The cockroaches only bothered me as long as I believed in Jesus.
It was about five years altogether I went to the holy roller church, and you could measure the years by the parts of the Bible I read through or the church picnics every summer with the pie eating contests or the girls I fell in love with. But mostly those five years had the cockroaches.
The worst was the loft at the hardware store where I worked. I’d get in early and hit the light switch at the bottom of the stairs, and the fluorescent lights would flicker, and I swear to Jesus one of those big cockroaches would be up there at the top of the stairs, and the light from up above it would cast its shadow all the way down, and the shadows of its antennas would wave around the bottom three or four steps, and I got all froze up and squeezed in my chest just looking at it.
My whole living environment was full of those creeps. There were little ones in my apartment, the kind that run and hide when you turn on the bathroom light, and I tried not to think about them when I sat down on the toilet to take a crap. Tried not to imagine them swimming up through the toilet water and up the sides of the toilet bowl and across my balls and all around my tasty ass crack, which was right then pushing out just the kind of shit those little cockroaches loved so much. It got to be I’d clench so bad I’d give up and walk a block down to the church and let myself in and use the toilet there. Thank you, Jesus.
But the hardware store. Damn.
It was downtown L.A. just around the block from the old Olympic Auditorium. Every building around was some old warehouse that made refried beans or secret sauce for Jack in the Box or battered chicken parts for the Colonel. Pretty much a cockroach smorgasbord. Any time we stripped and waxed the floors at the hardware store these big buggers, big as my palm, ran out from under the fixtures and waved their antennas around all confused and then ran back under again.
My manager, little asshole as he was, he told me to go upstairs and straighten out the wallpaper books. Now I know about servants obey your masters like Paul told the Ephesians, which means Christians do what your boss tells you, but even when I believed in Jesus and watched my language, I called my manager an asshole in my heart, which is the same as lusting in your heart, you’re still guilty.
The loft had a fridge and a kitchen table and chairs and a toaster oven, and there was a wall of big bins where wallpaper sample books were shoved in crooked and haphazard, and there was a bathroom with a dirty toilet and a dirty sink and a dirty mirror up above the sink. The whole loft was hot and dust was on everything and there was never any air up there. I was sweating just walking up the stairs.
These wallpaper books, if you never seen one, they were about the size of a great big atlas like they got on a pedestal at the library, and about as heavy, too, all filled with big squares of actual wallpaper, page after page, swirls and stars and teacups and unicorns.
I pull out the books from one bin and start a pile on the kitchen table. By the second bin there’s big sweat patches on my red True Value shirt, and the dust is all prickly in my hair and down the back of my neck, and I’m in the zone where I pull the books out faster and faster, totally on automatic, just lift and pull and turn the book to read the spine and turn it back and stack it on the table.
I grab this one book, Camelot Princess it was called, take a step toward the table and turn the book at the same time, and there it is on the back of my hand, bigmotherfuckerJesuswhat-wereyouthinking cockroach, hard shell shiny brown and those goddamn long wavy antennas, and it’s electric lightning right up my arm and into my brain and back out, and I feel the scratch of those spiny cockroach legs, but I feel it all over, every bit of dust in my hair and on my neck and my back shiver and crawl and my legs go weak and all my nerves light up with adrenaline, and I shake my arm fast and the cockroach falls off and before it can even run or skitter or whatever it can do, I slam the wallpaper book down on its fat shiny ugly brown cockroach ass.
Then I breathe.
My adrenaline backs up from all my skin back to its adrenal gland or wherever it goes, and I push the wallpaper book with my foot and look down at the smashed up cockroach, bits of its shell and one antenna just a little bit wiggly and there’s brown red bug blood smeared all around.
I stare down there at it and I feel like someone else is staring down, too. Someone sad and curious looking over my shoulder to see what I had done. It’s the feeling you get, and you know it’s right outside your sight, and it could be an angel or a devil on your shoulder, if you believe that kind of thing, or Jesus himself about to whisper some word of comfort in my ear.
But it’s definitely something by my ear.
Right there on the edge of my peripheral vision.
Bigger than the big fucker I just killed, and all my adrenaline comes right back and I slap myself all over, and knock that fucker off my shoulder and it runs away under the fridge, and I curse Jesus and I twirl myself all the way into that dirty bathroom and look in the mirror and brush off every bit of me again and again, and I look at my face, my sweat, my hair slick and tight on my head, my eyes all buggy trying to calm down and not bounce around with tics and blinks and shit.
Enough with the cockroaches, Jesus, and enough with you.
That’s it, that’s all, see you later.
Go to hell.
Jesus Christ.Doug Chase lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife Tracey, a poodle named Mathilda, and the tinned ashes of a dog, a cat, and a man. He is a typically depressed member of Tom Spanbauer’s Dangerous Writing Ongoing Workshop.