The Bug Man

Meg Pokrass

Ma often said that despite everything, we were lucky people, because the Bug Man came over to our house for free, sprayed in places nobody had ever seen. Places that we never knew were there.

Happy times were when the Bug Man pulled up, in his strange truck with a giant plastic model spider glued to the top of it.

“Your mother means business,” he said to Josh and me, blinking into the sunlight.

“You’re one lucky dog,” he said to Muttsy.

Once, when he came to spray, he hugged Ma in the side yard. They seemed to want privacy. I watched them from the upstairs bathroom window. Ma looked pretty in his long skinny arms, like a different mother.

I thought that maybe our lives could change. He could marry us, become our father and take us to live in a large, bugless house.

But three days before Christmas, Ma, reading the newspaper, slammed down her coffee cup. It splattered the table, dripped onto the floor.

“Ma, are you okay?”

She sat mesmerized, glaring at the newspaper. I grabbed a roll of paper towels to clean up the brown puddle at her feet.

“Cancer, just like his father who started the goddamn pest company!” Tears rolled quickly down her nose. “He’s already gone,” she said, sobbing.

I hated the word. “Cancer.” She looked bitter and ugly saying it, as though it was stuck between her front teeth. Josh ran outside, good at acting like nothing was wrong.

Watching her cry, my ankles itched. They were already covered with flea bites. Soon, families of spiders would bubble up through the floorboards.

I cut out the Bug Man’s obituary, as if he had belonged to us.

Meg Pokrass is the author of four collections of flash fiction, and one award-winning collection of prose poetry, Cellulose Pajamas, which received the Bluelight Book Award in 2016. Her stories and poems have been widely published and anthologized in two Norton Anthologies: Flash Fiction International and the forthcoming New Microfiction. She is the founder of New Flash Fiction Review and co-founder of San Francisco’s Flash Fiction Collective reading series. Currently, she teaches online flash fiction workshops and serves as Festival Curator for the Bath Flash Fiction Festival.