It began with two strokes of good luck. The first was an adult, blood-fattened bedbug on the bedframe in room 306 at the end of her shift. The second was an equally blood-fattened adolescent in the same room, on the shower curtain of all places. Blood-drunk, Yolanda thought excitedly. All full up and lazy, not even trying to hide. She flicked them into separate Ziplocs, still alive, and sealed the bags. Then she spent another hour carefully inspecting the room for more. She didn’t find any. When she finished, she took a look around and exhaled. 306. Her new lucky number.
She entered the staff room to clock out with the Ziploc bags in her purse. Manny’s office door was closed but the light was on. He was Mexican like her, but only ever spoke to the maids in English. He did it to intimidate them, and it usually worked, especially with the younger girls. But Yolanda was thirty-seven and had been in Las Vegas for fifteen years. Her English wasn’t perfect, but she could defend herself. Still, she was nervous Manny would find a reason not to give her the hundred dollars promised any hotel employee who found a bedbug, living or dead.
She knocked on his door.
“Come in,” Manny called. “Sit down.”
Yolanda entered and sat. His eyes were stuck on his computer screen. She fingered the Ziploc bags inside her purse.
“I’ve given you all the hours I can,” he said, still not looking away from the computer screen. “I can’t give you any more this month.” Manny had more of an accent when he spoke English than she did, and he always sounded formal, like a small-time actor performing lines.
“It’s not that,” Yolanda said. “The bedbug reward. A hundred dollars for each?”
He finally looked up. “If you brought it from somewhere else, or you’re using one that someone else found—”
Yolanda shook her head. “I’m not.” She reached into her bag. “Here,” she said, pulling out the plastic bags that held the bugs. “I think they’re still alive.”
He reached forward and took them. His face, which was dull and unhappy normally, drained of what little energy it had a moment ago. “Where did you find these?”
Yolanda didn’t know if Manny was upset because now there was another room unable to be rented while it was exterminated, or because he had to give her two hundred extra dollars. Probably both.
“Did you mark it as contaminated?” His voice was tight.
He opened the drawer of his desk with one hand while still keeping the Ziploc bag in the other. He fumbled with his left hand in the drawer for a moment, because he wouldn’t take his eyes off the bag to look at what he was doing, and then he finally put it down. He reached into the drawer and pulled out a gray metal box with both hands, opened it and handed her two one-hundred-dollar bills. They were soft to Yolanda’s touch.
She called Jorge as soon as she got home. “I have twelve hundred dollars,” she said.
“Three thousand up front,” he said. Bored. “Plus gas and your own food.”
“I can get you the rest once we arrive in Mexico,” she said. This wasn’t certain. She thought the man her daughter was marrying might be able to help her with money—he lived in an affluent part of the city, but who knew how far his family’s money stretched? She didn’t want to ask over the phone or email, especially since she hadn’t seen Maria since the girl was little, and she didn’t know the fiancé at all.
“It’s another thousand once we’re in Mexico. If you want to come back, that is.”
“Yes, yes,” Yolanda said. “I can get the rest for you once we’re there. That’s where my family is—”
“That’s where everyone’s family is,” Jorge said. “That doesn’t mean they all have thousands of dollars to give me when I take you there. Or else why would you have come here in the first place?”
“Please,” Yolanda said. “I’m running out of time. My daughter is getting married soon, and I’ve already worked all the extra hours my boss will give me.”
“Everybody’s running out of something,” he said. “We leave a week from Thursday.” He hung up.
A month ago, Yolanda had nine hundred dollars saved up for no particular reason when her daughter called with news of the wedding. “I know it’s probably impossible, Mamá,” she’d said, “but if there’s any way you could come, it would be wonderful.”
“Sí, sí,” Yolanda had said. “I’ll work something out.”
