Since we moved in, we’ve had a chilly relationship with our upstairs neighbors. They once snubbed me at the corner store while we were both buying bags of ice. It doesn’t get chillier than that.
It’s probably our fault. And when I say “our fault”, I mean that it’s my girlfriend’s fault. My neighbors may be lowlifes, but I get along with lowlifes. Just last weekend, when I was in the public washroom in Wal-Mart, some guy proudly showed off his stab wound to me. So, it’s not me. It’s her, and I know why.
When we first found this apartment, it was the girl living upstairs who showed it to us, rather than the landlord. Although I could immediately see the potential of the place, with its high ceilings and big windows, we were aghast at the condition of the place. The carpets reeked of cat urine. The walls were so stained that I suspected someone had been conducting science experiments with Mentos and bottles of Diet Coke. And the ceiling fan was furry.
“What were the people like who lived here?” asked my horrified girlfriend.
“Um,” said the girl from upstairs. “… they were nice.”
“But did they hate the landlord or something?” asked my girlfriend, indicating the squalor.
“Uh … no,” said the neighbor. “He’s nice.”
Later, after meeting with the landlord and securing a commitment from him to undertake extensive renovations in return for our taking the place, we learned from him that our upstairs neighbor and her husband had previously inhabited our apartment before financial difficulties forced them to take the smaller one upstairs. So, my girlfriend had inadvertently insulted our neighbor to her face. Whoops.
But squalor and potential feud notwithstanding, we took the place and spent a month scrubbing floors, repainting walls, and shaving the ceiling fan. And we’ve kept the place in nearly immaculate condition since then.
This is what made our recent fly infestation all the more inexplicable.
A couple of weeks ago, our house was suddenly full of fat, slow, greenish flies. We’d gone through a garbage strike this summer and suffered our share of fruit flies and hornets, but there was no reason for fat, slow, greenish flies. And the air was thick with them. We were spending a half hour to an hour each day chasing them down, and after we’d thinned out their population, the air was now thick with an unhealthy and probably carcinogenic amount of bug spray. And we were questioning what kind of filthy, depraved lowlifes we must be to have let things get this way.
But it became evident that either we were so filthy that we’d infested the entire house or the house was infested for reasons other than us. The front foyer was at least as bad as our apartment, with dozens of flies buzzing behind the curtain on the front door. And when we went out back to the garbage cans to see if the problem was there, we noticed that our ground-floor neighbor’s window was swarmed by flies as well.
Determined to get to the bottom of this, we Googled “fat, slow, greenish flies”. That’s when we got even more worried. These weren’t common houseflies. These were blowflies, otherwise known as cluster flies. Otherwise known as carrion flies.
Carrion flies. We were dead meat. Or had some somewhere.
Had a mouse died in one of our walls? There were too many flies for that. A couple of weeks before, we had seen what looked like a dead raccoon lodged between the slope of the roof of the house across the street and its chimney. When it got up and strolled away, we realized it had only been napping, but now we wondered: Had a raccoon or some other animal fallen down our chimney?
Just to make sure we weren’t the problem, we undertook a top-to-bottom cleansing of our house on the weekend. In the middle of this, I noticed our neighbor from the basement apartment taking out her garbage. We’ve been on good terms with her since the time I broke into her place for her after she locked herself out of her apartment without purse, keys, or cell phone while on the way to a wedding. So I hailed her, asking if she’d had any fat, slow, greenish flies. (And if so, could we borrow some?)
She was relieved to be asked. She’d thought her own infestation was her own fault, which is why she was cleaning her place from top to bottom too. I assured her that this was a building-wide situation. In fact, I’d already called the landlord about it, asking him to check things out with the apartment upstairs.
My theory was that the source of the problem was probably up there. The good news was that I’d heard our filthy neighbors were moving out, and, after having occasionally seen them taking things out of their place (unfortunately not including their chronic cat pee stench), I hadn’t seen nor heard them for days. The bad news, potentially, was whatever they had left behind that was causing our blowfly infestation.
I’d read that blowflies, not being choosy, liked either rotting meat or manure. Judging by the state our place had been in when we’d moved in, I could imagine the space above us being filled with either. In fact, I said with a wink, maybe the reason I hadn’t gotten through to the landlord or heard back from him was that our upstairs neighbors had murdered him and left him to rot upstairs.
A few days later, we were seeing fewer flies. We still hadn’t seen our upstairs neighbors, who were probably all moved out, or our landlord, who was possibly but probably not dead upstairs. But now that the buzzing of flies had died down a little, I heard murmuring outside my window. I pulled the curtain aside and saw two policemen standing on the sidewalk in front of the house talking to our upstairs neighbors, who were sitting on the front step.
I immediately upgraded my landlord’s condition to “probably dead upstairs”.
This was going to make it difficult to get the new leak in our ceiling repaired, if true. Fortunately, it wasn’t. My landlord himself eventually appeared on the scene, which, I grudgingly admitted, made my upstairs neighbors probably innocent of his murder. It turned out that, as I’d requested, he’d gone up to investigate the apparently vacated apartment, and as he left, locked both the deadbolt and the lock in the doorknob. The upstairs neighbors, coming back to collect more of their belongings, had apparently lacked the keys for one of these and, rather than calling the landlord or a locksmith, had testily called the police to put out an all-points-bulletin for our landlord and drag him to the property to let them in.
When I spoke to him a couple of days later, he was still ticked off about this — but not as ticked off as he was about the state of the apartment upstairs, which was going to be the second one he’d had to renovate after those particular tenants had vacated. They’d left piles of rotting garbage all over the place. There were hundreds of fat, green flies buzzing around, and thousands more dead on the carpet. Normally, if you saw that many flies in an apartment, the CSI team would be calling in a forensic entomologist from the Body Farm to try to establish the number of days or weeks since time of death.
The landlord was furious. I was relieved. I was relieved that the infestation was indeed not our fault, but that of the upstairs neighbors. I was further relieved that it was just because they were filthy slobs and not murderers. And I was even more relieved that, after leaving the landlord’s corpse to rot, they wouldn’t be coming after the snooty downstairs neighbors who’d not only taken their apartment but also insulted their housekeeping.
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