With Killer Bees
I’m at the post office, in line, trying to mail a package for Mother’s Day, when the pregnant lady two people in front of me just keels over. Everyone stands there for a minute, waiting to see if anyone’s going to do anything, to see who will step up. No one does, so I shout, “Protect her head!” because that’s something I’ve heard people say on TV. Still nobody moves, so I shove the guy in front of me out of the way and stand at the pregnant woman’s feet. Her eyes are open. She’s on her back with her knees in the air, wearing one of those awful jumpers women in late pregnancy sometimes wear, a jean skirt with overall straps and pockets with smiling suns patches sewn on. She looks me right in the eye and says, “They’re coming.”
“Who?” I say. I consider kneeling beside her, but something about the way she’s staring at me, unblinking, keeps me on my feet.
Her resolve breaks for a moment, and her face tenses in fear.
“I don’t know what they’ll do to me.”
“Who?” I say again. I’m wondering what asshole knocked up a crazy lady and left her alone in a post office. She doesn’t have a ring.
“The little ones,” she says.
I look up at one of the postal workers, who I strongly suspect is trained to respond to emergencies but who is just standing there like he’s not. My cousin was a mail carrier for years, and at his main office alone there have been stabbings and robberies and four – count them, four – women in active labor trying to get their last errand done. One was carted off in an ambulance.
“Call 911,” I say, and the postal worker says, “Already done.”
“Help is on the way,” I say to the woman. Now other people are coming to their senses, gathering around her, putting a folded coat under her head. One guy actually goes to the counter and tries to buy stamps.
“It’s too fast,” the pregnant woman moans. “They won’t make it.” And just like that, she sort of pops. That’s what it looks like. She belly deflates, and a thing emerges that shatters and lifts and disperses weakly into the air. I say, “Holy hell,” and someone else screams and this old lady behind me says, “Bees.”
“What?” I glance at her package, addressed to an APO.
“That woman just shat out a whole mess of bees,” she says.
I look up. We all do. The air trembles.
“A swarm,” somebody says.
The bees look contained for a moment, injured or something, clumped together and hovering around a high window, maybe as stunned as we are about why they are in the post office, or how they just came out of this woman. We seem to all remember the woman at once. She’s still on the floor, but now tears steam out of her eyes and into her hair. This man – one of those who was nowhere to be found when she collapsed – starts shaking her shoulders, saying, “What the hell just happened? Lady, pay attention. What happened?”
She closes her eyes.
“I’ll tell you,” she says.
I was having trouble getting pregnant, so I went to the healer. Western medicine, with its catheters and petri dishes, its injections and specimens, wasn’t working, so I thought, Why not try something ancient? Something smarter than the present? I’d heard great things about acupuncture; friends swore by Rolfing. I found Health Keepers online – first appointment free – and drove myself because my ex and I had split up after the third year of trying. The doctor told me to call her Dipping Bird and diagnosed me with rage-based infertility. I said I didn’t feel mad. She said the mind will sometimes mask the body’s response to trauma, and that my body was reacting to the trauma of first being with, then being left by, my ex. A body filled with rage has no space for a baby, she said. She prescribed a wildflower honey fast, said it would promote opening and slow extraction. Rage wasn’t the kind of thing you wanted to purge. The honey fast would draw it out so I could safely excrete it.
I asked how long before I could have a real meal.
She said to come back when I started to believe I didn’t need to eat.
I went home with my bucket of purified honey and complimentary dipper and thought about rage. I didn’t feel rage, not even in a repressed kind of way. I felt lonely. I felt tired. I felt nauseated over the big gulps of honey Dipping Bird had dosed, but that was it. My ex had been broken up over our split. I felt pity, but not rage.
Still, it worked. Like a charm, some might say. Each day I grew a little lighter. I woke up feeling happy. I put myself back together, went out dancing in the evenings. On the toilet, what emerged from my body was like tar. I could tell it was the rage. I took a little more of the honey each day, began writing poetry and smiling at strangers. I started to believe I didn’t need food anymore. I went back to Health Keepers.
Dipping Bird said this was a fragile time, the intermediate period, during which I ought to be careful about the company I kept. I told her about the dancing and the poetry. She looked at me sternly. “Very careful,” she said.
I wish I could say I followed her advice. I trusted her enough by then. But the thing about rage is that it can keep you alert to danger. Without it, you might let down your guard. You might, at a country line dance, lock eyes with the man wearing the biggest cowboy hat you’ve ever seen. The one with the sloe eyes and the obscene belt buckle. Your rage won’t be there to remind you not to follow him to his car, to enjoy the weight of him on top of you until you ask to get up and can’t, and he won’t, and you try, and he forces, and you push, and he pushes back, and pushes, and you understand that rage is strong and sweet will not save you.
His rage will be there. Will get inside you. Will multiply in the space it finds in your body.
I was too embarrassed to tell Dipping Bird, tried doubling up on my doses instead. Thinking to flush him out. But instead – well, you see what happened. You see what is happening right now.
She’s still on the floor. The whole post office has gone silent listening to her. Then the old woman with the APO package groans and says, “You mean for us to believe that you got pregnant with bees because you ate too much honey?”
A couple of people laugh, though it’s not funny, and anyway, nobody can explain what just happened in a way that anyone’s going to believe.
