by Eric Hawthorn
Dinner is a plop of low-sodium, a side of fat-free, a small helping of high-fiber. The man and his wife mostly glare at their plates while the kids argue over the facts of a video game. Tap water to drink. No dessert. After, digital clocks everywhere crawl toward the night, blur at the later hours, then sharply announce 1:00 AM.
The man struggles out of bed, silent as possible. His wife snores on.
There’s a produce drawer no one opens. It holds a few suspicious onions and a beet that’s just about fused to the plastic. Once you get past the horror, this is a perfect hiding place. The man has lasted 14 days. 14 days = 336 hours = a whole lot of minutes, and he’s barely complained. After 14 days his gut still lunges over the tabletop.
Before him, his ruin wears a swirl of vanilla frosting.
A fly circles the light above the kitchen table. The glass dome is spattered with its friends. After a few more passes, the fly has second thoughts and disappears for the living room.
1:06. Late at night, every sound is an event: the refrigerator harmonizes with the air-conditioning, the chair legs squeal on the linoleum. Dessert emerges from its translucent wrapper, tender, moist, the flesh of it ribbed from the grooves of the paper. The frosting is solid from the cold.
1:22. Eleven damp wrappers fill the plastic bakery box. The last one, the last of his dessert, trembles on the table before him. The man takes a bite. Where cake meets frosting, it opens like a wound. (The air has changed, the kitchen growing warmer.) This last one is putting up a struggle. There’s a clumping in the man’s throat. He feels a band of sweat where his stomach curls over his sweatpants. The light above turns bendy through his tears.
Beneath the cabinets and the refrigerator and the dishwasher, antennae twitch.
The roaches are confused. Their time is invaded by a hostile brightness. An oblivious giant rocks above, making strange deep noises and sending tremors through the floor. The roaches keep still. To their primitive senses, no telling what is happening, or why, or when it will end. Whatever is taking place, it’s great and inevitable, like thunder or boots. (Wisps of antennae test the air. The space is sweet and getting cooler.) The roaches are patient. They will wait for the quakes to subside, the creature to still, before they creep forward to feast on what’s left.
– Eric Hawthorn lives in Philadelphia with his beautiful wife and their temperamental cat. His stories have recently appeared in Spork, Timber, and Thrice Fiction. To read some of his other pieces, including a free, mixed-media novella about pornography addiction, visit his website: TheBackroomDiaspora.blogspot.com.