She took as many extra shifts as Manny would allow—it wasn’t like she had anyone she could borrow money from. But the shifts were hard to come by—everyone wanted extra shifts, everyone needed extra money. When she worked overtime, tiny electrical rubber bands snapped inside her back every time she bent over.
The infestation of bedbugs appeared like a gift. There were thousands of them all over the hotel, even though it was five-star, and all over Las Vegas, probably. If she could just find a dozen of them, she’d have enough to pay Jorge to smuggle her. She’d probably get fired for missing so much work, but it would be worth it. Her little Maria, in a white dress. Walking down an aisle. She never thought she’d have that.
Yolanda herself never married. Maria’s father, Javier, had said he wanted to marry her—that was one of the ways he’d convinced her to do it. She was fifteen. By the time she realized she was pregnant, he was gone. Off to university, he’d said, but when she called the dorms at the school he said he’d be attending, there was no one by his name there. She went to his neighborhood and asked around for him but everyone said they didn’t know him. They’d looked at her closely, though, like she might have something of value to them.
For the next few days, Yolanda concentrated most of her energy toward finding more bedbugs. She ran her index finger along the edge of the mattress and box spring on every bed she changed, and even got down on her hands and knees to inspect every angle of the bed frames. But she didn’t find anything and by the end of the day, her back was cramped and she had to hunch over a little when she walked.
“Idiota,” she said out loud at the end of her shift on Sunday. The hotel had been completely full the night before and Sunday was always the biggest cleaning day. She should have captured the original two she’d found, taken them home, and tried to breed them or hope one would lay eggs. Then she could have brought the babies in and “found” them one by one in rooms that had previously been marked as contaminated. They were always coming back, and Manny used the cheapest extermination service in Las Vegas. Even he would have to believe her.
She was clocking out when Manny walked into the staff room.
“Your English is good,” he said. “How did you learn?”
Yolanda turned around, surprised. Manny wasn’t exactly mean, but he wasn’t friendly either. She had never heard him make small talk with anyone, let alone give compliments.
“Thank you,” she said.
He raised his eyebrows. “How did you learn, then?” he repeated.
Yolanda explained that when she first arrived in Nevada, she had a roommate. “A girl from Lithuania,” she said. “She worked here too.”
“We had to speak in English because she couldn’t speak Spanish and I couldn’t speak her language.”
“Maybe someday you could work at the front desk,” he said. “If you ever get papers.”
Yolanda had no prospects for papers. The hotel wouldn’t sponsor anyone and there were no amnesties on the horizon. She’d have to find an American man to marry her to get it, but she hadn’t dated in over a decade, since she’d lived with Daina, who’d dragged her to bars and dance parties. At thirty-seven, Yolanda knew she looked much older. She was heavy, especially around the middle, and couldn’t imagine what she would have to offer a man, American or otherwise.
That night Yolanda couldn’t bring herself to make or eat dinner. What could she do? Where could she get the money?
She lay down on her bed and hugged herself. How could she possibly get there? She knew no one else who transported people, knew no other way. Flying was impossible without papers and taking a bus would be too risky.
Now Maria would marry and she wouldn’t see her, wouldn’t be in pictures. Yolanda wouldn’t even know Maria’s husband. Sometimes Yolanda worried that she was being incrementally erased from her daughter’s life. Maybe she would make it back to Mexico by the time she retired, or by the time her own mother passed away, but by then her daughter would have grown up and Yolanda would have missed her whole youth. They wouldn’t know each other; her Spanish would be thin and slow; she’d be “Americanized.”
Normally when she missed Maria terribly, she consoled herself with how the money she’d been sending home for years provided for the girl. How it was her hard work that had bought Maria her school uniform, paid the majority of her tuition at the good school. Her American dollars that had paid for the braces that had straightened the girl’s teeth.
She began to cry. What was the point of all her hard work if she couldn’t see her daughter now? Why couldn’t she go where she wanted? She cried into her hands and pillows.