“I just wanted a baby,” the woman says. She goes to rub her belly but it’s flat now, which she is only just realizing. She sits up, perfectly fine, no blood or fluids. She searches for a pair of eyes to focus on, lands on me again. “I’ve had some testing done,” she says, and I kind of look around, hoping she’ll find someone else to receive this news. “They are not ordinary insects. They are dangerous.”
“What, the bees?” the old lady says. “How come they’re just sitting up there?”
“I don’t know.” The woman stands, dusts off her maternity jumper, which now hangs loosely off her shoulders, and resumes standing in line. She holds a stack of envelopes, and the one on top is addressed to a farm. I tap her shoulder.
“What are we supposed to do?” I say. She shrugs.
“Can’t you smoke them or something? To make them less dangerous?”
“You could try that,” the woman says.
The bees are getting louder, and a few people have glanced up at them and left without mailing their packages. But most of us don’t want to lose our spot in line. We don’t want to have to come back tomorrow. As long as the bees stay put, we’re okay with them being up there.
But they don’t stay put.
“Ouch,” the old lady says, and we see one of the fuzzy bodies tumble off her.
It seems the bees are waking up.
The swarm unravels, a long loose thread on hemlines and letters. Before its whip can sting, I run.
When I reach my car, I sit panting in the hot box of my Honda, texting Mazie because who else would I tell?
u wont believ wht hapnd @ po
kiler bez came out of lady
POST OFFICE ALWAYS CRAZY MONDAY
pregnant wit bez!
NEED CREAM AND BREAD
At the grocery store I buy cloverleaf honey. I forget onions and go through the line twice. When I get home, Mazie’s painting her nails. She’s wearing heels and a short black dress.
"Sorry," she says, disappearing into our bedroom. When she comes out she’s wearing the fluffy bathrobe I gave her on our 12th anniversary.
"Nice robe," I say, smiling.
"Thanks," she says, texting.
"Fridays are mine now."
"I know. I forgot."
I put the groceries away and start chopping onions. “Rice or quinoa?”
“I already ate.”
The honey jar shines like it’s lit from inside. I turn off the stove and walk out the door.
When I get home it’s after midnight and the onions smell raw. I’m afraid Mazie won’t be in bed and I’m afraid she will, so I sleep on the couch.
In the morning I wake to the sound of coffee gurgling in the pot. Mazie’s sitting at the kitchen table, reading People’s annual Most Beautiful People issue.
“You’re beautiful people,” I say.
She starts to cry.
At first I’m glad. I want to say, “What did he/she/they do to my beautiful wife?” I want to remind her that this arrangement was her idea and she can stop any time. I want to ask her to wear her black dress just for me.
“Mazie, what happened?”
She closes her eyes.
It’s always like this now, Mazie with her eyes closed, me watching her too closely, looking for signs. Signs that she’s about to leave and signs that she’s about to stay.
“Please tell me it wasn’t some guy in a cowboy hat.”
“I told you. I’m into women right now.”
“Was her name Dipping Bird?”
“Cindi. With an I.”
“Does she have a partner?”
“I don’t know who she has.”
I tell her about the scene in the post office, about the swarm of bees rising from the woman’s skirt. I describe each bee in detail, giving it a name and a particular pattern. I describe them as if they weren’t all alike.
Mazie’s crying again. She gets up and pours two cups of coffee. Fixes mine with clouds of cream. Then she sits with her eyes closed, fingers wrapped around her cup. It’s always like this now, Mazie with her eyes closed, changing. I wait for her. I stay the same.
I think maybe she’s in love with Cindi.
I decide to start sleeping with that woman.
Tracking her down is easy enough. I plug in a few words and news swarms my screen. Everyone’s version of the story is different. It’s a hoax, a prank. She’s gone off her meds. She’s an environmental activist calling attention to the plight of the bees. She’s an alien host. She’s possessed. She’s a clown. She’s an actress in a DIY film. She was hired by the post office to boost sluggish sales.
But I was there and I know what I saw. She gave birth to bees on that dirty tile floor.
Easy enough to find her address. She’s on Facebook. She tweets. I park two blocks away. It’s not stalking; we’re polyamorous. Mazie sees other people and now I do, too.
Except no one answers my knock. Except as I stand on her stoop I get the feeling I’m being watched. Then I hear it: an unkempt sound. A buzzing, a slur. The window shakes. They’re inside, pressed against the glass. The whole house vibrates. I call her name.
“Who is it?”
I hear her inside, rattling the door. I try the knob, pull with all my weight. “Push,” I shout. “Give it all you got.”
Years later, our daughter refuses to believe that we met mid-swarm, that she was conceived in that danger.
The bees she’s seen are artificial.
“Like birds?” she asks. “Like clouds? Like sky?”
About the authors:
Carol Guess is the author of thirteen books of poetry and prose, including Doll Studies: Forensics and Darling Endangered. She teaches at Western Washington University, and keeps a blog here.
Kelly Magee’s first book, Body Language, won the Katherine Ann Porter Prize for Short Fiction. Her writing has appeared in Crazyhorse, The Kenyon Review,Hayden’s Ferry Review, Passages North, Literary Mama, and others. She teaches creative writing at Western Washington University. You can find links to her writing here.