The ritual begins at bedtime, in the early summer.
As soon as the sun approaches the western horizon, the unscreened windows are shut tight, and suspected cracks, stuffed with cloth, are inspected for the tiniest of openings.
Food is served, but we eat while alert, bodies tensed and eyes shifting toward shadowed corners. Small flickers of movement are suspect. Wisps of breeze stirring the light hairs on the arms and backs of necks induce rapid twisting of the torso and swiping at the air.
Nerves are already tingling, raised swellings and pin-sized gouges itching incessantly at the thought of another imminent attack.
Is the whine in my ear imaginary? Or is the tell-tale song of the enemy already inflicting itself upon my senses?
The remains of previous battles still dot our walls in various places — corners too high for the mop to reach, out-of-the-way places where our eyes rarely rove — carcasses forever glued to the drywall with their own innards, petrified trophies of the victory of human over insect.
They dance on the air currents, taunting. Swatters are useless against their fairy-like grace. Our vision struggles to focus on tiny bodies silhouetted against the light, depth perception flawed by poor illumination, or tension, or frustration.
If I move fast enough, I can catch my tormentor in my hand. I can snatch it from its uneven flight, burying it in my clenched flesh, and hope that with enough grinding friction, it will be torn or squashed enough to end its existence. But the sneaky bastard tends to be flexible and soft, nestling into the folds of my curving fingers, ready to wisp free as soon as I extend my fingers again. My reflexes are rarely quick enough to catch the thing on its escape, and I am forced to start over, hunting even as I am hunted.
How many will have entered the house tonight? Every time I think we have killed all of the interlopers, I am called back to my child’s bedroom to seek and destroy the next. Every time I start to relax, my hackles rise before I’m quite aware of the presence of the mosquito in my space.
I welcome spiders in my home. I invite moths to my garden, and bats are my comfort. I am grateful that blackflies don’t bite indoors, and that deer flies and horseflies are rare for those of us who live in town. But mosquitoes have always been the bane of my summer. I’m not one of the lucky ones to whom mosquitoes are not attracted, nor am I one of those who can take a bite without much reaction. I itch, and I swell. My children, too. It seems that my allergy has abated somewhat since I was small, because the swelling is much less than I recall, but the relentless irritation of the skin continues for days after the original bite. Calamine, Polysporin, Benadryl — nothing helps, or for very long. It is something I’ve learned to live with.
I am grateful I don’t have to worry about my mosquitoes carrying dangerous fevers or malarial infections. I am hopeful that West Nile will never show up in this part of the world. I am thankful that our mosquito season is relatively short. But the frustration and tension remain, night after night.
Here’s hoping for a pleasant sleep…