Yolanda woke up in the middle of the night with a start but she wasn’t Yolanda anymore. A breath. A look around. Darkness. Where was she? Another breath, this time sharper. She? He? It only lasted a moment, but Yolanda knew nothing. Not if she was a man or a woman. Not if she was old or young. No language came to her to describe anything. She was simply alive in the dark and knew nothing.
The next day was awful. She thought about the terrifying moment all day long. How could she have forgotten who she was? What gender, age, where she lived? What a fool. Loca como una cabra. Maybe she was going crazy, she thought, as she bent over to scrub the bathtub in room 1103. She took a breath and stood up, registering huge relief at the thought. The muscles in her back relaxed.
She was still upset, just beginning to clean Suite 1105 when she noticed the address on the suitcase.
Doctor Rio de la Loza 149
Yolanda started and heard herself make a little noise. The young man who Maria was marrying lived with his parents on that street. She remembered because it was one of the richest streets in the city. She got excited and without thinking rushed down to the staff room to look up the guests. Rodriguez, two people, staying through the weekend. There was a note on their account: airport taxi five am checkout. She hurried back up to the Rodriguez’s room but her mind was going so fast she couldn’t clean. They were going home just a few days before the wedding. They could see Maria. Maybe they even knew her. Yolanda had to meet them, had to explain her situation to them.
She sat down on the bed she’d just made—something she never did. Then she lay down. Her back was instantly relieved. But quickly the cloud descended: there was nothing the Rodriguez’s could do to help. They were flying home. What could they do, put her in their suitcase? Besides, they were probably the rich types who could afford to come here for a night or two just for fun. The most they could do was pity her, then go home and watch Maria say, “Sí, quiero,” to this young man who would promise to take care of her every day for the rest of her life.
Her back felt so good, lying on this bed with her legs hanging off. It seemed to be helping her think, too. What if she waited until they came back to the room? She could ask them if they knew Maria. Or maybe they knew her mother. She could ask them to bring a gift, a note. It wasn’t asking that much.
Yolanda didn’t remember falling asleep. When she woke up, it was dark out and she was curled up in a ball in the corner of the box spring. She looked down at her scaled body and knew instinctively what had happened: she was a bug, like the ones she hunted for American dollars. A little insect who sucked the blood of humans, who clung to mattresses and pillows. How did she know? The knowledge came from deep inside her, from a place without use for words or reason. There were others like her close on both sides, some so gorged with blood their shells had blackened, and she wriggled herself free of them.
The plan came to her with ease: she would get in the suitcase, travel with them to her daughter, and see the wedding as this new little pest. Hope inhabited her, gave her a surge of energy.
She climbed down the frame of the bed and onto the carpet. Her first step was terrifying, like being on the top of a wobbly pink tree in a forest full of them. Pink trees as far as her eyes could see, which was not very. But she felt surprisingly steady on her legs and got farther than she would have imagined, faster than she thought she could. She knew that the Rodriguez’s suitcases were across the room by the bathroom. Maybe too far to walk. She’d need to find a piece of clothing to latch onto, and hope it ended up in the suitcase, and not on Mr. or Mrs. Rodriguez’s body.
Just then she heard an almost deafeningly loud noise, followed by a profound vibration and then another, and another. Someone had entered the room, closed the door and was now walking around. She gripped the pink carpet beneath her and bore down. The vibrations came closer.
“Hey!” A tinny, singsong voice called to her on an entirely different frequency than the terrible noises the Rodriguez’s made. Yolanda looked up. Crawling down the bedframe, a medium-sized insect of her own tribe. Even as a bedbug, she was recognizable—it was Daina.
“Get up here,” Daina called. “You’ll get trampled.”
Yolanda scurried back to the bed frame and followed Daina all the way up it to the mattress. Together they stood on the sheets Yolanda herself had taken out of the dryer and fitted to the bed earlier that day. How had she done it? She wondered now. This enormous sea of cotton. Her little sticky legs. They stayed separated from a group of others.
