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.
“The Bug Man” first appeared in Tin House, 2017.
FEATURED IMAGE: Michael Fleischmann – “Burning Man 2016, Insect” 2016 – Photograph, Digital – https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/michael-fleischmann. New York.
Meg Pokrass is the author of 7 collections of flash fiction and prose poetry, and her work has appeared in hundreds of literary publications and best-of anthologies, including the Best Small Fictions and the Wigleaf Top 50, and forthcoming in a 2023 Norton anthology, "Flash Fiction America". She lives in Newcastle, UK. http://megpokrass.com