We were living in a tenement apartment building in the Bronx, and it was full of all things common to such. I was doing the breakfast dishes one Saturday morning when I felt something feathery run over my bare foot. Of course, I already knew what it was, but I screamed anyway. Ahhh!!!!!!!!!!!! My four-year-old daughter came rushing to my aid, as she was the only one home at the time.
We both gawked at it. It was a giant roach, with menacing antennae, and it seemed to be staring us down. The antennae were doing a slow, Go head make my day dance, and the insect looked to be half the size of my foot. It was by the stove, but for some reason it did not run behind it. I got the broom out from the space between the refrigerator and the wall, but then thought of the big bloody mess that would ensue if I clobbered it to death. So I decided against a sanguinary execution. I ordered my daughter, “Get me the spray from under the bathroom sink.”
It was the 80s, and big hair was in, so many cans of hairspray lined the bottom cabinet, and my daughter grabbed the first can she saw. She ran it back to me excited to be of help. “This is hairspray!” I shrieked.
My daughter replied, “Maybe it will work, but maybe we shouldn’t kill it.”
“Do you want it running on your foot?” I asked.
The reply was in her eyes, so the two of us set out to commit premeditated murder, insecticide without insecticide. The first weapon of choice was the hairspray because it was, right at that moment, at our immediate disposal. The stink from the spray had almost killed me on many occasions, so I figured why not. At worst, we’d have a coiffured Kafka. I shook the can, took a step forward and let the sucker have it. He was blasted with the stuff. But rather than running away like an intelligent roach, this one charged us. Gina and I sprinted to the living room giggling with fright or semi-fright. Luckily, our opponent confined itself to the kitchen choosing not to run into our carpeted living room.
And it was not going to move. A real showdown was taking place. Arthropod versus homo – sapiens, one possessing greater instinctive skill, and one with the advantage of convoluted gray matter, the most advanced cerebral cortex on the planet. Yes, this would be a close one.
“Gina, go get the bug spray. Read the label. You can do it. Find the right can.”
“I’ll keep an eye on him while your gone.”
How it became a he is anybody’s guess, but I have noticed this phenomenon in the past where humans arbitrarily start giving genders to things be they animate or not. An insect readily falls into the he designation after it has become tiresome. Cats are often referred to as she and dogs often as he. Some things like flies hang on to it quite easily. Boats are always she as are cars. Think of, she’s a beauty to refer to both. At any rate, our friend had ascended the pronoun rank with ease.
My daughter was already able to read simple things, and I figured that the large picture of the upside down dead roach would lend any cognitive clues necessary should her preschool lexicon prove unworthy. She marched back to the bathroom and trotted back with the correct can, but by then I’d lost my nerve, and I stooped to a very low level.
“Can you spray it Gina?”
“Me, no, I don’t want to do it,” she answered.
Never, had I resorted to this crude level of parenting before, but tenement living can make one a bit nuts.
“I’ll give you twenty bucks to kill it.”
“You will!” My four-year-old replied.
This is when I knew I had a real gold-digger on my hands.
“Yes, I will give you the dough.”
We stepped slowly and carefully back to the kitchen where our friend was holding court, still menacing us with antennae.
Before a certain celebrity made the line famous, my daughter then said,
“Show me the money Mom.”
“Are you for real?” I said more than asked.
My pocketbook was hanging off the kitchen chair, so I grabbed it, picked the bill out my purse, and flashed the twenty before her. My daughter beamed.
Sufficiently satisfied at the likelihood of payment, Gina stepped forward, and doused the thing with enough white, slippery, goo to annihilate the entire building’s collection of arthropods. We watched and waited for some seconds. But this was a tenacious creature whose ancestors had survived the ice age, and he was doing his best to maintain the strength of their legacy. His antennae started moving faster, beating out into space.
“Spray him again,” I said.
“No, I sprayed him once. That was the deal.”
Deal. What deal I thought. This kid was proving to be a real New Yorker. She made me so proud. We stood there watching him for a while, but when we saw he was finally succumbing, we couldn’t bear to actually see him go.
“Let’s watch TV until Dad comes home,” I said.
A few minutes later, I peeked into the kitchen, and the poor thing was still struggling doing his ancestors proud. He was moving, but very slowly. I went back in to the living room.
“Is he still alive?” My daughter asked.
“No, I think he’s dead.”
I knew that his struggle bothered my daughter because it disturbed me too, so I lied.
A few minutes later I peeked in again, and finally, he was gone. Formidable but not invincible, our guest was like most of us who were living in the building at the time.
Sometime later, Gina’s father walked in. My daughter and I bolted toward him.
“I killed a big roach. Mommy gave me twenty bucks,” said my daughter.
“Really, how interesting,” he replied.
My husband did his duty as so many fathers before him have been called on to officiate. He disposed of the body in the incinerator.
“What’s one more hit man in the family?” I joked.
Jackie Minghinelli grew up on the Lower East Side and the Bronx. She attended college without going to high school. Her undergrad major reads: Anthro-Bio-Chem. Her graduate degree reads: MS in Education. She has worked as a restaurant inspector for Nassau County where she also taught the food safety course. She has also worked as a middle- school teacher. In addition to Mr. Beller's Neighborhood, her non-fiction has appeared in Huntington Life, the Long Islander, and the Nassau County Poet Laureate Society. She was a finalist in a micro, micro- micro fiction contest sponsored by Gotham. Presently, she is working on several poems, essays, and stories.