Out here, on the stoop, my long dark hair spider webs around my neck, which is slick from the sweat of a Chicago summer. We’re in the middle of a heatwave and the temperature seems to know no upward bounds. If it were a pot of boiling water, the city would turn frothy and overflowing by now. Take us off the stovetop, we beg. But there’s no one to accept that direction.
Out on the stoop, the mosquitos, thriving in these conditions, dog me. I sit, knees folded into elbow rests, pressing an ice-cold bottle of water against my cheeks and into my clavicle, all the while the bugs sink into my skin. They go for the most vulnerable places: the backs of my ankles and bent knees, the bare underside of forearms, and the fatty part of my upper thighs. Sometimes they bite right through my clothes. No boundary too big to cross. They take and take and take. Their marks are starting to scar. Stop scratching, I can hear my mother, twenty years earlier, say, but it feels so good to scratch even if you know it will make everything worse. Even if you know it will leave scars.
Upstairs, in the bedroom, my boyfriend stays dogged by something else. It’s been ten hours since he flopped down onto the bed, the licks of whiskey still on his lips, that dewy scent seeping from his skin. His awareness of the heatwave remains deeply muted. For him, everything stays muted. He’s taken to hiding the empty bottles: full liters that turn into empty liters in a single evening. And I don’t look for them anymore. I don’t sift through the top layer of trash and day-old coffee grinds. Maybe if the bottle disappears the problem will too. Or maybe it never even existed, like heavy trees that fall in empty forests.
You can believe anything you want when the lie tastes so much sweeter than the truth.
I wake up before he does, tiptoeing around. Sometimes slamming cabinet doors if the bitterness of him stumbling into the bedroom the night before hasn’t worn off yet. I usually go to sleep long before him. Inevitably, I am jerked awake when the thud of his thick foot finally hits our bedroom floor. “I’m okay!” I sit up and shout, and it’s never clear which of us I’m reassuring. In the mornings, I barely remember it, this little routine of ours, playing out in the heavy fog of sleep. It’s just an instinct, a knee getting tapped with a hard mallet. A flash over your shoulder at a car backfiring. An impulse to everything that isn’t supposed to happen but does. I am soon, almost immediately, back to sleep.
When I dream, I imagine the swarms of mosquitos coming for me. They are massive. One of them, about eight-feet tall, slides up next to me, wraps its giant wings around my shoulders and says things like “you’re so sexy,” “your lips are the most perfect lips,” “your ass is the juiciest peach,” stuff like that. The mosquito’s head is enormous, eyes great big and dazzling like a disco ball and before I know it, we’re speeding down Lake Shore Drive together, the mosquito and me, in a vintage convertible Porsche. The wind whips us wild as we howl into the blinding sun. And then we’re exiting, pulling over under a bridge or into an abandoned parking lot behind a storage unit. Me and the giant mosquito. It leans over and plunges its long needle of a nose deep into my neck, which hurts, but I tell it to keep going. Do it, I demand. I wanted this. I asked for it, didn’t I? Don’t you stop, I say. And it doesn’t. It takes and takes and takes.
When it’s over I’m itchy and drained and bleeding everywhere, feeling like I need new skin, a new life even, maybe, but I know—scars be damned—it will feel so good to scratch later.
Laci Mosier is a poet and fiction writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her writing has appeared in The Maine Review, Tupelo Quarterly, American Journal of Poetry, Hobart, and others. She is currently working on a visual poetry collection entitled Learning to Fly, which subverts articles and advertisements found in vintage magazines. She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
image: MM Kaufman