A short story
The sign made Shannon gag. The fact that her dad was so proud of being able to erect the damn thing, with a party and everything. So gaudy. It loomed along the freeway in front of her, a nightmare. That roach slashed through the O in their last name. Gross. The billboard read:
80 Years Dead: Cortney Family Exterminators
Yet, she couldn’t really complain, could she? She turned on the heated leather seats in her new birthday BMW. Being finally 17, she could drive herself away from the house and on past that stupid sign.
She knew she would be late now. She’d left the house already running behind, in a huff, slammed the front door, even. Ahead of her now, brake lights appeared in the morning rush. Great, she thought, some texter trying to merge, probably. Shannon came to a halt maybe six cars before she could pass the billboard. She scratched at her forehead. 80 Years Dead.
The cars did not move. She would be late for her lit class again. It wasn’t as if she had finished her final paper anyway. Mr. Johnson had come to expect lateness from her, but she didn’t want to disappoint him again. Maybe if she got there a few minutes late, she could creep in undetected. Or if he looked down at her, she would tell him she was in the restroom, say sorry, and take her seat.
But still, the cars were not moving, and that damn sign. It was so tacky. She told her dad she was embarrassed at the ribbon-cutting. Tasteless. A ribbon-cutting. She had finally gotten the nerve to bring her feelings to light.
“Not now, Shan!” her mother had hissed. She had grabbed, clawed to hold Shannon’s hand. Told her to smile.
Now Shannon thought back to the sharpness in her mother’s tone this morning. A screaming match, but an argument Shannon knew she could not win.
“Look at your legacy, Shannon, this is all yours!” Her mother practically spat the words at her.
“I don’t want it!” Shannon screamed at her. She hated her family’s business and what they did. And she had a secret. She didn’t tell her mom she had seen the roach again in her bedroom.
Now Shannon rubbed her forehead and picked up her phone. “Fuck,” she said out loud. She knew other kids would be late too. Surely she wasn’t the only one stuck on 347. Going this way was a mistake. She would get off on the next exit and make her way to school. She texted Nina: CALL ME.
Maybe Nina was late too or would step out of class to call her. It was now 8:15. She was officially late. But just five more months and then graduation. Hopefully.
Her guidance counselor had warned her last quarter. “You’re too smart for this, Shannon,” she’d said, “even if you plan a gap year, it will be harder for you to get into a good college. Your grades and recommendations matter. Your parents’ influence can only go so far.”
Shannon resented this, but she knew Ms. Collins was probably right. She could always just work for her dad, taking appointments, and doing filing and paperwork. She hated taking calls. People were frantic about bugs. They wanted advice, they wanted infestation to go away. They were always so grossed out when they called. It stressed her out. She knew she would have to work this summer anyway when she wasn’t retaking French 3 and Trig, the two classes she couldn’t pass even if she begged. Would they even let her walk at graduation?
Her phone buzzed, and Nina’s voice came over the speakers, “What’s up, Heiress?”
“Where are you?”
Nina had been at the ribbon-cutting, and she teased her now and then about Shannon’s dad’s speech. He had shown Shannon off, while her mother told her to smile. He called her the heiress. So humiliating. He always trapped her like this. Afterward, Shannon had cried about it to Nina, her longest friend.
“It’s like you’re in a Roach Motel,” Nina said.
“You’re not wrong.”
Now she whined, “I’m stuck on 347! And oh my god, Nina, right under THE sign.”
“OMG, that’s perfect!” Nina laughed.
“Can you just tell Collins? Or tell Mr. Johnson, OK?”
“Just ditch,” Nina said.
“I can’t, Nina. I have this final paper. I’m kind of trapped.”
“I’ll tell him. Gotta go.”
Shannon thought she should have just walked away when her mother guilted her, picked a fight with her. She turned the heat off and cracked the passenger side window. It was getting so stuffy in the car. Her forehead was breaking out, she could tell. Pulling down the mirror, there was a rash right above her eyebrows. Probably stress.
Someone behind her laid on their horn. What an ass, she thought, where can I go? She understood the sentiment though.
Her Waze app just noted the heavy traffic, but no updates, and no reason. 80 Years Dead. Shannon felt a bit dizzy. She turned the radio on and could only hear static. She tried Spotify, the same thing.
Maybe she would leave her SUV there on the freeway and just walk, but it was freezing out. She picked at her forehead and noticed two blackheads were blistering above each eyebrow.
She realized that in her hurry to get out of the house and away from her parents, she had forgotten to wash her face and take her medicine. This always made her sweat. Some sort of withdrawal side effects? She didn’t know.
