An excerpt from ‘Sleeping and Waking‘ [December, 1934] in F.Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘On Booze‘ notebook.
My own experience with night pests was at a time of utter exhaustion – too much work undertaken, interlocking circumstances that made the work twice as arduous, illness within and around – the old story of troubles never coming singly. And ah, how I had planned that sleep that was to crown the end of the struggle – how I had looked forward to the relaxation into a bed soft as a cloud and permanent as a grave. An invitation to dine à deux with Greta Garbo would have left me indifferent.
But had there been such an invitation I would have done well to accept it, for instead I dined alone, or rather was dined upon by one solitary mosquito.
It is astonishing how much worse one mosquito can be than a swarm. A swarm can be prepared against, but one mosquito takes on a personality – a hatefulness, a sinister quality of the struggle to the death. This personality appeared all by himself in September on the twentieth floor of a New York hotel, as out of place as an armadillo. He was the result of New Jersey’s decreased appropriation for swamp drainage, which had sent him and other younger sons into neighbouring states for food.
The night was warm – but after the first encounter the vague slappings of the air, the futile searches, the punishment of my own ears a split second too late, I followed the ancient formula and drew the sheet over my head.
And so there continued the old story, the bitings through the sheet, the sniping of exposed sections of hand holding the sheet in place, the pulling up of the blanket with ensuing suffocation – followed by the psychological change of attitude, increasing wakefulness, wild impotent anger – finally a second hunt.
This inaugurated the maniacal phase – the crawl under the bed with the standing lamp for torch, the tour of the room with final detection of the insect’s retreat on the ceiling and attack with knotted towels, the wounding of oneself – my God!
- After that there was a short convalescence that my opponent seemed aware of, for he perched insolently beside my head – but I missed again.
At last, after another half hour that whipped my nerves into a frantic state of alertness came the Pyrrhic victory, and the small mangled spot of blood, my blood, on the head-board of the bed.
Reading that story the other night and writing it down was therapeutic in a way, as the past week has been filled with an array of frustrations. There may not have been an annoying mosquito, but there certainly was a vexer or two. Please excuse my lack of originality this week. Music always seems to come in handy for me at times like these. So thank you, Louis, for helping a lady vent through your words.