I sat at the wooden picnic table on the back deck when Simone came to the screen door carrying two iced-teas. Are you going to be out here, she asked.
Yes, I said, it’s cooling down.
Are there any bugs, she asked jiggling the latch on the door.
No, I said, none that will bother you. She came out and joined me at the table. There are no mosquitoes, I said, or moths. I know how you feel about moths.
What do you mean, she said. Why did you have to say that? She took a swig from her iced-tea.
I didn’t mean anything, I said, there are just a couple June bugs wandering around, that’s all, that’s all I meant.
And earwigs, she said pointing to one crawling across the table. There are more earwigs around this year than I remember from previous years.
I once ate an earwig, I said. When I was six, seven, something like that, I ate one. I had left a bottle of soda out on the kitchen counter overnight. In the morning I picked it up again and just started drinking from it, as if I had only put it down for a minute. There was an earwig in it. I could feel it swirling in the flat, syrupy liquid in my mouth. I spit it out and threw up; I think I stayed home from school that day.
At least it didn’t get in your ear, she said. They give you nightmares if they get into your ear.
Is that true? There was a burst of light in the sky over the McHugh’s house followed by a loud bang.
I hate fireworks, Simone said.
I know you do, I said. A bottle rocket went up from the sidewalk outside our fence where our neighbors were crouched around an empty Coke bottle. The bottle rocket hissed as it rose, drifting up over a street lamp. They usually quit at ten, I said.
But this is only July second, she said. What will the fourth be like, I hate them.
It’s only a couple days a year, I said. I could hear whistles a few streets over.
There are bugs out here, she said.
Yes, I said, I guess there are. I hadn’t noticed them before. I really hadn’t.
Goodnight, she said, tipping her glass to finish off her iced-tea. The cubes slid down the side of the tumbler, crashing against her upper lip.
Goodnight, I said, I’ll be up in a couple minutes. I heard a loud boom from the neighbor’s yard, an M-80 probably.
I can’t wait until the fifth, she said, I just hope they don’t keep me awake.
I know, I said, me too. The screen door swung shut behind her as an earwig climbed along the aluminum frame.
She will sleep; she sleeps well. She will be asleep when I slip into bed. The fireworks will have stopped, only two more days to get through. Another blast goes off; kaboom. It is so loud that it sets off a car alarm in the parking lot across the street.
A mosquito lands on my thigh. I watch it there for a moment, its pencil line thin legs supporting its body. I watch its dedication, its work ethic. I bring my hand down swiftly and
crush the mosquito. There is a deep red blotch on my skin like a spray of colored lights across a summer sky.
Bio: Thomas O’Connell is a librarian living on the banks of the Hudson River in Beacon, NY, where he happens to be the 2015-2016 poet laureate. His poetry and short fiction has appeared in Elm Leaves Journal, Caketrain, Jellyfish Review, Otoliths, and The Los Angeles Review, as well as other print and online journals.