THE MOTHER’S TALE: COCKROACHES
I’ve always loved Grandfather’s visits. Mamma didn’t, though. He was my Daddy’s father and had never really liked her, but was too polite to say so. Grandfather was always more than happy to tell me stories, mostly about his Foreign Legion days, and Mamma hated them. She didn’t think that the stories about killing people were good for a little girl; she was never able to understand they were just adventure stories for me.
One evening, I was seven at the time, Mamma complained she couldn’t get rid of cockroaches. Grandfather told her he knew an excellent sailor trick.
“Oh?” Mamma asked. “And what’s that?”
Grandfather looked at all of us, to make sure he had our attention.
“You take a jar, a big one. Then you oil it from the inside. You catch several cockroaches, they have to be alive, and put them in the jar. The walls of the jar are slippery from the oil, so they can’t escape. And then you wait.”
“Wait for what, Grandfather?” I asked. I’ve always called him ‘Grandfather’. Anything shorter than that would be, like, lack of respect. And I’ve respected him; he was a hero and he knew everything.
“After a while, they get hungry. Of course, you don’t provide them with any food. So, when they get hungry enough, they start eating each other. You wait until there’s only one left. You take that sole survivor and you set it free. By that time, it has developed taste for the flesh of its own kind, and it will eat nothing else. You’ll notice that it’s bigger and quicker than any other cockroaches. Quite soon you’ll have no more problems with these little pesters. No problems at all.”
While Daddy was calm as always, I’ve realized that Mamma was pale, and covering her mouth with her hand.
“You monster!” Mamma gasped. “How can you? How can you tell such a disgusting story while a little girl is present?”
I was always ‘a little girl’ for Mamma.
“But it’s not a story, it’s real! And it works! Come, now, you underestimate your own daughter, she’s smarter than that. I haven’t scared you, have I?”
Everyone was looking at me. I hated it.
“No,” I said, even though I knew it would make Mamma angry. ”Grandfather, can I ask you something?”
“If you can teach cockroaches to eat other cockroaches, can you also teach them to eat humans?”
Grandfather never got a chance to answer me. Mamma screamed me out of the room. I didn’t go to bed like she told me, though; I stayed at the other side of the door and listened. Mamma was yelling at Grandfather. She forbid him to ever come to our house again. It took Daddy quite a while to calm her down and convince her to let Grandfather to keep coming. As soon as I’ve heard that, I ran to my room. I knew Mamma would come to check out if I had obeyed her. Which she did, and was pleased to see me in bed, looking scared.
“You have to watch your mouth, young lady,” she said. “You’re not a baby anymore.”
“Yes, Mamma. I’m sorry.”
“Well, you should be. I’m glad you realize your mistake. Sleep now.”
She kissed me goodnight, turned off the light and left the room.
It wasn’t until six months later that the nightmares began.
I woke up, but I “knew” I was still dreaming. I tried to turn the light on, but I couldn’t find the switch. I couldn’t find my slippers, either, but I knew I had to get up, something was terribly wrong and I just had to get up. So that’s what I did. Something tickled my foot, but the sensation was soon over, so I didn’t pay any attention to it. Groping, I managed to find the door, and to open it. The corridor light was on. The cockroaches were everywhere. I turned around to see them swarming my room. The floor. The ceiling. My bed. The table. Everywhere. And I knew, in an instant, that they were after the baby. My baby sister. So I ran to her room, not caring about the cockroaches I stepped on with my bare feet. I opened the door to find her little bed full of them, eating her alive. They were all over her; actually, I couldn’t even see her. That’s when I began to scream.
I woke up, this time for real, and Mamma was next to me (Daddy was away on business). She looked really worried. I told her about the dream. Only after that I realized I had no sister. Even at the age of seven I knew something was wrong with Mamma, she wasn’t well and couldn’t have any more children. So I expected she would yell at me because I reminded her of that, but she didn’t. She just told me it was a bad dream, I should try to sleep, kissed me goodnight, turned off the light and left the room. I wished Daddy was with me, he would stay with me until I fell asleep again, and he would permit me to have the light on. But he wasn’t, so I trembled and haven’t slept until morning.
Grandfather was never permitted in our house again, but that didn’t stop the nightmares. I kept having the same dream again and again. I learned not to scream, though, because screaming made Mamma quarreling with Daddy.
Not that it stopped her from quarreling. I say ‘her’ and not ‘them’ because Daddy never started. Most often he would leave the house; by the time I was ten, they were divorced.
Daddy moved out of town, so I didn’t get to see him often. Three years later, he got married again, and soon had a baby daughter. His new wife died at the childbirth. It made me really sad; I’ve never had a chance to get to know her, since I’ve only seen her once, at the wedding. Mamma was jealous because Daddy had another child, and she kept telling me that Daddy would now forget me. I knew it wasn’t true. Daddy still loved me, but he couldn’t travel often with such a small child. And she was beautiful, my little baby sister, she looked so much like Daddy.
I was afraid I would have nightmares again, now that I did have a little sister (I stopped having them soon after the divorce). But I didn’t, and Daddy loved me, and I had a beautiful little sister, and even if I often quarreled with Mamma (she thought that a girl of fifteen shouldn’t travel on her own), life wasn’t so bad.
Then the accident happened. The car crash. Both Daddy and my little sister died. I blamed Mamma for not letting me see them more often; we hardly even talked after that. I started to wear black clothes, to use amazing amounts of make-up, and to hang out with weird people. I began to read occult stuff. I knew it annoyed Mamma, but she never said a word. Not even when she noticed I had several tattoos (snakes around my wrists, a demon on my belly, a skull on the shoulder and a red rose on the arm) and a pierced nipple. Mamma never commented on my boyfriends, either. She just told me, if I had an abortion, she didn’t want to know about it.
I was eighteen when she died of a heart attack, and I felt a relief. I had the house just for myself. I thought to get rid of my friends, since I’ve never really liked them anyway, but I felt too lazy for that. And they were sort of fun.
Then I discovered I was pregnant. As soon as I told my boyfriend, he left me. He told me he never loved me; he made me pregnant because he agreed with some people to do so. I asked, as calm as possible, what did he mean, since I had been using pills. He said they told him they could make sure he gets me pregnant on a certain night. I told him he was crazy and to get the fuck out of my life. Which he gladly did.
At first I thought about aborting the child, but the more I thought of it, the less I liked it. I decided to stop fooling around and to do something about my life. I had a job at a video-club, the pay wasn’t much but, with Mamma’s and Daddy’s pensions, it would be enough for me and the baby. I would finally get rid of my so-called friends and devote all my time to the baby. And all would be just fine.
I did get rid of the jerks. And I didn’t have any problems with the pregnancy. Until the nightmares came back.
At first, I dreamed the cockroaches swarming all over my place. There wasn’t anyone in it they could attack...Except for me. And after a while they realized that, and came for me. I couldn’t move. Soon they were all over me, I screamed and they entered my mouth and went down my throat. They didn’t bite me; it didn’t hurt. They were just all over me and inside me, and I would scream until I woke up.
My doctor said it was all right, I was young and scared of raising the baby all by myself, and gave me some pills to help me sleep.
As if I wanted to sleep. As if I dared to sleep...and to dream.
After a while, the dreams changed. I began to dream the childbirth. It didn’t hurt, but I felt terrified anyway. I knew something was wrong. The doctor was telling me to push, and I kept pushing, but the feeling was so...I don’t know. Strange. Weird. As if my baby wasn’t normal. And then it was over and I nearly fainted from exhaustion and I realized I haven’t heard the cry. My baby wasn’t crying. So I raised myself up to ask the doctor what’s wrong with my baby. He was smiling and holding a big larva. He congratulated me on having such a healthy and big larva. Needless to say, I screamed.
Again, my doctor told me everything was all right, I was doing fine, I would feel much better after the childbirth. Thanks, doc.
Finally, finally, I had my baby. The childbirth was far from painless, but I survived it. I had a big, healthy boy. It was such a relief, and I really didn’t have nightmares anymore.
He seemed to smile at me when he was seven days old. I know that such a small baby can’t smile, but that’s what it looked like. And he sure was a troublesome baby. He wouldn’t accept any delays, oh no. Whatever it was he wanted, to be fed or changed, he would scream at the top of his lungs until he got it. But how could I refuse anything to my son? So I would rush to fulfill his needs, and he was happy. And I was tired all the time but I didn’t have nightmares and I had a wonderful son, so I was happy too.
I felt so proud the first time he managed to sit in his bed. The biggest smile was on my face, and I turned around as if I expected someone else to be there, someone to whom I could show how well my son was doing. I don’t know why I did it. Maybe I wanted someone to be there.
I spotted a cockroach on the floor. And another one. And another one. And...I screamed and ran to squash them, but they avoided me and gathered around his bed. They didn’t climb on the bed, though. They were on the floor, a dozen of them. He looked at them and laughed. It was the first time he laughed. I fainted.
When I opened my eyes, the cockroaches were nowhere in sight. I looked at my son. He smiled at me.
“Mamma,” he said. His first word. I wanted to believe that the cockroaches were just a hallucination, but I knew they weren’t.
“Just keep them away from me. I really hate cockroaches,” I told him. He was still smiling at me. I smiled back. He laughed, and I knew everything was going to be all right.
The cockroaches keep coming to him, but they never enter my room. He laughs as he watches them running around, fighting each other, or trying to climb the walls that I have oiled. Sometimes they are divided into big groups when they fight. And my son is so happy with his toys.
One day, I know, it will be people he’ll command. And they will obey him just as the cockroaches obey him. And they will fight for him, and die for him. Their lives for him.
I sure am proud of my son.