The Curious Incident of the Roach in the Night-Time
I've been sick with strep throat and a sinus infection for a week now, and all day Sunday I couldn't stop coughing. Every few minutes, hackhackhack. Every two hours, swig non-drowsy Robitussin.
Come bedtime, I offered to sleep on the couch so I wouldn't keep Darwin awake all night. (He needed his sleep for a rough day at work.)
I wanted a sheet from the hall armoire/linen closet, but I made Darwin pull it out and shake it because - cue foreshadowing - I've seen a roach in that closet before.
The sheet was roach-free, so I spread it out on the couch, tucked it into the cushions and made myself a comfy bed with a quilt and two pillows from the guest room. I turned off all the lamps but one, took a hefty dose of nighttime Robitussin, aimed the space heater at my feet, and arranged all my necessities - Kleenex; the TV, Tivo and heater remotes; a cup of water - within easy reach on the coffee table.
Soon, the cats settled together on the quilt behind my legs, and I caught up on the Grey's Anatomy and Ugly Betty that had been Tivo'ed while we were out of town for Thanksgiving. Then the nighttime Robitussin kicked in, I turned off the TV and drifted off to a comfortable, non-coughing sleep.
Some time later, I was awakened by a cat leaping off my legs. I groggily searched the half-lit room with my eyes and found Alistair darting out from under the coffee table, chasing an inch-and-a-half-long black roach, one of the awful wood roaches we have here in the South. The roach skittered under the ottoman 2 feet away.
Normally, a roach sighting so close to my sleeping place would send me into a minor panic. I would jerk upright, shudder in terror and revulsion, and begin the task of hunting down the roach. I hate killing roaches or any insects, hate the crunch, the squish of white or green guts, the slimy residue on the floor or shoe or both.
But if there's a roach nearby, I can't rest until I've at least tried to kill it, or coaxed the cats to do it. Otherwise, I'll worry constantly about where it could be, where it could turn up next.
Only this time, there was the Robitussin. It made me say to myself, "It won't bother you. The cats will get it," and I was already falling back asleep as I thought it.
The next thing that woke me was a tickling sensation on my forehead, then my nose, my chin. And I knew what it was.
I opened my eyes and saw the roach crawling on the back of the couch. Had I swatted it there? Had it crawled there?
Henry was standing on the arm of the couch beside my head, following the roach with his nose. He reached out and knocked it down, and it fell into the crevice between the cushions.
Again, my normal reaction would be to leap up, probably even to shriek. But the Robitussin made me say, "It's under the cushion now. What can you about it anyway? It won't bother you again."
I screwed up my face and wiped it with the edge of the quilt, thinking about things I'd read about roaches and all the germs they carry on their feet, but my eyes were already shutting, sleep was already creeping back over me.
Then - then! - I woke again. I could feel the roach crawling down into the neck of my nightgown. Henry was still there beside my head. Was this real? I grasped at my nightgown and felt a horrible, solid, crunchy little body on my chest.
This time I did jump up, faster than I've ever jumped before, and wiggled and jiggled and shook my nightgown. The black creature fell into a crease of the sheet, and I leaped backward. I looked at Henry on the arm of the couch, Alistair behind him, both alert, necks outstretched, noses wiggling.
When I looked back at the crease of the sheet, the roach was gone.
I grabbed my pillow, stuck my feet into my slippers - half afraid a roach would be hiding inside them - and marched myself into the kitchen, where the nighttime Robitussin bottle waited on the counter. I didn't want to wake up Darwin with my coughing, so I knocked back another large swig. It had been two hours since my last one.
In the bedroom, I announced, "Henry chased a roach down my nightgown." Darwin laughed and rolled back over.
As I lay there in our bed, trying to figure out the timeline of roach events, my stomach began to feel funny. My head, too, come to think of it. I felt paranoid and strange; I lifted my head from the pillow, and the room was spinning.
Maybe the second dose of Robitussin hadn't been a good idea. I crawled out of bed and stumbled into the kitchen. The back of the Robitussin bottle said, 4 tsp. every 4 hours. I had noticed the 4 tsp. but not the 4 hours - I was still operating on non-drowsy Robitussion time, 2 tsp. every 2 hours.
Feeling dizzy and nauseated, I dragged myself into the bathroom and leaned over the toilet. I spit and spit but never threw up.
Miserable and shaking, I finally gave up. I washed my mouth and face, drank some water, and went to bed. Somehow, I fell asleep again.
In the morning, I tried to explain to Darwin what happened with the roach, but in the light of day it didn't quite add up. It was like trying to explain a dream, only I was certain it wasn't a dream. Or at least parts of it weren't a dream.
I began to think the part about the roach falling into the crevice between the cushions couldn't have happened. My view of it wouldn't make sense unless I wasn't on the couch at the time. So I decided maybe I felt the roach crawl on my face - *shudder* - but didn't quite wake up, dreamed the part about the cushions, and then fully woke up as the roach made its horrible way into my nightgown.
That part I'm almost certain really happened. I can still feel the horror and the tactile sensation of touching that awful shape under the fabric of my nightgown. I can still see the cats, staring with me toward the crease in the sheet. The roach could have skittered away. It could easily have happened.
But I felt so crazy that night, so sleepy, Robitussin turning my brain into a lava lamp, liquid blob-blobbing in the orange half-light.
So was it real? Do I even want it to be real?
Maybe I prefer to believe it was only a vivid, awful dream. And the tickling I felt was only Henry's whiskers and questing nose - not a roach's grotesque black legs, tracking their hideous way across my face.