Death Spares Not the Cockroach
The cockroach shuffles through a crowded crossing on a city sidewalk; he has been stepped on twice already. Although he walks with a slight limp, to be honest, neither of the shoes (try as they might to smush him) was a heavy stepper, and the second shoe just grazed him. Sure his pride is hurt; all cockroaches feel they have been given a bum rap. Humans have condemned the cockroach as a vile, disgusting, wretched creature. Whether the cockroach knows it or not, it is an almost certainty that it will be on this planet long after humans are only fossils being dug up and reused by some other creature that has learned to walk upright and has developed extra space in its cranium. The earliest fossils of cockroaches date back between 290-350 million years ago. Rumored to be able to live without a head for five days, or survive for thirty days off the glue on the back of a postage stamp, the cockroach is an evolutionary anomaly.
Just before the cockroach can slip through a crack in the wall, a heavy, steel-toed black boot comes down from a hefty workman named Bill. Although Bill is a big, brash homo sapiens who weighs nearly 250 pounds, he is frightened by these creepy, crawly critters and makes sure the cockroach is squished. The cockroach’s body is flattened; for all intents and purposes, this creature should be dead. Parts of its exoskeleton have been crushed and cracked; still the cockroach takes several spiraling turns through the darkness, somehow still alive and in one piece. Arriving inside the infrastructure of a large building, the cockroach takes a deep breath; he can rest easy for the moment. This place, which may provide shelter, is far from what the cockroach would describe as ideal living conditions. For one thing, nothing grows from this concrete and mortar. How do these bald hominids hope to survive, the cockroach wonders. They are extremely poor planners, he thinks to himself, so short sighted. Somewhere deep in his cellular memory the cockroach remembers a story. It is a family story and all species have one ingrained somewhere within their DNA. The cockroach’s family story is a humorous one about how he tricked Death into giving him 88 lives. You, of course, all know that a cat has nine lives. A lot of people don’t know that a rat gets thirteen, and some philosophers theorize that this is the root of why humans consider thirteen unlucky. The cockroach, however, scored the mother lode. The cockroach got 88 lives.
The cockroach knew he would have to recuperate. It might be days. He crawled in to a dark crevice and thought of the family story. He wasn’t sure if the story was even real or how it came to pass or the setting in which it occurred beyond the room, but the cockroach knew the story involved a game of cards and Death.
There are several different variations of the story, but he pictured it as follows: In a smoky room in the netherworld, a cockroach, Death, a black cat, and a dirty rat sat down to play cards. They were playing Hades hold ’em, which is only slightly different from Texas hold ’em. Each animal was human-sized, so they could sit at the card table and place bets and so forth. The cockroach was particularly disgusting-looking from a human perspective because in this instance he was a six-foot-tall cockroach with thick antennae and feelers moving around while he studied his cards. One could see the hair growing out of his thorax and he made an unpleasant chirping noise. Now a lot of people think Death looks like the Grim Reaper, wearing a dark cloak and carrying a scythe. Not true . Death looks pretty much like everyone else. He usually wears blue jeans. There is, however, a certain mark about him by which, with the right kind of eyes, you can see and identify him. The hands started off with your usual animal bets. The rat sat across from the black cat and looked as if he might flee at any moment. The black cat just peered out with those giant, evil yellow-green eyes, grinning. What a poker face.
Well the story gets hazy from there, and there are something like seventeen alternate versions, depending on which continent you’re on, but most say the group played cards until early the next morning. Till dawn’s early light, is how it is usually put. Death, by this point, was inebriated, but then Death is always slightly inebriated (something to do with the lack of oxygen in Death’s body). Death, by the way, is a light-weight; the term two-beer queer would be used if anybody felt he could get away with it without dying. It is said, in this version of the story anyway, that Death was so shit-faced he decided to go all in on three sixes. He commented later that it had something to do with it being a sign, the mark of the beast or something like that. Three sixes is a good hand, but not a hand you should go all in on. As the cards surfaced, Death began to see what a mistake he had made. The black cat had a straight, the rat a flush, and, well, the cockroach was sitting on top of a full house. To avoid losing all of his winnings, his Rolls Royce, his tri-level mansion, his yacht, his private jet, Death decreed that from now on, every cockroach would get 88 lives, every rat would have 13 lives, and, well, of course you’ve heard about a cat‘s nine lives. And to this day, people say cats have nine lives, they know rats are really hard to kill, and you can step on a cockroach a bunch of times, and it does nothing but make it scamper faster.
By: Joseph DeMarco