by Jimmy Lis

Pandemonium precedes understanding. I know the voices of my own family, and yet, in the melee I can’t tell who shouts, “What is that?” or “There’s something on him!” My son’s cries arrive down the stairs before he does. He holds his towel in one hand, too distracted to notice it doesn’t cover his bare body.

The choir of chaos comes closer. My oldest son provides the bass, and my wife the alto. My youngest son, the soprano, yells, “I don’t want to die!”

The other children flee, either for fear of the monster half submerged in his chest or of the full-frontal nudity.

Head tilted to the heavens, my wife yells loud enough that God may hear her and descend to save her baby.

A tick hangs from my son’s chest, embedded above his right nipple. It is trying to burrow deeper, like our dog seeking shelter under the couch during a thunderstorm.

My wife’s quivering hand presses buttons on her phone. Who in our life does she consult for impromptu tick management? Is there a preexisting list, broken down by category of hazard that may befall us and the best contact? Is “tick” its own category? 

I lock away doubt to be processed later. I need to soothe the boy. 

I recall hearing about burning ticks, so I head to the kitchen for the long lighter we use on birthday candles. I rush back to my trembling, wailing son. My wife is screaming again: “You’re going to burn my baby!” She hangs up her phone call. Was she finished? Or does she feel the need for a sudden intervention?

Tweezers in hand, she quickly wipes away her tears. We both exhale like a couple about to exit a corn maze, ready to put on a happy face for the world and pretend that we had not yelled our way through, like lunatics attempting echolocation. 

“Pluck, burn, flush” she says with feigned confidence. I nod. She yanks on the resistant tick, like prying a toddler’s desperate hands from the jungle gym, and finally pulls it out. I apply flame, but it won’t die. Its legs flail like a windup toy desperately seeking traction, as it falls into the whooshing flush of the toilet.

We will spend the rest of our evening searching each other’s bodies for ticks. I will spend the rest of my life scratching phantom itches.

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When he is not selling sugar, Xanthan gum, and yellow #5 by day, or challenging his kids to Pokémon battles by night, Jimmy is writing feverishly in the hours before and after, attempting to make up for lost time. He graduated from Colgate University with a degree in International Relations and Asian Studies too many years ago to count. He now resides in Grand Rapids, MI, with his lovely family, about a 4-iron away from his childhood home.

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