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Fischer, Joan (ed.) / Wisconsin Academy review
Volume 51, Number 3 (Summer 2005)

Arnold, Autumn
Epidemic,   pp. 37-41

Page 38

ti  t  o 1_______________________________________ 
The steering wheel felt cold and loose in my hand, 
but when I let go we didn't stop, gliding silently in a 
warm, fluid circle on a patch of black ice. 
lightly where I've marked the paper with 
a sweet-smelling Sharpie marker. I thank 
God for each click on this counter. The 
space between them is too small for me 
to think of anything else. 
I finish counting and use long tweez- 
ers to push the pliable, soft bodies into 
eleven separate test tubes. Then I take a 
second jar of insects from the freezer 
and spread out clean white office paper 
on the glassy black counter. My favorite 
part is spilling them out, a crackle of ici- 
cles against the rustle of paper. It's easy 
to pull the other bugs out of the mix: 
huge moths with thick bodies; barrel- 
shaped caterpillars; daddy longlegs and 
a million other gangly insects that I 
don't have the names for but feel 
common and familiar. Then I pick up the 
male mosquitoes and move them into 
their own pile. They are smaller, diminu- 
tive and their proboscis is curled and 
furry like the twist of a fern. Everyone 
knows the females bite; they are also the 
ones who carry the disease. Culex pipi- 
ens are the most beautiful and most dis- 
tinct: they are the largest ones whose 
slender body tapers into a great, curling 
proboscis. Their legs are thinner than a 
single black hair but they hold rows and 
rows of exquisite white bands that dis- 
appear against the white page. In the 
forest, they swarm like banshees to our 
lips and eyebrows, but here they are 
harmless to the world. 
It's after ten when I'm startled by the 
scrape of gravel in the driveway. I stand 
up quickly to look through the high 
window, but what grabs my attention 
first is the map of our county with red 
dots for babies and green dots for 
horses. There is no dot at the bend in 
the road where David edged his small 
black car over the double yellow line. 
The first time he did it, a noise came 
from my throat. He laughed, happy to 
tease me with his game of chicken. He 
was a daredevil and I was a prude. Most 
dark nights it thrilled me when he drove 
so fast the yellow lights and thick 
hedges of tall houses along the river 
became a soft blur. I felt safe, like we 
were floating. The second time he did it, 
the other car pulled hard toward the 
shoulder and I told him to stop it. He 
laughed again. I could tell he wasn't 
going to stop. 
Come-n- byladjde arWto 
The third time he edged us over the 
line, I was angry. I reached over and 
grabbed the wheel to yank us back to 
where we belonged. The steering wheel 
felt cold and loose in my hand, but when 
I let go we didn't stop, gliding silently in 
a warm, fluid circle on a patch of black 
ice. It seemed to go on forever like a 
deep, dark lake until he turned to look 
at me and I heard the rasp of the tires on 
the snow. 
When I pull myself away from the 
map, I can see it's my supervisor, 
Richard, in the driveway. He doesn't 
know anything about me or what it feels 
like when the mosquitoes swarm around 
me, thick as heat in the darkness of the 
woods. I listen to the tick of the hot 
engine in his white, county-issued 
Crown Victoria, then I wait through the 
nome. I wont nave to ira a way to rn 
those twilight hours, alone with myself 
and my apartment that sits too close to 
the road. 
I keep counting and Richard pauses 
for a moment before resting his hand on 
the round part of my shoulder, the first 
warm touch I have felt in a long time. It 
makes me feel loose and weak to think 
of him holding me up like this, in his 
jeans and work boots and wiry gray- 
brown hair that curls up from under- 
neath his baseball cap. He is tall and 
bone-skinny like David, the shape of 
men who drink beer in the afternoon 
and fix their own cars. Then I feel his 
space between my spine and my shoul- 
der blade. It puts an ache in my throat, 
but I keep counting and don't change 
anything. If I change the way I hold my 
head, or clench my teeth, or stop the 
steady click of the silver counter, I might 
come apart. The only motion in the 
room is the delicate movement of my 
wrists and fingers. Richard sighs and 
steps away, fumbling in his breast 
pocket with the plastic wrapper of his 
"Want a smoke?" he asks. His voice is 
low and throaty. 
"No thanks," I say without turning 
around. "I'm fine." 
long pause before the screen door 
slams. Richard walks with heavy steps 
that shake the linoleum in the spaces of 
floor that lag between cinderblocks. He 
brings a jolt of the stifling, damp heat 
into this room at the back of the sharply 
air-conditioned trailer. 
"Hey," he says, clearing his throat in 
the quiet room. "How's it coming?" he 
asks, leaning over my shoulder to look 
at the neat piles of mosquitoes. 
"Okay," I say, thinking of what 
Richard has promised: in the heat of 
August, I will be overwhelmed by the 
millions of insects that incubate and 
multiply in the swamp. I look forward 
to these late months of summer, when 
it will be almost dark by the time I get 

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