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James Valvis

So Long, Mr. Roach


            They took turns killing the roach.

            First him.  Then her.  Then him again.

            Sometimes called Palmetto bugs, these bugs that didn’t run like the small cockroaches he’d grown up with  in New Jersey.  They didn’t even climb walls.  Instead these enormous roaches stared you down like a dare, like they were waiting for their turn to run things.  Whenever they left home, upon returning there would sometimes be one roach—just one, never two, never a dozen— waiting in the middle of the room.  And one of them would be charged with killing it.

            One day, him.  The next, her.

            They had just gotten married and moved to Florida, where he said it would be cheaper to live.  He liked it, the sunshine, the ocean, the silly accents.

            She hated everything about the place.

            It was just a run of luck, really.

            First one day, his day, there was no roach.

            The next day, hers, a roach.

            The next day, his, no roach.

            They were in love.  They laughed about it, how he was lucky and she wasn’t.

            At first.

            But it went on.  Day after day.  Then a week.

            A month.

            It seemed impossible.

            They stopped laughing.  She demanded they switch days.

            He agreed, but it didn’t change anything.  On her days, a roach.  On his, no roach.

            She stopped stepping on them and scraping up the guts and dropping them into the trash.  She started sweeping roaches into the butler and carrying them to the toilet.  She started flushing and singing in her pretty voice, “So long, Mr. Roach!”

            He listened to her in the kitchen, worried.

            “Maybe you should let me do it anyway,” he said.  “Even on your days.  What’s fair is fair.”

            “We made a deal,” she said.

            They argued.  It came to that.  She said she was a modern woman.  She said she didn’t need no man killing her roach for her.  He said he was only trying to do the right thing.  He asked why the hell the roach was always a Mr. Roach.  Why was it never a Mrs. Roach?

            She accused him of setting down food on her days.

            He turned away in bed.

            She stepped on him with her eyes.

            He stopped going home with her after work.  He drove her to the door, but then he sped off.  He had to see a friend, he said.  He’d forgotten to pick up the milk.  He’d be right back.

            One day she was out walking and he found them.  Underneath the bathroom sink, pushed far in the back.  Roaches.  Twenty or thirty of them in a hamster’s cage, rotting, fetid food everywhere.

            She hadn’t been flushing them. 

            He set the roaches back where he found them, dressed, and grabbed his keys.  She came home before he could leave.  She was whistling.  She was happy.  Like a woman who had taken a lover.

            “I’ll be right back,” he said.

            “So long,” she sang in her pretty voice.

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