Professor Roach

Ron L. Dowell


… it occurred to him how simple everything would be if somebody came to help him. Two strong people—he had his father and the maid in mind.

Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis
Translated by David Wyllie


Like demigods, cockroaches scurried across the ceiling, down the wall, and disappeared into crevices and cracks. Jubilee Washington lay on his side then turned onto his back, breathing fast. Behind half closed lids, his eyes gyrated.

“Wake up, wake up Jubi. She’s coming,” a voice whispered in his ear.

“What?” His eyes pulled open just as the cercus of a German cockroach disappeared over the edge of his bed sheet.

“Out those beds, boys!” their stepmother Naomi shouted, now in the bedroom he shared with Willie, which was really a shallow living room and roach-turd-sized storage closet removed from the kitchen of her tiny two-bedroom Palm Lane Public Housing unit in Watts, Los Angeles in 1962. Jubilee bolted up in bed as if hit by white dwarf-star dust, scooched palms across his ebony face, and scratched the lizardy leathery neck rash with the back of his finger nails. He pulled the chain to a lamp atop his milk crate bookcase that leaned sideways, filled with encyclopedias and comics about scientists who transformed into super heroes. The incandescent warmed him and illuminated a Maury Wills poster of number 30 sliding into second base on the wall above Jubilee’s twin bed. Willie continued to sleep, his unwashed feet protruded from beneath his bed cover. “I’ve got to dress—get to work—somebody’s got to bring home grits or you don’t eat—” Naomi said.

Naomi was as she was every morning, amber skin with blue Spoolies in hair she’d hot-ironed the night before, dressed in a faded yellowish slip with small green flowers, and furry pink house shoes. She turned and headed back to the kitchen and left the door open to the smell of frying bacon, cooked grits, and cigarette smoke that clung to the air like wet paper clings to a glass.

“Get the hell in here, now. Or go live with your dope-head mama—if you can find her.” Naomi always yakked to remind Jubilee how his real mama vanished. She muttered something he never understood about her, Daddy, their bedroom, and other women.

For sure, his family was unlike Beaver Cleaver’s or Ozzie Nelson’s on TV but if his real mother ever returned—

Always edgy, Jubilee wanted to blend into the background unnoticed, invisible, like a roach on the couch. If only he could disappear, too, or transform like comic heroes.

“Yes Naomi,” Jubilee said. “I’m dressed, waiting for Willie.” He threw a ball of socks that hit Willie in the face. “Get your tail up before she comes in here swinging a belt.” A pregnant roach moved unruffled across the windowsill. The ootheca stuck out from her back end; in a couple of months sixteen babies would hatch from the egg sac. He dared not settle back to sleep. Instead he watched the mother roach as she disappeared into a window putty crack. Small, dark, and ever present, roaches ruled.

Willie glared at Jubilee for a moment then snatched the covers over his head and coughed. “You don’t tell me what to do,” he said, voice muffled.

An argument with Willie would certainly bring back Naomi with her favorite leather belt, the thick one daddy sometimes used to support his tool pouch. She swung passionately, like a plantation overseer beating recaptured slaves. She rarely drew blood but her lashes raised webs of purplish-black welts. Her first, second, and third belt licks would be for Jubilee, who stood between their beds in t-shirt and drawers. Willie was never whipped. Jubilee rubbed his neck rash and flung the pillow aside before starting to make his bed.

Willie’s sleep had been fitful. He drooled, and from habit, he felt around for an asthma inhaler on the sturdy nightstand between their beds onto which Jubilee’s bookshelf leaned. Huh, huh, huh—Willie’s shrill whistle and labored wheeze, as if his only source of air was through a straw,

a sure sign of his whereabouts and that an attack was near, had almost drowned out the clatter of cans and dishes in the kitchen. Jubilee reached over to help. “I can do it myself—I ain’t retarded.” Eyes cold, Willie sucked in the medicine and made odd noises in his throat.

Jubilee’s chest tightened when Naomi reappeared and said, “Don’t give me that yes Naomi shit, Jubilee. Move it—you’re just like your cheatin’ daddy—humph! Handyman my ass,” she said. “What handyman plumbs all night?” There’d be breakfast for three that morning, again. “Plumbing other women, I bet.” Daddy spent many days away from home fixing electrical problems, carpentry, and especially nighttime drain cleaning. Or, at least that’s what he said between fights and arguments. Naomi’s tone softened. “Willie—get up honey. You wouldn’t want to be tardy for school.” Like Naomi, Willie’s skin was fair, lighter than a brown paper bag as opposed to Jubilee’s coal black. He even called her mama. Maybe Jubilee should catch asthma.

