THE FRUIT FLY
Once a fruit fly became obsessed with genealogy. This obsession began more or less by chance when the fruit fly received in the post, sandwiched within the usual stack of junk mail, an envelope addressed to “Resident” and marked “Urgent! Our Computers May Already Have Located Your Long-lost Ancestors!” Opening the envelope, the fruit fly discovered several pages of grainy photographs showing strangers in front of historical landmarks or old-time camera backdrops. At the bottom of each page, large red lettering urged “There Could Be A Prince Or Princess In Your DNA! You Might Even Be Related To Famous Figures Like Cleopatra And Charlemagne!! You’ll Never Know Who You Really Are If You Don’t Answer This Special Offer To Search For Your Origins Right Now!!!” The fruit fly nearly discarded the letter on the spot. It took all of its powers of concentration as it was just to keep the events of today straight and to avoid becoming lost amid the whirl of other fruit flies round about. Who had time to consider the distant past when living moment to moment was itself such a challenge? And yet, perhaps it should concern itself more with the question of its roots, the fruit fly thought while looking through the photographs again. Was there proof, as the letter claimed, that it wasn’t just another fly in the crowd, just one among countless others appearing and disappearing all the time? Was there really proof of some illustrious progenitor somewhere in the long line of chromosomal changes leading to its own birth that would make it personally one of a kind among fruit flies? Again, though, it had no idea how it would manage (given the facts of its immediate reality) to trace its family tree back through the “mists of time” mentioned over and over in the letter. It was a daunting task just to imagine what the lives of its ancestors might have been like thousands of generations ago. It didn’t have the slightest clue. Picturing to itself the doings of Stone Age fruit flies was simply impossible. How had they lived and how had they died, those ancient forebears? Not in the general sense of fruit flies as a species, of course. It didn’t take much to see the pattern there: hatched in the millions, a brief buzz in the sun, and then a falling away into oblivion. No, the real question was what they thought of their lives those many generations ago. Did they have any better idea of who they were and who had come before them and who would follow them than the fruit fly had of its own place in the unfolding of heredity at this very moment? And would the highs and lows of its own life, the experiences that allowed it sometimes to think of itself as more than simply a string of gene couplings, would these be remembered by any of its own descendants in their turn? Or would a dozen generations be enough to blur all trace that it personally had ever lived, or ever puzzled over where it came from and where it was going? The fruit fly looked again at the letter with its pictures and its offer and decided to respond after all. There seemed no time to lose if it was to find out whether it actually mattered in the great scheme of things and should not, could not, must not be forgotten. A few famous flies in one’s past might just make all the difference.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans