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“I was born at the wrong time too. A week early. If I’d stayed put, I’d be a capricorn. I’m sure I messed up Mama’s plans. I always did. She was just twenty-five then, just starting to get her career off the ground and move to a totally different country. Terrible time to have a baby. And then when I was born, I’m sure I was a terrible bother. Babies are rude, you know. They cry in the middle of the night, poop themselves at parties, get hungry on a walk to the park, it’s all on their own timetable. I think Mama was always glad to leave on her little business trips, just to get away from me.”


Odysseus yawned and blinked his yellow eyes. The cat cared little for my sob story. I tried to pet his mangy back once again, but he shied away from my hand, curled his crooked spine, leapt off the porch and into some bushes. 


“Okay, bye, it was good talking to you,” I called out after him. 


I sat on the porch steps and sighed. I was a whole month into my sophomore year of college, and already something was off. I don’t know what I expected, just not this, not me sitting by myself on the porch of a freshman dorm somewhere around midnight. It wasn’t even my freshman dorm.  I had a few friends who lived here back then, but I didn’t even like them all that much, and I certainly didn’t like the dorm itself; though homey on the outside, shaped like a giant white house with wooden paneling, it resembled a labyrinthine mental asylum on the inside, with cinderblock-wall rooms and zig-zagging corridors that were impossible to navigate when high. Its only claim to fame was that Odysseus, the campus cat, lived there, and he didn’t even like me. 


I went on night walks a lot those first few weeks, but it was a rural campus and going too far any direction lands you in the woods, so I ended up circling many of the same locales from freshman year because there was simply nowhere else to go. Walking around aimlessly was a habit I’d picked up in the hellish summer when the pandemic ravaged the country. I made so many promises to myself about what I’d do once it was all over. First order of business was falling in love. 


The tarot card ladies on YouTube said it was a done deal. I would watch them in those nightmare weeks when I couldn’t sleep for days at a time. The videos always had the same set up, a pair of hands in the frame, a soothing girly voice, several decks of tarot cards with lovely designs on them being shuffled around and arranged in formation. The messages were always positive, that I would find success and fulfill my dreams in the very near future, just vague good stuff all around. But there was one thing every tarot card lady promised quite clearly: I would be finding love, true once-in-a-lifetime soulmate-karmic-twin-flame love, and in this very calendar year. That much they were certain about. 


I arrived on campus excited, fresh, optimistic, my eyes wide and peeled open, looking for this mystery person in every class, every dorm, the cafeteria, the gym. But the bastard was in hiding. 


Whatever. It was time to go home. 


My roommate was an early sleeper, and a light one. I heard her annoyed form shifting around in the dark as I crept back into my own bed. I glanced at my phone to turn on my morning alarm and screamed. 


I have a theory that we only develop deep phobias of certain animals because our parents would always freak out when they’d see them, and as children, we internalized our parents’ fears. My mother had no problems smashing spiders and chasing out mice, but cockroaches sent her into a shaking stupor, frozen, terrified, and screaming. So when I saw a juicy, fat cockroach glistening in the blue glow of my phone screen, right there on my own pillow, my mother’s old panic possessed me. I leapt up, heart pounding, unsure of what to do. I couldn’t kill it right there -- its guts would be all over my bed. 


By the time my bleary-eyed and pissed-off roommate turned the lights on, it was long gone. I wished she would yell, curse me, get the anger out of her body and let it dissipate into the air. But it was long past midnight, and she was far too conscious of the neighbors surrounding us on every side. She just sighed, turned the lights back off, and crawled back beneath her blanket, the annoyance brewing within her. I knew tomorrow would be rife with passive-aggressive little comments. 


I slipped out of the room and hoped I’d make it to the bathroom in time. The hot tears were welling beneath my eyeballs -- I squeezed and squeezed so they wouldn’t drip out. 


There was no way I could sleep in that bed tonight. The cockroach was lurking, hidden beneath my blanket, under my mattress, loitering on my sheets, and I couldn’t risk waking my roommate again. She already regretted agreeing to live with me. 


