A Farewell to Roaches
Martha picked her way delicately across the wooden floor, doing her best to ignore the broken glass and rusted metal. Her brother, Angelo, was lounging in the corner scratching his belly. She tried to ignore him too, though it was difficult when he kept belching and grinning at himself. With a sigh, she wondered once again how she could possibly be related to him.
“Marty!” Her father screeched again. Her antennae quivered in annoyance. Why is it so hard to use the name mother gave me? With another sigh, she went outside into the dim light. Angelo chuckled in the corner and continued scratching himself. Disgusting, she thought.
Her father was sitting in the shade of an old rusted car and he too was rubbing his belly. She trotted through the floating ash, though she tried very hard not to scurry. Scurrying was what her people did before they’d evolved, back when they were tiny pests. But things were different now. Thirty generations ago, the Event had happened, killing everything else in the world. History was fuzzy, since her people had been pretty stupid back then. It wasn’t until recent generations when they’d been able to keep decent records.
Her father screeched for his wife, Jenny, to bring him some glow water, ripping Martha back to earth. She watched as Jenny scurried to bring him the glow water. Martha sniffed derisively. Her mother hadn’t indulged him so much. She firmly believed a little denial was healthy for men. A great woman, her mother had been. Not that it had done much good for either of them in the end.
“So Marty, you talk to Lenny yet?” her father asked when he saw her approaching.
Martha’s antennae twitched violently. “Papa I told you, I’m not going to say yes. And please, please call me Martha.”
“He’s a good hard working kid, Marty. Like me. You think you’re too good for us with your book smarts and all?”
Martha’s eye started twitching along with her antennae. Stop acting like a scared insect, she chastised herself. She turned to her father and said, “I don’t think I’m better than anyone.” Though, that wasn’t entirely true. “I just don’t think we should eat books…” she trailed off. She’d had this argument before…with every single member of her family. Lo and behold, her family still ate books. The only one who’d agreed with her, that books were for reading and not eating, had been her mother.
“We roaches gotta eat, sugar. Now, what I wouldn’t give for some of that right about now!” he bellowed. “Hey Jenny, we got any sugar?” he screeched, making Martha flinch.
“I told you we done run out!” Jenny screeched back from the house.
“What a useless-” her father started to say before whining at Martha, “Why won’t you say yes to Lenny? He’s not a bad looking kid and you know how he is with the broads. He ain’t gonna wait around forever.”
“What if I want more in my life than some belly scratching, book eating…loser!” she sputtered.
“You know, your ma told me the same thing at the beginning and look where she ended up!”
“Don’t talk about mama that way,” Martha muttered, looking away.
“Martha,” she said flatly.
“Sugar, don’t be sad. Roz was a great gal. You got her smarts. But smarts ain’t gonna keep a roof over your head. You’re a big girl. Think, you could have loads of babies! Say yes to Lenny before he changes his mind, why don’tcha?”
Martha picked up her feet uncomfortably. She was bigger than previous generations. And her nieces and nephews playing by the house were probably going to be bigger than she was too. It was a scientific fact that her people were getting bigger and bigger with each generation. If the trend was followed back to the Event, it implied that her people used to be as small as a stick of gum. Whereas Martha was almost too big to sleep in the old shoes in their house. Any babies she had would need a bigger size by the time they were teenagers. And that sounded expensive.
“I’m not going to say yes to Lenny,” she stated with her chin in the air.
“Then who, doll? You’re already a year old. Men ain’t gonna take you much longer. Angelo is only ten months old and he already has two sets of kids, and a third on the way!”
“I’m nothing like Angelo and Paula, papa. And our people are living longer and longer lives. A year doesn’t mean the same as it did in the past.”
Martha heard a crunching and saw Paula trudging by with her newest batch of eggs on her back. There were twenty, and if the way she sighed and dragged her antennae meant anything, she wasn’t excited about it. That was a lot of babies, even if only half survived their infancy.
“See? Paula looks happy. That could be you, sugar.” Her father rubbed his antennae together contentedly. He had at least a hundred grandchildren already- she didn’t know why he bothered her about it so much.
“You and I see very different things,” Martha muttered under her breath.
“Huh?” her father grunted. “You talking smack to your pa?”
“No, papa,” Martha said in a suffering voice. She looked up at the sky, at the ever-present floating motes between them and the sun. In the past, the sun had been almost completely blocked, but now, the sun was shining brighter and brighter. It made her smile. Her father rubbed his front legs together eagerly, thinking he’d finally convinced her no doubt. Her smile turned to a grimace.
She knew what she had to do. For once in her life, Martha was going to do something that wasn’t logical. She was going to do what she wanted to do.
“I’m leaving, papa.”
“What?” he squealed, his glow water straw hanging ridiculously from his mouth.
“I’m following mama,” she said, her voice growing firmer with every word.
“You’re going to kill yourself?” her father asked breathlessly.
“No. Mama left for the city, but she didn’t die. I know it.”
“Your ma is dead, Marty. And what will Lenny-”
“MY NAME IS MARTHA,” she exploded. “MY MAMA IS ALIVE. AND I’M NEVER GOING TO MARRY LENNY.” She quivered with rage. “And if I have babies, it won’t be with Lenny,” she hissed.
She glared at her father, her antennae still for once. Then she noticed that everyone else had stopped moving. Jenny had frozen on her way from the kitchen, her mouth open stupidly. Her nieces and nephews had frozen in their play. Around the corner she saw her sister Deena had paused in the act of mating. Both Deena and her boyfriend Vinny were peering at her with glassy, empty eyes.
“That sounded a lot like smack, hon,” her father said, with all the bravado he could muster.
“Maybe it was smack,” Martha responded, her normal cool voice lost completely. “Maybe that’s how I talk, but what would you know? I’m leaving. Jenny? Can you help me pack some food?”
“Don’t you dare, Jenny,” her father warned.
Jenny looked at her father with flat, emotionless eyes. She saw something that might have been a spark flicker in her stepmother’s eyes. She turned around and started collecting food.
“Jenny! Stop it right this instance!” he screeched.
Martha watched as Jenny scurried out with a bundle of food and a jug. She tied them on Martha’s chitin shell.
“Remember, ya can go a lot longer without food than water,” she murmured.
“Jenny, I oughta-” her father started bellowing.
“You oughta what? You lazy turd. You’d die without me. So just sit yerself down and quit complainin’.”
Martha took Jenny’s hand in hers and squeezed it.
“I ain’t smart like you kid, but I know you can make it. Go find yer mom.”
A tear threatened to leak out of Martha’s eyes. She wiped it surreptitiously and looked around at her family. She looked at her father, at Angelo who was watching from the doorway with Paula peeking out behind him. She looked at her nieces and nephews and even at Deena and Vinny.
“I’m going to find mama,” she said with more confidence than she felt. “If anyone ever wants to get out of here, simply follow the highway. We’ll be there, at the end, in the city.” She looked particularly at her nephew Jason. He was the only one who didn’t have his mouth gaping open in astonishment. His eyes were clear and discerning. “Anyone is welcome to follow.”
She looked back at her father, who’d turned away. She gave Jenny a sad smile instead and started walking towards the highway.
As soon as her feet touched the cracked pavement, a sigh of relief escaped her body. She almost felt like she could breath. She adjusted her pack and set off.
She didn’t look back, not even once.
This story is a response to the challenge posed by Elisa, to create a world post nuclear war where only cockroaches have survived. It is the first of (hopefully) many challenge stories to experiment with various unimaginable scenarios. If you liked it, please feel free to give me a heart below. I’d also love to receive a challenge from you, even if you don’t know me- the more the merrier! Thanks!