She turned for the kitchen again. “I try to do what your dope-head mother didn’t…” Naomi said, “My best…” Once more she banged utensils and cans. “All I do, cleanin’ rich folks’ houses. Lord, Lord. When I save enough, I’m gettin’ the hell out of here.”

“We’re on our way right now, Naomi,” Jubilee said to the empty doorway. Would she take him or just Willie with her? His heart jumped up and down. What if he was light skinned?

Dishes clattered. Something was different and Jubilee seemed more aware of dripping water from her leaky sink faucet and a ghost flush from the toilet behind a closed bathroom door, which stalled his breath and disoriented him. Usually his bedroom gave him cover and from it he’d never before noticed those creepy sounds.

“You ain’t gonna be shit either, just like your daddy,” Naomi said. Jubilee’s skin tightened his body and mind numbed. Head throbbing, he ground his teeth from side to side. Beneath his breath he said, “Go to hell.” If he said that aloud, a handyman’s belt would stripe his flesh. He breathed deep. Maybe he should call her step-mommy or better yet, stepmother, to mark off that she wasn’t his real mother, but a mother nevertheless. It’d been six years and he still wasn’t sure what to call her.

“Show me that damn school project before I leave,” Naomi said from the kitchen. “Isn’t it due?”

Jubilee’s stomach fluttered. Hmmm—Yes, Step-mommy—Coming, Stepmother—I love you too, Step-mama. How would that sound?—Nah.

“Uhhh, yes Naomi,” Jubilee said. “Tomorrow. It’s due tomorrow. I’ve started it.”

“Have the belt ready for me when I get home if you don’t do it,” Naomi said. “At least try and graduate.”

His teacher had said to prepare a class report, a project, from life sciences—a pet is okay. No stories about comic book heroes, please.

Pets weren’t allowed in public housing and his mind shut down when TV news showed the world beyond Palm Lane—Negros beaten by white police and fed to their German Shepherds. The baby turtle Daddy had bought him as a birthday gift managed to escape the small uncovered plastic aquarium bowl and died. A caged parrot that Jubilee could not teach to say “shit” was stolen when placed outside for air.

What was a ten-year-old supposed to do? A roach ambled across his yellow Pee Chee folder, stopped, stood erect on two hind legs, and waved its feelers toward Jubilee. Hmmm. That’s it—roaches. Whoa. He’d lived with them all his life and had studied them in the encyclopedia and school library. He’d report on what he knew.

That night Naomi rubbed down Willie’s chest with VapoRub, had him swallow a dollop, and dabbed a glob under and inside his nose. The scents of camphor and menthol helped charge him and Jubilee stayed up to put the finishing touches on his Mona Lisa. He’d blot out thoughts about his real mother.

He used white polish from daddy’s shoebox and a charcoal briquette to draw an American roach on poster board. Like Leonardo da Vinci, he made careful, deft tints and shades with strokes that barely looked like crayon and Testors model car paints; purple metal flake for the roach labium bottom lip, fire truck red for the maxilla mouth, sky blue for the mandible organ for biting, beret green for the labrum top lip, and gummi yellow for its clypeus to show the face plate, in front of which he glued grits and bacon bits to illustrate what they ate since they liked starch, sugary foods, grease and meats, items found in abundance among the cans in Naomi’s kitchen. They chewed sideways. He couldn’t draw that. Dark brown was for compound eyes and cercus sensors near its anus.

He drew the thing in side view the size of a bread loaf. It crouched on her countertop, in front of her plastic lime green sugar canister, next to her stove. Two antennae, to smell stuff with, pointed up and forward, a sixty-degree angle from one another. It had six hairy legs and eighteen knees for fast getaway.

He’d make Naomi smile like when she left her bedroom after a night with Daddy. Once finished, he slept only to awaken every so often, admire his work, and float on the lightness in his chest.


In morning’s white light Jubilee sat on the side of his bed scratching himself. Roaches, male and female, big and small, young and old, watched him. In a corner two roaches scurried toward the baseboard crevice that was as wide as a nickel was thick. Jubilee’s mouth was dry, hands sweaty and twitchy. He repeatedly clicked his middle fingernail and his thumbnail together and peered at Willie who was still in bed. The brown adult roach, no longer than a pinto bean, and the younger nymph, runty, bell-shaped and black, stopped and seemed to look back toward Jubilee, then at each other, back at Jubilee. Their antennae waved wild like palm fronds in a storm before they turned and vanished.

