The lovely Rita agreed to accompany Bert back to his apartment to see his etchings. She was pleasantly lit with three glasses of a rich petite shiraz that had been served with the prime rib and violet potato au gratin gorgonzola at Chez Noire, an upscale restaurant on the corner of Market and Harris across from the huge, acoustically perfect Audubon Theatre. Bert had gambled, so to speak, a large sum of money on his date. Although Chez Noire was known for its gourmet menu, the serving portions were on the small side, and the wine was as expensive by the glass as it was by the bottle at the import store. Most people were impressed by the restaurant's menu, though Bert looked at the dishes he and Rita were served and saw sliced boiled purple potatoes with a cream sauce drizzled in a stripe over them (about four bites worth) and gorgonzola cheese crumbled sparingly over the stripe. Just how does a pinch of rosemary and grated lime sprinkled over a sandwich-sized cut of prime rib constitute 'gourmet,' Bert thought to himself as the plates were served. A cluster of bright green pea pods was fanned above a line of thick dark brown gravy to represent a palm tree on the side of the plate. Prime rib comfit, my butt, Bert thought. But he smiled at Rita, who had quietly clapped her sweet little hands together with delight at the presentation. As she bent to sniff delicately at the dish, Bert could see the lacy edge of her black brassiere peeking from the plunging neckline of her satin blouse. Yes, the dollar value of the menu was worth it.
Rita giggled as Bert helped her from the car, just the faintest bit wobbly on her high black sandals. She clung to his arm as he led the way to the elevator. Bert hoped that she wasn't a secret arts patron who knew the difference between "etchings" and "sketchings," for all he had was a couple sketch diaries with pencil drawings of nudes, vases, and fruit. He was counting on the nudes to inflame Rita's desire.
So carefully planned out, Bert's suave door-opening led to him switching on a low light in the corner of the living room. The light was shaded by an alabaster elephant fixture, atop a dark rattan ottoman used as an end table. "Ohhh," Rita said, impressed by the artsiness. The small lamp cast mysterious shadows across the scented room. (Bert had made certain he burned patchouli incense before he left.) The leather sofa, the carved wooden giraffe that stood guard before the windows, the primitive pattern of the woven rug on the wall all spoke thousands of words about Bert's adventurous and exotic way of life to Rita, who had never traveled out of the state or shopped in any place more foreign than a once a year foray to Neiman Marcus in January for their White Sale.
Bert seated Rita in the lush cushions of the couch, and lit four fat, pale candles on the tray on the coffee table. In the dim light, (for there was no way he was going to flip on the glaring hideous fluorescents) he quietly went to the kitchen and found the bottle of cabernet sauvignon/merlot that he'd opened before he left the apartment. "Just one moment, my dear Rita," he said, and pulled the cork from the bottle with a faint pop. The wide stemware glasses were right by the bottle, and he poured about two inches of wine into each. Carrying the glasses to the couch, he eased himself down -- not too closely, not yet -- beside Rita and handed her a glass. He clinked his glass against hers. "To you, Rita, the most intoxicating woman I know."
"Bert," she breathed, and then took a sip of the red wine.
Her scream and sputtering brought them both to their feet! She clawed madly at her mouth, and finding some object within, threw it with the faintest of *splats* to the coffee table. In the light of the candles, the object moved feebly.
"Eeeeeaaaauughhhhh!" Rita cried. " Eeeeeaaaauughhhhh! Eeeeeaaaauughhhhh!" she fled to the front door, opened it, and ran down the hallway. Not bothering with the elevator, she clacked hurriedly down the stairs, stumbling and nearly falling twice from the heeled shoes which were never meant to be used in an escape.
"Rita!" Bert called after her. "Wait, come back!"
"No! Eeeeeaaaauughhhhh! My god, a cockroach! I nearly swallowed a cockroach! Eeeeeaaaauughhhhh! I'm calling a taxi! No, stay away from me, you filthy man!" she screamed, as Bert tried to comfort her. She turned away from him and threw up in the bushes by the front of the apartment building. "Oh god, I had a cockroach in my mooouuuuth!" There was a traffic light on the cross street by Bert's apartment building, and by chance, a taxi was stopped there. Rita shoved her cell phone back into her purse and yanked open the passenger side of the taxi. "I'll double your fare, just get me out of this filthy neighborhood! Eeeeeaaaauughhhhh!"
