When Olivia woke up and found she had metamorphosed into a giant cockroach, her first feeling was one of relief. Now, finally and unequivocally, she would not be able to go to work. She lay there on her back waving her new limbs in the air.
Olivia’s bed was in the spare room. When they had first moved in together as a throuple, she, Max, and Charlie had planned to sleep together every night. She remembered the shopping trip, full of bravado as they tried first one and then another emperor sized mattress in front of the sales staff. It had occurred to her at the time that the whole thing was a bit performative, but back then she’d found it charming. Charlie’s brittle energy stepping up to the world like it was a dare, Max’s easy grace as he lay in the middle, arms outstretched, Olivia, unfurling her soul like a bright spinnaker in their company as she bounced suggestively to test the springs. She had looked sidelong at her two loves as she dealt with the payment, trying not to laugh. They were family now, a joyous, creative, out-of-the-mould group of beings who had found each other outside the narrow confines of society. They could do what they liked.
But that was three years ago. Now Max and Charlie stayed up late every night and slept until noon in the communal bed while Olivia went to work. She needed her sleep before the early shift. It just made sense. Max was between jobs, smoking weed and gaming to prepare for his creative rebirth. Charlie’s anxiety had rendered her unemployable since she resigned from the tax office. That had been a bad day. Max had sided with Charlie’s decision on the grounds of supporting her mental health. Olivia, wrong-footed and furious, had argued until Charlie cried, and then had gone out and run stormily along the nearest bush track fighting down her rising panic at the prospect of financially supporting three adults on her meagre nursing home carer’s wage. They patched it over eventually and had a long and respectful conference session. Olivia accepted that Max did more of the emotional work. Charlie appreciated that Olivia brought home the bacon, so to speak. They all acknowledged their privileges. Olivia signed up for extra shifts. They slept together for the rest of the weekend.
Oliva gazed up at the ceiling. Birds were chirping in the tree outside. Traffic noise intensified on the highway. All those commuters. All those busses and cars and uniforms and workers and here she was, lying on her back for the longest time she could remember. Cherie would have to do a double shift. Prathiba would probably come in early. Olivia’s phone started to buzz. Work. She lay there, watching it vibrate itself across the bedside table and drop to the floor. She could feel the vibrations in her body, like the sympathetic hum of a finely tuned instrument. Somebody stirred next door. She stretched out her six legs one by one, and experimentally pressed three feet (feet?) against the wall. They stuck, firmly. She pulled herself onto her side. The wall was like a floor to her now. She scurried quickly up it, without thinking, and stopped just under the ceiling. Her clothes on the floor below looked odd. Shock would set in soon. Or maybe cockroaches didn’t feel shock. There was a knock on her bedroom door. Charlie.
‘Are you still home, Liv?’
She must have heard the phone. Olivia tried to speak but the best she could come up with was a kind of a hissing. The bedroom door opened cautiously. Charlie stood there in her oversized T shirt, short hair sticking up in spikes. She always looked softer somehow without her contact lenses in; unfinished. She rubbed her eyes. Looked up. Screamed. Olivia ran to her. Charlie, her face a mask of horror, slammed the door.
Olivia was locked in. She ran around the walls and the floor. The window was closed. She couldn’t open the door. She was thirsty now, and anxious. Charlie’s screams had stopped, soothed by Max’s deep voice. She pressed close to the wall trying to hear what he was saying. He was getting up. They were coming in. Some instinct told Olivia to stay close to the door. They were approaching. She skittered up the wall and waited above the door frame.
Max’s head below her.
‘See? Nothing there. It was a bad dream.’
She waited. Open the door further. Open it open it open it. Max flung it wide. Charlie approached nervously. Now! Olivia threw herself around the top of the door frame, grasping desperately for the wall on the other side. The angle was wrong. Her front legs gripped but the others waved in space. She fell, bouncing off Max’s shoulder, and landing awkwardly on the floor.
‘What the holy fuck?’
Olivia dashed down the corridor, feet scratching and clattering on the wooden floor, but she was too slow. Max and Charlie cornered her with the broom before she had gone two metres. Their pushing and shoving hurt her heart more than it hurt her body. Back in the spare room, bruised, battered, and hungry, she listened to the disgust in the voices of the people who loved her most in the world. Not for a moment did they wonder who she was. They knew it was her and that somehow hurt the most.
Max, smoking, sat with his back to the spare bedroom door. Charlie brought a bean bag into the hallway.
‘We have to feed her.’
‘Or we could just not.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘She’s not exactly her is she? We squash bugs, usually.’
‘Don’t be so cruel.’
‘What are we going to do now she can’t work?’
‘Get a job.’
‘Dunno. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed right now’
The fragrant smoke came under the door and into Olivia’s body through the cracks in her carapace. She relaxed. Nothing mattered now. She would sleep and wait for nightfall.
That night, Charlie’s arm entered the room. She only opened the door the tiniest crack and by the time Olivia opened her eyes, it was closed again. A bowl of water was on the floor. Next to it, a plate of food. Olivia’s vision in the dark was stunning. There was nothing she couldn’t see. The spider in the corner of the room. The shine of oil on the chips on the plate. The crystals of salt. All of it. Hungry as she was, she could not help but be distracted. She approached the plates sideways, looking. A quiet voice came from the other side of the door.
‘Hey, Liv. I didn’t know what you’d like.’
She couldn’t answer. She had no voice, and besides she was eating now, and eating was all there was.
‘It’s OK, I’ll get a job.’
Olivia paused in her eating. What did she care about the job?
‘Maybe this is all a dream, hey. Maybe it will be better in the morning.’
Olivia’s side hurt where the broom had shoved her. One of her legs was stiff. Open the door. Soothe me. Let me sleep near you. I am still here. Love me for who I am. Why hasn’t Max spoken to me? Talk to me. But Charlie had already gone.