How Mosquito Got His Name
finalist 2020 National Magazine Awards; Third prize, 2005 Okanagan Short Fiction Contest
Read the whole story in Exile Quarterly, 45.2, 43.1; Bawaajigan: Stories of Power.
n another life I was eight years old, and short for my age. My father was drunk one night back then. He was drunk many nights, probly most nights.
He said, “Whachu doing in my house?”
“Dad, it’s me.”
“Dad? I’m not your father, you thieving sémeʔ Get out or I’ll kill you.”
I was a rat trapped in a snake’s gaze, unable to move when he came at me. His hard eyes reflected the kitchen light. He’d said he’d kill me before, but this time it sounded like he would. Sometimes his mouth said words that were the opposite of what he was doing, like, “I love you” was usually the music just before the monster crashed through the door. This was turning out to be one of those times his words and actions didn’t lie to each other. I thought: This time he's really gonna kill me.
Drunk or sober, he wore the same look. He stood over me like a tree on hearing “timber.” Soon his fists or belt would snap against me like branches crashing the ground.
“You got no right to be in my house, white boy. Time for you to go.” He grabbed me by the throat with one hand, lifting me off the floor, choking me. My tiny hands pulled uselessly at his huge one as it closed my throat. Unable to find the floor or wall, or anything else solid, my feet panicked and kicked him in the crotch. He yanked open the basement door with his other hand. My apologies got caught in the hand around my throat.
Thirteen steps from the kitchen floor to the basement landing, not counting the top one. I could run up them in three seconds, taking two at a time. I could get down them in six seconds, no faster.
My body folded onto itself on the first bounce. Lightning lit my brain, followed by a thunderous thump, and then a sharp crack. It echoed through my body. I held my breath, and waited for that pain to scream through me, but I floated in the air for a long time, frozen as if in a picture of me falling down the stairs.