Willie finally snapped up, grabbed a rubber flip-flop, and crashed it down on a roach that had stopped to face his inhaler on the nightstand. Did roaches have asthma too?

Willie struck a second time with more force.

“ROACHES,” he snorted. Three times he came down on the brown skin and orange blood mess as if he could discourage other roaches that no doubt watched, before he flung the sandal to the cold tile floor.

Jubilee cringed, shook his aching head and looked down. Something inside of him needed to escape. His lungs bumped his ribcage with each blow. “Murderer!” he shouted.

“UHGGHH.” Willie stretched the sound like only a third grader would and eased toe-jammed feet into his pair of flip-flops next to his unmade bed. He pointed to the roach drawing that lay atop Jubilee’s bed, the bed which Jubilee had already made Cub Scout tight. “It’s UGLY,” Willie said. “It looks real—what’s its name?”


“How do you know it’s a boy?”

“He looks just like you—he’s got your head.”

Willie blinked several times, as if considering the possibility.

Roaches scrambled in a glass jar on the floor next to Jubilee’s bed. Willie pulled on a Goofy t-shirt, tilted his head to the side and asked, “What’s that?” He kneeled in close, whiffed a smell, and wrinkled his nose.

The day before, like a scientist, Jubilee had constructed a simple jar trap from an empty jam jar: attached a piece of paper outside of it with a rubber band for traction, spread Vaseline around the inside lip to prevent escape, and placed a few raisins in it to capture several roach subjects of different sizes.

“It’s a magic bubble,” Jubilee said. “They’ll live a month without food but I feed them every day to keep them happy.” He lifted the jar above his head to admire his work, brushed his finger across raised letters, Smucker’s Jam. “That’s roach-stink you smell.”

His research said that roaches discharged nauseating secretions from their mouths, and their turds left a long-lasting smell where deposited. Naomi would be glad to know that, pleased to have him help her with his roach information. Shoot, he’d even included her kitchen in the background of Ralph’s portrait. Maybe he’d ask if he could call her Step Mama.

Willie narrowed his eyes, curled his lips. He lunged for the magic bubble, they scuffled. Willie kicked Jubilee’s shin. He resisted an impulse to smash the jar onto Willie’s head; his charges might get injured if he did, so he held it firmly out of his brother’s reach. Instead he kneed Willie’s groin. Willie held himself before grabbing a fistful of comic books that he threw at Jubilee.

 “I´ma tell mama. Who do you think you are?” Willie said. “Professor Roach?”

In the bathroom Jubilee sprinkled water on his face, brushed his teeth, popped into a Dodger #19 Junior Gilliam t-shirt, and then squeezed the magic bubble and poster tight under his arm in case Willie wanted to fight again. Even Willie agreed that Ralph looked realistic.


For some strange reason the smell of grease caused his mouth to water and, more than usual, compelled Jubilee into the kitchen for the breakfast that Naomi always prepared to send daddy off to work, whether he came home or not.

“Here’s my project,” Jubilee said, looking up to Naomi standing over the stove, arms folded, smoking a cigarette.

He delicately laid the poster, with the jar on top, on the dining table, over service for three, hands tucked into his armpits, thumbs pointed up. She turned from the stove burners to him and flinched. “OHHH, no you didn’t—you didn’t do your project on filthy roaches—did you?” She shivered, dropped her chin to her chest, and leaned over the poster. She tapped her cigarette ash on it and Jubilee hastily wiped it away.

“Owww!” he screamed and fell into the table when Naomi’s leather belt lashed his back.

“Lord have mercy,” she said between strikes. “Help me beat the devil out this child.”

Jubilee’s body collapsed into itself, arms fell to his side. He sat down at the table for a moment, swiped at tears, and then rolled the poster board around the jar, placed it near the front door, and returned to his seat.

He’d never liked Naomi’s runny eggs yet they sparked him up. He salivated this particular morning as he rubbed his arms and back. “I should’ve known you’d mess up—you call that a school project?” Jubilee turned his body and the chest aches returned to him from when Willie killed the nightstand roach. While his head was down, eyes moist, his throat grew scratchy and thick. She kept squawking, “I’m gonna pray for you.”

It was best he not niggle, to tell her about his research or how roach infestation caused skin rash, asthma, or diarrhea (for which Pepto Bismal was always on her kitchen shelf), or how they dropped disease carrying organisms from their legs on food and utensils. He scratched at his neck rash. What will happen to him now?