Once in the bathroom, I let loose. It was just all wrong, and it felt stupid to cry, but there was nothing else to be done. I checked my phone again, and it opened to the same picture as before, a post on Instagram, my best friend and my ex-girlfriend in a wide-smiled embrace. There was no funny business, they were just hanging out as friends, but my brain is no rational creature. She fears abandonment more than anything, more than death, more than cockroaches, and sees it in even the most innocent of situations. My mind was on caveman-logic then: two women I care deeply for spending quality time without me meant obviously they hated me, were moving on without me, the ex I’d broken up with snatching my best friend along for the drive away. 

A toilet flushed. Fuck. It was too late to wipe away the snot, to pretend I was in there to only wash my hands. A concerned dandelion-head poked out from the stall, a boy from across the hall.


“Umm. You okay?” he tried, his face wide with that dumb panic boys get in the presence of emotion. 


“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” I said, wiping my face with my shirt sleeve, tears and mucus leaving wet trails on the fabric. 


“Is something wrong?” 


The YouTube tarot card ladies had betrayed me with false promises of love, my roommate despised me and my best friend probably did too. “Uh, yeah, there was a cockroach on my bed.”


“Oh.” He grew more confused, a that’s it? written into his expression. 


“I’m just really scared of roaches. I have this theory that -- actually nevermind. I’m sorry.”


“Don’t be sorry. Roaches are pretty gross.”


“It’s crazy that we pay seventy thousand dollars a year to live somewhere with pest problems.”


“It is pretty crazy.” He washed his hands and wiped them on his pants. I moved out of his way as he headed for the door. He turned around to face me. 


“Do you, like, need help killing it?” he asked. 


“No, my roommate's already mad at me. I might go walk around til she wakes up. Then the roach hunt will begin.” 


“When is she gonna wake up?”


“I dunno. Like 11.” 


“You’re gonna walk around for ten hours?”


“I might sleep on the grass outside. Under the stars. It’ll be romantic.”  


“Do you wanna sleep in my room? My roommate’s out of town. You can take his bed.”

Was he serious? When a guy asks you to sleep in his room, what does that mean? We were friends, I suppose. More like live-in classmates.  Definitely not on “come sleep in my room” terms. 


“Yeah, sure.” I said. 


Their dorm wasn’t horribly messy, a few stray shoes and books tossed around, two beds with crumpled blankets, a teeny trash can threatening to spill over, a few crooked posters. He kicked his shoes off and dove into his bed. 


“You can take that bed,” he pointed. As if there were any other options. 


“Thanks.”


The whole thing felt suddenly very weird. Would his roommate be okay with a random girl sleeping there? I would be smelling his scent all night, and probably leave traces of my own by the morning. 


“Is your roommate gonna be okay with me sleeping here?” I asked. 


“Yeah.” He was already engrossed in his phone. 


That felt weird too, sleeping in the same room with a boy. It wasn’t like that, but the connotation was still there. What if he tried to do something? The thought made my heart pound. 


I sat stiffly down on the roommate’s bed, still unsure of whether I should lay down, surrender to the vulnerability unconsciousness would bring. I really was tired. Fuck it. I took my shoes off, and swung my legs on top of the blanket. My head hit the pillow and I was delighted to find it smelled like clean linen, fancy laundry detergent, not stinky male pheromones. 


“Hey, wait, before you go to sleep, are sounds gonna bother you?” He called from across the room. 


“No, I’m a pretty heavy sleeper.” 


“Okay, good. My headphones don’t work and I like to watch Russian cooking videos.”


“Russian cooking videos?”


“Their voices are always really soothing and I don’t know what they’re saying so I don’t get too invested. I have trouble sleeping but they help out.” 


“That’s cool. I watch the tarot card ladies on YouTube.”


“That’s cool too.” 


He flipped off the lights. I didn’t want to stare but I couldn’t help it -- I was fascinated. He had a babyface, a serious one with naturally converging eyebrows and sad pouty lips. It looked especially young in the dark, with only the phone screen illuminating it and the poster behind his head. The poster for a show, a cartoon I loved in middle school but had since decided I was too mature to thoroughly enjoy. A bit bizarre a choice of decor for a legal adult, but endearing I suppose. The Russian woman from his screen was explaining something about borscht. Her voice was very soothing, enough to lull me asleep. 


I woke up when he was still asleep. I spied on his slowly rising chest, his gaping mouth with my one open eye, fully at the mercy of a sick little curiosity. He was cute. Damn it. 


I decided not to dwell on that for too long though and instead slip out and forget this all ever happened. It would have worked too, if I wasn’t completely fucking clumsy. My foot hit the trash can, it hit the ground, everything spilled out with a metallic clang. He sat up wide-eyed like a spooked rabbit. 


“Oh my God, you scared me. I forgot you were in here,” he croaked with dry morning-mouth. 


“I’m so sorry.” I got on my knees to collect the scattered scraps. 


“No, no, I got it.” He joined me on the ground, mechanically collecting crumpled balls of paper and empty chip bags. 


“Is this sheet music?” I held up a scrap with music notes. 


“Yeah. For that song from ‘The Little Mermaid’ that the crab guy sings. My roommate was gonna teach me how to play it on his clarinet, but I’m really not good at clarinet.”


“Interesting. I thought he was a lobster though, not a crab.” 


“He has a shell though.”


“Lobsters also have shells.”


Wait, hold on, I was not the type of person to debate specifics of Disney movies. Those discussions get annoying for everyone involved past the age of, like, six. But his face was contorted in deep thought. 


“Hm, I guess you’re right. He is red,” he said, more to himself than to me. 


With the trash all picked up, I stood up, dusted my legs off, and thanked him for a night of shelter away from cockroaches and my roommate’s wrath. 


“Of course, any time,” came his reply. 


I said goodbye and put my ear on his door. 


“What are you doing?”


“I wanna make sure there’s no one in the hallway,” I explained. “I don’t want anyone to see me come out of your room.”


“Why?”


“It’s gonna look like, you know.”


“Like what?”


“Like we slept together.”


“We did sleep together.”


I did a polite dry laugh, but he stared me down, still-half-asleep and very serious. I realized he wasn’t making a joke, and that he actually didn’t get what I was implying. I was dealing with a straight-up simpleton. A beautiful idiot. 


“I guess you’re right,” I said. 


I didn’t hear anyone outside the door -- the coast was clear. 


“Okay, bye.”


“Bye.”


It was a Saturday and I went about my usual Saturday things, shower, breakfast, the gym, a bit of homework. My roommate only grunted hello when I came back to our dorm. I asked if she’d seen the cockroach and she said she didn’t know what I was talking about. The whole time, I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I couldn’t believe I really just straight up slept in his room. A wholly innocent thing, and yet such an invasion of private space, such a thrust into one’s personal life. A thing that happens once and lives on forever as a bizarre little memory to float up from the subconsciousness from time to time. 


I squandered my evening on God-knows-what, but suddenly I was watching the sunset sink down from behind my door building, a flaming sun dipping into the forest and behind the mountains. It was always so lovely, and I never wanted it to end, for as soon as night came, I’d feel purposeless once again, left to wander by myself searching for something, anything. I didn’t want to go back to a still-steaming roommate, so I began walking my usual route. Guess who I ran into. 


“Hey!” I called out. 


He looked around and when he spotted me, he broke out in a massive grin. “Hey.”  


The one thing I always noticed over our year-and-a-half of casual-acquaintanceship was that he never wore headphones when he walked around like everyone else did, but his head still swayed side-to-side, as if he were listening to some tune inside his own head. He came up to me. 


“I’m going on a walk if you wanna come with me,” I said. 


“Sure.” 


And then we were walking. I couldn’t tell you what we talked about, nothing all that significant.  


