Fiction

Palmetto Bugs

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Sometimes you hear it first.

There’s a crinkling noise coming from the corner of your kitchen. You check for the open window, maybe it’s a loose breeze. But it’s been painted shut for years. Something the super should’ve fixed ages ago, considering the fact that it leads out to the fire escape. You shrug your shoulders. It was probably just some plastic wrapper relaxing under the warm heat that is bubbling in your apartment. You continue wiping down the countertops. Until you hear the noise again. Louder.

Living in a shoddy studio off of Byron Ave since you just had to be near the beach (which was really a smart move because you are now only four blocks away from your desk job at the hotel, thus eliminating the need for a car) has it’s potential drawbacks. Aside from the waves of tourists, the nonexistent cooling system, and occasional flooding, there is always the possibility of The Cockroach. Here, they like to call them water bugs or more commonly, Palmetto bugs. It’s kind of like a marker of belonging, knowing this name inducts you into the inner circle of Miami kids who grew up side by side with these creatures. Some even reflect on their encounters with the oversized cockroaches in a nostalgic way, almost as if the bugs come as a part of the heritage of Miami. They’re harmless insects that can sometimes fly and grow bigger than the size of your hand, pero, that’s life. It’s so Florida.

But you’re not Florida. You’re New York. You’ve seen your fair share of rats and the normal kind of cockroaches, but never in your apartment. That’s not you. Once you’ve spotted that shiny brown shell and watch those thin antennae memorizing your scent, you know you’re done for. You’ve lost friends because you will never be okay with letting a roach hitch a ride in your handbag back to your place. Something in your gut is telling you that one of your many fears has come true. That you’ve been infested. Say goodbye to those dinner parties that you haven’t gotten around to yet. It’s too late now! Don’t even think about inviting a guy back to your place because even though you disinfect every inch of those 456-square feet, you somehow managed to inherit those little creeps.

You’re frozen for a moment, soap dripping from your latex gloves, staring hard at the corner of the kitchen where you’re certain that little asshole will skitter out from. You imagine how many cousins and uncles and brothers he’ll bring with him. How thrilled he will be to have discovered such a tidy little dwelling. Perfect for trailing all of the filth from outside. You shudder. The hair on your arms pricks up. This isn’t what you wanted when you decided to pack all of your belongings into the trunk of your Ford Taurus and drive twenty-three hours straight from Manhattan because you refused to get murdered in a Motel 8. How many years had you survived in that Harlem apartment without a single pest invading your space? Don’t factor Rob into that equation.

You haven’t heard the noise in several minutes and the water dripping down your forearms is starting to make you uncomfortable. More uncomfortable. It’s probably smelled your fear and is laying in wait for you to fall asleep and crawl over your face in the middle of the night, it’s brown feelers skating across the surface of your cheeks and between your lips. As quietly as you can, you peel off the green rubber gloves and rest them on the edge of the sink. You back out of the kitchen slowly, with one arm extended, ready to bump for the cordless phone on the dresser. There is only one person on your speed dial and he has never answered in the two months that you’ve been subletting from his dead aunt. But who else are you supposed to call? Rob would have plowed straight into the kitchen with a rolled up magazine, bare-assed and bold-faced to terminate the bug. He would spend hours with you in the insecticide aisle of Walgreens deliberating over which brand to get and whether or not the environment was as important as your peace of mind. He would have put on a mask and charged into the apartment to unleash a DIY pesticide bomb and come out with burning eyes, lungs, and skin. But Rob is in New York and you’re in Florida.

The phone rings. And rings. You’re not surprised that the live-in super has never set up any type of answering machine, and stay on the line with the phone pressed against your sweaty ear. After the fourteenth ring, you consider hanging up and taking care of it yourself. After all, this is why you’re here. You’re supposed to be embracing your independence and grabbing life by the tits.

“What?”

Oh, thank god.

“There’s a roach in my apartment,” you frantically whisper into the receiver. You wonder if they have ears.

“What?” The super asks again, but not really asking because you know he doesn’t care about your answer.

“In my kitchen. I need you to spray my apartment.”

“We don’t have no spray. I’m busy right now.”

“But there’s a fucking cockroach!”

“There ain’t no cockroaches in my building. Probably just a Palmetto bug.”

“This is insane! You can’t just let people live like this!”

“Can’t help you. Welcome to Florida.”

The phone clicks. You want to cry. Just collapse on the floor and think about every foolish decision you’ve ever made and wallow in a pit of regret for the next few hours. It would be an emotional purge, something that you haven’t done since you moved in, something that you should do to really forget. But there’s a cockroach in your kitchen and you’re the only one who can change that. You sift through the box of cleaning products in the corner and pull out a white mask and a new pair of rubber gloves. There isn’t any Raid, but you figure a spritz of bleach could be just as effective. Once you’ve suited up, you slip off the brand new pink flip flop from your right foot. Slowly, you reenter the battlefield, your eyes sharp and adrenaline coursing through your body. With each step, you regain confidence, you feel anger. You hear the noise again.

It appears from behind the loaf of Wonder Bread and halts on the top of the plastic wrapper. It’s bigger than what you had expected. Darker. It’s antennae longer and thinner than what you’re used to. It’s a face off between the two of you. Your greatest opponent yet. Your rubber fingers tighten around the flip flop and your opposite hand has a finger ready on the trigger. You inhale one long breath and lunge forward, your left hand dousing the bug and the bread with chemicals while your right furiously slams into the hard shell and the Wonder Bread and the countertop. Your arm is pulsing when you’re done and you realize how winded you are. The kitchen reeks of Clorox and the counters are wet with it, but the battle has been won. His guts are splayed across the top of the squashed loaf and the bottom of your shoe. But you still won. You reach under the kitchen cabinet and grab a plastic bag, sliding the ruins inside. This is your first victory in what feels like ages and suddenly, it all seems worth it. You tie the bag shut and wash your hands. You slip your green dish gloves back on, and resume your scrubbing.

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