Huh, huh, huh, Willie wheezed to the table, lethargic.

“Willie, you’ve got to be smarter than your black-ass brother—do a real project—a space rocket.” She clasped his cheeks and kissed Willie’s forehead. “Something you can get a real job from.”

Jubilee’s chest became unusually stiff. He pinched his lips tight to keep them from trembling and kept silent. Haters. Didn’t everybody have roaches in Palm Lane? They hustled from unit to unit, faked their own death, and didn’t starve to death regardless how often Naomi picked up crumbs and cleaned the apartment. They marched right through another hole after Daddy, in brick-dust-splotched work shoes, dried paint around his nail cuticles, plugged one gap. Daddy had smelled like turpentine when he showed Jubilee how to use the pump action tube attached to a canister.

“Try not to breathe this stuff when you spray ‘em,” Daddy had said. Jubilee could never hold his breath long enough and the fumes made him puke. Roaches were hard to kill and they had families Jubilee could see but could not touch. “Next, I’ll tell you about women,” Daddy had told Jubilee.

Jubilee’s chest seized. He gripped it with his right hand and bent over the table. A headache formed in the back of his head but it was time to get off to a school, where, in that moment, he didn’t much want to go.


Jubilee’s was the final presentation before the last bell. Forty students seated front to back in five rows were restless. Half of them lived in Palm Lane and knew roaches like him; the other half lived in new homes that surrounded Palm Lane that had no roaches. Mrs. Johnson, the teacher, sat in a rumpled sailor-type pink blouse off to the side of her room, leaving available her wooden desk in front for student displays.

Some students spoke before him, like Dorothy—she, from the new homes, wore black and white Oxford shoes and reported on her pet German Shepherd, Rex, which made Jubilee shake and his stomach hard. Larry, in his dirty button-down shirt and scruffy khakis, described the candiru, a crazy vampire catfish that sucked from anything with blood. When Curtis talked about a man named Gregor Samsa who had turned into a roach, other students shrugged, narrowed their eyes, and gave blank looks. Jubilee’s insides vibrated. “Yes,” he said while smoothing down his clothing.

“Ha!” scoffed Dot. “Mrs. Johnson said life science—not a fiction report, stupid.” Her classmates exploded into laughter. “—project’s boy,” she said.

Larry echoed Dot, “I’d spray him or smash his head with a hammer!”

Jubilee’s skin crawled, his eyelids gummed up. He offered a watery smile. What did they know? Dummies.

Curtis walked slowly, then sprinted into the comfort of Mrs. Johnson’s embrace, unable to complete his report. Except for Curtis’, reports were boring and made Jubilee sleepy. On his way to the front, he kept his head still and made sidelong glances at classmates.

 “Uh, uh roaches have, ah, three life stages,” Jubilee said. He taped the roach portrait to the chalkboard behind him.

“Oh no, not another roach story,” Dot said derisively.

Larry screamed from the back row, “Show us a trick and change into a roach!” Classmates giggled and moved around in their seats.

Mrs. Johnson shushed them, her crooked alabaster pointer finger at her thin lips.

Jubilee stood in front of the classroom and looked up at the ceiling to avoid eye contact with his classmates. “Egg, baby, and grown up—ah, like this one—they’re ghost white when born but molt, turn brown in a few hours.”

Jubilee pulled the magic bubble from a paper bag and placed it on the teacher’s desk. The captive roaches ran around in it crazily. He swallowed a lump when students in the front row shifted in their seats.

“That’s nasty,” a classmate from the new homes said. “You can tell he lives in the projects.” Class laughter: those words and stinging welts from Naomi’s belt earlier that morning distracted him. Mrs. Johnson nodded encouragement. Jubilee wrung his hands and pushed on.

“Cockroaches like to live, ah, close to people—in their trash cans, bathrooms, televisions and radios.” A girl with lime-green barrettes in her hair who sat in front of him winced and moaned.

Jubilee leaned on his heels a little to emphasize words. “They eat what we eat and more, such as blood, excrement, spit—and even the fingernails and toenails of babies and sleeping or sick persons.”

The girl in front looked groggy, raised her hand and said, “Can I go to the bathroom, Mrs. Johnson?” and was dismissed to the restroom. Some students buried their faces in their hands.

“I’ve never seen roaches fight. They probably don’t argue and fuss either,” Jubilee said. He’d never really seen it in his research but said it anyway. “Roaches respect each other.”

“Good job, Jubi,” the teacher said to him. Jubilee swiped away nervous tears that had pooled behind his eyelids and wobbled back to his seat.

