By Hannah Christensen
Roy slammed the car door shut then leaned in the window.
“I still think I should be able to get a farmer’s license since I work for Uncle Henry.”
“And you still live in town,” Jess pointed out from behind the steering wheel.
“Power hog,” complained Roy, and left start work in the barn.
“That shows what you know.” Jess turned around and headed back home. The sun was still low enough to silhouette the windmill decently, but she did not stop for pictures. Today the roses were perfect, and she had already lost a good part of the dew time by driving her brother to work.
At home she doused herself with bug repellent. Melody always laughed and said she would never get a good butterfly picture, but it was worth it to keep the monstrous mosquitoes at bay. She got a number of pictures, some of them good, by working through breakfast. The repellent wore off with the dew. When the light lost its soft cast, Jess packed up her camera and cheerily headed toward the house. With Roy gone today, she should have a chance at the computer to post her pictures.
“Jess, is that you?” Her mother called. “Oh, good. Today is Grandma’s appointment. I’ve left a list.” She gave her a quick hug. “Call if you need anything.”
“Bye, Mom.” Jess checked the bulletin board next to the coat rack. Even if she had lunch duty, she should be able to finish her chores in time to have plenty of time on the computer before Roy’s day was over.
The list was short, but Jess’s shoulders drooped as she read it.
Return library books.
She was going to have to spend the whole day driving around.
“Mary, want to switch jobs with me?”
Her twelve-year-old sister turned the corner, dusting cloth in hand. “I’ve already started.”
“I’ll trade making lunch for taking the twins to swim lessons.”
Mary crossed her arms. “That’s too far to take them by bike. I’ll switch you for the library and post office, though.”
“Those don’t take that long. Please, Mary. Lessons take forever.”
“I can’t drive.”
Jess sighed. If she hurried she would have time to download her pictures before leaving. If nothing took longer than it was supposed to, she still might have enough time this afternoon.
Leaving for swim lessons did not make a promising start. The third trip inside to get towels for Linda and Les, Jess stopped where Mary was sprawled out with a book.
“When it’s time for piano lessons, I expect you to be ready to go. No forgetting your books until we’re pulling out.”
Mary rolled her eyes. “Did you get Mom’s herb book on the piano?” she called just as the door closed again. Jess huffed in exasperation and went back inside for the library book.
In the truck, Linda and Les were smacking the back window with their library books.
“Stop it. I don’t want to have to pay for those things.” Jess slammed the door.
Linda squealed and ducked as Les kept slamming the window.
“I said stop.” Jess backed up and pulled out.
“I have to get the mosquito,” said Les.
Jess almost slammed on the brakes. Of course there was a mosquito in here. Roy had helped Mom haul mulch the day before. He thought it didn’t matter if you left the windows down as long as no rain got in, but he didn’t have to try to drive with a whining bloodsucker haunting him. “Fine. Just keep your seat belt on.”
The mosquito was still at large when they reached the swimming pool. Jess made a thorough search while waiting for the twins, but could not find it.
“Great. Now do I leave the windows open so it can fly away, or close them up so no more can get in?” In the end she left one window cracked until they returned home, then closed that. The mosquito lay low until the way home from piano.
Jess was trying not to speed. Piano lessons had run overtime again, and she was done trying to entertain the twins. They were whining in the back seat.
Something tickled a hair on her neck, and she shook her head. Then she heard the whine by her ear.
“Jess!” squealed Mary. “Stay on the road!”
“I am.” Jess straightened out from her swerve. “I’m just trying to smack this mosquito.” It dove past her eyes, and she tried to catch it in her fist. This swerve wasn’t nearly as sharp as the last, but Mary still squealed again.
“Let me try to get it. You drive.”
“It’s not on your side. It came back this way.”
Mary leaned over anyway. “Where did it go? Oh!” She lunged and tried to smack the window on the driver’s door.
“Mary!” Jess fought to keep in her lane as a grain truck lumbered down the other lane toward them.
“Keep your hands on the wheel.”
“I was. You need to keep yourself in your seat.”
The next time, Jess tried to blow the mosquito away as it hovered around her nose. She found herself trying to look at it cross-eyed instead of watching the road. She let go of the wheel with one hand long enough to shoo it away.
“I think it’s on your side, Mary.”
“Where—oh!” Mary tried to shoo it up against a window to smack. She missed. Clap. Clap. Now it bumped along the bottom of the windshield. “I—think—I’ve—got—it.” Smack, smack, smack she chased it with a piano book.
“Don’t chase it over here!” Jess winced away, and the truck winced with her.
