Critical Thought: Account

I tend to think of my fictions as placeless—little worlds of their own, untethered to any precise location—but this is sometimes, as with “An Account,” not true. I wrote it after spending some time in some actual mountains, with actual ticks. My dread of borreliosis (Lyme disease) bloomed that summer; and I kept it, the dread, brittling in memory, long after the ticks were gone. This story is the dry stain. And a love poem, too. I hope I can get away with love if enough anxiety and fear are involved. Grace Paley once told an audience I was in that every story has to be at least two stories, two strands of longing or worry or collision or threat; otherwise, what? She didn’t say. But we all kind of knew. I keep her advice close at hand, even for such a small tale as this one.

Leni Zumas is the author of Farewell Navigator, a story collection. She is currently collaborating on a picture-novel with the artist Luca Dipierro, serialized monthly at Gigantic Online.

An Account of My Death in the Mountains

We get ticks on us. Three one day, four the next, bad dots at the ankle. We shut every door and stay where it’s white. “You’re city people,” Red says. “More fat in your blood—they smell it.” Ashamed, we cross our arms in the sun and admire Red’s cane, which I can’t be sure if he physically needs. We scratch at night at tick ghosts. We tell the dog to get the fuck off. The mountains are hot all around us. One on my arm won’t brush away. I flick, pinch, squeeze, nothing. What will I do, die? “Yes,” my love says, “and I will bury you in the basement.” No but really. “Put a match at your skin,” Red says, “and it’ll wriggle out. Those shits hate flame.” The match is a fool. The head, a dark pin, stays in. “I will bury you,” my love says, “in the oven.” The pin is deep near my elbow. I will get that disease that made Aunt P. so tired she couldn’t come to Christmas. I hate the dog, once my favorite. We drive to the nearest real town and I watch a rim swell around the tick—a tiny loaf of blood. “There is no cure,” I tell my love. At urgent care, everyone wears a face-diaper. Swine flu has hit the primary schools. We are handed masks, but I ball mine away. Red rents us the house low-price and once fixed the humming faucet, so I will miss him upon my death. I’ll miss the dog, even though he brought me the tick. And my love, my love, my love? There is no word in English the size of such missing. I make him promise to bury me in his mouth.

by Leni Zumas