The Flying Cockroach
Dad’s battle with an invader (second of two shorts based on my Dad)
We had moved to a house farther inland that seemed—when we first looked at the house as a family—to be a haven for cockroaches of all shapes, sizes, and colors, including flying cockroaches. My Dad had the house exterminated and fumigated, not once, but several times before we moved in. He hated cockroaches as much as he hated mice and rats. He was determined to rid the house of all cockroaches and vermin and for almost a year after we moved in, we did not see a single mouse or cockroach.
One night after dinner, Mom had just filled the kitchen sink with warm, soapy water, Dad stood ready with a clean dish towel to dry and put away the dishes, and I had started to clear the dishes from the table when a shadow passed in front of the light fixture above the table. I looked up and to my horror saw a flying cockroach.
Now, I was afraid of flying cockroaches. I had heard a rumor of a flying cockroach getting tangled in a girl’s hair just long enough to lay eggs. Several days later the girl awoke screaming as tiny cockroaches crawled from her head onto her face and into her ears. Even though Mom had told me it was nonsense, when you’re 10 ( as I was at the time) it seemed possible—every horror story did. As long as the story had familiar elements sprinkled through it, to my mind, it anchored it firmly in reality. No matter that the familiar was conjoined with the ridiculous. So, I screamed.
“Oh my God! A flying cockroach!”
I immediately grabbed the dish towel from Dad’s hands and threw it over my head. Dad grabbed the House Beautiful magazine where Mom had left it on the counter and rolled it into a tube, an instant cockroach-killing weapon.
He went chasing around the dining room in pursuit of that flying cockroach, which kept being drawn toward the light above the table.
Mom directed the chase by shouting, “There it goes! It’s over here now! It’s by the lamp! Oh no! It’s above the table!”
At that point I was in the fetal position in a corner of the dining room, with the dish towel still on my head, lifting it for brief moments to see the progress of the hunt. I remember a brief pause in the action and when I peeped from under the dish towel, I saw Dad breathing heavily and the cockroach on the ceiling by the light with its antennas twitching. I suspect they were both worn out.
Then Dad decided on a sneak attack. He climbed on a dining room chair and tried to reach the cockroach with the rolled up magazine, but the house had high ceilings. So, he quickly changed his tactic and climbed on the table.
Now, the table was one of those oval ones with one big pedestal in the middle. He got as close to the center as he could and shouted, “Aha!” as he brought the magazine down on the spot where he thought the cockroach rested. He missed.
The cockroach flew around a few times and soon landed on the opposite side of the ceiling light fixture from where it was before. Dad stepped gingerly over the dirty dishes on the table to maneuver himself into the most advantageous position.
“Let me remove the dishes, Ken! Let me remove the dishes,” Mom shouted, as Dad stepping lightly stalked his prey.
Just as he was about to swing the magazine toward the ceiling, he shifted all his weight onto one foot to get more of a lift. The table dipped. The dishes and cutlery slid toward the floor and Dad let out a whoop as his feet tried to find something solid on which to stand. He landed with his behind resting in leftover mashed potatoes.
Mom and I laughed until we cried as the cockroach circled above my poor Dad’s head a couple of times before disappearing through the front door as my brother came in.
Not one dish broke and Dad who proclaimed loudly that he could have died came away from it all with nothing more than a bruised ego and another joke to tell his family and friends.
Of course, those jokes usually started with—I once knew this fellow… and ended with Dad laughing as loudly as everyone else.
Anyone who has lived in or visited the tropics (the Caribbean, Florida, or Hawaii, for example) knows about flying cockroaches.
I am still afraid of flying cockroaches (really, cockroaches of any kind…ewww).
Read the other short story based on my Dad, I, Brutus.
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