Important News by Allyson Leigh

Television handed out its Emmy Awards in Los Angeles last night, where stars and starlets and baby specks of stars not yet twinkling in the public’s eyes were dressed to the hilt; in Hollywood, thus undressed as much as physics and body glue would allow. A scarf strategically wound to this side, a spangle flipped casually over that side, and enough skin was bared before the American public to rival a gas station rack’s worth of girly magazines.

Were anyone destined to suffer from mosquito bites, destined by the stars, as it were, to be bitten and swollen up red in little punctuations across their arms, legs, torsos, necks, foreheads, breasts, upper buttocks and big toes, then surely one of the more competent make-up artists and possibly several of the more skilled and talented make-up artists could have swooped in with their specially shaped brushes and multiracial pots of cosmetics and covered the offending wounds before you could say “cheese.”

But on that same glittering night, halfway across a continent, New Roads, Louisiana was heavy with home-grown humidity and a humming, not of cameras clicking, but of bugs buzzing. The stillwater that collected monthly, and extra monthly in the summer when it rained too hard and too long and was too moist to allow any of it to evaporate, gathered and rolled slowly until it pooled down by the old dump. The town of New Roads and the surrounding parish of Pointe Coupee, a jungle-like, damp, all-inclusive five-star mosquito resort, was about to suffer the highest concentration of the deadly West Nile virus in all of America, with more than fifteen cases among a rural population of 2,000.

First came Jimmy Bruno, a 34-year-old John Deere rep who showed up at the local clinic covered in large red welts. Moaning and itching, he had to be wheeled into the examining room on a stretcher with restraints, for he’d been scratching at his generous proportions and had begun to bleed through his raw and broken skin. His wife, Eileen Bruno, was a nurse at the hospital, but she was nowhere to be found when Jimmy was brought in. Dr. Basil Dreyfus and Al Kittering from the front reception desk were missing as well (found later, each alone at home in a reclining chair, beer in hand, bleeding from a thousand torn patches).

Next was Eamon Handy, the retired 68-year-old owner of New York’s own Handy Apple Farms, who had a headache so bad it felt as if someone had fastballed a Macintosh right between his eyes. His wife, Ermine Handy, came in right behind him through the doors of the maternity ward, where Eamon had wandered in his pain and inability to wait for five seconds where his wife had told him to wait. Unsure whether he would die sooner or later, Ermine could still not resists slapping the back of his head to signify the end of her sentences to the doctors on staff.

Then came Pearl Williams, a 77-year-old woman who had been living alone in a mobile home along the river ever since her husband had run off with that tart Josephine from New Orleans twenty years ago. She claimed she’d seen more mosquitoes than any could count, and being the oldest woman in town at that particular time (a flu the year previous having wiped many of her elders and contemporaries out with the season) it was likely true. Pearl was the nearest to death of all the victims admitted to the hospital during the epidemic: consumed with fever, she had fought the paramedics until the commercial break. She muttered in her delirium, asking Ray Romano if he knew whether or not the nice girl from that show about friends had won her Emmy or not. The damn mosquitoes, she was sure, had never been so plentiful, nor bitten as much. Though she did recall that in her youth times had been hard, and one summer they had rationed the contents of one bottle of insect repellent between the twenty-five families in the parish. They’d almost been eaten alive, but managed to make it through, as God’s chosen always do.

In the morning after, too late for the quiet, midnight death of Pearl and only slightly messier passing of two small children who hadn’t gotten to stay up late enough to watch even half as much TV as Pearl had, State scientists rushed in, slathered in insect repellent like gravy on a fresh biscuit. But the high rate of disease transmission in New Roads last night remains a mystery. The virus, spread by mosquitoes as far as anyone can tell, felled men tall as trees, made farm animals roll their eyes and sing country lullabies, and sent volunteer firefighters down to the Piggly Wiggly to pass out buckets full of larvicide, which no one but Jimmy Bruno knew how to use anyhow and since he was about unconscious, it was pretty much useless stuff.

And yes, Jennifer Anniston received an Emmy. So did Ray Romano.

Allyson Leigh is a Master of Arts in English and Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in Smile, Hon! You’re in Baltimore, Squawk Back, Candlelight Poetry Journal, and She lives in Maryland. She can be reached at