Friday, October 19, 2007

Short Story: Suzie Q. Tuesday's Little Problem

Suzie Q. Tuesday has roaches in her apartment. It reflects poorly on her, but it's not her fault. She is upper middle class, and lives in an according neighborhood. She doesn't care much for dusting, but she doesn't much eat either, and is basically clean, if not neat.

Suzie Q. Tuesday tells her super about the problem, which is mounting. He tells her about the old lady living two flights up, who is the source of the problem, which has been spreading, slowly. He sprays her apartment and the others, and there is a sick, sweet smell when she comes home. There are also two dead roaches in the bathtub. There is also a living roach on the windowsill, which she slaps dead with a rubber flip flop left there expressly for that purpose, it being a high-traffic area. There is also one running circles inside the white plastic liner of her trash can, which she hasn't the skill to terminate.

Suzie becomes a decent, if unwilling, huntress. Rubber flip flops are strategically left around the apartment. Each day when she comes home from work and turns on the light, there are at least two, if not three, black marks on her white wall, which freeze and then scatter according to an inscrutable rhythm all their own. They know her single room better than she does, tucking themselves under the lip of the window frame, beneath the moldings, and behind the radiator cover. Suzie Q. Tuesday curses that she had her hardwood floors stained the brown of bloody chocolate—a perfect camouflage for the invaders and a color that amplifies her paranoia. Sometimes she sees the floor moving, and it's one of them. More often, she sees the floor moving, or a dark spot on the wall from the corner of her eye, but as she runs, or as she turns, she sees that it's nothing, or that it's a mere chip in the paint, or that it's a small ball of dust. One night, she comes home and turns on the light and is certain that she sees something running across her white duvet—toward the pillows, most unfortunately. She throws back the covers with her lightest and quickest touch—the pillows, too—but finds nothing. That night, sleeping is difficult.

The next day, Suzie Q. Tuesday approaches her super again. He promises to bomb the apartment that day. Suzie has left some soiled lingerie lying around, but she doesn't have time to go back up and remove it. Vinnie will have to shield his eyes. She imagines him going up there with his bombs and being briefly distracted, pressing the apricot-colored ouvert to his face and inhaling deeply. She hopes that it will inspire him to do a thorough job.

When Suzie Q. comes home, she opens the door into a thick mist of stultifying poison. There are canisters on the floor to remind her that the bombs have been detonated. She opens the windows, packs a bag, and prepares to spend the night at whatever man's who will have her. Meanwhile, she sees a number of roaches clinging to the walls, paralyzed, their antennae wilted. She wipes them up and flushes them, satisfied. For a fresh start, she decides to take out the trash, but, popping the top and tugging at the white plastic liner, she notices independent movement. Disassembling the stainless steel airtight apparatus, she sees them dancing their sick scuttle in a ring around the bottom of the steel cage, which opens along plastic seams to the outer world. Nauseated, she leaves the house, wanders awhile, then passes the night sleepless on a hard mattress in a filthy hovel uptown, next to the hulking body of a snoring black man. For all its apparent squalor, the dark basement apartment is free of vermin.

Suzie Q. Tuesday goes home the next morning before work to dress and speak with her super. She tells him that he has to do it again—another bomb—with the trash can disassembled and its contaminated parts scattered across the floor. She tells him to removed the radiator cover and anything else under which they may be hiding. She tells him to be relentless.

After work that day, Suzie Q. Tuesday drinks two glasses of pinot noir at the bar with her coworkers, prolonging the moment at which she must go home and clean everything. When she does get home, tipsy enough to be excited about scrubbing with Lysol and Ajax, she opens the door to find no fog and no decanted canisters. Her super is gone for the day, so she cannot ask him why he did not do his job as directed. She changes to shorts, keds, a t-shirt out from oxford, slacks, pumps, and braces for warrior mode. She goes to the drugstore for Raid and more Lysol, adds a bottle of Clorox.

Back home, they are waiting. Fat and brown, the adults are lounging along the curvature or the upended trashcan like crickets in the Midwestern dusk. The smaller ones are running up the walls. She is systematic—crush; flush—and takes her time. For over an hour, she kills, sprays, wipes, kills some more. The fumes are heady. Occasionally, the carcasses stick to the bottom of her rubber flip flop, which she rinses in the toilet bowl and then the sink. She will not spend another night next to a fetid, shadowy body that wants from her, even if it means spending the night awake, alert, hunting. When every last one visible has been disposed of, she sits down to write this chronicle. Every few sentences, she looks up to see another one climbing the wall; she sets the book aside, stands—crush; flush. Somehow, they are coming only one at a time now, slowly and as if drunk; they are befuddled and easy to slap, winded from the fumes and unable to perform their usual dashing samba. But they do keep coming, nevertheless, one every few sentences—crush; flush.

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