Desmond chuckled to himself as a rooster’s call sounded from further down the suburban street, he called home. It was two o’clock in the afternoon and the poor animal appeared to be confused.
Desmond scratched his chin and repositioned his thin frame in the plastic chair on his front porch. The rooster was more than confused: it would crow at all times of the day and night, anytime it felt compelled, with the exception of daybreak, and as far as Desmond understood early morning was the very time roosters should normally crow.
“Must be a young rooster,” Desmond considered aloud, “either that or a psychotic one…” A disturbing thought suddenly forced its way into his thirty-nine-year-old mind. Perhaps this is the start of the apocalypse?
The signs were everywhere to see: rising surface temperatures on Earth; violent weather around the globe; earthquakes, storms and floods; contestants on Australian Idol being described as “new talent”. The world was in a complete state of chaos, it was plain to see.
Desmond sighed. He removed a cigarette from his pocket, lit it with the cigarette lighter he kept on his front porch and blew smoke rings into the afternoon sky.
“Who cares anyway,” he muttered to himself. Bring it on.
Living alone on a disability pension, Desmond had been fortunate enough to acquire his current rented one-bedroom semi through the department of housing. Money was a scarce commodity these days but his doctor had decided he was too crazy to work, and so that was good enough for Desmond.
He considered the doctor’s diagnosis might have something to do with the manner in which, twelve months before, he had arrived at his former government workplace one Monday morning completely naked.
Was he really crazy? Perhaps so, if one ignored the fact that on the Monday in question, he had been hung over from a weekend away at an illegal vodka distillery with his Russian friends and could remember nothing of the incident. But his doctor had decided he was too mentally unstable to continue in a working role and, as Desmond always followed the strict convention of obeying professional advice, he concurred with the doctor’s findings and now drew his small pension each fortnight. He was reassured that he was not the only one in his suburb on a disability pension, as it appeared that every second or third individual in Scrubwood was on a similar arrangement.
One of Desmond’s Russian friends, Anton, had been on a pension for the last ten years and even though Anton’s older brother, Pasha, continued to work in the building game, Pasha appeared more insane than anyone Desmond had yet encountered.
After he had consumed a quantity of spirits and beer, a mad glint would appear in Pasha’s eyes as he related tales of angels and devils. “The Devil is just an angel too,” he would often say. “The Devil is not as important as some would have us believe, eh?”
Both the Russians drank heavily, even more so than Desmond, and their nearby unit was a welcome distraction from the constant boredom Desmond experienced in his frequent solitary existence.
Anton and Pasha’s father had been Chinese—that is to say they came from Russian imperial stock; royalty, and after their grandparents escaped from communist Russia in the early twentieth century, their parents were born in China. Eventually, when Mao Tse-tung came to power, their parents were again forced to flee, this time to Australia where Pasha and Anton were born, and despite their occasional penchant to preserve their Russian heritage the brothers were now more Aussie than Desmond could claim to be.
At that very moment, the confused rooster down the road gave another call and reminded Desmond he had arranged to visit his Russian friends that night for a few social drinks. He had not seen either of them for several weeks and wondered what would be on the menu.
Would it be the usual slab of beer and a five-litre cask of wine? Or, being pension day, would a bottle of vodka be on offer?
After the essential rent, bills, smokes, grog and grocery money was taken into account, Desmond had enough cash left for some takeaway Chinese for the three of them, and he hoped the latter vodka would be supplied.
Desmond knocked lightly on the solid, wooden door of the apartment and waited.
“It’s open,” a voice finally called.
Desmond turned the latch and entered the dimly lit room.
The first thing that grabbed his attention was a musty smell that reminded Desmond of his kitchen bin the day before garbage day. When his eyes adjusted in the dull light, he saw thirty-something Anton’s enormous frame seated on the usual dilapidated brown couch, surrounded by empty cardboard pizza trays. Anton nodded in Desmond’s direction, retrieved a giant glass from a nearby table and took a large sip. “Grab yourself a wine, Des,” he said.
“Any vodka?” Desmond asked in a slightly disappointed tone.
“Yeah,” Anton replied. “In the freezer—I’m savin’ it for dinner. Get yourself a glass from the kitchen. The wine is in the fridge. It’s a very fruity vintage,” he said with a laugh. “The vintage is last weeks.”
Desmond walked to the unit’s small, cluttered kitchen, retrieved a glass as instructed and half-filled it with cask wine from the refrigerator. He returned to the lounge room and took a small sip of the wine. It was very sweet, sickly so.
“You got some money for the Chinese?” Anton asked. He took another large sip of wine. “I’ve already ordered it…”
Desmond removed forty dollars from his pants pocket and placed it on the table. “What did you order?” he asked.
Anton’s large eyes rolled back into his head as if considering the question.
“Let’s see… pork in plump sauce, pork ribs, barbecue pork, and sweet and sour… pork.”
Desmond frowned slightly. “Anything without pork?” he asked hopefully.
“Of course,” Anton said in a disparaging tone, as if offended. “I got some mixed vegetables too, in oyster sauce… there’s only little a bit of pork in it.”
Desmond sighed and plonked himself down on the couch. “Where’s your brother?”