“Roach boy,” a kid from the new homes said.

“Professor Roach,” Jubilee shot back at him. Crack! Unnerved, Jubilee dropped the magic bubble and it crashed onto the tile, his subjects running helter-skelter. Half of his classmates lit out for the door or stood on their chairs as the dismissal bell rang.


That night Jubilee lay half awake and watched his roommates crawl across the ceiling. He turned onto his right side, closed his eyes. He turned to the left side, then back again. His head and chest throbbed. He was now certain that something inside wanted to leap out. On his back, Jubilee blinked into the dullness as the roaches concluded their trek across the bedroom ceiling. Willie was breathing better although he coughed in his sleep. Naomi snored after she’d prepared a dinner of the usual greasy meat, beans, collards, and pie for desert. Her cigarette smoke lingered in the cramped apartment.

A squeaky voice startled him.

Hzzz, Jubilee, Jubi—click, wake up, wake up,” the voice said into his right ear.

“I don’t wanna get up right now.” He turned his head to face the voice.

There it was—a roach on his pillow with its mouth wide open.

He wanted to flee but froze, rooted to the bed. Was this a Willie trick? But in his bed Willie wheezed with his mouth open. Jubilee clasped below his rib cage on both sides like he’d been stabbed from inside with a fingernail file and began to whimper like a sick puppy.

“Hzzz, click, click, yes, I’m Ralph, your old friend. Click, don’t you remember me, Jubilee?” said the roach.

Jubilee gripped both sides of the back of his head to staunch the aches. His heartbeat throbbed in his ears and he became sensitive to Willie’s wheeze, the hardness of his cotton-filled pillow, cigarette smoke, the ghost flush. His head flinched away from and then back into the coffee-colored eyes of the visitor.

Click, click, I warned you when Naomi approached. I posed for your beautiful portrait—hzzz, such a lovely job you did, too.”

“Friends?” Jubilee’s voice quickened. “You sure?” He leaned in closer to evaluate the visitor’s reddish brown appearance. He swallowed hard, eyebrows lowered and pinched together. “Why are you on my bed?”

The roach stood erect on two of his six legs, crossed the other four, and sneered.

Click, hee-hee, ha, ha, ha! Let me explain it to you.”

When Ralph laughed his two antennae feelers stood straight above his tiny head, labrum and labium lips moved side to side in one direction, exposing his maxilla, which moved opposite. He was no bigger than a pistachio. Willie stirred, repositioned his smelly feet, but was too knocked out by asthma medicine. Jubilee rolled his eyes, sat up and shook his head. None of this made any sense.

With two legs Ralph pointed to his right where there crouched four other roaches, an adult and three nymphs. “Meet my wife, Tush.” Jubilee nodded his head. “These are our nymphs, Ticky, Tasha, and Tedra. Aren’t they beautiful? Hzzz—and single,” Ralph said.

A sudden rib pinch was more intense; Jubilee clasped nodules on both sides of his ribcage. He shook his head, glanced around for answers, and frowned. “WILLIE,” he said. He gulped for breath but his brother didn’t budge. He pressed his fists into two nodes that grew on the back of his head. “What’s happening to me?” His mind raced, body trembled, sweat poured. Jubilee jumped up from the bed and tried to push down the two rib nodules that protruded from his body. The ache at the back of his head worsened. He crumpled back onto the bed, thoughts scrambled. With his hands he tried to squish down the head nodes that matched the length of his rib nodules.

Ralph was animated and used broad gestures as if to describe earth’s vastness.

 “Click, we were here before humans—you could say that we’re immortal,” Ralph said. “Unconquerable.”

The head nodes outpaced the rib nodules in length two-to-one. Jubilee sighted himself in the mirror on the closet door across from his bed. The rib nodules grew right before his widened eyes. They started to look like long hairs, but they were straight, unlike the coiled hair that he was accustomed to. The chest nodules burst through the t-shirt he’d worn to bed. This might all end if he tried to sleep but his pillow grew larger and soon his feet, which once touched the footboard, reached only halfway down the mattress. He squeezed his eyes shut and called out, “Mama,” though no mother came.

 “Don’t worry. You’ll have family everywhere and we have many adventures ahead, such as the space mission I once took with Col. John Glenn—you do know of him, don’t you? I crawled across his space helmet and said to him, ‘This is a small step for roaches, and a giant leap for all roach-kind!’”

