Recently, a friend asked me if I would ever commit murder. We were window-shopping on Michigan Avenue, and the sun was shining. It wasn’t a serious discussion, at first. It felt like twenty questions or, more precisely, a making-sure-the-person-you’re-with-is-who-you-think-she-is kind of conversation. I hope I never do, I said. They[1] protested; they wanted me, for once, to use an absolute, to say never ever would I do such a thing. But I refused—refuse—because, as I explained, I’m afraid I’m capable of more than I want to be, that I have a potential I don’t necessarily want tapped.

Let me explain further. Once, when I was in high school, my family and I were out to dinner at one of those Wisconsin restaurants you can only get to by way of the back roads. It was the kind of restaurant where the parking lot is unpaved and where peacocks shriek in the pine trees, one of those places where the tables are decked out in white linen along with those beer advertisements that are slipped into upside-down plastic Ts and sit next to the ketchup and mustard. A fat thug of a fly had been making the rounds, and as we were waiting for our food, it came to visit us. When it landed on the window, I took that tacky T and smacked it against the pane, startling my family and myself. My aim had been good, but it was only after I lifted the T, revealing the green goo and crushed wings, that I realized what I had done. Choosing that sticky plastic as my weapon had been mere instinct, and had I aimed harder, I would have missed. Instead, hardly aware of myself, I had killed a fly without really meaning to.

Ok, ok. I know what you’re thinking: It was a fly, Sabrina. It was something that hangs around poo and contaminates your food and is just generally a nuisance. You did humanity a service. Ok, ok. I get it. But I want you to get me. If there’s a spider in the house, I catch it in a jar and put it outside—unless it’s winter, then I kill it because being squished is faster than freezing to death. After a heavy rain, I pick the worms off of the sidewalk and put them on higher, less trample-prone ground. I’ve also been known to hang off the end of a pier for the better part of an hour, dragging back and forth through the water a partially sentient northern pike in hopes of resuscitating it. Recently, I’ve introduced my family to vegan pancakes. So, killing a fly without thinking about it isn’t my usual style.

My friend was disturbed that I wouldn’t swear that I would never murder someone, that I found assigning myself an absolute more disturbing than their question. They, of course, fell into the category of people who just don’t have it in them to commit such a crime, and they assumed I did as well. Except, now I wonder why they even bothered to ask that question when they seemed so sure I would never hurt a fly. No matter. At the time, I told my friend that I am human; nothing human is alien to me.[2] I played devil’s advocate, positing what ifs. My friend wanted to distinguish between killing and murder, which felt a bit like splitting hairs to me, murder being determined by the law, which is subject to change depending on who is in charge of the land. Perhaps I should have heeded better that distinction, but either way, the spirit of the question would have remained the same: was I capable of doing something, which, at the time, seemed inconceivable? Yes, I’m afraid. That squished fly of a mirror reflects a darkness and reminds me that, given the right circumstances—which I hope never come to pass—I might be able to stuff some surprisingly grisly skeletons into my pastel-painted closet.

 

[1] Yes, I like the singular pronoun “they” and their adjectives-in-crime very much.

[2] I thought I was quoting Whitman; it turns out it was Terence, an ancient Roman playwright whom I haven’t read.

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