Awoke to a lonely cockroach, felt him skitter on my soul. He caught me home alone. The drapes hung open. The radiators waited their turn. Prime season from what I’m told.
Landlord didn’t even flinch. “Please,” he said. “Let’s call them what they are.”
I called the cops instead, provided my address.
The officers came in without knocking as they’d been trained to do. One was a woman,
the other one was short.
“There was a report of a disturbance?” said the woman.
“Less a disturbance and more of a reckoning,” I said.
The short one cleaned his glasses while I poured coffee.
“I see,” he said.
I told them what the roach told me:
His name was Kevin, which caught me off guard. I’d expected something monosyllabic.
Chastened by preconceived notions, I resolved to get to know him. He’d gone out for some exercise; my arm offered an incline. He seemed well-fed, curious. A bit greedy. Relatable in other words. He had even told me of his parents. They’d made their life in a hiking boot until recycling became more than just a fad. Then he asked me a question that, in retrospect, I might have seen coming.
“Why are you so afraid of us?”
“Me?” I made a show of being insulted.
“Well, all of you.”
I knew I had to be careful with my answer. Words like bacteria and nauseating could be taken out of context. After all, we’d only just met.
“Perhaps it’s the way you accelerate. Or that you can scale any surface?”
He looked at me gravely. “But we’ve been doing so for decades. Longer even.”
It was true. Who was I to question the fickle gifts of athleticism? Yet the answer occurred to me then: Because you remind us of our mortality. But I didn’t dare say it. Less for his sake than mine.
“Well, what about your antennae?”
“What of them?”
“They’re so . . . capable.”
“Without them we would starve.”
“Would that be so bad?”
He glared at me and I attempted to laugh it off as a joke. He brooded and stalked the pale side of my forearm, antennae oscillating like a sine wave. I felt in that moment I was in grave danger, the first in a marathon of nightmares.
I grasped at straws, tried a different tack.
“Are you a fan of hurling?”
He seemed to consider the question. Then: “I can’t say I’ve watched it.”
“Oh, you must. It’s an Irish game dating thousands of years. Thrilling. Agility and
palatable violence. The fastest game on grass I’ve heard it called. Which, for someone of your pedigree—”
“It sounds remarkable,” he said and I felt like a fool.
That is until he reared back and bit me.
“You bit me,” I said, reeling. “I didn’t even know you had teeth.”
“We hardly ever use them,” he said, cleaning his trap. “But when someone insults our
“If people knew you could bite—”
“Yes. Military action would be all but guaranteed.”
I scanned for a puncture wound, yearned for a shower.
“Look,” he sighed, peering up at me. “I’m sorry. It was purely a reflex.”
And I believed him. Or wanted to at least. But something about the way his exoskeleton
glistened in the dawn light made my stomach lurch. It was a pity then to smash him to bits, witness filaments twitch like REM eyelids.
It was, I felt, the only thing to do. What were we going to be? Friends?
Yet out of remorse, and a sense of mounting respect—we had, after all, very nearly
bridged the abyss—I dug a grave, held a Thursday wake.
No one came.
“Congrats on the mattress,” said the woman cop, surveying the bedroom. The scene, as it
“I hear there’s virtually no motion transfer,” said the short one.
I was forced to plead.
“Can we stick to the matter at hand?”
The cops shared a glance.
“The cockroach?” I said.
“You mean waterbug,” said the woman. “Would you like to press charges?”
“Well, no. I killed him after all.”
The short one took a half-step closer. His hat seemed much too big. “So you’re
My palms began to sweat. I pictured bars and jumpsuits, trays of grey meat.
He reached for his cuffs, but the woman intervened.
“Ask yourself one question,” she said. Her eyes narrowed to such a degree that I thought
she fell asleep. “Am I a Buddhist?”
“I—I meditate on occasion. Though I nearly passed out once in Bikram.”
The radiator began to hiss and my fate seemed to hang in the scorched vapor.
But the short one smirked. “Kid’s just a dilettante.”
“Why’d you even call us here?” said the woman.
“I suppose I just wanted to know if he died alone?”
She shrugged. “Perhaps he was a widower.”
“Or reconnaissance,” said the short cop as he put away his cuffs.
I led them to the door, thanked them for making the neighborhood a testament to low-
Yes. I hear them in the folds of my brain. A papery phalanx, poised as Dobermans,
equipped with indifferent wisdom. Somewhere in my hollow walls they wait.
Here I lay frozen, a body in concrete. I will not sleep til I know what they call us.