“Look at you,” she said. “You look great.” She stared at Daina. Same amber-colored eyes. Same long legs—just more of them now.
“You look tired,” she said to Yolanda. “When’s the last time you ate?”
Yolanda struggled for an answer. “I—I don’t know.”
“Have you ever bitten a human?” Daina asked.
Yolanda tried to shake her head from side to side but couldn’t. She tried to look down to see why she couldn’t, and then she realized she didn’t have much of a neck.
Daina laughed at her. “I remember those days,” she said. “No head shaking, no ma’am.”
The noise increased.
“Come on,” Daina said. “Let’s get away from this noise.” Daina led her to the corner of the mattress. “We’ll be more comfortable on the box spring.”
Even with six legs, the Lithuanian managed to sway in such a way that was lovely to watch. There was a group of bugs they had to pass on the edge, and Yolanda thought they were sleeping. But a big engorged one with a broken antenna, literally dripping with blood, lunged towards Daina as they passed. She dodged him and zigzagged over the edge. Yolanda scurried to the other side of her and followed. Once they were on the box spring Daina stopped and turned around.
“Let’s keep going,” she said. “That one will follow us and get us both.”
Once they were tucked safely on the bottom of the bed frame, Yolanda asked, “Do you know him?” The question felt ridiculous. Did they all know one another? Were they family?
“Know him!” Daina cried. “I laid the egg that hatched him. Not that it matters to him. Or any of these other savages.” She explained to Yolanda that she’d have to watch out for the males, because they were such sexual beings, so wild and violent about reproducing, that they were forever impregnating you, and then you were laying eggs left and right and half the time the babies starved to death or got trampled or even got exterminated and then the whole thing, she said, was a big fat mess. “Pointed ass,” she finished. “That’s how you know it’s male.”
“Not to mention,” she went on, “more babies equals less food. And it’s easier to get found out. I was in another room the other day, some kid gets stuck on the shower curtain of all places, in the middle of the day, and the next thing you know, just about everyone I know is dead.” Yolanda recalled the adolescent she’d found on the shower curtain, placed in the Ziploc bag, and exchanged for a hundred dollars. She tried to put it into words—that she was the human who’d put the genocide in motion that Daina was referring to—but before she could, the Lithuanian went on.
“Not that I care about any of these assholes,” she was saying. “But every time a group dies, you have to make new friends, you know? And it’s not that easy.”
“I need to go with these people to Mexico,” Yolanda said. “I can do that, right? It’s easy to get in their suitcase, on their clothes?”
“Easy enough,” Daina said. “But what do you want to go back there for? You’re never going to have a higher quality of life than right here in this room.” She gestured with her antenna. “Plenty to eat, plenty of places to hide, plenty of carpet. It’s a five-star hotel, Yoli,” she opened her sharp-toothed mouth to let out a smiley yawn and they both felt warm to hear Daina make the joke and use the nickname. It’s a five-star hotel, they used to sass, imitating the fussy manager who would say it to whoever made a mistake, to reiterate that, in an establishment that nice, mistakes couldn’t be made.
“My baby,” Yolanda began. It sounded ludicrous. A giant human woman in another country, whom she barely knew.
“The little girl,” Daina said tenderly. “Yes, I remember. You used to send money to her and talk on the phone.” She took a half-step closer and placed a spindly leg on Yolanda’s.
“She’s getting married soon and I don’t have the money to get back there. I was thinking maybe I could go with these guests. They’re in the same neighborhood as her fiancé.”
“It would be dangerous,” Daina said. “But not impossible. The real challenge would be figuring things out once you got there. How to eat, where was safe.”
“How long have you been a bedbug?” Yolanda asked.
Daina laughed cynically and waved an antenna in a hopeless half-circle. “All my life,” she said.
They dozed off together and Daina woke Yolanda up. “Hey,” she said. “Are you hungry?”
