawling up her sleeves.

But where were they coming from?

That silky beige sweater Olivia had on. The one Shay had never seen before. The one that seemed to be moving. When she looked closely, she realized Olivia’s silky beige sweater was moving. That thing was made of moths.


Also in the Queer Ghost Stories series:

The Witch of the Winter Woods

By Foxglove Lee


The Future is Deadly

By Foxglove Lee


Ghost Radio

By Foxglove Lee


Ghost Gallery

By Foxglove Lee

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Foxglove’s fiction has been called SPECTACULAR by Rainbow Reviews and UNFORGETTABLE by USA Today.


Foxglove Lee is a former aspiring Broadway Baby who now writes LGBTQ fiction for children, teens and young adults. She tries not to be too theatrical, but her characters often take over. Her debut novel, Tiffany and Tiger’s Eye, is set in the 80s and features an evil doll! Other books by Foxglove Lee include: Truth and Other Lies, Sylvie and the Christmas Ghost, Rainbow Crush, Rainbow Elixir, Top Ten Ways to Die, You Can Never Go Home Again, plus children’s titles The Secret of Dreamland and Ghost Turkey and the Pioneer Graveyard.


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