Instinct, I guess, drove the roach to disappear between the sofa back and the seat cushion. I had never seen that species before. It was longer and paler than the black, smashed, mucus-oozing type I’d side-step back in college on my way to the cafeteria for breakfast. Anhelina had hidden her original upholstery under a thinning sheet. It was stuffed behind her cushions and into her couch’s nether world, cutting off the creature’s path. Soon its hairy legs reemerged, toting their organ-full, overgrown fingernail of a body toward my thigh. I kept my cool—Mom taught me it’s impolite to spazz at your hostess’s roach-infested couch—but I transitioned nevertheless to her rusted folding chair.
Anhelina had birthed eight children, and her breasts spilled down toward her lap. On her coffee table, I spread open a binder filled with my handwritten pages I’d xeroxed in Mom’s home office. My English lesson began with a chart. I’d drawn it well, my pen sliding smoothly down the ruler’s metal thread—lines dividing English pronouns into singular and plural columns and first-, second-, and third-person rows.
She looked past her page, though, mentioning in her musical Puerto-Rican: no sé leer—she had never learned to read. Her adult sons had tried teaching her, but she never really saw the point. Then, dropping big tears on my fresh lesson, she told me about how the last son to visit had gifted her with three pairs of white socks. But her teenaged daughters had quickly ripped through the pack and worn those socks hard against her peeling linoleum. The bottoms were sticky, she said, her nostrils crunched in tragic disgust. And while a good sink washing with the rest of the family’s socks would most likely render them sort of clean, she insisted the fresh white of the unopened pack was gone for good.
Catherine Zickgraf is indebted to myspace for helping her find her long-lost son whom she placed for adoption two decades ago—thus you can find her blog there: myspace.com/czickgraf. Her poetry has appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Pank, and decomP. She has work forthcoming in Bartleby-Snopes and GUD Magazine, and she is a recent Pushcart Prize nominee.