Yolanda was. The Lithuanian’s eyes were wide-set, her antennae graceful, her scaled back regal. Yolanda could swear she was smiling. “Come on,” she said, and led Yolanda up the edge of the mattress. A dozen or so bedbugs were climbing up a foot with a feminine arch. Yolanda and Daina made their way to the top, nestled between the big and second toe. From there they could see scores of bugs, some making their way around the middle of the foot, sinking their teeth into the bubbly veins leading up to the toes. Mrs. Rodriguez. This manicured foot walked the pavement of the same street as Yolanda’s baby and her mother. Had Yolanda’s mother ever knocked on Mrs. Rodriguez’s door, asking if she needed housework done? An indignity Yolanda had relieved her mother of when she emigrated, began sending money home. Yolanda looked to Daina, who was frozen, observing the other foot. A stream of bugs emerged in a throng from the silk leg of Mrs. Rodriguez’s pajamas.
“Let’s go,” Daina said. Bugs on their foot were changing direction, too, returning the way they’d come. Daina led Yolanda back down off Mrs. Rodriguez’s foot and onto the sheet.
“What’s going on?” Yolanda wanted to know.
“Rancid blood. She must be drunk. Let’s try her husband.”
The throng of bugs heading from Mrs. to Mr. moved like a mob on the verge of riot and Yolanda struggled to keep close to Daina. Mr. Rodriguez lay on his side facing away from his wife, his right foot stacked atop his left, and Daina led Yolanda up where his heels met. They kept going, entered his silk pajama leg, and Yolanda almost lost Daina in the crowd of bugs feasting on Mr. Rodriguez’s thick, hairy leg.
“Hey!” Yolanda called to her. She was terrified of being lost amongst these strange bugs.
“Shhh!” Daina hissed. “You’ll draw attention.”
Yolanda obeyed. She followed the Lithuanian around to the bottom of the calf, near the silky pajama leg. They were alone. “It’s juicier up top, but down here we can look out for each other.” Daina looked around and surveyed the air around her with her antennae.
“Don’t step off his skin,” she warned. “Silk is a nightmare—you’ll fall.”
“Watch,” she said. She lowered her head to Mr. Rodriguez’s skin.
Yolanda felt suddenly afraid in this new body. The feeling reminded her of how she felt after emigrating to Las Vegas shortly after she had weaned Maria. What should her body do now, she remembered wondering. Without the child who depended on it? What was the point of this hand or that skin, with no one in this new place to hold or witness it?
“Wait!” she cried. “How will I know what to do?”
Daina looked up. “You’ll know. You’re living inside a perfectly evolved machine now, Yoli. Your saliva has science in it that took human doctors millennia to come up with. Just watch,” she repeated.
A small tube between her eyes extended and poked the human calf. Yolanda saw saliva move through it and enter the leg. Daina waited a moment and then the liquid reversed direction, changed from her own saliva to the man’s blood. For a second they were mixed and Yolanda observed that the pretty pink hue of the liquid suited her friend. She stood there, head down, sucking Mr. Rodriguez’s blood into her scaly body for about half a minute. Yolanda watched her friend in admiration. The Lithuanian went from slim to bloated; from mahogany in color to burgundy as the man’s blood filled her. She didn’t come up for air or stop to rest.
When she was done, she moved slowly, dragging her body behind her. She defecated on a vein and then lay down, sated.
“Your turn,” she said. “I’ll watch out for you.”
Yolanda positioned herself as she’d seen Daina do and the tube between her own eyes extended. She stabbed it into Mr. Rodriguez, felt her saliva go into him, and then began sucking his blood. It was bitter. Not terribly tasty. Maybe he was drunk, too. She felt her abdomen extending, making room for the blood, stretching her out and making her fatter at the same time. When her body was filled to capacity with Mr. Rodriguez’s blood, she stopped. She separated herself from his calf and turned to find her friend. How slowly she moved now, too! How heavy her body was; her little legs buckled under her weight, her rounded ass literally dragging on the man’s skin—she felt herself defecate without control onto Mr. Rodriguez.
