It was the summer after fifth grade when you started to find them, crisp little yellow and black bodies on windowsills around your mother’s house. You’d gotten a bad sunburn at Maddie Studenbach’s pool party, so you were staying inside peeling translucent layers of scorched skin off your forearms and running your fingers through the dust gathered on neglected surfaces. You found the first one on the windowsill in your bedroom. You picked up its tiny body gingerly and put it in a tiny cup on your desk with your plastic pencil sharpener and a handful of thumb tacks. Throughout the afternoon, you returned to it and stroked the bright fur of its body. It was soft. Softer than you’d expected. You held it up to your ear and gave it a shake, but it did not make a sound. All the buzz was gone.
The next morning, you found three more of them on your windowsill. You brushed them into the cup with the one from the day before. You knew you should tell your mother, but you felt responsible, as if the bees had come for you. Maybe, like the fat flies drawn to the stacks of raw patties by the grill in the summer, the bees were attracted to you. You had begun to sweat more in the past few months. In the last weeks of the school year you’d sweated through your uniform shirts every day by lunchtime. You’d walked with your arms pinned to your sides; you were careful not to broadcast your shame.
So, you kept the bees a secret. On the third day, you ventured out to check other sills. You found more bodies in every room. Taking an empty shoebox from under your bed, you went and brushed all of them into it. You sang a song under your breath as you worked.
She sells bee shells by the seashore. She sells bee shells by the seashore.
It made you laugh, thinking of your bees in a tourist shop by the ocean, their little bodies painted like the novelty hermit crabs you’d seen on vacation. It was a kid joke. Maddy Studenbach would have hated it.
There were at least fifty in the box by the time you finished. They rattled against each other. A carpet of orphaned wings and limbs collected beneath them. Your skin was pink and new, and you lay on the balding carpet with the shoebox. You picked one out and held it between your thumb and forefinger. You squeezed it, feeling the resistance of the exoskeleton. It gave way in your hand, the body collapsing inwards, shards of wing sticking to the darkness inside. You dropped it on the carpet and smushed it in with your shoe, pushing its bee guts deep into the threadbare pile. You went to the bathroom to wash your hands. The water ran and ran and ran and ran until it got hot enough for steam to rise from the basin. You held your hands under the stream till they were stained scarlet like your shoulders. When you finally turned off the sink, you dried your hands on your mother’s still-damp bath towel, but you could still feel the bees body collapsing against your fingers.
By the end of the summer, the shoebox was full, more than full, and on the last day before sixth grade began, you took it out to the back yard and scattered the bodies under the bushes. They crunched under your new shoes. You jumped and stomped, trying to stamp them in the dirt. That night there was a thunderstorm, and the rain beat against the roof of the old house. You dreamed of the bees being lifted by a wave, washing over the house, washing over the whole neighborhood, lifting up your bed and carrying you out to sea, washing away the smell of your body and replacing it with salt water. You marveled at their brightly painted bodies.
Alex Evans lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. He spends his time writing stories, making coffee, drinking wine, and teaching English composition to uninspired undergraduates. His small fictions have appeared in X-R-A-Y, Soft Cartel, and more. Find him on Twitter at @alexevansohio.