Waterbugs by Brendan Gillen
Awoke to a lonely cockroach, felt him skitter on my soul. Caught me home alone. The drapes
hung open, radiator waited its turn. Prime season from what I’m told.
Landlord didn’t even flinch. “Please,” he said. “Let’s call them what they are.”
Called the cops instead, provided my address.
They came in without knocking as they’d been trained. One was a woman, the other one
“There was a report of a disturbance?” said the woman.
“More of a reckoning,” I said.
The short one cleaned his glasses while I poured coffee, told them what the roach told
His name was Kevin, which caught me off guard. I’d expected something monosyllabic.
Chastened by preconceived notions, I resolved to get to know him. He’d gone out for exercise;
my arm offered an incline. He seemed well-fed, curious. A bit greedy. Relatable in other words.
He’d even told me of his parents. They’d made their life in a hiking boot until recycling became
more than just a fad. Then he asked me a question that, in retrospect, I might have seen coming.
“Why are you so afraid of us?”
“Me?” I made a show of being insulted.
“Well, all of you.”
I knew I had to be careful with my answer. Words like bacteria and nauseating could be
taken out of context. After all, we’d only just met.
“Perhaps it’s the way you accelerate. Or that you can scale any surface?”
He looked at me gravely. “But we’ve been doing so for decades. Longer even.”
It was true. Who was I to question the fickle gifts of athleticism? The answer occurred to
me then: Because you remind us of our mortality. But I didn’t dare say it. Less for his sake than
“Well, what about your antennae?”
“What of them?”
“They’re so . . . capable.”
“Without them we’d starve.”
“Would that be so bad?”
He glared at me and I attempted to laugh it off. He brooded, stalked the pale side of my
forearm, antennae oscillating like a sine wave. I grasped at straws, tried a different tack.
“Do you like hurling?”
“Very funny,” he muttered, annoyed.
“No, no,” I said. “The Irish game dating back thousands of years. Fastest game on grass.
Agility and palatable violence, which, for someone of your pedigree—”
“Sounds remarkable,” he said.
I felt like a fool.
Until he reared back and bit me.
“You bit me,” I said, reeling. “You guys have teeth?”
“We hardly use them,” he said, cleaning his trap. “But when someone insults our
“If people knew you could bite—”
“Military action. Guaranteed.”
I scanned for a puncture wound, yearned for a shower.
“Look,” he sighed, peering up at me. “I’m sorry. It was purely a reflex.”
And I believed him. Or wanted to. But something about the way his exoskeleton glistened
in the dawn light made my stomach lurch.
So I smashed him to bits.
What were we going to be? Friends?
Out of remorse and mounting respect—we had, after all, very nearly bridged the abyss—I
dug a grave, held a wake.
No one came.
“New mattress?” said the woman cop, surveying the bedroom. The scene.
“I hear there’s virtually no motion transfer,” said the short one.
“Can we stick to the roach?”
“Waterbug please,” said the woman. “You wanna press charges?”
“Well, no. I killed him.”
The short one took a half-step closer. His hat seemed much too big. “This a confession?”
My palms began to sweat. I pictured bars, jumpsuits, trays of grey meat.
He reached for his cuffs, but the woman intervened.
“Ask yourself one question,” she said. Her eyes narrowed. “Am I a Buddhist?”
“I—I meditate on occasion. Though I passed out once in Bikram.”
The radiator began to hiss. My fate hung in the scorched vapor.
The short one smirked. “Kid’s a dilettante.”
“Why’d you even call us?” said the woman.
“I suppose I wanted to know if he died alone?”
She shrugged. “Could’ve been a widower.”
“Or reconnaissance,” said the short cop, putting away his cuffs.
I led them to the door, thanked them for making the neighborhood a testament to low-
I hear them in the folds of my brain. A papery phalanx, poised as Dobermans, equipped
with indifferent wisdom. Somewhere in my hollow walls they wait.
Now I lay frozen, a body in concrete. I will not sleep 'til I know what they call us.
Originally published by (b)OINK Zine 2017
Brendan Gillen is a Pushcart-nominated writer in Brooklyn, NY. His work appears in Wigleaf, Taco Bell Quarterly, HAD, X-R-A-Y, South Carolina Review and elsewhere. His debut chapbook, I've Given This a Lot of Thought, is available now via Bottlecap Press. His first novel, STATIC, is forthcoming from Vine Leaves Press (July '24). You can find him online at bgillen.com and on Twitter/IG @beegillen.