The Things A Bee's Sting Can Take
By Nicholas Finch
My dad lives out west in a house surrounded by small green and yellow hills that traverse the earth in still waves, rippled by wind. Time works differently out here, at least for me.
Livestock know how time works; crowing gets you up and cows moo the sun down to roost. It gets dark early and I’m never up in time for the sunrise. Life becomes a television show, each summer a new season with the same characters and only slight variations in the plot.
Dad works a lot and it gets lonely but all in all I’m happy. I don’t know what he does, I don’t think he even does, but he wears suits most days and drives places. Sometimes he’s gone the night, but always leaves enough pasta with butter for me to get on and eat. Plus, when he knows he’ll be gone we watch racing during the day. Dad loves racing. It’s tough for me to follow and always lasts too long, but I enjoy the time with him.
The house is big with a few empty rooms and you don’t realize you’re alone until no one answers to anything, and you just are. Alone or not, he’s always there in the morning, before I’m awake. He must be up when the sun is.
My only responsibility each summer is watering the flowers inside the house. It’s an easy enough job. There are different flowers every year—he must let them wilt up and die when I’m gone. Or maybe they die on their own, like most of us. I don’t mind keeping on the flowers. I used to swear that their petals were the whitest thing anybody could ever see, and anything else white would be compared to the whiteness of the flowers’ flesh.
We can’t open the windows because there are bees waiting outside, wanting the flowers, and the heat makes my shirt collar stick to my neck like a wet leaf. I used to curse the bees as wretched beasts wanting to suck up the youth of everything good. Dad once told me they were jealous, not of the flowers, but of us, that a bee’s lifespan is so short it cannot be born with innocence so they want to destroy ours, that their sting can’t kill us, but can kill the pretty things we give life to. When he told me this I didn’t know how wrong he was about pollination and bees but I liked the way his words sounded when he talked about something he thought he knew. So it didn’t matter that Dad was wrong and we keep the windows closed.
By the time I’m awake he’s already gotten the paper, four croissants (two chocolate and two plain), and a packet of Pokemon cards for me. Every morning, there we are at the kitchen table. He scans the Daily Mail newspaper with a small fan blowing against his brow, and I flick through my cards.
I sleep in the living room and Dad sleeps there too, but on the floor, whilst I’m on the couch. When he thinks I’ve fallen asleep he watches TV. It’s always the same. First, he (we) watch the news for a bit and then he flips to a channel where women roll around with each other and kiss. They’re almost always naked, and if not, they might as well be. Sometimes it’s just one girl naked, and she puts her hands all over herself. There’s talking but the TV’s muted so we can’t hear. I imagine that perhaps the girls are talking about where they’re from, maybe so people watching can feel better about it, so they (we) know something about them.
All the women are pretty in their own way, but they end at the eyes, I can’t get past the eyes. I always stare straight at them, and when there are two girls or more I simply alternate, paying equal attention to each. When Dad glances back to make sure I’m asleep, I pretend I am. Dad doesn’t touch himself the way the girls that are alone do, he just watches, watches the pretty girls who end at the eyes. The girls don’t care who’s awake. It kills me that I can’t hear what they are saying.
Sometimes we see the same girls every night for entire summers but know nothing about them. And every summer there are new girls, at least I think they're new, but the eyes are the same – pale blue, like pool water.
The summer night blue-eyed girls end when Dad stops sleeping downstairs, which ends for good when his ex-wife (the one before my mum) moves in. It’s the summer I turn thirteen. The nights Dad had women around were the nights Dad didn’t sleep downstairs. Usually the women were gone in the morning but with the ex-wife, this summer, it’s been different. She’s always here, even when he isn’t. I’m never alone.
I don’t get Pokemon cards anymore, I’m either too old or Dad doesn’t bother with it – maybe both. But there are other things I like now, and the ex-wife is interested in them too, or at least pretends to be. We play video games and I let her think she’s better than she really is. We get on well. And when I left the back door open and bees attacked the flowers she took the blame. I’d never seen Dad so ticked off. I wondered if he would’ve been just as mad at me.
She has yellow hair that browns at the roots and smells like bitter cinnamon. I like it. Her hair is bunched in tight golden curls that remind me of slinkies. I only remember one time all summer when her hair was flat, uncoiled. I remember because it was the first time Dad wasn’t home when I woke up. I went to his room thinking I’d find him asleep but instead it was the ex-wife, naked. She was long and thin and coffee-colored all over. Her breasts were small but firm, close to the body and as colored as the rest of her and her nipples were almond-colored raisins. Her more intimates were the only thing untanned. She was light and delicate looking down there. I thought of the flower-white flesh. I thought of the palm of my hand and the softness the two shared. I dared but look a second more when her eyes caught the light and reflected it back to me. She must’ve wished I was someone else, but she was sweet, told me to sit down next to her.
Never be like him, she said.
It’s been weeks and I’m downstairs again. l go back to Mum’s house tomorrow. I hear them upstairs – awake, grumbling, and moaning – they must think I’m asleep. I turn on the channel I used to watch with Dad and turn the volume up to mute what’s going on upstairs. There is a girl alone with her pool water eyes talking about her more intimates as a flower. I think of the ex-wife’s. The girl tugs at herself and palms herself down there and all I think about is ripping the flowers from their roots but the stems have gone brown. Petals wilted. I must’ve forgotten to water them. The bees are begging for me to let them in. I wonder if Dad’s watching this right now. There is—
Nicholas Finch is the assistant editor of Neon Literary Journal and his work has been published in Catfish Creek and elsewhere. Raised in England, he spent time in South Africa before settling in Florida and his work is heavily influenced by the places he's been and people he's met. Additionally, the work of authors such as Rudy Wilson, Ernest Hemingway, John Barth, Akiko Yosano, Brett Easton Ellis, and Felisberto Hernandez have affected his writing.