It delighted her. Why should she control where and when she defecated?
The delight shouldn’t have surprised Yolanda, who had learned the hard way back in Mexico that what came out of her body afforded her far more meaning and joy than what went into it.
Together the friends made their way back to the bottom of the box spring, where they slept side by side.
Yolanda woke up hungry, made her way to a fat vein and immediately gorged herself. Everything was different: the skin her teeth broke was silky, almost slippery, the man’s smell sharper, and the blood she sucked bitter but delicious. It rushed to fill her body. It was the deepest pleasure she’d ever felt. She had been intelligent as a human being, sensitive to systemic imbalances and environmental changes, and the pleasure she felt at sucking this new blood sharpened her intelligence, made her feel fully capable for the first time in her life.
She stood poised on the vein, hugging it with her many legs, and wondered whose blood she was sucking. No way this was Mr. Rodriguez. She knew she was too full to eat again any time soon, but it was all she wanted to do: stay on this vein forever, live an endless loop of blood-sucking and waiting to get hungry again. That was what people like the Rodriguez’s did, wasn’t it? Bought things, used them, got rid of them; ate too much and spent time working off the extra flesh.
She took a look around. There weren’t any other bugs there. All this human blood, just for her. Who was it, Mrs. Rodriguez? Another person? She couldn’t tell. She went back for more, broke the skin, sucked in as much as she could until her body was so bloated it threatened to burst. Yolanda wanted to see Daina, to tell her about how well she had fed herself, to proudly show her friend her engorged body, but when she looked for her, Daina was nowhere to be found.
Yolanda felt dizzy with joy at being full of the human’s blood. She flexed her legs on the vein, hugged it one last time, and then made her way off the leg and back down to the corner of the mattress. There she waited, though she didn’t know for what. For one of the Rodriguez’s to come close enough to her that she could latch on. To sit back and wake up in Mexico. The desire to be no longer full so she could eat again was catching up to the desire to see Maria.
She stood steady, keeping alert, and concentrated on her daughter. What would the girl be doing right now? Altering her wedding dress, picking out flowers, bickering over table assignments? The image of the girl, whose face was the spitting image of Javier’s, and looked little like Yolanda’s own, merged uncomfortably with the way she thought of the Rodriguez’s.
Would she be tempted to feed off Maria? What about Javier? There had been some talk of Maria trying to track him down, to invite him to the wedding. Would Yolanda bite him? What would she have the courage to take?
Hope. It had been Yolanda’s problem as a human, and it was to be her problem as a bedbug, too. It was her natural impulse to be optimistic, and she fell into it like quicksand. When she became pregnant, just a girl, she was sure she and Javier would get married and live happily ever after. And when Javier disappeared, she didn’t become bitter, as her mother had, as her friends and cousins predicted she might. She held out hope that he would return with a plausible explanation for his absence and claim Maria.
The way she hoped so effortlessly, against all reason, had fueled her emigration to Las Vegas, too, illegal and risky. It was her hope that had allowed her to send money every month to Maria and her mother—she was the bridge that connected them, yet they knew each other better than Yolanda knew either of them. She pushed the thought away.
Mrs. Rodriguez woke up and spoke.
“Hey,” she said. “Wake up. He gets back at eleven.” Her voice was deep for a woman’s, sultry.
“What time is it?” The voice was male. Not Mr. Rodriguez.
“It’s seven-thirty. But I want to get out of here so the housekeepers can give it a good clean.”
“Just a little more,” the man said. They embraced and made noises of exchanging love.
Afterwards the man said, “Do you want to take a shower with me?”
