We slept with the fleas that August.
The house was situated along the White River, about twenty minutes from West Lebanon, New Hampshire. It was his best friend’s house, and it was unclear how many people lived there. There was Owen and Mike, of course. They worked in the kitchen together at the fish frying shack downtown. Then Scarlett, age 16, and her sisters. Then the cat, and then the second cat, and then the eight kittens birthed between both cats. Then there was Wyatt—the sober computer geek, and of course there was Justin, who would drive over in his Camaro every weekend to sell the boys weed and Adderall. He would never sell in the house and never in front of a lady. Instead, they set up their weigh station on an overgrown picnic table in the corner of the yard. The boys would stand in a semi-circle around the table, the goldenrod grown too high to even sit, bargaining and talking strains and uppers. Justin was taller than the rest, his blonde hair spiked in the front and greased down and flattened in the back, almost long enough to be tucked into the collar of his jean jacket. I’m not so sure this was an intentional style choice as much as a poverty stricken one, which was a style quite common among the folks in rural Vermont. Justin died two months after I met him of a heroin overdose, which seemed atypical at the time and has become much less so since then.
Then, there were the fleas. Fleas bounding away from our legs as we shuffled through the house. Fleas gathered on the takeout containers and dirty Tupperware piled in the kitchen, looking for prey. Fleas hopping onto the condensation of our hard lemonades and becoming drenched, their small circular bodies flattened against the bottle and their legs in the air, peddling desperately in a futile bid to escape. Fleas under my shirt, inside my bra. When we had sex, I was afraid that they’d end up inside me. I would imagine fleas laying eggs next to my fallopian tubes and then I would imagine my eggs in my fallopian tubes and then I would think about me leaving for college at the end of the month and then I’m pretty sure I faked a pregnancy. Fleas in his best friend’s mom’s bedsheets. Fleas in his best friend’s mom’s bed that we claimed because she worked nights. She came home early from a shift one morning and gently asked us if she could sleep in her own bed. “You can take the blankets and sleep on the floor,” She said. “It won’t bother me one bit.”
I would go home on the weekdays and hoist my shirt up, proudly showing Mom the constellation of bites leading from the soft parts of my belly down my leg, the separate cluster on my arms, and the most troublesome bites between my toes. I would announce the total number of bites as they increased throughout August and tell Mom about each night I spent at the Super 8 when the constant biting got too unbearable. She worried that I’d bring the fleas into her house, that I’d infect the place.
The weekend after I moved out of state, Hurricane Irene swept through the White River Valley, washing away all of it: the house, the picnic table, the cats, the fleas. Sometimes, lying in bed a decade later, I find that I still miss it.
Elizabeth Conard is a freelance grocery shopper originally from Randolph, Vermont. Elizabeth earned her BFA in creative writing in 2016 and currently works as a copy editor. When she isn't writing or editing, she is most likely dabbling in some type of visual art. Most recently, Elizabeth co-curated an interactive art installation called Empathy and Ethos, which addressed the topic of health issues and medication in rural America and was showcased at the Burlington Record Plant and The Howard Center, a mental health organization based in Vermont. Elizabeth currently resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.