Right now there this terrible, terrible heat in New York. It comes every year, so it’s not that big of a deal. It’s not the outdoors, which is hot as summer ought to be. No, it’s the subway platforms. My parents tell me that the subway platforms used to actually be cool in the summer, because they were underground, where the temperature is about 60 degrees, winter or summer. But of course, the subway cars would be sweltering, packed with bodies. Now the cars are air conditioned, and the platforms simmer, where the breeze off the rivers doesn’t reach. You stand in one place and no matter how still you are you drip and drip , down your legs and down your sternum and under your arms and in your hair. Your whole body working so hard to cool down the skin but there is no respite at all to be had. You panic, bodily, because there’s no way to survive something like this, but how else are you going to get home? There’s nothing to be done but breathe through it, though the air itself is breathless.
Getting on the car, then, feels like the grace of god to a sinner in hell. I wish I could say I’m exagerrating, but I’m not. It feels that spiritually, existentially good to get in an air conditioned subway car.
And there I was, slumped in relief at the end of a plastic bench on the A train. I feel a tickle and I brush aside my hair. But the tickle is lower than that and my hair is pinned up. The tickle is uncomfortable, in a familiar, horrible way. I look down in time to see something brown and carapaced disappear under my neckline.
There’s a reaction we have to cockroaches which I think is unique. They’re very old creatures and their sturdy little structure hasn’t evolved for millions of years. They trigger, I believe, something in us that remains from a much older, more aggressive, less rational version of the human race. On sight of a cockroach, our minds say, on instinct, in a tone that brooks no reasoning, “HELL NO.”
And so, with one of these ancient abominations wriggling around in my C-cup, I lean over and very emphatically pull down my shirt, turn out my bra, and shake the thing off of me and onto the ground.
It was pure instinct guiding me, but almost before the cockroach hit the subway floor I realized that yes, I had just exposed my right breast in a public, brightly lit place with some fifteen other people in plain view.
Slowly, as if it was sudden movement that might draw attention to me and not, you know, the nudity, I return my clothing to order. I raise my eyes. Surely they’ll understand. I’ll explain it to them, that an insect, a cockroach, fell onto me from the light fixture like a metropolitan biblical plague. They’ll laugh. This won’t be a big deal. I’ll just explain it to them.
I look up and I look around. No one is looking at me. No one is looking at all, even furtively. No one noticed that I had exposed myself on the train.
I look down. The roach, a small one, was disoriented and had not moved from beneath me. I crush it under my shoe - it crunches and leaves a thick smear of slime.