Anton shrugged his huge shoulders. “Haven’t seen him for two weeks… I think he went down the shops.”
Desmond looked around the bare walls of the unit. There were small strange brown trails on the white paint. “That’s a long time to be shopping?”
Anton again shrugged his shoulders; his large stomach shook with the effort.
“I dunno. I don’t ask him his business and he don’t ask me mine. Pasha always does what he wants, ya know. He works too hard old Pasha. He’s always workin’ too hard. He’s a good man, my brother.”
Desmond was often amused how the brothers spoke of each other in glowing terms when they were separated. It was a far different story when they were together and would yell and verbally abuse one another, especially after a large amount of alcohol had been consumed.
Before too long the Chinese food arrived. Desmond paid the delivery man and carried the plastic containers into the lounge room and set them on the table.
“Dig in,” Anton said. He passed Desmond a fork and china plate.
The food was very tasty, albeit every dish contained pork. Desmond ate his fill and left the room to replenish his wine.
“Get the vodka out,” Anton called from the couch. “It’s in the freezer.”
Desmond opened the freezer door and frowned. “There’s no vodka in here,” he called back.
“What?” Anton shouted. He lifted his huge frame from the couch and charged into the kitchen. “Where the hell is it?” he questioned loudly as he gazed into the empty freezer.
“Perhaps you drank it,” Desmond said with a sigh.
Anton frowned. “I’d remember doing that, wouldn’t I?” He scratched his head. “I’m sure I would…” he paused momentarily, and his large eyes bulged, “I think Pasha’s drunk it.”
Desmond shook his head. “I thought you said you hadn’t seen him for two weeks?”
“Yeah, that’s right…” Anton’s eyes rolled into the back of his head, as if again deep in thought. “Well, there’s only two solutions… either I drank it, or Pasha’s pet cockroach stole it.” He laughed hilariously.
It was obvious to Desmond that Anton was now heavily intoxicated.
Half an hour later, the two men sat on the couch in the lounge room. They were now both intoxicated and were discussing nothing much of importance, when Desmond noticed a very large, reddish brown cockroach make its way passed them towards the kitchen. Anton seemed to ignore the roach and so Desmond attempted to do likewise, but fifteen minutes later the roach returned in the opposite direction and turned down the corridor.
“Do us a favour will ya, Des?” Anton asked with a slur. “Let Pasha’s cockroach out, will ya?”
Desmond was puzzled, but reluctantly rose to his feet and followed the roach up the corridor, where it stopped just before the front door. Desmond gazed down at the large insect then instinctively pulled the door open. Instantly, the creature again moved forward, this time out of the doorway, and Desmond gently closed the door behind it.
Desmond walked back to the lounge room. “Was that Pasha’s roach?” he asked.
Anton sleepily nodded his head in the affirmative. “Yeah.”
Desmond was impressed. “It’s well trained, isn’t it?”
Anton laughed and rested his head against the top of the couch. “Yeah… more so than Pasha.” He yawned.
Desmond felt compelled to continue the conversation. “How does the roach tell you it wants to come back in again?”
Anton waved his hand towards the kitchen. “It taps on the window.”
“Yeah,” Anton said with a yawn. “I’m tired now.”
“Can I use Pasha’s computer?” Desmond asked. “I wanna download an MP3.”
“By all means,” Anton replied. “It’s in the end room.” He closed his eyes and instantly fell into unconsciousness.
Desmond sat at Pasha’s workstation in the spare room, activated the computer and waited for the program to load. He was distracted by a rustling noise behind him and turned to see the enormous frame of Pasha emerging from behind a cardboard box. Pasha was half-naked and held a near-empty bottle of vodka in his hand.
“What the hell…” Desmond exclaimed.
“Arrrgh,” Pasha growled. His eyes were wide and had a familiar mad glint in them. “The world’s coming to an end, my friend,” he spoke loudly, “and you know what that means, don’t you?”
Desmond worriedly shook his head. “No idea, Pasha.”
“There will only be one surviving species… and you know what they will be?”
“What?” Desmond asked.
Pasha smiled and growled at the same time. “Cockroaches, of course.” He held out the bottle of vodka. “Do you want some?”
“Thanks.” Desmond took the bottle in his hand, raised it to his mouth and took a quick swig.
“What ya doin’,” Pasha asked.
“Downloading an MP3.” Desmond took another swig of vodka before Pasha snatched the bottle back. “How’d you train that roach?”
Pasha frowned and growled. “Are you calling my brother a cockroach?”
“No, the cockroach in the lounge room,” Desmond explained, “the one you trained to come and go as it pleases.”
Pasha shook his head. “I think you are talkin’ about my brother.”
It took one to know Pasha, at least a little well, to tell he was only joking.
Desmond sighed. “Anton’s gonna kill you when he finds out you drank his vodka.”
“You got any money for another bottle?” Pasha asked.
Desmond shook his head in the negative. “No. I spent all my spare cash on Chinese.”
There was a brief silence before Pasha spoke again:
“Bits of beef stroganoff with borsch…”
“What?” Desmond asked.
“Little bits of Anton’s beef stroganoff marinated in borsch. That’s how I trained the cockroach… it keeps comin’ back for more.”