A cockroach lies on its back below the Hell Girl poster blue-tacked to the side of my desk. The soundtrack for Kakariko Village from The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds croons from my laptop which displays a PowerPoint slide about psychotic disorders.
I tear out a page from the 2011 edition of Medical Observer lying in the corridor to dispose of the cockroach. The page features photos of emphysema that look like ant holes in raw meat. Mum said to keep Medical Observer because ‘một ngày nào đó, Ba sẽ đọc’ — ‘one of these days, Dad will read it’ but a 2011 edition probably contains outdated medical knowledge. I squat beside the desk with the paper in my hand. The cockroach’s underbelly is mahogany and striated like a trilobite. My stomach tightens as I imagine its wings flittering in a brown blur against my face — but I am the family cockroach killer. Last night, I shoved a cockroach down the kitchen sink with a pair of chopsticks. Its antennae poked up through the plughole as I continued washing dishes over it.
The trumpet grumbles ‘brwaawbrwaaaaw’ as it takes up the melody for Kakariko Village. I’m used to hearing this music in the game, along with an accompaniment of squawking chickens and Link screaming ‘yahyahyah YAAH!’ as he slashes them with his sword. The cockroach’s antenna brushes the floor, but I can’t tell if it’s still alive or whether that was just my breath. One time, my mother gave me a napkin to pick up a dead cockroach that was lying along the edge of the bathtub. I realised that it was still alive when I could feel its prickly legs writhing. Its exoskeleton crunched as I squished it between my fingertips. A creamy substance seeped through the napkin, touching my skin.
I grab a bottle of Palmolive detergent from the kitchen and bring it into my room. I’m sure this will kill the cockroach because when I was in Year 4, I dumped a garden snail in the bathroom sink. The hand soap pump went ‘sqitsqitsqit’ as I doused the snail’s foot in green detergent. The snail withdrew right into its shell while secreting white foam. When I ran cold water over it, the snail’s body had vanished. I drizzle a stream of yellow detergent over the cockroach’s body. The cockroach’s mouth pulsates, reminding me of my vagina which I scrutinised in an Oreo-themed mirror after Mum’s lecture about why women ‘không được có “s”’ — ‘are not allowed to have “s”’. The glottal stop between ‘có’ (have) and ‘s’ made Mum sound like she was choking. Yesterday, Mum made a model of a vagina using a paper and pen, both branded with ‘Cervarix’. She poked the paper to make a hole that was the size of my pinkie fingernail. ‘Đây là vagina trước khi có “s”. Người nam có thể có “s” với một trăm cô gái đẹp xong rồi lấy vợ như thường.’ – ‘This is the vagina before “s”. A man can have “s” with one hundred beautiful women and then get married as if nothing happened.’
‘Nữ bị lỗ thôi tại vì,’ — ‘Only the woman loses out because,’ Mum moved the pen up and down to extend the tear, ‘lỗ nhỏ sẽ thành ra lỗ lớn cho mọi người biết là con gái hư’ — ‘the little hole will become a big hole so that everyone will know that she is a naughty girl’.
‘Ai để ý vậy?’ — ‘Who even cares?’ I snapped, tearing the vagina-paper in half. Right after, I felt numb between my legs while revising ‘Week 7 — Paraphilias’ for Abnormal Psychology. I examined my vagina to check if I was really a virgin. After separating my right and left labia, I didn’t know what to look for because the mucus and flesh weren’t colour-coded like they were in my older sister Jane’s Fundamentals of Obstetrics and Gynaecology textbook diagram.
I watch the cockroach’s front and middle pairs of legs align to form the ulna and radii of two human arms. Its bottom pair of legs straddles to complete the Pentagram pose. I remember Dr Johnson, my tutor for Human Behaviour at Western Sydney University, had the Pentagram tattooed on his forearm. His blazer strained at the seams when he reached up to write on the whiteboard. He joked about how he ‘was still a bachelor even though he had a PhD’. He opened his definition of the word ‘ravish’ with the question ‘if I told one of you to “ravish me”, what does that mean?’
I pour detergent over the cockroach’s antennae to make the puddle around it more circular. The bottom legs join at the tips to form a diamond. The arms bend to join in the centre of its body. Its mouth is still. The cockroach dies as a ballerina. Violins screech ‘nheenheee’ as they pick up the melody, drawing my attention to the music. I picture chickens clucking at the entrance of Kakariko Village. I will probably look like one of them when I die, mouth gaping open to screech ‘ba-gaak’, arms frozen mid-flap.
When will I die? Maybe Dr Johnson will call someone to poison me for undoing his career. I think of Dr Johnson’s seventy replications of studies about ‘statistically significant gender differences in mating strategies’ and ‘scientific reasons for why men are all jerks’ pasted on his office. One time, he made me code themes in the ‘UWS Love Letters’ Facebook page, saying, ‘According to Evolutionary Psychology, we’re expecting that women should be more interested in long-term partners while men enjoy short-term hook-ups.’ After that, I vowed to disprove Evolutionary Psychology and get Dr Johnson sacked. The image of Dr Johnson howling as he flings publications from his now-former office door makes me grin.
I varnish the cockroach in Palmolive, making sure that every part of its body is evenly covered. It holds the ballerina pose as I shove the corner of Medical Observer under it, tilting the paper away from me as I carry it to the bin in the kitchen. I return to my room and lie on the bed, palms facing upwards and feet splayed out like the corpse pose in yoga. My eyeballs dig into their sockets as I survey the room. The chipped paint on the ceiling is scabbed skin and the porous patches are ringworms. The posters from Free!, Pokémon and Cardcaptor Sakura which Jane brought from SMASH last year interrupt the cuts lined with peeling wallpaper. She left the Hell Girl poster on my desk because there was no more room on the walls. I was a bigger fan of Hell Girl than she was anyway.
I hear a rustle from the pile of patient notes which Jane uses as scrap paper on her table. I wonder if it is another cockroach. I imagine bristly legs brushing against my skin as a cockroach scuttles up my arm. I purse my flaky lips, imagining vomit-yellow innards on my tongue. A double-chin forms as I crane my neck to scan my arms. They are bare.
I inhale Palmolive’s lemon scent. Better clean it, better clean it, I say but my body cements into the warm mattress. Kakariko Village’s theme plays on loop in the background. I picture chickens pecking around a dirt path, flapping their wings through a wall because of an error in the game’s 3D modelling.