He pictured Ralph’s family, his wife, daughters, and the warmth between them that he’d never known in his apartment. Naomi had never introduced him as anything other than the boy.

All of Jubilee’s life had sucked—his missing mama, Naomi, Daddy, Willie, police, German Shepherds, the class report, oh that report, like a bad dream that now made his lungs constrict, heart slow, breaths hard. His head nodes grew and his body shrank. When Jubilee crossed two rib nodules and his two arms to challenge Ralph’s story, his entire torso began to contort. Gravity pushed his head forward; he fell to the mattress on his knees and groaned, “Ralph, help me.” His ribs quaked as if hit by Naomi’s belt. The head nodes slowed but the rib nodules grew. His eyes moistened; he sniffled, sobbed, and snotted a green and sticky nasal discharge. His shoulders trembled and curled, spine bent over forward. He couldn’t process his changed body and peed himself. The nymphs bustled and dry washed their tarsus, maybe awaiting a cue from Ralph to attack the piss.

 “Look at yourself,” Ralph said. “Embrace it, my son. You’ll have six hairy legs and eighteen knees and will scale the highest wall.”

“What’ll happen to me now?” Jubilee asked, powerless.

 “You’ll be fine—you can do this Jubi. You’ll dive to the depths of Neptune and hold your breath underwater for forty minutes. You’ll see fossils of our distant relatives.”

The mirror threw back the change. His body had turned into a pale white skeleton shell the size of a cantaloupe, the two hairs had grown and waved uncontrolled above his head that was now a fraction of its original size and shaped like a triangle. The rib nodules matched the length of his arms and each developed three knees. His legs resembled both. His throat became sore.

“This hurts—please, Lord,” Jubilee wailed. “I’ll call Naomi Mama.”

“Sure, sure. She’ll really be glad to hear that from you,” Ralph said, his tone both fatherly and sarcastic. “There now... it’s inevitable, Jubi. We’ve watched you for months. You appreciated us when everyone else treats us like shit,” he said. “You took time to know us and we want to help your transcendence.”

Jubilee’s feelers flew up. He was now potato size and vanilla ice cream color.

“Tedra kissed Willie one night while he slept, Ticky nibbled his toenails. Ten o’clock every night we frolic,” Ralph said. “Naomi owns the apartment by day—we own the night.”

The size of a grape, Jubilee flinched and made odd noises in his throat. “Hzzz, click, click, MAMA, I’m having a nightmare!” Jubilee tried to awaken himself but he wasn’t asleep. Still, no one came. His new mouth moved from side to side. He controlled the two feelers and found that he could smell food with them and sense danger from behind with his cercus ass sensor. Most important, he had an appetite for anything that his feelers detected, like glue inside shoes, which caused his mouth to water.

Poof, he was eye-to-eye with Ralph, process complete, his color was ecru, his exoskeleton not yet hard or deep brown.

Jubilee’s midgut rumbled. He dumped a load onto the bed and turned to smell it with his feelers. Tasha used her wide body to block off her sisters and devoured the turd.

 Jubilee rolled over on his back and laughed until his sides hurt. He was big brother and cover for Willie but always had an unshakable sense that something was wrong. There was no cover for him. It’d been a long time since he’d had anything to laugh about.

No longer trapped by human foible, he gulped, righted himself on a sheet fold, and flipped his antennae back. Jubilee was a part of something bigger than himself and he could get used to being a roach.

He scurried across the rickety bookcase and the nightstand and wrapped his labium over a portion of Willie’s toenail, and with his mandible and maxilla, manipulated the food after he bit into the protein laden keratin that had a chalky, meaty taste.

He shimmied down the bedpost into the baseboard crevice and waited. Willie snatched the cover from around his head, fisted sleep from his eyes, and reached for the inhaler.

“Outta those beds, boys!” Naomi shouted from the kitchen.

Jubilee squatted down. He pointed his antennas in the direction where Naomi banged dishes against the counter, the stove, the tiny dining table. Soon she’d be off to work, unable to rise above her circumstances. Like Willie, she was fragile.

He’d pray for them.

Ron Dowell.jpg

In 2008 Ron L. Dowell retired from a career in healthcare and law enforcement public service with Los Angeles County. He holds two Master’s degrees from California State University Long Beach. He joined the Independent Writers of Southern California and PEN Center USA and, in June 2017, he received the UCLA Certificate in Fiction Writing. Ron is working on Stones Refused, a collection of stories that show how people find hope and even joy in lives where basic needs are sometimes hard to meet. He is currently a PEN America Emerging Voices Fellow.