“The Plight of the Mosquito”

What we did with Mason jars and aluminum foil—trapping the fireflies. We promised to let them out at the end of the night, but never did. The myth was that they didn’t light up during the day. That’s what Father told us. I was convinced they did—we just needed proof. That’s why we brought the jars indoors and set them by the basement door till morning. You went down to see the fireflies first—always dead. Shriveled. Proof of the rate of decay.

Once, a large firefly was still moving. You saw it blink once, then fade, like a shooting star.

You waited till the next week to tell me what you’d seen. Why you kept this a secret, I still don’t know. You were always trying to protect me from everything, even what was inevitable.

###

Now, the fireflies fill my front yard, only I know better than to collect them in Mason jars with hole-punched lids. In these conditions, the species still won’t survive. They haven’t evolved or developed immunity to childlike behavior.

At my age, Mother already had you and me—and was expecting our brother. I can’t imagine expanding my own family at such a rate. Not now, after adjusting to death so well.

Sam brought home a dog last week—five-years-old. Her owner was killed on I-95. The twenty car pile-up around a month ago? Mother should’ve phoned to make sure we weren’t among the injured or dead, but I suppose lately she’s not herself.The dog’s name was Madie, but Sam and I changed it to Vermont, not because we live there or long to live there, but because we hear it’s beautiful year round.

Sam’s teaching Vermont to chase fireflies, to trap them in her wide jaw. She only barks at them now.

Maybe she doesn’t have an appetite for bugs, I tell Sam.

He tells me, Maybe we should trap some in a jar and mix them in her food bowl the next day? We could ease her in.

I can’t find any jars, I say, and no longer worry. He won’t recall where we stored them or even think to search the coat closet till winter.

###

Through the screen door, I watch Sam and Vermont chase the pricks of light in increasing darkness. I cannot go outside at dusk, as fireflies aren’t the only insects that prefer this witching hour. The mosquitoes don’t bite Sam—only me. They’re my nemeses. Not all nemeses are human, you know.

On the radio yesterday, a reporter narrated the story of man who isn’t adhering to the city’s guidelines on mosquitoes. He breeds them in a pond in his backyard. In the pond are mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis, who eat the mosquitoes the moment they hatch. When his mosquitofish die off, the man plans to put a pair of dirty socks in the pond instead. This combination, he said, is also toxic to mosquitoes.

Weeks before, I’d read another story in a magazine we get. This man breeds mosquitoes, too, just so he can invent new ways to kill them off—poisoning, suffocation,

crushing, etcetera. He’s determined to make them suffer, as if pain might make them think twice about their plight.

He has the kind of humor Father had, even in those last months, when the cancer was cruelest.

###

When Vermont masters the trick, Sam asks if I’ll come outside this once. I wade into the yard, covered head to toe with skin-sensitive repellent. I wait for Vermont to spot a firefly. I see one myself—by the oak tree. I point. Vermont is chasing something larger—a squirrel, perhaps—around a bush. Sam tells me, Wait, hold on, just a minute more.

I don’t even have that long. The bite on my forearm has reddened and swelled to the size of my thumbnail. I feel another prick near my collarbone.

I only swat when it’s too late, when the mosquitoes have found another vulnerable point. And when they’re finished confiscating my blood, I’m still swatting my own skin, shamefully aware that the insects don’t require me for the long term—they’ve found another host. They’ve moved on.

Michelle Dove

About Michelle Dove

Michelle Dove has an MFA from American University, where she received the Myra Sklarew Award for prose. She’s the recipient of the John Steinbeck Award for the Short Story and the Fiction Prize from Style Weekly. Her flash fiction is forthcoming in the Southeast Review (Word’s Best Short Short Story Contest finalist) and Passages North. Longer fiction has appeared in PANK, Barrelhouse, Reed Magazine, Big Lucks, online at Juked, and in the anthology Amazing Graces(Paycock Press, 2012).