‘Crazy Making’ by Kelle Grace Gaddis

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Test. Test. Test. I found my father’s old recorder. He used to practice his sermons on it. Test. Test.

August 1, 2018

Roaches are despicable with their little-barbed claws; they give me the creeps. One will disappear into a crack and then reappear out of another. This morning I woke up with a big one on my pillow, inches from my face, its antennae practically in my mouth. Sickening. It starts with one; then, before you know it, they’re everywhere, eating your food, taking over, making you feel like a guest in your own home. Crazy making.

A couple of weeks ago, I put a slice of bread in the toaster, and one crawled out before I could push the lever down. Killed my appetite knowing that thing was in where my bread goes. They’re no easy way to get rid of them either, not under the best of circumstances and God knows I don’t have those.

I’d like to get the Shockwave Roach Bomb. It kills everything within one hundred feet of its canister, but it’s too expensive. Besides Jolene’s nursing her twins in the downstairs bedroom limiting my options. The woman’s clueless. She didn’t even notice her two-year putting roaches in his mouth. Disgusting. Her six and seven-year-olds aren’t any better. They treat the bugs like pets, racing them on tracks made out of cardboard boxes. Half-wits.

I can’t kill them fast enough. It feels like the infestation doubles every night. I turned the light on in the basement and nearly passed out. The floor was thick with roaches, it looked like black water rising and falling. All those little bodies rolling over one another scared me half to death. I didn’t want to risk driving more of them upstairs so I shot the light out.

August 5, 2018

I’ve been praying for an affordable solution, but God hasn’t shown me the way. A while back a lady at the church told me to use lemon peels and bay leaves, but the roaches ate those up and looked for more. Another member of the parish suggested sugar and baking soda. She said the roaches would be drawn to the sugar and killed by the baking soda when it mixed with the acid in their stomachs. Liar. The roaches tripled overnight. Jolene suggested coffee traps. I’ll grant that those helped a bit, but I can’t be expected to caffeinate the roach kingdom to death, that would cost a fortune. The fabric softener cure sounds perfect. No stimulant joy for the roaches before they die, just a tidy purification. Sadly, like all else, it’s pricey. One bottle is six bucks and I’d need five or more cases a week to kill them all.

August 8, 2018

I’m thankful that Jolene doesn’t complain about the roaches anymore. She was lippy at first, testing her boundaries, but now she’s well behaved. She’s happiest listening to rock music on her headset. Ticks me off that she can’t hear her babies crying when she’s got it on, but it keeps her content so I let it go. That said I’m getting tired of having to shout to get her attention. Overall, she’s easy to manage. Jolene catches on quick, much faster than her kids.

I haven’t spared any of them the rod, especially the children who, frankly, make everything harder than it needs to be. Family order isn’t rocket science. I answer to God, they answer to me. Simple. The roaches are another story. I have no control over them.

August 10, 2018

The roach situation has reached a new level. It’s impossible to think downstairs with Jolene and her five kids scattered around. The roaches are tumbling out of the light fixtures. I started sleeping on a cot in the attic surrounded by a fat ring of Raid and a second ring of white candles. I feel closer to God up here, even if I look like the centerpiece of a satanic ritual when I sleep. I should say “If I sleep,” I’m having nightmares. The kind where you can’t remember but you know you dreamt because you wake up hollow and afraid. I recall flashes, a bright light, falling, screaming. Nothing solid though, until I wake and see the roaches closing in on all sides.

August 14, 2018

At first I thought the Lord sent the roaches to test me but now I think it’s Jolene’s fault. She’s a fallen woman. I literally found her on a street corner holding a cardboard sign. A pregnant beggar with three little one’s in tow. She looked so tired she could barely ask for change. I told her I’d take her home if she married me. I didn’t have to ask her twice. We stopped at the courthouse on our way home. That evening I saw the first roach, the next day a dozen more. There’s so many now the census bureau couldn’t count them.

Jolene had her twins a week later. Knocked the wind out of me. One baby would have meant four mouths to feed, not counting Jolene. Now I have six people to care for on zero dollars a month. There’s nothing left to sell except the house, and, I can’t sell it because of the roaches.

August 15, 2018

Now I’m worried our roach plague is God’s continued punishment of me. My mother died in childbirth, making me a killer. Growing up the church ladies told me it wasn’t my fault but I’ve always known better.

My father used to say he went into ministering so God would grant them a good life. Too bad God had other plans.

My mother’s dying hurt my father. He couldn’t help but pass the pain onto my stepmother Emily and me. Sometimes when he drank, dad would say beautiful things like, “God called your mother home because she was an angel.” I liked the idea of her in white robes and feathery wings.

At other times he was prone to darkness, evil even. He’d tell me to behave or risk God’s wrath through his hand. I did my best because I knew father was strong enough to do whatever God required.

Later on, I didn’t begrudge him smoking like a fiend after sunset or drinking into the morning hours because God’s work is hardest work of all. I know from experience that sometimes you need personal demons to fight real demons.

