The old man and the mosquito
by Sean Croft
[ fiction - april 13 ]
The mosquito had emerged from its pupal stage about twenty-four hours before landing on the old manís forearm. So far, her life accomplishments had included the successful egress from an egg laid by a mother she had never known, a few larval molts, hanging from the surface of a tiny puddle caused by a leaky pipe below the old manís upstairs bathroom sink, the casting off of her pupal coils, a dumb taking into account of the foreign landscape of the world, a buzzing this way and that with an unconscious desire driving her in all sorts of directions, and the successful landing on the back of the old manís sleeping cat, deftly injecting him with her anticoagulant saliva and drawing a very minimal amount of blood from a few tiny, ruptured capillaries.
Not yet suffering from any sense of lack of fulfillment, the mosquitoís buzzing this way and that had by no means been unpleasant. While the mosquito didnít exactly feel the thrill of swooping blithely down from an extreme height at breakneck speeds (1.2 mph, but feeling like 140mph), pulling up just before splattering against the tile floor, rising like a missile and performing all sorts of jaunty little loops, spins, and aero-acrobatics; at least we could ascribe a certain objective charm inherent to the physicality of their performance. And while a mosquito of course pales in athletic comparison to its undiminished cousin, the fly, the mosquitoís boozy grace easily makes up for such a deficiency and, of course, this comparison hardly concerned the mosquito herself.
One thing that the mosquito didnít realize, but which had great bearing on her life and pretty much the lives of mosquitos everywhere, was that she had no one. Besides the cat, whose size lent itself to the appearing as a vast landscape rather than a possible friend, and besides a few other possibly related mosquitoes and a fly or two who had rushed brusquely past with not the least sign of acknowledgement, concerned only with the errands of the day, namely eating blood and cat excrement, the mosquito had had no contact with any other living being. She was still far to young to be able to copulate (by at least a day or two), and therefore the possibility of the briefest, though most intimate of mosquito contacts, a duet in which she and her lover would synchronize their buzz rates, did not yet lie open to her and, judging by the cold and business-like manner of all the other insects with whom he had yet come into contact, such an opportunity seemed, in any case, to promise little in the way of truly authentic emotional or spiritual rapprochement.
Following her primordial metamorphosis, the whole house had remained in darkness. So it was in the dark that her initial contacts with other lives had been made. Her extremely poor visual system being supplemented, however, by chemical and heat sensors on her antennae, it had not quite seemed as much to her. Rather, she had, for a short while, experienced the blurry shapes, vivid chemical scents, and heat shadows of other living things. But when the heat and light of the day had once more invaded the house, she had retired alone to her dark corner beneath the sink, her brothers and sisters either having moved on or still trapped in their formative stages. She had remained more or less motionless, waiting for the darkness to return, so that she might go back out into the world and return to the business of buzzing this way and that.
The old man in the bed, who was now a whole century old (although still very active), had met many people. He had copulated with several women and had had three wives. He had occasionally flown across the Atlantic to Europe, had fought in a war, and then had worked as a chemical engineer for many years. He had counted many friends, almost all of whom were now dead, their faces now rather unfortunately fading from his memory, as he hated to look at photographs. He had a daughter who was still alive, but she was very sick and lived far away. He had grandchildren, great grandchildren, and even great great grandchildren, but their visits were seldom.
The day the mosquito was born, the old man hadnít not done much really. He had put an egg in a pot. After it had been boiled, he had eaten it. While eating it, he had read the paper, and occasionally taken sips of some coffee. His housekeeper had come by and cleaned up the place a bit and then had left. He had fed his cat, watered his plants, put down some new seeds, taken a walk to the grocery store, picking up a few simple things like bread and butter and juice. He had picked up the mail from the mailbox, finding that, besides some notices and bills, it was exclusively composed of advertisements. He had gingerly pressed down some keys on his upright piano then had taken a bath. He had spotted the leaky pipe and taped it up, watched a college football game on television, weeded his garden, read a bit of a transatlantic crime novel, and then had gone to bed, saying a prayer, which was really just a conversation with his first wife, Alida. It was a old nightly ritual he had kept up even through his second and third marriages. He had turned off his light with a clap and closed his eyes, sleeping on his back, which his doctor had said long ago was the best for his spine, although his third wife had complained that it caused him to snore. His first two had never complained.
Slowly, he drifted off, words fading in and out, part of his mind reading like a sports announcer a news story that didnít exist in gibberish, snippets of phrases from advertisements mixed up together or things the cash register at the grocery store had said, or products he had seen or other words the names of those products rhymed with, until eventually images began to appear and it was established that he was in a plane flying over the Atlantic to see Alida in Iowa. He was by the window and traveling with his son who was inveigling him into funding a business venture involving cheaply made vacuum cleaners to be manufactured by monks, although the old man looking out the window, not really listening, not wanting to face his son because his son had bad breath and seemed to be sucking at him every time he turned to listen.
