Stink Bugs

Angela Kreuz
Stink Bugs
“Somebody shut the door!”

The old lady sat stiff as a poker in her armchair and glared at the bug. Disgusting thing! Its carapace was the color of cold coffee with curdled milk floating on top. Suddenly the bug flew up and buzzed around the living room. The noise scared her; it brought to mind something disturbing she had seen on TV, long ago—again and again helicopters had jittered across the screen, followed by detonations. She couldn’t remember the rest.

Cora came down the stairs and shut the screen door. She gathered a few bugs in her hand, opened the window and threw them out.

“Are you okay, Ma’am?”

The old lady’s face was pale as she looked at her, saying nothing. Cora shrugged and went into the kitchen to make some coffee.

Mrs. Anderson’s hands sank in her lap. She waited. The kettle’s whistle was familiar to her, but she had forgotten its meaning. What was it? She wondered if the colored person would ever come back. Where had she gone? It seemed to be an endless wait until Cora returned with the tray of dishes.

“Come, I’ve baked a pumpkin pie.”

The armchair had small wheels; Cora pushed it into the conservatory.

Behind the large windowpane the maple trees had turned to red and ardent crimson with an almost heavenly glow. The divided leaves of the splendid ginko were changing to yellow. A long time ago Mrs. Anderson had taken a painting course. She wanted to fix the colors of the Blue Ridge Mountains on canvas, but it never turned out as beautifully as she had intended. Only in reality were the far-away mountains blue, a misty blue mysterious as a magic forest.

She reached for the cup, her hands trembling. The porcelain rattled against the silver spoon.

“Are we in a café?” Mrs. Anderson looked around.

“Sure,” Cora said, smiling. “In Café Winter Garden.”

“A pretty place.”

Mrs. Anderson scanned the black face with the white teeth.

“And are you the waitress?”

Cora pointed at the plate and set it down.

“Don’t forget your pie.”

She switched on the radio and went back to the kitchen to whip the cream. After the commercials, a program with Mrs. Anderson’s favorite host followed. Today he interviewed a visual artist about her new project, a series of photographs with painted texts. She had been inspired by a dramatic experience during her last trip through Mexico, when she went to the mountains with her husband. A sign warned against the Zona de Niebla, which they hadn’t understood at first, as their Spanish was poor. All of a sudden, they had found themselves in a thick fog, unable to see the road. Afraid of crashing on the hairpin turns, her husband had inched along. They were terrified that a speeding driver, familiar with the road, would race down upon them. While the artist crouched in the back seat in agony, time extended endlessly. Minutes seemed like hours.

Finally the car had emerged and they looked back at the fog zone. It appeared as an illusory ring of cotton candy around the mountains.

“Listen! That’s my daughter!” Mrs. Anderson cried, the minute Cora returned with the bowl.

“That’s not her.” Cora spooned the whipped cream onto each piece of pie. “Don’t upset yourself.”

“I still know her voice!”

Nancy always called Mrs. Anderson for Christmas, duty bound, as if it cost her an effort. Although Cora had been employed at Mrs. Anderson’s house for over thirty years, she had never set eyes on her daughter. Cora glanced at the birthday card propped against the flower vase—every year the same words. The old lady’s sons were killed in action in the Vietnam War, their framed photographs hung along the staircase. In her mind, Tim and Bob remained great war heroes. Nancy had protested against the war and taken part in the demonstrations. Mrs. Anderson kept her pictures in a box in the spare room.

Still, Cora felt sorry for the old lady.

“She wouldn’t dare to show her face in my house!” shouted Mrs. Anderson. She looked grim and at the same time very sad.

Cora switched off the radio.

“Do you want more coffee?” She spoke her question into the sullen silence.

“Let it go!”

Mrs. Anderson fiddled with the radio dial. One day Nancy had left the house in a rage and had never returned. Afterwards, Mrs. Anderson had hired Cora. In her agitation, Mrs. Anderson managed to change the station and the voice of a news anchor blared from the speakers.

“…the first black president of the United States of America.”

Excerpts of speeches set in. “Most of you know that I had been against this war from the beginning. I thought it was a tragic mistake...”

“That’ll be the day,” Mrs. Anderson muttered, fumbling again with the dial.

“It finally is the time,” Cora remarked dryly.

She thought of her great-grandmother, who had been born into slavery.

“I can’t believe this! They should shoot that negro down!”

Cora stood up wordlessly and went out into the garden. Mrs. Anderson stared after her through the gaping, wide-open screen door, until she disappeared behind the gate. More bugs hummed in. The old lady slashed at one that landed on her arm; its wounded body gave off a terrible stench.

More and more bugs flew into the house. One landed on her neck and tried to crawl over her face. Mrs. Anderson screamed.

“Somebody shut the…”

But Cora wasn’t listening.
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