August 17, 2018

I wonder how daddy would have dealt with the roaches. I can’t stop thinking about him this week. I used to come home from school and find him digging holes in the yard for his empty beer bottles. He didn’t like the neighbors knowing how much he drank. He cared less what they thought when he was liquor-drunk. He’d just throw the empty bottle at me and tell me to dig. Pity I can’t bury the roaches.

Bury. Buried. Gets me thinking about my sixteenth birthday; I snuck out of the house to go to a party in town. On the way, I picked up some moonshine from Little Eddy’s Station. The whole town drank off Eddy’s still. I knew I wanted to try it after a kid in school called it, “Liquid courage.” It hit me like Christ on Sunday. That was the day the Lord revealed to me I why my father liked to drink. I’ve been grateful ever since.

On my way home from the party, I felt queasy. I cut through the apple orchard leading to our farm. I was so drunk I could barely walk and eventually sat down.

The sky was as black as Satan’s soul but I wasn’t afraid because I saw two angels’ eyes twinkling at me through the clouds and thought of mother. I lay there talking to her until the sick went away, but I was still too tired to get up. Before I fell asleep, I prayed she’d protect me and I wished on a shooting star that my father wouldn’t know I’d been drinking.

In the morning I woke up amid all the fallen apples. I could tell I stank of stale booze and I felt as thirsty and sweaty as a man wandering in the desert. I picked an apple off a branch, chewing and spitting until my mouth was tolerable.

As I reached the house I saw father on his back in the yard, his blue eyes wide, filled with morning sky, vomit clogging his throat. Poor Emily went into a depression over it, felt like it was her fault for not checking on him. I knew the truth. It was either mother answering my prayer or the devil fulfilling my wish. Either way, it’s been mine to live with since.

When we settled my father’s affairs, I never dreamed he had enough money saved for ten years. Now that its gone, I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself. I considered preaching but I’m not charismatic like my father. I thought about farming but I didn’t nurture the crop and definitely can’t afford to pay pickers or driver’s to get the apples to market. Last month I tried some “Work from home” jobs I found on the Internet but they weren’t any good. Crooks. These dead ends are why I suspect has been might be coming for me. The only thing worse would be if it was the devil riding in on the backs of roaches to take me to hell.

August 19, 2018

Oh Lord, I regret complaining about the roaches now that the IRS wants unpaid taxes on for the house. They won’t get a dime out of me. My father paid for this house in full before he died. Now the IRS has stapled a notice to the door demanding say we pay or move out. I called them and got some high-pitched guy that sounded too chipper his job. He guffawed and chattered on about how he can’t believe my case was overlooked for so long. I could tell he was smiling. He said he was going to make my case “a priority.” I hung up. The house is mine. If the IRS wants it they can take it over my dead body.

I know what Emily would have said, “Take a deep breath and God will see you through.” Didn’t work for her though. The Lord called her home right after my father. Cancer. She went from diagnosis to death in a few months. I believe, but I don’t go to church anymore. I know the congregation would pray for me. They might even offer us money, but I can’t take being looked down upon. I had plenty of that early on, and I know that good people can’t always help themselves.

August 20, 2018

Today I bought a bottle of Jack Daniels and a pack of smokes to calm my nerves. I planned to quit when I brought Jolene home but it didn’t take. Smokes are a Godsend. In a way they help with the roaches since they’re not fond of smoke and appear to be terrified of fire.

August 21, 2018

Jolene’s no help with the roaches. For a while she kept things clean but overall she’s a failure. The roaches are more determined than she’ll ever be. She used to sweep the them out of the bedroom a few times a day but now she claims that only makes them more determined to get to the food she keeps in there, her babies poorly sealed formula tins, potato chips, crumbs of all sorts, so she gave up.

I can’t believe I thought she and her kids were my calling. They’re as bad as the roaches. Funny how certain I was thinking that if I helped her, like Jesus helped so many, then the money would follow. The Bible says, “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters, will himself be watered.” I watered. Where’s my money? Is God paying me in roaches?

Since I took Jolene’s brood in it’s been non-stop screaming and crying. Bowie, Jolene’s oldest, has no common sense. He broke all of our plates trying to kill roaches. He’d set a plate over a cluster and jump on it sending shards in every direction. I jerked that boy up from his destruction so fast I nearly pulled his arm out of its socket. His brother Hendrix kicked me in the shin and I knocked that little bastard out cold for defying me. I’m not a violent man but kids need discipline. It’s in the Bible. Frankly, I go easy on them compared to how I was raised.

Seriously, when I was five, my father, Emily, and I were stacking wood for winter. I was little and could only carry one piece of wood at a time, when I tried to carry two, the second piece slipped through my hand and I got a splinter. When I started crying, Emily went to get a pair of tweezers to pluck the sliver out, but before she came back my father laid into me. He said the Lord expected children to be diligent and careful in all tasks and that crying was for babies. Not knowing any better, I told him I didn’t get the splinter on purpose. He hit me hard for being insolent. Still not understanding, I cried harder. He hit me until I stopped crying. That’s when Emily came back and told me I was a brave boy. Father grabbed her braid and asked, “Are you as stupid as a child?”