At about this time, he began to snore. The mosquito, sensing the carbon dioxide emitted from his narrow nasal passages from afar, had buzzed over to his bedroom. Once nearer, she had sensed a large being full of blood and now alit upon the old manís shoulder. She stabbed the man with her mouth, injected some saliva, and was drawing up some blood when a bump in the old manís flight either caused or corresponded to a deep inhalation and snort, which caused the man to jerk his ear against his shoulder, catching and crushing the mosquitoís left wing and left legs, and causing the mosquito to tumble into a heap on the bed, not 24-hours old, trembling and alone, no thoughts in her head, but objectively in a pickle, her nervous system sending signal informing her of unbearably extreme pain, some of the old manís blood pouring out of her.
The old man continued to listen to his son, now in a submarine cruise ship on their way across the Atlantic to Iowa, vines constricted over the submarineís controls. Apparently, his son had already begun setting up the vacuum business in Des Moines, although the old man, who was to be the only investor, had not yet given his consent.
At about this time, the old man had a heart attack. His left arm disappeared and the submarine took a nosedive, plunging into darkness. The old man tossed from one side of the sub to the other, his son crushing his chest with the help of his housekeeper and a few other faceless crew members and cruise ship patrons, breaking his ribcage and puncturing his lung. Alida appeared wearing an eyepatch and a Nazi admiralís cap. She approached with outstretched armed, a piece of masking tape held tight between her hands.
The mosquito lay supine upon the top of a wrinkle in the bed linen, excruciating nervous system signals running through her body. Loud half-demonic snorts issued from the old manís nose as he tossed and turned, his back now arching, now coming down hard upon the bed causing sudden ripple in the sheets tossing the mosquito into the air, floating for a second, now tumbling impotently down the abyss of the side of the bed into a heatless darkness, landing upon the old manís old man carpet. Though not injured further, thanks to a low mass and terminal velocity, and although not capable of reflecting on her loss of dignity, the mosquito had landed upside down in a heap, tangled up with threads of carpet, trying to move broken limbs that only broke further, the time frame for the prospect of death far from clear, the best case scenario being a long and agonizing wait, the worst case being torn apart by an army of ants and then carried off to be feasted upon.
Having secured the tape over the old manís mouth, Alida recited a prayer with the old manís son and housekeeper. All were now in full Nazi regalia. All the while, the old man experienced a most desperate and incomprehensibly horrible struggle against his own lungs, grinding his teeth so hard that they fell out, swimming around his mouthís saliva, and causing further breathing difficulties as they were sucked down his throat, each one lacerating his stomach and lungs, blood streaming out of his ears.
The mosquito continued to tremble, nothing to be done, no future and little past, only a painful unendurable, interminable present, no other sensory data to distract her from the vulgar suffering that enveloped her existence.
Having concluded their prayer, the crew and passengers began to unscrew the hatch to the submarine. The old man struggled off of his chair onto the ground, flopping like a fish, gazing up at his first wife as she opened the hatch. With a toiletís flush, they were all sucked out into the depths of the sea, the old man, now free of all restraints, swam like a minnow among the slowly sinking crew members, all resigned, all unmoving. His lungs spasmed uncontrollably now, filled with seawater as he searched their faces for his wife. He found her, no longer in Nazi regalia, but in a dress billowing and fluttering in the dark, furling and unfurling. She was muttering a prayer. He grabbed her shoulder and pulled her upward toward the light above, all the force left in his elderly, oxygen-deprived body struggling against a downward current. As he swam upward, her muttering resolved. She was saying she loved him. Nearing the surface, he looked back toward her, she smiled, repeating the mantra, and now they were no longer in the water, but in the air, falling, both of them toward the ground ever approaching, and knowing both of their fates, he took her in his arms and gave up the struggle and together they hit the ground.
The mosquito continued enduring the unendurable, all sound now mute besides the occasional buzzing of her one still unbroken wing caught in the carpet fibers, until once more the sun came up and all became impossibly bright. She heard the door open, felt the vibration of the steps until one of those steps rose up over her and came down, crushing her body once more into non-living matter soon to be vacuumed up, mixed with dust, becoming completely unrecognizable as the body of a mosquito.
The housekeeper stood over the old manís contorted body, straightened it, smoothed out the sheets, closed his half-opened eyelids, and smiled, her own crowís feet demonstrably sympathetic. He had lived long and had died peacefully in his sleep.