On Being The Grown-Up

Here’s a confession: I have an inordinate fear, almost a phobia, of cockroaches.

This is a fear so serious that in my house no one is allowed to call them cockroaches, because the very word is (as we say in the progressive world) triggering.  Instead, when we want to refer to the loathsome insectile vermin, I force people to say “tangerines.”

As in, “MOM!  There’s a tangerine in the bathroom! Hurry!

I grew up in New Orleans, which if you have ever lived in that city or visited it or stepped foot in it, you may know swarms with not just your regular American tangerines, but the appalling flying version, three to four inches long, dark brown to bright red-brown, depending, apparently, on gender and age.tangerine2

One of my fondest memories from late adolescence comes from when I was taking a run one late evening.  I was coming up on what I thought was a large puddle across the road when – suddenly – the puddle gave the oddest shimmer.  I stopped dead, about two yards away.  And…the puddle split into a million tangerines and scuttled into nearby sewer grates.

I have never really been the same since.

The large brown tangerine, though it lives outside, loves to come inside: through the pipes in your sinks and bathtubs.  Through window sills, under doors, cracks in foundations, straight through the holes in your hopes and dreams.  So almost daily as a child and adolescent and right up until I left my parents’ house for graduate school in Arkansas, I would open the bathroom door or a cupboard door or turn on the light in the kitchen and scream with terror.

My mother would come and kill it for me.  “I used to be afraid of them too,” she told me once.  “That’s what being a mother is,” she told me.  “You learn to get over it.”

I didn’t believe her.

But last night my kid woke me out of a dead sleep at two in the morning.  “MOM! TANGERINE!” and I stumbled into the bathroom with my shoe in hand and smashed it dead.

Yes.  In our household I am the Lord High Slayer of the Tangerines.

I don’t say I’m happy about it.  But I guess my mom was right: the mantle has passed.


(Original art by Cooper Jennings Burgh)


Raised in New Orleans, Kelly Jennings is a member and co-founder of the Boston Mountain Writers Group. She has published short fiction in Strange Horizons and The Future Fire, as well as in the recent feminist SF anthology The Other Half of The Sky. Her first novel, Broken Slate, was published by Crossed Genres. She blogs at delagar.

Related Articles


  1. I have the same sort of fear and loathing of bees and wasps. Before I had a child I wondered how I would react to bees and wasps when playing outside with my child. I was worried that I might end up using him as a human shield instead of calmly going inside together. Turns out it was the latter, thankfully! I am trying hard not to pass on the panic at the mere sight of a bee or wasp causes in me. Last year our area had a huge population boom of wasps and their more ornery cousins, hornets. We ended up staying inside more often than my son would prefer, especially after I found a hornets’ nest inches above my face when I looked up into our apple tree. I still struggle with this, and I worry how I will respond if/when he gets stung.

Leave a Reply