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Dzanc Books is nonprofit press specializing in literary fiction and nonfiction. In addition to publishing activities, Dzanc Books also supports the Disquiet International Literary Program.

The Start of the Story

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The Start of the Story

Guy Intoci

Individuals governed by prejudice will question our authority to recount the events of that week in November, when so much foul jetsam from the cruise ship Celeste washed up on St. Anne’s shores and the heat inside Professor Cleave’s cab, our classroom, nearly stifled our dreams—the week everything burned. They’ll say we spent the week deep in sleep, addled by ingrained habits and sloth. What do they know? The subject of cockroaches’ circadian rhythms is largely misrepresented in the scientific literature. Self-proclaimed experts on the affairs of insects will tell you we spend our days lazing beneath rocks and the floor mats of cars, napping in cupboards or slumbering in sewer pipes.

To quote J.B. Williams’s Entomological Atlas of the Americas, “pesky varieties of cockroaches generally lie dormant for all but four nocturnal hours in a twenty-four-hour cycle.” In a typical oversight, Williams discounts the fact that, in cases of high population density (“infestation,” he’d say!) and food scarcity, we extend our waking hours to forage. Though Williams and his ilk would never acknowledge it, crowding and scarcity have become the norm for cockroaches, and sleep deprivation endemic. Williams bases his spurious claims upon abstract conditions that hardly correspond to reality, unless one accounts for the practice of mass extermination. Williams concedes as much when he writes, “If cockroach populations are controlled, whether by standard commercial insecticides or boric acid applications, humans will rarely see them in daylight.”

In pointing out the deficiencies in Williams’s logic, our intent is not to quibble over an odd claim in a deeply flawed book, or to expose another apologist for the insecticide industry. We simply hope to defend our credibility. Sleep was a luxury that November. Thanks to a depletion of Freon and an ailing compressor, the air conditioning in Professor Cleave’s cab was sporadic at best. We drifted in and out of feverish dreams, sleeping in short shifts that ended whenever Professor Cleave started to lecture us. Whatever dull-witted entomologists say, at least some of us were awake most of the time.

The day the Celeste docked at St. Anne’s terminal, Professor Cleave had spent the entire afternoon scolding those of us sheltering in his cab, bartering our peace of mind for an occasional breath of air conditioning. He’d nearly outdone himself, calling us everything from “hopeless delinquents” to “irredeemable wastrels.” To be fair, we’d been testing the limits of his patience, scurrying around the floor mats and darting through the vents. An “especially ill-mannered assembly” (his words) had spent hours idling at the base of the gearshift, making “lewd gestures” with our antennae. Each of Professor Cleave’s reprimands only incited “further effronteries and grosser forms of misconduct.” Some of us skittered around the radio with raised antennae, hoping to intercept DJ Xspec’s Heavy Vibes Hour on Kingston’s 103.5 Jams, which broadcast across most of the Caribbean on a clear day. Others scuttled across the windshield, hoping to preempt a lecture about the defection of common sense from St. Anne’s electorate—a familiar topic in Professor Cleave’s repertoire—or another recitation from An Anthology of Classical Literature, the most immediate (and obvious) source of our unrest. 

Who could blame us? Professor Cleave had been parked on the curb before St. Anne’s cruise ship terminal for almost an hour, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel and muttering about everything from the price of petrol to his latest bout of indigestion. When he wasn’t staring at the policemen patrolling the streets around the duty-free mall, he read aloud from the anthology splayed across his lap. He trailed his fingertips over faded typeface, enunciating each syllable of Socratic dialogues to focus his flagging energy. Still, he felt distracted, and frustrated by our unwillingness—not our inability, he maintained—to quiet ourselves. 

“You are not serious about anything of consequence, my six-legged students.” He closed his book, and with a jaundiced eye regarded those of us near the radio. “You’ll come to a very bad end with your lawless behavior."