There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly: A Closer Look ~ fiction by Candace Kidd

There was an old woman who swallowed a fly.

Interesting, but this in and of itself doesn’t tell us much. More information is required.

As it turns out, she was old for the time in which this story took place but wouldn’t be considered old now. Fifty-something. Her name was Zerna.

Our investigations have revealed that Zerna lived in a hollowed-out tree in the forest, which might have contributed to her premature aging. This also explains the preponderance of flies in the vicinity.

We understand, however, that after eating the fly Zerna went on to swallow a spider, of which, no doubt, there were many in her rustic environment. Her reasoning, according to local accounts, was that the spider would dispatch the fly, previously consumed.

We can surmise that Zerna lived alone, because if she had run this idea of swallowing the spider to catch the unwisely devoured fly past a husband, for instance, or roommate, tree-mate as the case may be, that person could have advised against it. She was left to follow her own counsel.

Subsequently she is said to have choked down a bird to go after the spider.

After that, witnesses whose names are lost to the fog of years reported that she scarfed up a cat. The cat’s name is also unknown but probably belonged to some nearby woodsman or possibly a shepherd who lived in the area.

It’s becoming clear, as we go through the facts, that Zerna was most likely psychotic and did not have access to the modern drugs that might have spared her the anguish that led her to dine next on a stray goat, presumably to retrieve the cat. She apparently believed, mistakenly, that goats include cats in an omnivorous diet.

Zerna’s tale is most certainly a tragedy. County records indicate that she grew up in a large shoe among many siblings. Sadly, it was, in those days, a fairly common pattern. Children raised in such circumstances carry significant baggage into adulthood.

Upon failing to find relief after the goat, she obtained from a meadow adjacent to her tree a cow, chowed down on it, and soon grew bilious enough to pass out. Later that same week a traveler through the area reported that his horse had vanished overnight ….

It surprised no one when Zerna’s bloated body was discovered soon after. The coroner’s report indicated that the cause of death was from consuming uncooked bird, cat, goat, cow, and horse meat.

Time has passed and we have become wiser, but most contemporary commentators were not blind to the irony that eating the fly and possibly even the spider would have caused Zerna no harm at all.

Candace Kidd is a writer and DIY enthusiast from Pella, Iowa.