Summer nights, neo-Nazi cockroaches — one pure-white swastika per brown wing — roamed her bedsheet and body. The girl shuddered in her sleep, strove to shutter herself against these onslaughts.

It was not a question of “if” or even “when,” but how many could invade. So every night she wore one-size-too-small, waist-high panties to bed. Ankle-length, long-sleeved, high-necked gown. Bandana wound twice around mouth and secured with double knot, back of neck. (Thank God for air conditioning.)

She had considered packing her ears with cotton, nostrils with gauze, but thought it pointlessly risky. Why sacrifice her existence for lowly insects?

One August morning the thirteen-year-old awakened to a not unpleasurable tickle on her left forearm. She giggled, then swatted. Human hand met arthropod wing.

“Eeeeeeeeeee!” The girl screamed and bolted upright simultaneously.

Thwack, thwack, thwack on her bedroom door — although it was ajar.

“What happened? What happened?” Lumpen brother materialized in her room. He wiped sleep-crusted eyes, stared at his sister. “You look okay.”

“‘I look okay?’ Axis bugs try to have their way with me every night and ‘I look okay?’”

“I don’t know. I never see them in my room.”

“Brother, even World-War-II-era insects have standards.” She slinked past her sibling en route to bathroom.

In her peripheral vision? Bent, wild-haired mom heading her way. The girl always beat her to the bathroom. This morning was no exception. She didn’t know why the old lady tried.

The girl could never awaken too early for morning ablutions: strip for magnifying-glass examination of every centimeter of her body for vermin; ten-minute, shy-of-scalding shower, including use of lye soap and anti-lice shampoo; and post-shower inspection of all body parts for general infestation.

Because her crone of a mother conducted these searches, the girl knew she’d need to remain in the bathroom to double-check the old lady’s results.

The girl wouldn’t budge, even with ceaseless pummeling of bathroom door by slovenly brother or hungover mom. The girl wouldn’t leave until she knew her body one-hundred-percent free of pests. Pests under her dominion.

The History Channel continued to blare from alky mother’s bedroom.

Iris N. Schwartz’s fiction has been published in dozens of journals and anthologies, including Anti-Heroin Chic, Five-2-One Magazine, Jellyfish Review, and Spelk Fiction. Her short-short story collection, My Secret Life with Chris Noth, was published by Poets Wear Prada and nominated for two Pushcart Prizes. Shame is her latest collection.

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