The swathe of bites on Jeff’s legs itched like mad inside his jeans. He tried not to think about scratching the red swollen lumps, instead keeping his hands cupped around the empty cappuccino mug. Bronwyn sat across the table, absorbing his words. He no longer loved her; their relationship was over.
That pronouncement wasn’t strictly true. He’d been frustrated by little things for weeks, but he still loved her. When he’d woken this morning covered in bites he decided she’d crossed a line, and her lack of reaction to his suffering had clinched the decision. Claiming an end to their love seemed the simplest way to extricate himself, and for once there was no debate or argument from Bronwyn, just a disbelieving, choked query.
He’d only managed a silent nod in return, unable to repeat the lie when faced with burgeoning tears. Her throat muscles too tense to speak or eat, she pushed aside her half finished bagel. Swift in the summer heat, a fly landed on an exposed smear of vegan cream cheese, crawling erratically across the white sweating surface. Jeff shuddered, skin crawling at the insect’s proximity, wanting to get rid of it. Knowing any interference would provoke Bronwyn’s wrath, he suppressed his instinctive flykilling slap, instead reaching out to stroke her hand.
Between her intermittent tears, he uttered time-worn clichés and pronounced good intentions, trying to assuage her hurt and his guilt. They would remain friends, he would always be there when she needed him, their plans for the New Year still stood. He spoke to fill the silence and give her time to recover. Bronwyn finally took a few deep breaths and gathered herself, beginning to recover from Jeff’s unexpected announcement.
“We’ve had some good times, hey?”
He agreed. The cooler months had been great. It was only since late spring when things had deteriorated. There was little more to say after that. He insisted on picking up the bill, then drove her home, wincing at every abrasion of sweat-dampened denim against his bite-covered thighs. She didn’t notice his discomfort, and his guilt began to dissipate beneath a familiar sense of irritation.
With a thankfully tearfree farewell Jeff headed back toward the city, stopping at Cannon Hill to pick up two large cans of Mortein, a tub of Lucas’ PawPaw Ointment, and two family-sized bags of chips. Arriving home he strode through his apartment, closing every window she’d opened, spraying both cans simultaneously. He flicked on the aircon she’d hated so much and retreated to the balcony. Dropping his jeans in relief he smeared thick yellow pawpaw goop over the swollen red bites.
After ten minutes the air inside was breathable again. Jeff vacuumed up the plethora of tiny black corpses littering the white tiles then settled on the couch with chips and beer. For a moment he listened closely, then a relieved smile crossed his face as he switched on the TV, sinking back into the cushions. He’d heard no mosquitos whining.