It was the final straw for Bert. He bitterly returned to his apartment (glad that his neighboring residents had not noticed his open door and robbed him blind while he ran out into the plaza after his date) and flipped on the main light switch. On the coffee table the crippled roach still twitched. Bert smashed it with a beer coaster, and then stomped to his kitchen. He flipped on the overhead light and saw small roaches scuttling to the crevice between the stove and formica counter, to the gap between the refrigerator and the wall. Three ran from the center of the floor to the baseboards of the cabinets, but Bert stamped his dress shoes on the trio before they could escape. One teetered on the mouth of the bottle of cabernet-merlot, antennae casting about for the source of the blinding light. Bert upended the bottle in the sink, pouring out the wine, washing the roach down the drain. "You want my wine, you #@!!**! roach? I'll give you some wine!" He reached over the counter to the garbage disposal switch and flipped it. The rest of the wine went down the drain with the ground up remains of the roach. He turned on the hot water tap and let it run until the sink was steaming.
Southern climates had their share of disgusting bugs, and most people just got used to dealing with them. Bert had been one of them, until tonight. In his refrigerator, he found an icy six pack of Miller. He popped the top of one of them, and shouted, "That's it! You're all dead! Every single stinking one of you!" he tilted his head back and let the beer pour down his throat, erasing the faint taste of rosemary that still clung to his teeth. He drained the can and threw it in the sink. He belched noisily, defiantly. "There, that one was just for you #@!!**! roaches!"
Even though the next day was a Sunday, a day normally devoted to prayer and rest, Bert dressed early and went to Home Improvement Warehouse, where he bought four cans of Raider House and Garden Insect Spray, two gallon containers of perimeter spray, and the dozen pack of Baltic Avenue Roachie Hotels. Death was on his mind, not religion, and death of cockroaches was the only rest his mind sought.
He sprayed every corner of the kitchen, except for the tops of the counters where he prepared his food, and the cupboards where he kept his dishes. The entire floor was misted with a residual insecticide; he was willing to forego bare feet until the battle was done.
In the evening, not quite satisfied with his doom-laden efforts and under the influence of another whispering six pack of beer, he conceived the idea of placing a plate of butter crackers on the counter to attract the roaches to cross the pesticide perimeter. Imagining the heap of dead bugs on the counter in the morning, he went to sleep with a smile on his face, the lines of anger for the moment smoothed away.
In the morning, he arose, put on his slippers, and went directly to the kitchen to gloat over the carnage. He found one dead roach, but every cracker on the plate was gone. A piece of brown thread dangled from the dish cupboard above the counter, a daring rope trick to obtain the food.
Bert ripped the thread from the cupboard, tearing a splinter off the wooden finish on the front of the door. He didn't have his reading glasses with him, but it looked as though the thread had been tied with a tiny square knot. There was no time for venting his rage; he had no choice but to go to work, to spend his day crouched over a desk, his tie choking him, the lovely Rita absolutely ignoring him, the fat vein in the middle of his forehead pulsing with the rhythm of his fury.
On the way home, he stopped at the supermarket and purchased fifty dollars worth of airtight plastic containers in varying sizes. Upon his return to his kitchen, he proceeded to put every single food item into them. No flour, no butter, no cereal was left outside. If roaches were interested in food, they'd have to go somewhere else.
Bert staggered into the bathroom the next day to find his soap gnawed to a lump the size of a quarter. A couple roach legs lay next to it, evidence of a fight. He grinned at the thought of the bugs destroying each other in their hunger, but his amusement faded when he reached for a new cake of soap, and found only an emptied wrapper in the medicine cabinet. The sliver that the roaches had left was sufficient only for one armpit before it fell from his reach and slid down the drain of the tub. He used shampoo for the rest of his body, wincing at the fragrance.
Pulling on his brown slacks, he discovered that the rear seam had come undone from belt to crotch, and he remembered the brown thread that had dangled from the cupboard the morning before. He called off work, committed to spraying every square inch of the kitchen and bath. His dishes were piled on the coffee table in the living room, the pots and pans on his bed.
None of the Roachie Hotels he examined had even one roach in them. Forgoing his beer, Bert drank coffee instead. He was intent upon seeing his enemy poisoned and dying.
Near midnight, Bert heard a shuffling sound in the kitchen. A cupboard door squeaked softly, and then there was the sound of something falling to the counter. A scraping, then another fall, this time to the floor. Then silence. Bert got up from the couch, and by the light of an infomercial on television, saw a cockroach bigger than a chihuahua dragging a plastic container of Crunchy-O's from the kitchen to the carpeted living room. The cockroach was wearing little origami slippers folded from newspaper on each of its feet, protecting it from the bug spray. Once out of the danger zone, the bug kicked off several slippers and pried open the lid, spilling Crunchy-O's onto the rug. The rug itself rippled suddenly, and a horde of roaches enough to fill a tall kitchen wastebasket erupted from the edge by the baseboard and descended upon the cereal.
Bert shouted in outrage, ran to the kitchen, and pulled the House and Garden spray from under the sink. The great cockroach chieftain whipped a small notebook from under one glossy black wing, and a ball point pen from the other and scribbled. It held the notebook above its head where Bert could clearly see it: "Your bed next."
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