The Walls Have Ears

For this month’s creative writing competition, RTE Radio’s arts programme “Arena” want us to imagine that we have won a Universal Lottery, which entitles us to be a fly-on-the-wall at any conversation, anywhere, at any time in history or in the future. I’m not sure that this is what they’re looking for…


“I reckon it’s the teacher,” she said.

“Can’t be,” he said, “because he was in Malibu when she got killed.”

“Oh yeah, I’d forgotten,” she said.

They’d said I could listen in on any conversation, anytime, anywhere. They’d given me a huge list. And here I was in a room in Glasnevin in 2011, where a couple I know nothing about were watching Castle on the TV.

This might sound like a waste, but I’d just picked one at random, having suddenly found that I had bigger things to worry about than who I was going to eavesdrop on. Anyway, my hearing had become very faint and tinny, because my ears had become faint and tiny.

The problem was in the small print. When they’d said that the winner would be a fly on the wall, I didn’t think they’d meant it literally.

If my hearing was bad, well, my eyesight more than made up for it. I was able to see, simultaneously, the couple in front of the telly, the programme that they were watching, the steam rising from the man’s coffee, a spider climbing up its web, the second hand moving on the clock off to my left, the print of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers on the wall off to my right, the small print on the back of my Universal Lottery Ticket (fat lot of good that was going to do me now) and the back of my own head.

Unfortunately my brain was still human at heart, if that makes sense, and was unable to process all of this, so I just got a splitting headache. Right between my eyes.

On the TV Detective Beckett opened a cupboard door and the body of the teacher fell out.

“Told you he didn’t do it,” said the man.

“Then it must be the windsurfer guy,” said the woman.

I was only half-paying attention, partly because I’d seen the episode before (the victim’s best friend did it, because she’d got off with the windsurfer guy, who the best friend fancied), but partly because something that I’d thought earlier was nagging at me, like a child tugging at its mother’s skirt asking repeatedly for ice-cream.

Let’s see … tinny hearing, blah, blah, couple, telly, yadda yadda, coffee, Sunflowers, yeah whatever, clock, spider, …

That was it. There was a spider climbing towards me. Obviously his Lottery prize was from a better Universe than mine.

I decided to be a fly-on-the-wall no longer. It was time to become a fly on the fly. I raised what I hoped were my wings, though to me they still felt like my arms, and hurled myself into space, leaving the spider hanging on its web like a sailor clinging to the rigging.

It took me a few seconds to get the hang of it, but then I was able to swoop and spin and swerve. I started to enjoy it. My wings were making that buzzing sound that they do, but I started making the sound myself anyway, dive-bombing the man and shouting “bzzzzwzzwzz” as I went by. He picked up the TV Guide, rolled it into a cylinder-shape and swung it at me. To my eyes it arrived with all the speed of the East-Link Bridge opening to let a ship through. I swerved easily out of the way, bzzzwzzwzzed him again, and to really annoy him I flew, just for a second, into his ear.

That’s not something I’d try again.

I gloried in my new-found power. I discovered that if you’re a fly-on-the-wall you do not, in fact, bother eavesdropping on conversations – you’re having too much fun bouncing annoyingly against the TV, hovering just out of reach of the cat, and peeing on the budgie.

And when the infuriated home-owner produces a can of fly-spray, as the man eventually did, the spray emerges so slowly that you fly ahead of it, like a jet leaving a vapour-trail, to safety in fresher air.

With a bzzpp of glee I flew towards freedom, and met another fly coming towards me. I moved to my left to pass him, but to my surprise he veered to his right and head-butted me solidly in the face.

I had flown into the window.


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