The round bitch was working the front desk when I went to pay my rent. She was plowing her way through a tub of chili con queso using a bulk size bag of generic Fritos and watching The Tyra Banks Show about cheating men and the women who put up with them. When I spoke, she turned her head slowly, using all the force of her triple chins, and glared at me. Then she licked off the dip stuck to her fingers, wiped them off on a napkin she’d carefully laid over one enormous trunk of a leg. Then she stood – slowly – and faced the counter. Each move looked deliberate – as if she wanted to make sure I knew I was disturbing her.
By the time she had the receipt book open and her pink ball point pen with the treasure troll top on it poised, I had the cash laid out and ready for her.
“One more week,” I said, smiling with what I thought was a friendly and gracious smile.
I handed her the money; she counted it, then she looked up at me. Her rotund face was inscrutable. “Price went up,” she spat.
“The PRICE … WENT … UP.” She spoke slowly and louder, the way people do when they talk to small children, the retarded, or the dying. “Cost you… another ten bucks.”
When she talked or moved at all, her ginormous boobs jiggled and millions of freckles ebbed and rolled like the Mississippi River. Clearly, parts of her enjoyed ruining my day. I stood there a second or more, transfixed on the pale, freckled, rolls of cleavage. There was no way she could buy a bra in the store, I thought. She’d have to special order. I often wanted to ask her if there was an actual size or if the chart even went that big. Whenever I had to talk to her, as much of a bitch as she was, I couldn’t help but fantasize about what it’d be like to fuck those giant fleshy orbs. Just one of them was the size of my head. It was maddening. It pissed me off as much as it turned me on.
She sighed, clearly annoyed. Any woman worth her salt would have had the dignity to be offended; but not her. When I looked up at her face, she was glaring at me even harder.
“Sorry,” I shrugged and smiled, even thought I wasn’t sorry. “When did the price go up?” It’s certainly not seasonal.
“This week.” She was smiling. Like she thought I didn’t have the money. Like she expected me to beg. Like she expected me to kiss her ass.
“You think it might’ve been a good idea to notify people?”
“You’re being NOTIFIED,” she sneered. “Right now.”
“Timely,” I said. “And considerate, too.” I took another ten out of my pocket and held it out to her. Enjoy it, bitch, I thought. Enjoy your little power play. That wouldn’t leave me with much for the week; but it wasn’t like I had a choice. She snarled like a hungry animal and grabbed at the bill. I pulled it back. She grabbed again and I let her have it.
“Listen,” I said as she was writing out my receipt, “I’ve been noticing roaches lately. I’ve killed maybe ten or twelve. When was the last time you got an exterminator in here?” Probably the last time you saw your feet.
She didn’t answer. She filled out the receipt, put the cash in the drawer, and handed me the receipt. “One week.” she said, like I’d expected more.
“What about the roaches?”
She didn’t answer. Instead, she waddled over, fell back down onto her chair jiggling, and focused her attention back on Tyra Banks and her chili con queso.
“Listen,” I asked, “how does somebody as pale as you deal with the sun? I’d think you’d burn all the time.”
She turned her head and glared at me again. “I’m Mexican,” she said. Then she rotated her head back into position, facing the television. I didn’t ask her what that had to do with anything. I just turned and left.
I stomped back up to my door. Loyce was standing outside smoking a cigarette.
“Let me ask you something,” I said.
“Yeah, honey?” She smiled at me like she was high.
“Why smoke outside?”
“’Cause,” she blew out a long, thin train of smoke, “some of my clients prefer a non-smoking environment.”
“Oh. Okay.” Who knew?
“I take it you not so picky?”
I didn’t answer her. “Did you know that rent went up?”
She laughed. “You just pay?”
“That red headed bitch Marta working?”
“Yeah.” I never knew her name.
“She-e-e—it,” she let out another long train of smoke and chuckled. “It didn’t go up. She just charge you extra.”
“Are you serious?”
She nodded, clearly amused. “Yep. Now you a regular contributor to the Fritos and cheese dip fund.” She laughed.
“Do you pay extra?”
“Fuck no,” she said, almost too matter of factly.
“So why me?”
“She must like you.”
“Well that’s just fucking great.”
“Hey,” she winked. “Them big girls, they need love, too.” She laughed. “If you good enough, you might even get a DISCOUNT.”
“Uh huh.” I unlocked my door.
“Jus’ be sho an’ tie a board ta yo ass first,” she called after me. “You might fall in!” She cackled.
I walked in and closed the door behind me, and flipped on the light. When I did, I saw at least seven roaches spread out over the carpet near the door. I managed to get one. Then another. The rest scattered.
“FUCKERS!” I yelled. “Dirty nasty little fuckers! I’ll kill all of you!”
I looked down. There was one roach left. A big one – must’ve been the size of a fifty cent piece. It was clearly in no hurry and was making it’s way – waddling almost – between the bed and the chest of drawers. I’m not sure what pissed me off more; the red headed bitch’s extortion, the roaches, the fact that I was now paying an extra ten bucks a week for a roach infested room, or the gall of a fat little fucker of a roach who acted like the room was his.
I stepped on him. Hard. “Take that you cocky little son of a bitch!” It felt like stepping on a flat stone or small rock. Then I heard the crunch that usually meant the roach was dead.
There’s an evil sort of joy that comes from stepping on a bug. It’s one of the few ways any person can assert his authority over the immediate environment. Most people become accustomed to Powerlessness. The ice caps are melting and the oceans are rising. Spotted owls and bald eagles are endangered species. The pandas in the Chinese zoo aren’t fucking. The forests are disappearing. The air and the water are polluted. There are wars and rumors of wars, and tragic Hollywood starlets are gang banging D-list celebrities in direct to DVD releases. Unemployment is up. So is inflation and the price of gas. But squash ONE bug – just one – and even the most beaten, downtrodden, henpecked, and kicked around asshole can, for one brief moment, feel like a god.
Not this time.
I lifted my foot expecting to see a dead bug. The roach’s shell was cracked right down the middle and the white, gooey stomach was visible. I thought I saw it jiggle a little. When the roach didn’t move I thought, God, what a fat little fucker! I thought about taking it down and giving it to Marta. Then I turned my attention to looking around for something to scoop it up with. When I turned my head back to look at it – maybe to gloat, I don’t know – it was MOVING. Goddamn if it wasn’t limping; but it continued in the same general direction it had been going when I stepped on it.
I should have stepped on it again. I thought about it. Finish the job, I thought. I had plenty of time. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I just couldn’t. I was amazed that something so small and so brainless could survive being stepped on – and I stepped down HARD. I was incredulous. I couldn’t take my eyes off it, and I watched it limp off into the darkness.
When it was gone, I sat down and turned on the radio. It was tuned to a classical music station. Tchaikovsky was playing. I uncapped a half empty bottle of vodka, took a drink, and closed my eyes.