Mrs. Rodriguez hesitated; seemed conflicted. “No,” she said. “We need to leave. I don’t know what time the cleaners will come. I want to be out in the city when he gets here.”
“Can I go with you? I don’t have to be at the panel until the afternoon.”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Just hurry up and shower if you have to take one here.”
She swung her giant chubby legs over the side of the bed and into her pajama pants. The shiny teal of them caught Yolanda’s weak eyes. She watched the woman walk towards her suitcase and bend over.
“Come on,” she said.
“Are you even going to leave him?” the man with delicious blood asked.
“Yes,” Mrs. Rodriguez said and Yolanda detected defensiveness. An emotion she herself never had the luxury of expressing. “But I’d rather not do it with you in the next room showering. If you don’t mind.”
The delicious man got out of bed and went to Mrs. Rodriguez. Yolanda grew curious and made her way down onto the carpet until she could see their fuzzy outlines. He embraced her. Mrs. Rodriguez wept.
“I love you,” she said. “But I’ve been with him for so long.”
“I know,” the delicious man said. “I know.”
He went into the bathroom and Yolanda heard the rushing water of the shower. She scurried over to the armchair and climbed up it. Mrs. Rodriguez undressed. She was a chubby, beautiful woman and Yolanda was struck by the loveliness of her shape and the regal way she held herself. She wore gold necklaces, two or three, and matching bangles on each wrist. She pulled her hair back and Yolanda noticed gold earrings, too. She walked into the bathroom and left the door open.
Yolanda followed her, climbed up the counter and then up to the top of the mirror where she could see them safely. Mrs. Rodriguez didn’t take her jewelry off to bathe. This made her look like some sort of ancient queen. She held her face in her hands and cried into them. Yolanda could only make out her outline, but something about the woman’s posture moved her. It reminded her of something, of someone, some action she’d lived back when she was a human, but she couldn’t remember what exactly.
The delicious man comforted Mrs. Rodriguez and Yolanda stayed in the bathroom after they’d dried off and dressed. She heard them leave and considered what this new man meant for her return to Mexico. He was from Mexico City, too—she could tell by the way he talked. But did he live here? Yolanda would have to get into Mr. Rodriguez’s suitcase, when he came back from wherever he’d gone for the night. She explored the shower, injected her saliva into the soap for the hell of it, then tasted it, and spent the morning making sport of jumping over the rings that hung the shower curtain.
The door opened then slammed, and the sound of Mr. Rodriguez shouting startled Yolanda. She hurried down to the towel rack and hid on the back of a hanging towel.
“A third rate, effeminate little faggot of a man!”
“Calm down,” Mrs. Rodriguez said. “Sit down.”
“A male nurse!” he boomed. Yolanda worried for Mrs. Rodriguez. What if her husband hurt her? Why wouldn’t he? She crawled out into the room, perched herself on the bar.
“He’s a nurse anesthetist.”
“He’s still a nurse,” he growled.
“I don’t care,” she spat. “He loves me. He doesn’t hurt me.”
“When have I ever hurt you, Leti?”
“I know about you,” she said. “I know what you did. I know about Adriana, and Chus, and I know there are others. There must be. That’s why I started up with him. Only because you were already doing it.” She was calm.
Mr. Roriguez didn’t respond right away. “They didn’t mean anything. You were away, or I was. I never left you.”
“But you did. When you were with them, you weren’t with me. I would call you sometimes, and you wouldn’t pick up. When you were in Europe, or here.”
“I missed a few phone calls, so you’re leaving me for that little clown? You’re insane.”
“You were doing it for years. Were there any years you were faithful to me?”
“Faithful? You’re the one who’s walking out!”
“You take me for granted.”
Mr. Rodriguez balked. “I made four million pesos every year for the last decade. What did you want me to do? Serenade you every night?”
“That would have been a start.”
Mr. Rodriguez laughed a little and it sounded real. Mrs. Rodriguez sat in the chair and put her feet up.
