The Northville Review
an online literary journal
Infested with Louse

Matt Rowan

Woke up this morning to it singing James Taylor. It has a terrible singing voice, nasal and vaguely operatic at all times. Never sings any songs reminiscent of opera, though.

A magical louse.

Who cares that it’s magical, it itches and does worse things than you’d probably guess, worse even than bad operatic singing.

I’m infested by it. It explained it had infested me the day it appeared, out of the blue.

“Hey, up here, on your shoulder.”


“It’s me, a louse. Giant-size. And I can speak, but I don’t need to tell you.”

“What is that?”

“Singular of lice. Some people are surprised I can talk.”

“Louse’s the singular of lice?”


“And you’re one?”



“Anyway, you’re infested with me, by me. However you want to say it.”

“But there’s just the one of you?”


“I’ll deal.”

“Good luck, I’m a real nuisance. Plus with the talking. I also sing, which I love, but my singing is not for everybody. I’m kind of magical in that I can sing and talk, and dance on occasion, when the mood strikes.”

“I said I’ll deal.”

But I haven’t dealt with it very well at all. It’s bigger than it seemed at first, physically. Hideous as you’d think, maybe more than you’d think.

Gets in the way of my love life.

I’m combing my hair and there he is, louse. Just there on the sink’s counter-top in my bathroom, criticizing that I part my hair down the middle.

“You look old-timey, dapper, with your hair like that.”

“Which is what I’m going for.”

“Then you shouldn’t wear a gray sweatsuit.”

“I like to be comfortable!”

If he just kept quiet I might be able to ignore him. Sure my dates wouldn’t be able to, but I’m working on reasonable excuses for its being there, on me.

“I like to think of him as more a pet than a parasitic infestation,” I tell her, my date.

“You do see how he sabotages things, don’t you?” Louse chimes in, talking to my date. “This man is not a glutton, not nearly as boorish as he allows himself to seem. It’s all part of a probably unconscious plan to keep himself without a mate.” The only previous sounds were my eager slurps and loud open-mouthed chewings of approval. My date has been staring at me in mock (or real) horror for quite a while, somewhat to my dismay. It’s made for an awkward dining experience. But it feels tolerable enough, good enough. My expectations are minimal, very low. I’d come in just wanting my date to pay her half of the bill, then we’d call it a night.

But no.

My louse can’t stand idly by.

“What, are you trying to sabotage my date? This lovely lady didn’t ask for your two cents. Geez, Louse. I wouldn’t try to sabotage your lice sex, if that’s even what you do.”

Then my date says, “You’ve considered having the thing removed, right? By a professional?” She says it like she’s been thinking of nothing else throughout dinner, despite all the interesting things my louse and I have said.

“Yeah, but this is easier. Status quo and suchlike. Plus, remember I said by now it’s almost like he’s a pet?”

“That’s not the real reason he keeps me. He says it’s because he’s lazy, and he directs your attention to a really seriously malignant-looking birthmark he should have had frozen off a long time ago but won’t do it, as though this example of possibly fatal apathy is proof that he is lazy. The birthmark was proven benign a long time ago, by a reputable dermatologist,” says my louse, who will not stop. He directly addresses my date. “The real reason is, he’s wrapped up in this love affair with a woman who doesn’t even love, ever. He’s obsessed with her and he’s letting his obsession dictate his reality. So he pushes you away, and he pushes every other woman away.”

“I don’t do that. If you’re talking about Stephanie, let’s just say I know sweet Stephanie Kingsley is the only woman for me. I’d never eaten sushi before I saw Stephanie eat it. Turns out I like it, too.”

Next, my date decides she’d rather leave than stay, so she leaves. My louse sticks around near my clavicle but mostly on my left shoulder. Weighing me down, again.

“Why do you do it to yourself?” my louse asks.

“I do it because I know what love is, ok? Love is pursuing a woman despite the obstacles. Despite that she may be with another man — whom she treats badly, I might add, by keeping up her romance with me.”

“She also treats you badly in that scenario.”

“But not as bad, which is an important distinction.”

“Most people would say worse.”

“How do you figure?”

My louse relates to me how everything hitherto this time had come to pass. Stephanie and I had dated. I once peed in her bed after a long night of debauch. She was mad at first but eventually decided it didn’t matter. Then, after days and weeks had passed, she returned to the issue of my peeing in her bed, suggested I had serious issues with incontinence and subsequently threw it in my face when she knew it would gain her the advantage. Then she started sleeping with my friend, Steve, who became her boyfriend until he died in a freak motorist-pedestrian accident in which he was the motorist and the pedestrian was a seventy-year-old man. The senior was propelled through Steve’s windshield, after Steve collided with him, speeding because he was late for work at the local Kroger. The man became a missile, impaled Steve, went right through his sternum. Some weeks after the funeral, Stephanie took up with this other guy who writes bad poetry and is always trying to outwit me lyrically. We’ve engaged in several heated exchanges over the internet that I feel I’ve won.

“So what’s your point, Louse?” I say, tired of him laboring over every detail, especially because it’s boring to hear things critical of your past and present behavior.

“My point is, why are we parked in front of Stephanie’s apartment again?”

“I want to introduce the two of you,” I say.

“Look, I’m not trying to be the physical embodiment of your agonized conscience. I was trying to be a prickly burden like the rest of my kind. The only difference is I’m magically large and can speak and sing. Otherwise I’m like every other louse out there. I eat your blood and dead skin and crap like that. What I’m trying to say is, though I don’t have a stake in any of this, I really think you should climb back down the fire escape, ditch the meat cleaver you’re wielding, and drive away from Stephanie’s apartment and, metaphorically, her life, forever.”

“And that’s why you’re not me,” I say, but when I turn to see Louse on my shoulder, he’s not there. He’s not anywhere. There’s a note taped on my shoulder.
It says I never listen, do I? It says, because of that I’ll never learn.

I drop my cleaver and it makes a clanking sound all the way down to the alley pavement.

I get back in my car. I bite my fist so hard it bleeds.

About the author

Matt Rowan lives in Chicago with his girlfriend and two small dogs. His girlfriend is Ashley Collier who co-edits Untoward Magazine with him. Yay! His story collection, Why God Why, is forthcoming from Love Symbol Press. You'll soon find more of his work in Artifice, Requited and Another Chicago Magazine. You can also find him at