About a year ago, I made his birth chart when he asked, one of those astrology wheels that shows how the planets and the asteroids and the constellations were arranged the night you were born. It’s a bizarre little compulsion of mine, but I memorize every chart I’ve ever done, the same way heterosexual men carry entire baseball teams’ batting average statistics in their heads. I remembered he had a mercury in Venus, a placement that makes one communicate with utter efficiency, where every word is simple and serves a purpose. My sarcasm, my irony, my hyperbolic little statements and double-entendres and understood-context references were lost on him completely. I found myself thinking harder about the shit coming out of my mouth. It had to actually make sense. 


We neared the old freshman dorm. 


“I used to live here,” he said. 


“That’s cool. I like their porch.”


We sat on the porch, legs squatting on the stairs. It was dark then, and getting nippy -- autumn liked to make herself known with chilled white breath and goose-pricked skin. The harshest-yet breeze of the season ruffled the bushes surrounding the dorm, the leaves and stems dancing like a snake-charmer’s snakes. 


He was staring straight ahead, eyes glazed-over and arms crossed. The familiar panic tingled in my stomach. Any minute now he would stand up, say some half-assed excuse -- it’s getting pretty late, I should get going -- and then he would leave, leave forever, and we’d never see each other again except in passing with tight-lipped smiles and he would be just another connection I’d lost, a could-have-been that never came to fruition. Oh, I wished he’d just get on with, just go ahead and go, fuck being polite, just go. He turned to me. Here we go. 


“I don’t want you to freak out,” he said, “But there is a really big cockroach on the path over there.”


I looked. Indeed, the juiciest insect I’d ever seen was posted up on the asphalt in a halo of streetlamp light. His posture seemed a challenge, as if he were saying  yeah, I’m here, what are you gonna do about it? Huh?


“Do you want me to kill it for you?”


“Uh, no,” I answered. “I’ll let him live to see another day. I think he’s got a wife and kids to come home to.”


“How do you know he has a family?”


“Nevermind.”


The roach lost his nerve and darted somewhere off to the shadows. The breeze came back and ruffled my companions hair, wispy strands swirling, a waltz. His face was serious again, thinking. 


“What are you thinking about?” I asked. Might as well bite the bullet and let the guy go home, escape my nagging presence. 


“Odysseus. You know, the cat? We were pals when I lived here. I wonder where he is.”


As if on cue, the fat old feline leapt on to the porch and slinked towards him, rubbing his head against his shoulder, then comfortably depositing himself in his lap. The boy’s face lit up, brightest smile I’d ever seen. 


“He really likes you. I think he doesn’t like most people,” I commented. 


“Yeah.”


You know what, what’s good enough for Odysseus is good enough for me. Maybe the YouTube tarot card ladies weren’t too far off in their predictions. 


May 14, 2020 00:47

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9 comments

Rhondalise Mitza
03:35 May 15, 2020

Oh, wow! I love your story and I wanted to mention that I've written two stories about cockroaches for Reedsy contests and while they differ pretty wildly in their plots and styles and characters, I just thought it was kind of neat. Also fantastic job on winning the contest; that story was fantastic.

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Masha Kurbatova
07:46 May 15, 2020

that's so funny! and thank you so much!

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Pragya Rathore
06:27 Jun 03, 2020

Fantastic!! You write beautifully, Masha (What a unique name!) Please write more! I'd love to read more :) Please read my stories too, and tell me what you think!

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Chloe Ly Grimont
15:00 May 20, 2020

Amazing character development! I think that characters make up whole stories and yours really hit home. They were so real, built upon a simple story, and yet they brought both humour and irony and I freaking loved it :)

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Masha Kurbatova
16:04 May 20, 2020

thats so kind! thanks so much!

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A. Y. R
21:47 May 17, 2020

I really like your writing style! It almost felt as if I was reading my on thoughts!

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Masha Kurbatova
00:39 May 18, 2020

thanks so much! thats a wonderful compliment!

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Roland Aucoin
12:49 May 15, 2020

Congrats on the win. Well deserved. I liked your story. I chuckled at the cockroach as a 'walk on' character. :) I also liked the 'tarot ladies' as a light plot line.

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Masha Kurbatova
20:15 May 15, 2020

haha thanks so much! glad you liked it!!

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