“Even this trip,” she said. “You told me we’d be together. You told me we’d see that magic show!” Yolanda was moved by her pain, evident in the woman’s tone, and even more by her boldness. How many complaints did Yolanda have against the men in her life? Too many. When had she voiced them? It never even occurred to her to do so.
“I could’ve just stayed at home,” Mrs. Rodriguez said, quieter now.
“It was one night in Los Angeles. I’ve given you—whatever you’ve wanted.
“This is a veterinary conference, not a honeymoon.”
Yolanda spotted Mr. Rodriguez’ suitcase. She would have to get in it as soon as she could. He stood on the balcony, an enormous blurry figure with a bald head and a pink button-down shirt. No pants. His wife sat defeated, her legs spread apart, in the armchair Yolanda had sprayed with Febreze when she had been a human like them.
That woman. That human she used to be. Yolanda scoffed at the memory. All that flesh and blood to drag around, make arrangement after arrangement for. She gave her legs a little kick in unison, took relief in their spring.
“Give me one more night,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “Before you see him again. Before you decide for good.”
Mrs. Rodriguez shrugged.
Her husband said, “I have to shower.”
“Then shower.” She spoke to the wall, while her husband spoke to the air.
Yolanda the Human had a relationship to time that was impeccable. Early to the bus every morning. Early to work. Paid her rent early. Yolanda the Bedbug’s relationship with time, though, was fuzzy. Still she knew her daughter’s wedding was soon, but didn’t know how much time had passed since the Rodriguez’s fight. She remembered, vaguely, that their flight back to Mexico was before the wedding. At least Mr. Rodriguez would be returning. So why did his suitcase sit there day after day? Why were they all still in Las Vegas? It was meant to be temporary, for all of them. Yolanda was hungry and tired and she wanted to go home.
When she woke again the room was empty, her vision was clear, and she had no sense of her body. She was frozen with terror. Reality approached her like a terrible sunrise. Was she a human again? The woman who begged people to help her, and when they wouldn’t, she accepted their refusal quietly, quietly? Or was she the insect whose drive was pleasure and the simple continuation of being alive? One more second, one more second, each one felt good, she’d take as many as she could get. Yolanda closed her eyes, and willed herself to be the bug.
She opened them again and focused on the bedspread. No, she thought. She changed her mind. She wanted to be a human again. This time she would change. She would find a way to be stronger. She would return to Mexico no matter what, see her daughter marry. How? The question mocked her, bedbug or human.
She heard the door open, then close. The unhappy couple entered the room.
“Oh my God,” Mrs. Rodriguez whispered. “Look.”
Yolanda looked up, regarded the woman. She had felt so much for her when she’d watched Mrs. Rodriguez cry, known she wanted to choose the man with tastier blood, felt torn between her husband and her lover. Now Yolanda hated her for her options. She saw the woman’s heft, covered tastefully in white linen trousers and a silky button-down, as a robbery, a hoarding. She’d taken it from Yolanda, she felt, but of course that made no sense. Yolanda tried to meet her eye, but Mrs. Rodriguez refused.
Her body was returning to her in a slow, sad something—what was it? She had no words again, and what did it matter? Maria was lost to her immeasurably, the two of them not like normal mother and daughter, but rather like two grains of salt in the Pacific.
The bedspread, Yolanda noticed for the first time, was shiny. A blanket shouldn’t be that way.
“Jesus Christ,” her husband said. “I’ll call downstairs. Wait outside.”
Yolanda braced herself and waited for these strangers to tell her who she was. Look at your body, she willed herself. See who you are for yourself. Don’t wait for them to tell you.
Linda Apple has been a full-time artist for over fifty years. Her goal is to create art through painting, sculpture, or assemblage that stirs the imagination and inspires the viewer to notice the everyday moments of our real or imagined life. She also creates special one-of-a-kind works on request. www.etsy.com/shop/applearts.