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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

by Reid Laurence

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Getting out of bed is always the toughest part of the morning for me, so before I turned over to leave the soft, warm confines, I thought to myself how nice it would be to have a little comforting breakfast before greeting the day. I turned in the opposite direction to put the idea to my wife. “Honey lamb,” I asked, as I gently patted that part of her body closest to me - which at the time, appeared to be one of her blanketed legs, “I sure could use a couple of eggs an' toast. Whaddaya say? Can we strike a deal here?”

“You got two hands,” came her reply.

“But sugar lips, I’ve gotta get ready. I just don’t have the time.”

“Eat some cereal.”

“Is that your final answer?” I replied, hoping that one final plea might make her see the light.

“Go away... I’m sleeping,” she said without looking up.

“Very well then,” I remarked. “I can see that I’m on my own here,” I added, as I found the floor with my feet and walked to the bathroom mirror for a quick shave and to comb what little hair I had left. “I thought marriage was a team effort Mary. You’re letting the team down, can’t you see that?” But it was too late to lodge any last minute complaint, for my better half had already fallen back to sleep and rested peacefully in the bed I’d only moments before left, looking as angelic and peaceful as the day we were wed.

Oh well, I thought to myself, I’ll treat myself to something hot for lunch. I turned on an overhead light as I finished brushing my teeth; as the light came on and I gazed back at myself in the mirror, I couldn’t help but notice that the passing years hadn’t been unkind to me at all. In fact, I thought, I’d never looked better, and as I reached in my closet for the usual uniform of white shirt and dark pants I regularly donned, I wondered if my lovely wife would be so kind as to help me tie a neater than usual knot in the colorful tie I’d selected to offset the otherwise drab, everyday clothing I was subtly forced to wear. “You-who,” I whispered, not wanting to startle her awake from her beauty sleep. “Think you can help me out with my tie here? I’m just about ready ta hit the road.”

“Boy, you don’t give up do you,” she answered, removing the top pillow she used to cover her head to block out any unwanted sound or light. “Okay... I guess. Let’s see now,” she muttered, sitting up on the edge of the bed, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “Which kinda knot ya want? The little thin one or the big fat one?”

“Uhh... the little thin one,” I replied. And, kneeling over to make the tie easier for her to reach, I found myself thinking how nice it was to have someone who cared about me in my corner, helping me out, and now, as at other times, literally taking up the slack in something which needed her kind and devoted attention. But as I stood there, bent at the waist, watching her sleepy eyes slowly opening, I couldn’t help but wonder why her expression had suddenly changed so from the harmony of rest, to the unrest of fear and disgust. “What’s wrong my dove?” I questioned. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost. Did you have a bad dream?” But all the answer she could muster was the most shrill and terrifying scream I’d ever heard, and as she sat frozen with the dread of a real-to-life horror scene, I did my best to try to calm her so as not to wake our two sleeping children. “Easy Mary. Calm down, please. What did I do? Is the tie that bad? I can always pick out another one. Hey, I’m flexible, you know me.” But even as I spoke these last words, she’d jumped back into bed, covered herself completely and pulled the blankets up over her head, leaving no part of her body whatsoever exposed to the naked eye. “Does that mean I’m on my own with my tie too?” I asked. “If ya hate it that much, why don’tcha come out an' help me pick out something else? You can always hit the hay again.”

“G-g-go away! You’re not my husband! What did you do with my husband?” was all she said, and finished up by adding one more, last, “Go away!”

Shocked, I went back to the mirror to see if I could find out why or what could have happened to have caused such a strange and sudden reaction in her, but as I carefully searched my reflected image, I could find no just cause and responded only by saying, “maybe all you need is a rest Mary. You take it easy and when I get back we’ll talk, how does that sound. Fair enough?”

“N-n-no way,” she replied. “Go away... don’t come back... ever!”

“But sugar plum, I thought you loved me? What happened? How did everything change in one night?” But all she responded with was the rustling of sheets and blankets, and for the first time in our long marriage together, I knew I’d been left totally and utterly alone.

Getting into my car, I started up the engine, but never for a moment could I take my mind off what had happened. Through thick and thin, through good times and bad, we’d stuck together like two peas in a pod, but this, this was something unexplainable to me. Something I just couldn’t figure out, unless of course it was some kind of practical joke she was playing. Sure, I thought, like an April Fool's Day joke, that must be what it is. I bet when I get home she’ll be standing there laughing as if nothing ever happened and all this will have passed like a bad dream. That’s all it is, I thought... just a joke, and, pulling up to the usual space I parked in, I put my car in park and headed for the office door.

