Once the pontoon boat’s engine is cut, don’t gasp or sigh under your breath. Remind yourself: sound carries acutely across water. Without anticipation, watch the seasoned boaters secure the pontoons together with thick ropes. Appreciate the unsettled moments when everyone greets everyone else. This is the easy part. Nod to the tanned girls in triangle bikinis when you say hello—yes, even to Veronica-with-the-great-smile. Sip your beer when you greet the tall boys and the boys with tribal shoulder tattoos. Smile at the chubby boy wearing a T-shirt. Pretend your husband is looking from behind his shades to the horizon.
As the boats drift, discretely lick your finger to test the wind’s direction. Pretend it worked. Call it a northeasterly wind. Be careful how much repellent you spray. You don’t want to draw attention to yourself or poison the one child in SpongeBob swimming trunks who belongs to the couple nobody would guess. Pretend you would guess the child is theirs if anyone asks. Assume nobody will ask; prepare your answer regardless.
After you down your third beer, jump recklessly into the lake. In the water, shiver head to toe, knowing you’ll have to reapply repellent after the shoulder muscles you don’t have hoist you up the ladder. Tell yourself you aren’t needlessly worried—four sweltering bites mark your calves and two tiny bites, absorbed like growths under the skin, dot your knuckles. Listen to your body’s aches. Remain in the water long enough to run your hands fully over your limbs. Recount; tally nine bites. Refrain from announcing the new additions to your husband, who’s crossed boats to talk amicably with Veronica’s great smile. Get jealous. Submerge. Emerge. Wish your jealousy sank to the lake’s bottom.Pull yourself back onto the boat and search for anyone who’s looking your way. When nobody is, search first for the chubby boy in a T-shirt. Entice him by combing your thick mob of wet hair with your hands. Laugh when the child in Sponge Bob trunks asks why your skin’s so red, why your hair’s so matted and tangled. Tell him you have recessive genes. When he asks what are recessive genes, ask him if he can even spell recessive. Almost say you didn’t think so.
Ignore how muscular everyone looks or that even the chubby boy in a T-shirt has great calves. Ignore their ignorance of the swarming mosquitoes. Secretly hope someone else gets bit and further hope that someone is Veronica. Hope that when she squeals your husband will see how attractive it is to complain. Prepare to board the other boat to complain alongside Veronica. Close your eyes to imagine your plan unfold. Wait!—keep them open. Stretch first across the cushioned seat. Now close your eyes.
Imagine you’re larger than the mosquitoes (you are). Imagine you’re skimming the lake with a fishnet, collecting hundreds in one fell swoop. Tell yourself these bites impart truth; into your blood they siphon you sovereign poise.
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).