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There’s a Roach in the Closet

By Robert James

Mike once owned two Madagascan Hissing cockroaches. This is years back, when I was living with him. Frankly, I couldn’t see the attraction. You didn’t exactly want to pet them. In fact, most people ran screaming at the sight of them. You couldn’t take them for a walk, and they didn’t do any tricks, unless you counted the hissing. Not once did I ever hear anyone cooing over them. Never did I hear anyone say, “Oh how cute, can I hold him?” So far as I could tell, they were good for one thing. They gave people the willies. 

One of them escaped once. I couldn’t sleep. “Did you find it yet?” I asked, from halfway up a brand new set of stilts.

My wife would have hated them. If it has more than one leg and she sees it scurrying across the floor, her first course of action is to scream. Over the years I have come to learn that these screams, and the breathless announcements that follow them, don’t mean much. 

“Aaaahhhhhh! There’s a giant spider in the bathroom” invariably means there is a spider in the bathroom that a hawk with a telescope would have trouble finding.

“Aaaahhhhhh! There’s some kind of giant flying thing in the living room.”

“You mean the fly?”

So when my wife screamed one afternoon and informed me that the biggest cockroach she’d ever seen was squatting on the door leading out to the terrace, the sort of scream that could just as easily have meant she’d discovered her family slaughtered in the bedroom, I didn’t give it much thought. 

Our apartment was apparently designed by Salvador Dali, because to reach the terrace you had to walk through a closet. It was here that the cockroach was waiting. And this time, my wife wasn’t exaggerating. Big didn’t even come close to describing it. It was the kind of thing Tarzan would wrestle. It was leaning up against the center of the door smoking a cigarette. A jumble of thoughts raced through my head. Did it want cash? Would it haggle? But mainly I was wondering how it had managed to get in. I could think of only one answer. It must have a key.

The first thing was to put on shoes. No way was I walking about in my socks with this thing on the loose. I went off to look for a pair, hoping that it might somehow disappear by the time I got back. This was a tactic that had worked before. One time I’d found a snake wrapped around the base of the toilet. I only noticed it after I’d unzipped and was already whizzing, so I had to stand there trying not to splash the thing. In this position the last thing I wanted was to upset a snake. After I’d finished I went to put on shoes, and by the time I got back, the snake had gone. So I kept my mouth shut about it and hoped I wasn’t around the next time it showed up.

I was hoping the same thing might happen now, but that seemed unlikely. Plus, my wife had already seen the cockroach. If I told her I’d killed the thing and it showed up in bed one night, it wouldn’t look good. This wasn’t the kind of roach that could just slip through a crack and disappear. It would more likely pick up the phone and call for a cab. 

It was dark in the closet. I was having trouble seeing exactly where this leviathan began and ended. Maybe I didn’t want to know. For sure I didn’t want to get the light. It might move. The last thing I wanted was to see it move. I didn’t have the stomach.

By now I was holding a broom, my chosen weapon. I’d considered shooting the thing, and I’d also gone through the Yellow Pages looking for someone else to shoot it. Apparently hit men don’t advertise. It was one of those big yard brooms with a field of bristles. I figured this would improve my chances of connecting on the first shot. I wouldn’t get a second.

I stood poised and ready to lunge. I was shaking. The monster on the door didn’t move, didn’t even flinch. I swayed, moved to strike, then thought better of it and stopped. 

Maybe I should get something to eat first. A sandwich, maybe. Then I started to get annoyed. What was it doing in the closet anyway? Trying on jackets? Shouldn’t it be in the food cupboard and come out at night while I was asleep? Come to think of it, maybe it had been in the food cupboard. That would explain where that bag of potatoes went. 

Why did I have to deal with this thing? And why now? The golf was on. That’s what a guy my age was supposed to be doing on a Sunday afternoon, watching golf. Not chasing after the latest gorgon to have moved in.

And then suddenly I was charging. The broom slammed into the door and I leant into it with all my weight. I could feel the awful writhing and twisting as the cockroach tried to escape. I continued pushing, screwing the head of the broom into the door. I wasn’t going to lose contact until I knew this thing was dead, until I’d rolled it into the grave and covered it over myself. I was breathing heavily. I continued pushing until I felt the fight die away at the end of the broom. 

Eventually, I let my muscles relax and eased the broom away from the door. A great weight slumped to the floor. I ran into the kitchen, grabbed a yard bag, and somehow eased the dead thing into it. I dragged it down the stairs, stepped squinting into the sunlight, and began looking for somewhere to dig. 

Copyright 2012 Robert James


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