On my way to my desk, I couldn’t help noticing Lisa standing at a counter we used for our coffee machine. A smart girl I’d gone to school with, she was an excellent drafter and was well on her way to the architectural license she’d been working toward. A good friend of mine, I decided to surprise her and walked up quietly while her back was turned - just to play a little practical joke of my own and start the day off with some of the laughter we sadly lacked at times, working under the daily pressure of building schedules and deadlines. “Boo!” I shouted, and watched some of the coffee she had balanced in her hand spill to the counter as my voice reverberated in the small hallway around us.

“Oh Reid,” she said, still facing the coffee machine. “Would you cut the crap? That builder’s house you’ve been working on isn’t gonna draw itself ya know.”

But even as she turned, I could see her expression change from the familiar calm she generally radiated to one of complete fear and angst. Screaming and dropping her cup to the floor, she ran to the nearby bathroom and slammed the door loudly enough to cause concern all over the office. Knocking on the door, left to wonder again what it was I’d done to cause such a reaction, I questioned her through the barrier she’d so literally drawn between us.

“What is it Lisa?” I asked innocuously. “What the heck did I do? I was just joking around, I swear.”

But, “Go away!” was the only response she had to offer, and when others in the office came to find out what all the noise was about, two other co-workers I’d known for at least three years took one look at me, ran to the janitor’s closet, armed themselves with brooms - oddly enough - and came straight at me, swinging them and hammering me with blows that were obviously no joke. “Mike, Jerry,” I pleaded. “It’s me, Reid. What the heck’s goin’ on here? Put those down wouldya? Hey that hurts!”

“Get outta here ya stinkin’ bug,” yelled one of them to my utter surprise.

“That’s the biggest fuckin’ roach I’ve ever seen! Get the hell outta here!” screamed my other so-called friend and co-worker. And all that was left for me to do was to openly scurry for the door and run for my life, never turning to look back, or to wonder what had gone wrong.

Driving home - as by now it was the only course of action I could think of taking - I reached my familiar address, but couldn’t believe my eyes as I pulled up the driveway. An insect exterminator’s truck stood parked on the street nearby and in front of that were three police squad cars, solemnly lined up in a neat row almost as the procession of some funeral, or the awful scene of some terrible crime. “Now what?” I said to myself, as I pulled up the driveway and parked. “What other surprises are in store for me today? Nearly got beat up at work, an' my own wife didn’t even recognize me. Now what? Shit, what if someone broke in? But what’s with the exterminator? I didn’t know we had bugs.” Letting myself in, I was on my way to comfort Mary if I could and to find out what was going on when three policemen with guns drawn, pointing in my direction, began yelling like the house was on fire... “Stand still you ugly bug or I’ll send your ass straight ta bug hell!”

“You heard ‘im!” shouted another. “Freeze!”

“Shit!” exclaimed the first officer. “That’s the biggest roach I ever seen! Man... get a whiff a that thing wouldya? Stinks like hell warmed over. Cuff ‘im Tim.”

“But I can’t,” remarked the third officer. “I only got one set o' cuffs an' he’s got four arms an' two legs. Damn, I never knew they could stand up like that neither. Whaddaya want me ta do?”

“Well, let’s see... hmm. How about you guys cover me an' I’ll put my set on ‘im, then we’ll switch an' Tim can put his set on ‘im too, okay?”

“Good enough,” they agreed. “But what then?” asked an officer with the letters ‘Lieutenant Kafka’ plainly written over his left shirt pocket.

“Whaddaya mean, ‘what then?’” said the first. “It’s plain as hell ta me. This is one for the boys in the lab. If they can’t figure it out, we’re in deep shit. Can you imagine more o' these damn things runnin’ around? All hell would break loose - ya follow me now?”

“I follow, but I ain’t sittin’ in the same car with it. You want it,” replied one of the men, “you take ‘im in your squad. If it was up ta me, I’d end this right here an' now.” But as the three men stood bickering about who would do what and when, I quickly seized the opportunity, popped open the door latch that had closed behind me and ran straight to my car. Stepping on the gas, with the pedal to the metal as they say, I didn’t stop my car until the oddest sensation came over me. Pulling over, as night had fallen and my eyes seemed to be not quite as good as they once had been, I parked my car and noticed the blinking neon lights of a sign. Must be a hotel, I thought to myself as I walked into what appeared to be an open door, with one of the best smells coming from it that I possibly could’ve imagined. Stepping inside, I hadn’t walked very far when all at once I became aware that my feet were stuck to the ground. In fact, I was nearly frozen in place when I noticed all around me that there were others also in the same predicament as I, and as I wondered what in the world was going on, I finally read the blinking sign that I’d neglected in my haste. It read “Reid’s Roach Motel” in large, red, flashing lights and all at once, any question I had about who I was or where I was going became strangely all too clear.

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