Fiction Winners / Fiction Winners
The Cockroach Incident
I once had a roommate who’d kill cockroaches on our kitchen counter and just leave them there. Every time I’d come home, I’d find these smeary, half-splattered cockroach carcasses all over the counter. It was disgusting, he just wouldn’t clean them up.
I was sharing a sublet apartment in Chinatown which had, over the years, seen a revolving door of short term tenants. It was the first time I ever lived in an apartment that had a serious cockroach problem, and also the first time I ever lived with a Chinese guy. I mean a guy from China, who was raised in China and spoke Chinese almost exclusively. His name was Feng. I believed him to be a Communist spy, sent to declare psychological warfare on America via me.
Initially, I wasn’t pissed off about the bugs. I found the apartment online, filled out a surprisingly brief application, and moved in two days later. It’d been made clear before I moved in that the place was well-infested. The cockroaches were on a 24-hour economy, they didn’t even wait for the lights to go out. I was just thankful for having a place to live. But I was still wary, you know, living with a Communist spy and all.
For the first few days, in order to communicate my distaste, I actually cleaned up the dead cockroaches. I thought Feng was perceptive enough to catch on and stop smashing them on the counter and just leaving them. But he didn’t. He kept doing it, day after day. So eventually I stopped cleaning them up, out of principle. And the dead cockroaches began to accumulate.
Feng was this tiny guy in his 30s with short black hair, and thick-framed glasses that made him look like a total dickhead. He was always wearing these thick gold chains, and he had a big gleaming gold watch to match. He said he was a foreign graduate student finishing up some online courses, so he was always doing coursework on his computer. That’s what he said he was doing; however, I had reason to believe he was actually transmitting top secret messages to Shanghai regarding the psychological field tests he was conducting.
He rarely left his room, and when he did, there were a series of locks he’d had installed on his door. He would lock every single one of them–all different keys–going from top to bottom and then double check them all from bottom to top.
Feng always gave me these looks that I didn’t quite know how to interpret. He looked pissed off. Perhaps he just had a naturally frowny face. Or, he couldn’t smile due to some facial reconstructive surgery he’d had, you know, spy stuff. Or maybe he wanted to castrate me and post a video on some Chinese-government version of YouTube. But the frequent bursts of maniacal laughter that came from his room indicated that he was at least capable of smiling. And they frightened me.
One day I came home and he was in the kitchen doing something. Naturally, he gave me that pissed-off Asian-guy look. It hit me all wrong, and I just asked him:
“Hey man, what’s with all the cockroaches? That shit’s gross.”
He not only ignored me, he brushed right past me on his way out of the kitchen and actually snorted out a “Hnnf,” as he went, ejecting the air forcefully from his nostrils for emphasis.
There were dozens and dozens of disgusting cockroach remains scattered throughout the kitchen, a litany of legs, and wings, and bug heads. By then I was eating out every meal, everyday. I couldn’t prepare food anywhere near that disgusting cockroach killing field. But Feng did, and not only that, he kept killing more . . . and more, adding to the carnage.
Meanwhile, every day that went by, I was getting more and more angry. I considered calling the F.B.I., or Homeland Security, or Alex O’Loughlin. And I was beginning to mentally project that anger, not just at Feng, but at nearly every Chinese person that I came across. I began to see them all as spies trying to test me, and every time I saw a Chinese person spit on the ground or cough without covering their mouth, it just served to further justify my perceptions.
One night I came home and Feng was in the kitchen boiling rice in a pot of water. He didn’t look at me; he just kept staring at the pot of water boiling. There was a cockroach slowly making its way across the counter, zigzagging between the splattered bodies of its long-dead brethren. Without even looking, Feng reached out and smacked it with his bare hand–WHACK! Then he just went back to staring at the boiling water, wiping the cockroach innards from his hand on to the mesh athletic shorts he wore ‘way too often. I could see him giving me a look out of the corner of his eye. I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Good god man,” I said. “We have a lot of dead cockroaches on our countertop.”
Feng turned towards me, and just stood there with a look of contempt. I wasn’t sure he even knew what I was talking about, so I continued my rant.
“Look at this,” I said, pointing emphatically to the counter. “Disgusting . . . You gotta clean this up man–I can’t live in this filth.”
He kept standing there, but now he looked pissed off, like I was some jabbering moron off the streets. Feng was looking at me like I was the bad guy.
“What the hell is your problem?” I finally asked.
He kept staring, his mouth quivering now; he definitely wanted to say something.
“You stee’ from me,” he finally said, stepping up and pointing his finger in my face.
I recoiled and shook my head in confusion, as if to imply that was simply impossible, but really, I was taken aback. I have stolen from people in my life. I’ve seen hard times. I’m not sorry.
“You stee’ my grocery on Hotel Street!” Feng followed up, as if he could see that I was just remembering the incident.
“Oh really,” I said facetiously.
“You are teef,” he said. He was getting excited, agitated, “I don’ like you!”
I thought about it for a moment longer as Feng waved his arms in the air spastically. I had stolen his groceries. It was two years ago on Hotel Street. I could remember it very specifically. The idiot just left them sitting on the side of the bench and went into a jewelry store.
What would you do, assuming you were homeless and starving and he was wearing a Rolex and you knew he’d just go buy some more groceries? It was hard to believe I’d forgotten all about that.
It turns out he wasn’t a Communist spy, although that has yet to actually be proven. However, it also turns out that he wasn’t leaving all those dead cockroaches on the counter to test me. He really was just that disgusting of a person, a spoiled young man who just never cleaned up after himself. I’ve got a lot of friends like that, actually. I guess we’re all disgusting in our own ways. People should really clean up after themselves, though.