She opened the glove box. She had meant to stock her new SUV with extra Boron Wipes and a stash of pills in case this happened. She rummaged through her purse and backpack. Nothing.
“Stupid!” Shannon yelled at herself, and she pushed heavily on her own car horn, twice. Next to her, a kid in a white truck met her eyes, and he gave her the finger. As if she had cut him off, crashed, and caused this traffic jam.
She pulled her mirror down again. The blackheads started to erupt. It looked like two hairs sprouted out of them. She would pluck them out soon.
Shannon glanced over at the white truck again and accidentally caught the kid’s attention again. This time he put his finger down his throat like he was trying to make himself vomit.
What the hell? she thought. She wouldn’t be able to go to school today now. Even if the traffic cleared, she would have to turn around and go home to take her medicine.
She should have told her mother about the roach in her bedroom last night, but it was bad enough for her to fight this morning, she couldn’t take anymore screaming.
The last time her mother had found a roach in the house, her scream could have woken the 80 Years Dead. She had woken in the night and gone downstairs. She saw one roach in the pantry and startled Shannon and Dale. They were caught. Dale, her parents’ favorite employee, was trying to sneak out of the house. Shannon would never forget the look on her mother’s face when she blamed her and Dale for the roach.
That was the end of the affair that should have never started. She had only been 15 then. “No bugs in my house!” her mother screamed at Dale. She had actually grabbed a butcher’s knife and thrown it in his direction.
Shannon’s mother had ignored her for two weeks until their next shipment of pills arrived. She knocked on her door, handed her the pills, and said, “Never speak of this.” Then, to Shannon’s horror, her mother tried to hug her, but they were too hardened against each other to ever have a hug feel normal.
Her father, however, just spoiled her rotten after that night. He gave her extra allowance, let her buy whatever she wanted. He seemed to forgive her for sleeping with Dale, and maybe he even took responsibility for it.
Now, she felt like she was being kicked out. She hadn’t shown enough gratitude for the BMW. She hadn’t been able to smile at the ribbon-cutting. Well good, she thought, she wanted out of the family business. It could rot.
She wished she knew what happened to Dale after that night. She had really fallen for him. He had a protective shell that she loved. Sure, he was married to someone else, and what they did was against the law. But why didn’t her parents press charges?
What had she overheard the night after she and Dale had gotten caught? Her parents had fought.
“He knows!” her dad pleaded.
“What if she is pregnant? Then what?” her mother cried, “It’s rape!”
“He knows, Morgan, he knows.” Shannon’s father seemed to have begged her mother into silence.
She hadn’t gotten pregnant. They had been careful.
She wished she had gotten pregnant, run off with Dale who would have protected her. It would have been hard, but she knew she would never run that business.
If this traffic moved, Shannon decided, she would go look for him. She would drive and drive and drive. Suddenly Shannon felt starving.
She saw a few fries on the floor, probably a spill from her McDonald’s run with Nina last week. She snatched them quickly and gobbled them down. She needed more food. She unlatched her seatbelt and crawled to the backseat. There was the pizza box she had tossed in the back. She was planning on throwing it away, wasn’t she? Jackpot! Frozen lumps of cheese and cardboard. And a whole piece of crust!
This would satisfy her until she could get home. Then a wave of shame rushed over her. She glanced out the back window. The boy in the white truck gaped at her. He was actually pointing at her. His mouth was wide. She could see his tongue.
Shannon ducked back down beneath the window and searched the floor for more crumbs. I could get used to this, she thought, searching for crumbs will be the mission of my gap year! She felt the rumblings of the SUV’s running motor on her belly. So what if he was pointing, she thought, hardening her feelings.
Then the guy behind her honked again. There was suddenly a chorus of honking. It startled her, this sudden noise. The honking screamed in her ears. She peeked her head over the edge of the window again. The white truck was gone. The traffic was moving!
She crawled awkwardly to the front seat of her SUV. Again, the guy behind her laid on his horn, and would not let up until he found an opening to pass her. She needed to get going. She needed to get out! But she couldn’t get her hand to put the lever back in drive.
In fact, she couldn’t find her hands. Spindly dark legs flailed in front of her. Two more legs poked through her coat, right at her rib cage. It felt almost relieving. The tension was leaving her body. She didn’t really care about any of it, but she couldn’t stay in this position. Her legs involuntarily scrambled, trying to turn her over to her belly. She did it. She turned correctly onto her six feet, belly down. Safe. She could do anything now.
Shannon felt herself crawl. Her feet gripped the cold glass of the window. She was up to the crack and felt the winter air on her face. Cars honked at the running SUV below her. She took one last look at the billboard, then raced for the sewers underneath it.
Samantha Lazar 2020Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in