Ask them to leave

Friday, 2 June, 2017 – Ann Arbor, Michigan

She knows right away that the dream is different, because she is seeing her mother from a different point of view. As her mother walks in through the door of Aunt Janice’s house Kate sees her, for the first time ever, from the point of view of a full-grown adult. (If that’s what five and a half feet is.) Anyway it is a wonderful experience, although a little disorienting. And then the next change in the dream occurs. Her father isn’t here. It’s just her mother. This has never happened before. Once inside the door, her mother looks around.

Oh, it’s nice, honey!” she smiles.

It’s nice? What’s nice?

Kate looks around and sees the biggest change in the dream yet. This isn’t Aunt Janice’s house of sixteen years ago at all. This is her own apartment, from right now! Her mother has come to visit her right here in her own apartment!

Thank you,” Kate says. “Come in! Would you—um, would you like some tea?”

Oh, that would be nice, honey.”

So her mother walks in and looks around while Kate closes the door and hopes she hasn’t left a pile of her underwear on the floor or something. She hurries to the kitchen and turns on the light to make tea—the kitchen has no windows of its own and is pretty dark even in the daytime—and gets a shock. There are cockroaches everywhere, absolutely swarming the counter, the sink, the stove, everything. They don’t even bother running away when the light comes on. They have been getting bolder that way, lately.

Kate looks to see if her mother has noticed, and, of course, she has. She’s standing right there just behind Kate, registering mild disapproval on her perfect features.

Um, sorry. I keep trying to get rid of them—”

Katie, dear,” her mother admonishes. “Why don’t you ask them to leave?”

Kate looks back at her mother, ashamed that she has never thought of that.

But—but how?”

Her mother smiles her patient smile.

Politely, dear.”


Kate wakes up, sitting bolt upright in bed in the darkness of her room. She is not weeping as she usually does when she has the dream about her parents, not quite. It was so real. And right here, in her apartment.

“It was real,” Kate whispers to herself. “It was.”

She knows that she is just going crazy, her brain all eaten out by cancer, her lifeless body soon to be smiled over by George Clooney and Marcus Welby, but the fact remains that she has never had a dream about her parents that seemed so real before, and right here in the apartment.

Throwing off the covers Kate gets out of her bed to stand for a moment in the dark, cold air, then, making a decision, she grabs her robe off the chair and puts it on as she walks out to the kitchen. She turns on the light and there they are: no ghost of her mother, but plenty of cockroaches. Not a kitchen full of them, thankfully, but a good dozen scuttling here and there. They don’t even bother running away when the light comes on. They have been getting bolder that way, lately.

Why don’t you ask them to leave?

So, Kate tries it. She imagines what it would be like: forming a thought that is suitably simplified into little bug-thought terms, but which, if it were represented in human words would be something like Better Elsewhere/Not Stay/Going—and then packaging that thought up, hmmm. How? Let’s see.

Oh, in light, of course. Light carries thought.

And, as she imagines it, of course, Kate realizes that she is actually doing it. She sets the thought free to be carried by the poor illumination of the kitchen’s ceiling light to all the little buggies going about their business on the countertop.

It’s as though she set a bomb off. They all move at once, except not randomly like they used to when she turned on the light. Now they all move in the same direction: toward the drain whence they came, all of them deciding at once We have Better Places to Be!

Kate steps forward, for a moment trying to follow them with her thoughts as though her mind were one of those little flying drones that can go anywhere it wants, until she gets an actual glimpse of the kitchen sink’s drain and then she thinks Oh, no, I don’t think so. I also have Better Places to Be.

But then, hmm, Kate frowns. How to carry the same idea to all cockroaches in the building at once?

Hah! With a CAT-scan like the one she thought she would get from the young intern a couple weeks ago. At the time she imagined it would be like a plane of light intersecting her. Moving gradually downward from her head to her toes, extracting information.

Well, OK then! It should also be able to transmit information.

Kate imagines a plane of light, imbued with the same buggy-thought she just put in the kitchen light, except this time with an added flourish of thoughts of the forest outside, and how nice it will be there amid the stick and rotting leaves and mossy and dirty-smells. It’s kind of like painting, with ideas. They touch the big square plane of light and instantly spread throughout it, link quickly fading tints.

Then the big square CAT-scan (BUG-scan?) plane of light is ready, and Kate sends it to move slowly down, starting at the very top of the building: the highest edge of the tallest pipe coming out of the roof. The plane slowly drifts down, carrying its buggy-message, intersecting and penetrating every place, every space, every pipe (metal is no problem at all for this kind of light), every nook and cranny and corner, every cabinet and wall, every joist and trestle and frame and sash, every crack and hole and gap and crevice and fascia and soffit and drywall and floor board and hinge. The light penetrates everything in the building and as it goes it carries the message: Better Elsewhere/Not Stay/Going and it points downward and outward, to the forest. And everywhere it touches, Kate knows for a certainty that the little buggies are scurrying, hurrying, packing their little buggy suitcases (Only take what you can carry on your carapace!) and they are all leaving, leaving, leaving.

It takes several minutes for the CAT-scan plane to move down all the way to the bottom, because Kate imagines that it would not be a good idea to have it travel faster than the little buggies can scoot. If it gets ahead of them, Kate expects that they will just forget the idea and go back to whatever they were doing. But finally it is done.

Walking a little unsteadily, Kate makes her way to the breakfast table and sits down. She wonders if any of the neighbors will notice. At least it will be a little something: to be able to walk into your kitchen at night and turn on the light and not see bugs for a change. Maybe it will make a little difference. Maybe some of them will notice.

Of course, the buggies will come back sooner or later, but not for a few months, and probably not, Kate thinks, for the rest of this year. At the end, she had the plane of light leave a kind of sparkly residue of itself on all the little apertures and openings that the little buggies used to enter this building in the first place.

Kate’s eyelids flutter shut. By the end, she could actually see the little buggies, like hundreds of little moving sparks in her X-ray picture of the house. If she had wanted to, she could have focused and intensified the light’s energy to kill them, rather than simply communicate. But she would never do that. The cockroaches are only disgusting when they have randomly and innocently wandered into a building and set up shop. They’re just doing what they legitimately do. They have their own little lives, and if they just go live them in a more appropriate place they will not be a problem at all. They not like some kind of

Kate eyes snap open.

They’re not like some kind of cancer cells.

There is no doubt in her mind that she can use the same technique to see cancer cells in a human body. And, in this case, kill them.

“Oh Sara,” Kate whispers, her heart hammering. “I can cure you.”

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