By Jane Chin

2002 01 13

When I was living in Syracuse, I had many apartment mates. JL was a most memorable apartment mate.

JL was fresh out of home, new on her own, and studying for her masters degree. It quickly became apparent that JL was tended to by her mother back home. She, like me, had no domestic skills, but: I had no domestic skills because I chose not to acquire any. JL had no domestic skills because she did not need to do anything for herself.

JL was frightened by thunder and by most things. JL was clumsy. She once hurried to catch the bus and tripped and fell and hit her chin on the stair-railing of our second-floor apartment.

JL was innocent. Her naïveté made her behave in a way that often annoyed me and sometimes made me laugh. JL valiantly learned how to cook and graciously invited me to eat with her. We would talk about the events of our day.

She made a soup with cabbages and carrots and pork and bones. The soup was good. I liked it and we had a few bowls over the next few days. JL kept adding water to the pot until flavor was almost gone from the soup and we were just drinking hot water. After we agreed that the soup was "pretty much dead", JL put the pot back on the stove.

One day I was foraging for food in the cupboard. I noticed the soup pot on the stove. I felt fondness toward the soup we had a few weeks ago. The pot appeared to not have been moved since JL placed it. If I remembered correctly, the pot was not empty.

"Is there something still in this pot?" I asked JL as she came into the kitchen.

"Yeah." JL had a strange look.

"So, you didn't empty it or… what." I was sincerely interested in her answer.

"Well, a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to dump it, but when I got close and lifted the lid a bit, the smell was so horrible I shut the lid," JL said.

"So, you didn't empty it or… what?" I repeated. I was trying to understand.

"I'll do it this weekend." She said. This weekend, which would be a few days from now.

"Ok," I said.

"You really want to dump this thing," I said.

Thinking I should say more but I did not want to burst out laughing.

Weekend came.

What a glorious spring day it was in central New York! The sun came through the window of my room, its warm rays seeping through thick branches of the tree. The occasional squirrel bounced from tree limbs. Birds chirped and smell of fresh cut grass wafted through my window. A perfect day to sprawl on the carpet and read!

A blood-curdling scream pierced my focus.

I listened to a thunderous clap of footsteps flying up the stairs to our apartment and watched JL storming into my room looking at me sprawling reading on the carpet. She screamed down at my face.

"THERE! ARE! WORMS! SO! MANY! WORMS!" JL looked like she was about to cry. Or perhaps she was already crying a little.

I gathered myself methodically from the floor but my lack of surprise did not calm her down. JL's eyes were red and wide and pooled with tears.

"It can't be that bad," I said. "Maggots happen all the time. Just hose down the pot and it will be all over."

"But!" JL 's eyes grew in horror, "These maggots! Are so… fat! And huge! I can't! I'm throwing the pot in the trash! OH GOD!"

"What! Throw away a perfectly good pot? That's crazy!" I said.

"I'm telling you! These are not ordinary maggots!" She retreated.

"How bad could it be! Do you want me to hose it down for you?" I said.

"Would you? OH WOULD YOU!"

I walked down the stairs onto the lawn where the pot sat its lid off. The watering hose was nearby, a small stream already trickling onto the grass.

I walked toward the pot. I had worked with fruit flies in genetics lab before. I approached. Closer. I saw the mass of milky white, quivering in unison. I peered into the pot now. I told JL to turn the hose on, full force.

Genetic fruit fly babies were typically no larger than the "l" that you see on this page. Soup-fed maggots, however, were the size of Tootsie Rolls.

Each plump white Tootsie-Roll climbed around and on top of each other. There was no "food" left - just a pot of maggots. They must have finished everything in the pot. Were they now feeding off each other? I swore I could hear high-pitched squeals emanating from the pot.

"Hey, I think I can see a face on these little guys." I said.

JL shrieked and jumped away farther, even though she was nowhere close to where I was standing. I pointed the hose into the pot and flushed the quivering white onto damp grass.

JL fled up the stairs, then came back down a few minutes later. (Maybe to check if I survived my Hero's Journey?) I remained standing on the lawn flushing the pot with watering hose.

"Look: if I flush these maggots onto the grass, maybe they can grow up to be flies and fly away," I said. I don't think JL appreciated my philosophical musing about the circle-of-life.

All done. We walked up the stairs together. Quiet. Empty pot in (my) hand.

For the next three days, JL boiled water and alcohol in the pot to sanitize it.

We had a few more courses of soup made in this pot.