“You’re the driver. Concentrate on driving. I’m the mosquito smacker,” said Mary.
“I’m doing more driving than you are smacking mosquitoes.”
Mary ignored her. “Roll your windows down, everyone, as far as they will go. We want the wind to suck the mosquito out of its hiding place and blow it away.”
Wind grew, lashing wisps of hair across Jess’s face. The mosquito stayed in the crack between the dash and the windshield, bumping back and forth.
“Guys, this is not helping!”
“That’s because it’s closest to you, and you haven’t rolled your window all the way down yet,” said Mary.
Jess glared at her, but took one hand off the wheel to crank down her window.
“There. All it needs is one little bit of encouragement.” Mary pulled a sheet out of her assignment book and curled it tightly into a pointer. Leaning over, she scraped the point along the crevice at the base of the windshield. The mosquito flew out.
Jess shrieked and ducked.
The truck lurched and from underneath sounded a thud.
Suddenly everyone was very quiet.
“Did you hit a deer?” Les asked.
“Was it a kitty?” Linda was almost crying already.
Jess checked her mirror. “It was just a box,” she said.
“Well, at least the mosquito’s gone.” Mary’s voice sounded a little shaky. “That’s the important part.”
No one said anything for a while.
Jess had almost relaxed when a soft thud came from the backseat. She frowned, but before she could ask what was going on behind her, something clobbered her in the head.
“Leslie Myles!” She swiveled around to glare at her younger brother.
“It was the mosquito!”
“Do you honestly think I believe a mosquito just hit me in the back of the head?”
“It was on you head.”
Mary’s scream cut through all words.
Jess turned around in time to see them careen off the almost non-existent shoulder and into the steep grassy ditch. Don’t roll, don’t roll, her heart seemed to thunder.
They bounced, leaned, and then righted to go tearing into the fence.
“Stop! Stop! Stop!” Mary screamed.
Jess’s panicked mind finally registered that her foot clenched the gas pedal nearly to the floor. She pried her foot off the gas pedal and on the second try clamped it down on the brakes instead. The truck lurched to a stop. Jess draped herself over the steering wheel and closed her eyes. Now was not the time to cry. She still had driving to do, and things were hard enough without blurry vision.
Linda wailed, Les talked fifty miles a minute in his extra squeaky voice, and even Mary whimpered. “Be quiet!” Jess ordered. The mosquito whined up next to her ear. Jess slammed her fist at it, hitting the horn in a loud blat.
“We are not going anywhere else until that mosquito is dead.” She slammed at the sun visor. “So you’d better start helping me!”
Now the mosquito buzzed in her ear.
She smacked her ear.
The ringing in her ear made it hard to find the flying menace for a bit. Sitting very still, Jess listened for a betraying buzz.
“Jess, they’re coming over here,” said Mary.
“Tell them we’ll leave as soon as we kill that mosquito.”
She still heard no tell-tale whine, but a flicker of movement caught her eye. She ran her gaze back and forth until the angular shape of the mosquito appeared, camouflaged against the black steering wheel.
Slowly, slowly, she pulled her hand up. Slowly, slowly she took aim. Slowly, slowly she took a deep breath—then smacked the steering wheel as hard as she could. The heel of her hand hit the horn, sounding it louder than before, but when she pulled her hand up, a flat mosquito outline decorated it like a trophy.
Jess yelped and jumped, almost hitting the horn again. A cow’s head stuck through the passenger window.
Les laughed hysterically. Linda’s tears were uncontrolled.
“I told you they were coming,” Mary squeaked. She shrank down in her seat.
“Now I really need to know who to call,” said Jess.
A half hour later, the pickup rolled into the driveway and shuddered to a stop.
“Hey, kids.” Mom was watering her geraniums. “I was getting worried. What happened?”
“I need to roll the windows up,” said Jess.
Linda and Les tumbled out of the back seat and cataracted toward their mother, words spraying out of their mouths about mosquitoes and cows.
Mary ran over and squeezed her mother tight.
“Jess? Is everything all right?”
Jess dragged herself over. What she needed was some computer time where she could focus on flowers and butterflies and maybe even check on pictures her friends had posted. Time she could put the whole disaster out of mind long enough to piece herself together. She wondered if there be time when she was done explaining to even finish with her pictures from the morning. Already she could hear the buzzes and bams from Roy’s video games.
“How much time do I have until time to pick up Roy?” she asked.
“Roy finished work early. I picked him up on my way home to save you a trip. What kept you:”
Jess closed her eyes and swallowed. She really was hearing sounds from Roy’s video games.
“Mom, I hate mosquitoes.”
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