The Cockroach by Sunnie Gaylord

The man lay on his side, right eye open, tracing the peculiar geometric pattern of his apartment bedroom’s wallpaper.  He gazed from the dark corner towards the lighter one, where it had been sun-bleached near his window long before he had nailed black sheets around its frame. His retina began to strain when he pinpointed places where the paper had begun to peel back from the wall. His pupil bounced and quivered while it sought out imperfections in the patterned paper. When his right eye began to water he shut it tight and opened the left. Now he focused on the hills and valleys of his grey cotton sheets. He ran his fingers through his bedding, distorting the stone-ash landscape.

He sat up, inhaled the heavy wet summer air that gassed his apartment. He pulled off his sweat thirsty sheets, placed one hand on his headboard and the other on the mattress’s edge. Morning vertigo assailed his head, neck, and stomach. He opened both eyes and narrowed in on the door knob. He waited before standing, until he felt his blood come to a balance, the room to harmonize itself with his vision, and the floor to tilt even with the white bottoms of his feet.

He sat under his water-stained ceiling, and beside the accumulating media towers that had graduated into permanent furniture. Coffee rings were sown into his stag ecosystem. The footpath from the bed to the door lingered with dirty bachelor garb and cystic dishes.  The room consisted of bowls fossilized with oatmeal, pizza crusts wombed in cardboard exoskeletons, and aluminum husks that congregated in corners.  This room, this terrarium, had turned on him. He slept there feeling as though it was without permission.

The man felt the humid air imbrue to his temples, under his arms, his legs. He wanted to run towards the door, to escape the furnace, but the breath of his bedroom felt abundant. He had to choke his way through the air. He stumbled, naked.

Outside his bedroom, he met the aphotic hallway. Water pipes ran along the ceiling and leaked behind his walls. Black mold harbored like well kept secrets behind wood rot. The squalid building had been nurtured with moist climate and poor maintenance. She had grown into a living animal, breathing and sweating out it’s tenants. But he stayed, waking up inside of her for years. Feeling his way through her dark gut accompanied by nausea, migraines, and blight hangover.

His bathroom door coaxed him with cold shower, soap, and toothpaste. His hands swept over the wallpaper while he drifted in a fatigued trance. The metal door knob kissed his palm and he exhaled fetid caffeine breath. His stomach screwed itself against his spine and he had to pause before intruding upon the bathroom.

It was a small space. From the high ceiling, black spirals bloomed down, gracefully tumbling toward the cool white porcelain. Cramped together, the shower, sink, and toilet granted him enough room to stand center, reach above to turn on the pendant light bulb, and critique his face in the mirror. His sinuous guise and permanent pout propelled him into social disinterest and asexual esthetics. It wasn’t necessarily that he was grotesquely unattractive, but this certain kind of ugly drugged other people with immense pity and vexatiousness. Once puberty had pocked his cheeks and chin, it was clear his face was one he would never be able to grow into. His features mocked burn victim without the story.

The pipes hissed and moaned when he turned on the faucet. He could feel her cringe and ache at his maneuvering. He was parasitic. Politely he gripped his toothbrush and layered on paste without disrupting her digestion any further. He placed the head under the water, looked down at the sink and noticed the cockroach.

His eyes shot towards the window above his shower. A black garbage bag had been taped over to keep out the light and the air. He wondered how the colossal insect had snuck in. He bent over, closer, to observe the shiny ink roach. Its hind legs twitching at the water, its antennae feeling up the porcelain, its glossy eyes jeering at the divots of his face. He fixed in on the minuscule sharp hairs that protruded from its stick limbs. The pipes whined and he looked up at the ceiling. He said “I’ll take care of this.”

He placed the toothbrush into his mouth, tongued the bristles and thought to himself how he was going to decimate the vermin immigrant. He couldn’t touch it. To feel it squirm between his fingers, he knew would cause him to drop it onto the floor, where it could hide in inaccessible corners. It couldn’t leave the sink alive, but to watch its belly pop under the weight of a shoe or book would send him into dry heaves. He peered into the sink and decided: he would drown the roach.

He turned up the water and began spitting foam around the insect hoping to corner it under the faucet. He repasted his toothbrush and started again. The roach was not intimidated by the billowing of blue-green foam. It refused to back into the gush and eyed up at the man, almost smiling.

He took short breaths, cupped water and washed down the froth walls. The cockroach still didn’t move. He concluded that this bug wouldn’t be obliged into drowning; it would have to be assaulted into doing so. Once again, he applied the paste and began running the brush along his gums. He spit out mint lather, now tinged with pink, on top of the roach. He heard a hiss, and spit again.

The insect scurried under the pastel clouds and under the running water. It emerged slick and grinning. The man took victory in causing the cockroach to mobilize, and began to brush more ferociously. He spewed forth fluoride, now feeling his jaw and teeth raw and nerve exposed.

The toothbrush worked his gums separate from his teeth. Thin, red threads of saliva and tissue began to flood from his mouth. He pinched his eyes closed and tried to disregard the throbbing. He worked the brush into the back of his throat which then resulted in a gag reflex. He coughed up paste and sucked in the apartment’s wet hot vapor. He choked on the dankness of her pheromones, and began to hack up black clots from his lungs.

He opened his eyes wide at the mess he had made in the sink, the antagonist now doing laps around the blood foam medley. Light headed, he dropped the toothbrush onto the floor and began to cry. His sobs absorbed into her miasma of passages and rotting architecture. He swore he heard the cockroach laughing. He was failing her in the bathroom, he looked up and saw the black circles winding, a mold galaxy expanding.

Categories: Fiction, Issue 1 - Fall 2011, Periodicals | Leave a comment

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