- American Cheese
“Get yourself up and turn that TV off. I told you we got to pick up that surplus food today,” Mary said, clapping her large hands in Bib’s face. Bib pulled herself up from the floor and watched her mother leave the living room.
On television, Greg and Peter Brady were sitting around their kitchen table talking happily with one another. Bib lingered over the television, while on the black and white screen, Alice made a joke and picked up their dishes. Then Marcia Brady walked in, her blond, shoulder-length hair parted neatly down the middle.
“Oh man,” Bib moaned to herself and twisted the “off” knob. The television flickered, and in one whirlpool-like flash the smiling Bradys disappeared. She sighed and glanced around the room. Her living room was a compact square. It had a brown couch covered with plastic, a brown arm chair with a wedge of wood under the right front leg to keep it even, two end tables which each held large full-bottomed porcelain lamps, a coffee table, and heavy cream drapes which nearly hid the window. She walked to the window and peeked out. Across the street to the right was the Lewis School, its concrete playground quiet, and straight across was the Bower Street Housing Project. Though the units were attached, they were designed to look like houses—townhouses, she had heard Marie’s mother say. They had two stories and tiny front and back yards. Bib often crouched by the window and watched her Bower Street neighbors sitting or playing or barbecuing in their backyards. Bib wished she lived there instead of in her crowded apartment building. Leaving the window, she walked over to the television and picked up her bowl of soggy Captain Crunch cereal, then trudged into the kitchen.
In the sink sat a plastic dishpan half-filled with water and disappearing suds.
“Always clean up after yourself,” Mary would say, wagging her finger. Then she would add, “Don’t leave no crumbs for the roaches. It’s hard enough fightin’ the neighbors’ bugs without creatin’ more of our own.” Bib agreed. The cockroaches’ ability to multiply was a constant annoyance and embarrassment to her. When Marie or Deanna, her two best friends, would visit, Bib always went into the kitchen alone before she would let them enter. She would leave her friends playing in her bedroom, tiptoe to the kitchen, her shoe in her hand, taking the roaches by surprise. Then like a soldier fighting hand-to-hand combat, she would swing and smash, swing and smash, at the walls, at the floor, the stove and the counters. She killed as many as she could before they scattered, rushing to safety in small, dark cracks. Next she would sweep the often egg-laden bodies of the dead ones into the dustpan and deposit them in the trashcan. Finally, when the roaches had been taken care of, she led her friends [End Page 36] into the kitchen and sat them around her metal-legged table. She would then make her guests peanut butter and jelly saltine crackers or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Wonder bread.
“More?” she would ask graciously, her butter knife poised above the jelly jar.
She dumped the remainder of the milk-logged flakes into the trash can beside the sink. The flakes hit the green plastic bag with a thud. The roaches will hear, will smell, will know, Bib thought. She saw them climbing the sides of the trash can, their antennae wiggling greedily. She felt sick to her stomach and began to wonder if she could hold onto the sick feeling and perhaps avoid going with her mother. The wave of nausea that hit her quickly passed and with it any hopes of staying home sick. Faking never entered her mind because her mother always said that she could “spot a phony five miles away.” So Bib slowly washed and rinsed her bowl and spoon. When she finished, she curtsied in front of the dish drain, pleased with her work.
When she lifted her head, she noticed beads of water sticking to the gray metal...