“This place used to be crawling with bees,” said Jenny’s older cousin. “Literally crawling. They’d crawl all over your soda if you left it alone. You’d always be watching out. You’d be afraid of getting stung. It happened all the time. Kids were going to the nurse’s office in droves–”
“What’s a drove?”
“Like a herd. Like a bunch of kids. There were a lot of kids going to the nurse’s office. Do you still have a nurse’s office? Or is it, like, telemedicine?”
“I think there’s a nurse, but nobody goes.”
“Well anyway, that was the main reason you went, bee stings. Some kids were terrified because they were allergic to bees. They weren’t allergic to peanuts. The scariest thing about a peanut butter sandwich was that there might be a bee on it. Well, if the sandwich had jelly. They liked sweet stuff.”
“So they could pollinate it?”
“You can’t pollinate a sandwich. But I think that was the idea. We never thought there might be a shortage of bees. It seemed like a good problem to have. We didn’t know farmers liked them. Farmers liked rain, we knew. It was weird to think, on a rainy day, that somewhere a farmer was happy. We had a second-grade teacher, Mrs. Arnold, and whenever it rained she’d say, ‘the farmers are happy.’ But bees, we thought nobody liked them. Except, like, beekeepers.”
“Fencers, you mean?”
“It’s a different thing.”
“Becca’s brother said beekeepers are called fencers.”
“They wear the same suit. Or a similar suit, anyway. I don’t know if a fencing suit would keep bees out. It’s something to ask.”
“Did you ever see a bee?”
“What did I just tell you? I saw lots of them. So many I didn’t think of it like a thing to see. I got stung a bunch, too. I hated it, but it’s not that bad. It hurts, and then it goes away.”
“Like the bees.”
“Like the bees.”
Jenny’s cousin stared out the window. A dog was playing in the park; she could see it if the tennis ball went close enough to the fence. It would scuttle to a stop, limbs splaying out to all sides, and watch the ball for the bounce. Then, when it was sure the ball had stopped, it would attack aggressively. After a while, she didn’t see the dog anymore. The girls had been talking, and Jenny’s friend was tugging at her leg.
“Sara said she saw Matt Bozeman’s penis.”
“He’s your age? Sara’s age?”
“He’s in Miss Thurman’s class.”
“Maybe she did,” said Jenny’s cousin. “When you get to my age, it’s not a big deal who’s seen whose penis. You see some, or you don’t. As long as everyone’s treating everyone okay.”
“Your cousin’s funny,” said Claire.
“I know,” said Jenny. “She’s weird, but she’s funny.”
Jenny’s cousin mussed Jenny’s hair and kissed her on the forehead. She walked out of the room, down the hallway, and out the front door she went. A fly was buzzing over by the window, trying to get out or trying to get in. Jenny couldn’t tell. She wondered what it would be like if the fly was big and yellow, if she was scared it could hurt her, and laughed.
David Iscoe is a teacher, writer, and doer of odd jobs based in New London, Connecticut. He has previously worked as a quality control clerk, an EMT, a retail staffer, a reporter, and a video writer for The Onion.
MUSEPAPER STORY PRIZE #79
* This is the author’s first literary award. *
* This will be the author’s first work to appear in print. *
JULY 17, 2023 / MUSEPAPER STORY PRIZE #79 / "BACK IN MY DAY, THERE WERE BEES" © 2023 DAVID ISCOE