Story Go Round 06/05/2004, continued from 05/07/2004

They "soggy roached" It

It was the best way to get rid of a well behaved tenant, David had said, but I had always thought he was pulling my leg or trying to get me into bed. He was the kind of fellow for whom outlandish ideas were a turn on - and naturally he thought it must be true for others.

But when Lucy Milieu Vanderpost #503B opened her door for the mailer package in my hand, I knew it was no idle lie. Somebody else might have been distracted by the needle sticking out of her right arm, and the empty ampule of morphine held slackly on her left. What I got was the damp carpet. The smell of incipient mildew. And the hundreds - hundreds - of belly-up roaches sprinkled over the carpet.

It's not right, I thought. Even if morphine-addicted stage four cancer patients wouldn't notice.

"Sign here." I held up a clipboard with a blank sheet of paper. Lucy began the long process of signing her name. While she was distracted , I bent down and palmed a few of the roaches. David had gone too far, and I would need proof if I was going to stop him.

I dropped a few - but not all - on his desk as he surfed the net. He looked up. Obviously, clueless as he was, he ascertained my state of displeasure. "What?" he protested. "She's dying, right? If she croaks here, I'll never rent the place again. Forget the view fo the tree. It'll be like, "someone died here" was scrawled on the wall in glowing green paint! I mean, I'm sorry and all, but heck, she should be in a hospital or something..." He pulled open a new window and began to decimate Space Invaders.

I stood there for a few long moments thinking. But I couldn't decide. I needed more information. How could I get another peek? I was dialing Joe on my cell when I left, and less than an hour later I was standing in front of #503B in a Dominos uniform with a stone cold cheese pizza ringing the bell.

[Cont'd] "Are you really going to die soon?" I blurted, as the door opened. This hadn't been what I'd meant to say. I'd thought of starting with something civil, like "Hello," maybe, or "I'd like to offer you a pizza..." I would have gone on to how she could reheat it, maybe working up to if she'd noticed any signs of insects around, but nothing about death. My mouth had divorced itself from me ... Things slithered across the floor and climbed over my shoes, but I didn't look down this time.

The tenant of #503B snatched the pizza box out of my hand and then slammed the door right in my face. Thru the door I heard, "You're more'n thirty minutes late!" and then the sound of a hundred roaches scrabbling across cardboard.

I stood there dumbly for a moment. The door opened again, just a bit. Enough that I could see half her face.

"What did you say?"

"I said, are you ... are you really gonna, I mean, is it really terminal?"

"What's it to you?"

A large tear slid down her cheek. I saw my reflection in that tear. "A lot, actually," I said, and she invited me in for a seat.

I was focused on her. What was she thinking? What was it like? Why would David do this to a woman?

It's not like David has had a date in the last 17 years. It would be easier for him to go out with women like this, show them a good time, and snake his way into the inheritance to tide himself over until the next drugged-out female cancer tenant...

"No." she spat, reclaiming her anger. "Maybe. Yes." She flipped open the box. "People die everyday. What's the big deal?"

I could say nothing as she munched on the now-gelid pie. If she noticed the roaches swarming toward the box, I couldn't tell.

How long would it take, I wondered, for roaches to reduce a pizza to nothing? Army ants of the Amazon could probably do it minutes. Maggots, days, maybe. But roaches were perhaps on the slow end of the spectrum. Then again, they might hurry to get to the cardboard box.

"What?" she accused again.

"It's just..." A pair of roaches crawled up the inside of her arm; she took out the morphine drip but left them be. I must have blanched.

"It was the spray stuff." Lucy shrugged. "Some people get hit by buses."

"The what?"

"The spray stuff - you know - the insecticides the bug man uses. They pumped the walls of this place full of it. It wasn't even my fault - it was the guy next door who came back from Florida. That's what did it. So they'd stopped for a while, you know, mock sympathy and all. Yesterday the bastard came back again. Couldn't even wait for me to buy it. These things only have a one week life span - you'd think he could wait out of decency."

"You ... don't mind living with roaches?"

"Better than chemicals, man..."

Now I could see the angle - to be cont'd...

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