By the time she heard her upstairs neighbor click-clacking up the steps and jangling her keys, she had finished sewing on several buttons and had started on seams that needed reinforcing. She rose and shut her jalousies completely. Despite her attempts at keeping her cool, she found herself tensing, anticipating. Her neighbor came home late every night. And the girl was noisy.
Clicky-clacky, the woman thought. Ticky-tacky.
As she was readying herself for bed, she heard the girl’s boyfriend come home.
Oh no. Another show.
She finished her last cup of tea for the day and washed her mug. Then she turned in, snapping off her lamp. She wasn’t sleepy, not in the slightest. My goodness me. Was it the tea? But she knew she was bracing herself. And she didn’t have to wait long.
Squealing and moaning, squeaking and groaning. The couple upstairs, at it again. Although the girl and her boyfriend had been living there for several months, the woman was still chagrined at the girl’s uncontained and fully vocalized sexuality. The disturbance went on for a while—a long while—until the girl squalled long and loud. Then the woman, still wide awake, felt the tea she’d had all day and into the night.
When she flicked on the overhead light in the bathroom, she saw a large cockroach standing frozen at Miss Kitty’s dish of kibble. She moved and the beast scurried away.
She finally managed a restless sleep. She dreamed of rustlings, scurryings, whisperings, secrets and surprises. And betrayals.
The following day was terribly bright with white, white sunlight glaring. Honolulu lay open to her, glittering, heat from asphalt and concrete creating wavering oscillations in the air. She kept to her bed, nodding over her book, rousing herself now and again for some tea. Even after she drew her curtains closed against the August sun it was hot.
Sweat it out, without a doubt, she thought. She entertained the idea of driving to the supermarket for provisions, but her ancient Nissan was not dependable. So she thought it over some more while she heated water for yet another cup of tea.
It seemed to her that the daylight outside took a long time to die.
Upon darkness, then, she gladly heaved herself out of bed and parted the curtains. Much better at night, my evening delight.
The streetlights made for shadows that hid the ruder aspects of Honolulu’s sprawl. This early, she made certain that the jalousies were open all the way. Her cat meowed, and the woman padded over and measured dry food into the bowl in the tiny bathroom. Miss Kitty, so pretty.
“Nibble your kibble,” she said to her cat. Then she climbed back into bed and gazed at the city lights below, enjoying the quiet time.
She spotted the roach several times when she visited the bathroom. It was odd, but she felt a kind of comradely sympathy for the lonely creature. Over the hours, as she ruminated, this sympathy developed into a fondness. Later, as she sat in her chair sewing up the loose seam in the crotch of her beige slacks, she decided to give the insect a name. And that night, she left some pastry crumbs for LaRoachine.
In the morning the crumbs were gone.
On Friday evening, the people upstairs had guests.
Not again, my none-such friend.
She shut her jalousies tightly despite the heat. But acrid tobacco smoke—and later, sweet illegal smoke—infiltrated her studio. Thudding bass beats, and raspy, angry voices penetrated her ears. Guests shouted over the booming of the sound system and all the noises echoed and bounced off the concrete walls within their cul-de-sac. Her walls shook. She was unable to do a thing with the racket upstairs. She thought she might be losing her mind. She couldn’t even think. She sat in her chair; she endured.
Just before eleven, she saw blue lights strobe across her side windows. The police pounded on the neighbors’ door. The music stopped suddenly, and the ensuing silence seemed strange. More voices, the voices subdued now. Then the noises gradually petered out as the partiers took their leave.
Miss Kitty emerged from beneath the single bed. She meowed, gazing at her mistress with soulful green eyes; she then padded to the bathroom. In the quiet, the woman could hear rustling sounds. The bright light that came on when she flicked the switch flooded her vision. LaRoachine scooted across the floor; the cracker crumbs the woman had set out earlier had disappeared. She noticed a faint musty-metallic odor.
She got more crumbs for LaRoachine and left them in the bathroom.
In bed at last, the apartment dark, she dozed with Miss Kitty at her side. She heard rustlings like silk, a swishy-shirring sound. A secret.
A surprise for my eyes? She realized that she was awake. She went back to the bathroom and turned on the light.
In the glare, five large cockroaches converged near the vanity. Two of them were rear to rear, conjoined. The others fled pell-mell, their hairy legs making whispery noises.
The woman thrust her hand out and flicked the light switch off. In the dark, she dressed hurriedly. She went outside, locking up her apartment, and trotted to her car. At Longs Drug Store, Open 24 Hours, she made her purchase then returned home. Shaking and sweating, almost sobbing, she grasped the Hoy-Hoy-Trap-A-Roach, popped it up and baited it, and slid it into the bathroom, and retrieved Miss Kitty’s food and water bowls, holding her breath. She didn’t want to breathe the reek that lingered.
As the night wore on, getting older and older, she put her kettle on for tea.
First published in Rain Bird, 28:2-4, 2008.
Windward Community College Rain Bird Kolekolea Award (fiction), 2008.