[Our weekly literary section appears on Thursdays]
“It’s your choice,” she said, her wide joker lips pursed.
It was at this moment I noticed the strands of her hair were collected into thick stalks, each swinging delicately in time with one another, attached to puppet strings without a master.
“We have this copper wrist band. When you put it on and lock the latch, the acid contained in the fluid-filled pouch underneath will enter your bloodstream through two tiny pinpricks. Pretty soon it’ll override the oxygen. That’s it. But its your choice as to when you put the wrist band on. You’ll know it’s coming.”
“Does it hurt?” I asked.
“It all hurts,” she said.
Tears welled. I didn’t want it to hurt.
“There’s always the gallows,” she began again, “Floor releases beneath your feet. Someone else pulls the handle, though, sets the wheels spinning.”
She demonstrated. A three pronged stool dropped stiffly through a hole in the floor. Simultaneously, a peach, the number seven and a spade whizzed past my head.
“Ahhhhh lemon!” She screamed with joy. “I’ve always wanted the jackpot.” Her voice feigned a brief British accent.
Do I want to be in control? I thought.
“So it’s just those two options?” I asked.
“Well, you could do whatever you want with this wine key.” She aimed a drab silver gadget in my direction.
“But I would do the cutting?”
“Yes, you would cut. Problem with that one is that most people don’t die. That’s part of the deal.”
I was a goner, in the toilet, sunk. And I had these three techniques from which to choose.
“Don’t be mad at me,” she said. “The natives made the decision. Death is your sentence.”
It was about four months ago when I noticed the first one scuttling past my toes. I quickly ran to my room to grab the first available shoe, probably one of my Havaianas, they usually sit on top of the pile. By the time I returned, it was gone.
“Damn,” I thought. But only briefly. I don’t like killing small creatures, no matter how disgusting they are. The risk of reincarnation plays a role in my decision making process. There could be a soul trapped inside of that cockroach. Hell, it could be Wagner; he deserves this third life as a roach, that smug asshole.
Aunt Jemima whole wheat pancake mix cradled the babies to their moment of hatching. I had never seen a baby one, much less hundreds.
“I think I might have roaches,” I told James at work the next day. James grew up in the real ghetto. His nickname for me is baby girl. Seriously.
“Think you might have roaches, baby girl?” he said. “That ain’t somethin you think, that’s somethin that is.”
“How do you get rid of them?”
“You don’t get rid of roaches,” he said. “You might as well make friends with ‘em.”
We called the landlord the next day.
“We need an exterminator, ” Taylor said. “Right now.”
“Yes yes yes….we’ll get you one as soon as we can.”
“No, it’s a problem,” he said. “We think it has to do with the leak in our ceiling, you know, the one over the toilet. The part of our ceiling that caved in last month.”
“Gerundy didn’t fix that?” he asked.
“Gerundy doesn’t fix anything. There’s a board covering it now, but still a hole. We feel like the two might be related.”
“Yes yes yes…we’ll get right on it.”
Luckily, for the last year we had been saving peanut butter jars and their beige criss-crossed lids. Everything was distributed into its own jar: flour, sugar, chocolate chips. Our cupboard, now fit as a nuclear fallout shelter.
We attached a long yellow nozzle to a blue can with warnings plastered in multiple places and sprayed every corner we could find.
“There’s no way it’s that bad,” I said. “And look, we finally have something to do with all of those jars.”
It took another month for the visions to start. Each time I turned my head too quickly, or a plant leaf shifted in the wind. Each darkened spot on the floor, my heart skipped and I reached for a shoe.
“Am I going crazy?” I asked.
“That’s not something you can blame on the roaches,” Taylor said.
“Roach cookies!” My boss Denice shouted. She has a tendency to shout. “I tell you, I had a roach problem once that was so bad. Oh that apartment, that apartment was the one that we eventually realized was filled with black mold. Matthew was getting these headaches and doctor after acupuncturist after transcendental meditation guide…nothing was working so we finally…” She drifted.
“Roach cookies?” I repeated.
“Look it up: Hints from Heloise. You’ll wake up in the morning: dead roaches all over your floor.”
She rolled her chair up behind mine, read the Google links out loud over my shoulder.
“That one!” she pointed, bumping the screen, melting it to liquid metal.
We made 23 cookies that night, hid them in every dark, dingy, musty corner of our apartment, a nice, decorative touch to the ten motels we now lodge in our kitchen and two in our bathroom, the spicy mustard colored gel squeezed into cracks behind each of our appliances and piles of bay leaves lining each corner of our jar-filled shelves.
“Do you think these leaf things are gonna bring mice?” Taylor asked.
“I don’t care,” I said. “I just want them all to die.”
But maybe I didn’t really want them all to die. Maybe I was scared of the power that comes with this type of domination. Because then the dreams came.
“So….what’ll it be?” Joker lips asked; her pucker opening to a crooked smile.
“None of it,” I said, lips trembling. I thought I would be stronger in the face of death. Even at my most epic, in my dreams, I still was on the verge of peeing myself.
“It’s your sentence,” she said, dropping a scroll from the sky. “Extermination.”
I drew strength from my theme song, Ride of the Valkyries. As I reached out to pick my fate, the rugged copper edges sliced deeply into my knuckles.
“Victory” I whispered as I snapped the latch in place.
Dana Perry regularly takes on large-scale projects without fully contemplating the consequences. Her last piece for Frontier Psychiatrist was about her bike, The General Rutherford.