Before she answered he threw her to the ground.

As an adult I understand that children are notoriously slow learners. In hindsight I can see that I was no exception. I grabbed the bottom of my father’s coat and begged him to stop kicking Emily. He turned back to me, took hold of my legs and carried me upside down to the barn.

Inside he dropped me in the sun streaming through a hole in our old tin roof. I turned toward a screeching noise and saw him opening a rusted feed container, a few seconds later I was locked inside. In the metal echo and darkness, I could hear father yelling at Emily again as he left the barn and then nothing.

The feed container was about the size of a sow’s belly and stifling hot. As a punishment, this would have been plenty but I wasn’t in there alone. Roaches were ticking all around me. I kicked and thrashed to get them off until the rust and grainy surface tore my skin. In the end I had to surrender to the roaches, let them crawl all over me or risk them eating my bloodied flesh.

At some point, in the middle of the night, Emily set me free. She carried me to the house, the whites of her eyes bright as two distinct moons under the billowing grey-black lace of clouds. Beyond the cloudy aperture, I knew God was watching, approving of all he allowed.

Emily’s tears hit my face as she carried me. Each felt a spark from a fire made with wood heavy with sap. Even as a child, pity stung. I told her to put me down and she did. When she reached for my hand, I denied her and ran up into the house as if she were a ghost. Emily was kind, but father was the strong one. I never challenged him again. I was grateful when he ruffled my hair at breakfast. I loved my father but I’ve hated roaches ever since.

The next time I saw a roach, I instinctively grabbed my father’s lighter from the ashtray and burnt it alive. I felt like the ExTerminator from a TV advertisement of the time. In it a strong man holds a can out in front of him that turns into a flame-thrower. After he torches all of the roaches, the flame-thrower becomes a can again. Well, aren’t I the chatty Kathy today? Time to go to the liquor store.

August 22, 2018

Jolene is downstairs juggling the twins and the older children are watching TV. I’m in the attic. I recognize the steady, thwack, thwack, thwacking noise of Bowie and Hendrix’s hammers making dimples on the wood floor. No doubt there’s splayed roach guts oozing all around them.

Jolene gave the boys the hammers so they could kill roaches while doing whatever else they were doing. She thought the hammers would keep the roaches off her littlest ones, but it doesn’t. Nothing works. The roaches are winning.

August 23, 2018

Tonight the muntin in the attic window looks like a cross; no, not a cross, a God’s eye. That’s what we called those yarn inventions we wove over two sticks in Sunday school. Father said they were God’s magnifying glasses. He hung mine over my bed.

Damn it! Disregard that, I spilled my Jack and Coke. Well, what do you know, the roaches like it; looks like we finally have something in common.

It’s odd how I never realized how much the attic beams and peaked roof look like a church, but they sure do. I guess that means my cot is the altar.

August 24, 2018

I’ve been listening for God, but all I hear is the scurry of little feet, forewings, compound eyes, and antenna. God! Is anybody there? God, I want you to know that I ache for all I can’t fix and for all that I can’t do. But, most of all, I ache for you not revealing yourself plainly to me.

All I hear are roaches. Are roaches the answer you’ve sent me? Are roaches my solution? Have I made everything harder than it needs to be? God, are you saying that all that’s below me is beneath me?

I’m going to believe it is that’s faith. I’m not afraid if the ticking and clawing if that’s your handy work Lord. I hope you don’t mind my lighting the candles though. I only have half my fifth left, so there’s only enough whisky for me. I suppose this is a test.

I can hear you now. You’re talking through the roaches, whispering, “Join the light.” The longer I listen the more I hear, water over rocks, one finger pressed to Emily’s fearful lips saying, “Shhh,” the wind through the leaves of the apple trees, father hollering at his congregation, my cigarette tumbling to the floor, paper burning, screaming, falling, and God’s voice singing in the last of the dust flecked rays of sun that burns like a fire raging against the darkness consuming us all.

Kelle Grace Gaddis’s first book, My Myths, was published by Yellow Chair Review in 2017. Other recently published works appear in BlazeVOX, Rhetoric Eskew, Chicken Soup For The Soul: Dreams & The Unexplainable, Dispatches Editions,Vending Machine Press, The Till,Crab Creek Review, The Rye Whisky Review, Five Willows Poetry Review, The Hessler Street Fair Anthology, The New Independents Magazine,Thirteen Myna Birds,Knot Literary Magazine, Entropy, Dove Tales, Knot Literary Magazine, and elsewhere. Ms. Gaddis has written several poetry chapbooks including It Is What It Is – It Was What It Was, Visions Of and American Discard. She is honored to be one of 4Culture’s “Poetry on the Buses” contest winners in 2015 and 2017 Ms. Gaddis earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington in 2014 (UWB). For more information visit www.kellegracegaddiswriter.com.

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