topic: CHANGE medium: TEXT
This story was shared at a PenTales event themed “Great Expectations”
It was, without a doubt, the best jam he had ever tasted.
“In all my days and lifetimes,” he sighed, “that is the best jam I have ever tasted”. The jar of Bonne Maman glistened in the sunlight, a jam lover’s dream. And Pete was certainly an aficionado. “Yer what, mate?” The voice pierced Pete’s strawberry-infused reverie, bringing him back to earth, or rather worktop, and he turned to address the speaker.
“This jam. Incredible. Allow me to introduce myself: Pete the fly. I’m on my thirtysecond incarnation before you ask, and let me assure you, this is the confiture deconfitures.” His neighbour looked a little incredulous. At least, Pete thought it was incredulity but it was hard to interpret the facial expressions of house flies.
“Well, you’re right about the jam,” said the bluebottle. “My name’s Harry by the way. But say that other bit again – thirty-second incarnation? That’s a good innings my friend, I’m still in single figures, hoping to get up that ladder a bit quicker than you I must say!” Pete had got used to this reaction. True, most beings had reached their nirvana well before this point. But Pete? Pete had lived. “To be honest mate, I’ve lost track of it meself. I didn’t even cotton on to what was happening until number four, stupid bugger that I am. My third incarnation, you see, was as a human. But me? I never believed in karma. Load of hippy crap, I thought. I can live how I want, I thought. How wrong I was. Found that out when I bumped off my old ball and chain – I got run over by a bus two weeks later and next thing I know I’m a bleeding fruit fly. Turns out them bleeding Buddhist monks or whatever had it right all along. Anyway, I’m a believer now, and this jam is the definitely the motivation I need to get me back on track.” In Harry’s second life, he’d been educated by a strict mother who may not have instilled him with great moral values, but did insist on clean hands and good manners. And while that didn’t stop him from getting into the fights that saw him relegated to the status of salmon for his third life, he still knew a thing or two about politeness. So he tried to give a positive response to what sounded to him like a pretty unlikely plan.
“Er, right mate, yeah. Well good luck with that eh? What’s the idea, be a really virtuous fly and try to jump back up to human next time round?” Pete knew it was ambitious, but by this point he’d lost any self-consciousness he might have once had. “That’s the deal my friend. And I reckon I’ve been doing pretty well. Other day I saw a lovely gleaming turd in the park, and all my fly instincts told me to have a nice old jump around in it then go and sit on someone’s dinner. But me? I held off. Oh yes, thirty two incarnations on, I have learned a thing or two about karma.” Harry had never seen a fly look so sincere before. If sincerity was what it was – it was so hard to work out fly expressions. But his attention was drawn away by a dangerous sight approaching from the opposite side of the room. A woman, most likely the owner of the jam Harry and Pete were snacking on, was approaching with a can of something ominous-looking in her hand.
Harry tried to warn his companion. “Mate, er, that’s all really interesting and everything but I think we’d better skidaddle.” Pete, with his back end to the woman, was unaware of the peril she represented, and unimpressed with what he saw as his acquaintance’s rudeness. “Oh fine, fine, you young uns, think you know it all…” “No, no – it’s not that!” hissed Harry – trying but failing to gesticulate towards the woman with his left antenna. “Oh yeah sure and it ain’t. Still in single figure reincarnations you say? Well you’ve got some learning to do my friend. I’m sure you reckon you’ll be out of this life in a couple a weeks and then you’ll get two years in a hamster cage, happy as Larry, then it’s a hop skip and a jump via donkey, human and whatever else to the ultimate level of cat.” The woman, and the can, which looked suspiciously like fly spray by now, were getting closer. Harry had heard about fly spray, and knew there were better ways of reincarnating that didn’t involve a painful chemical death. But Pete was by now incensed in the way only the very old, or in his case, very reincarnated, could be, and continued his rant. “Well let me tell you sonny Jim, if you ain’t careful, you’ll only progress one level. And you know where that gets you. Caterpillar. Oh yes, and then it’s all leaves leaves leaves, no more jam for you. And there I was just trying to make conver— “ Then it came. PSHHHHHT! Harry was already hanging off the furthest lightbulb, but he knew it would have been unpleasant for Pete.
Some time later, with the memory of the horrible, cold, stinking fly spray still all too clear, Pete swam back into the consciousness of life. His eyes were shut, he knew that much. But what, and who he was, was for the time being unclear. “Please please please… lucky number thirty-three… please!” he begged, to the unknown force that kept on bringing him back to life in so many different forms. “Please let me at least be up to rabbit. Dare I ask for ornamental pot-bellied pig?” He couldn’t even bring himself to think it, but what Pete was really hoping, was that he’d been born as a pink, squirming human baby. Then he’d only have a couple of years to wait and all the jam, not to mention opportunities to notch up more good karma, would be his. But no, this was taking too long. Why hadn’t he opened his eyes yet? And he sensed he was outside somewhere, and that there weren’t any other humans around. As the egg broke and Pete emerged into the sunlight of a beautiful forest he suddenly understood that his great expectations had once again not been met. “Bleeding caterpillar.”
The jam, it seemed, would have to wait.