How a perfectly innocent young lady with plenty of friends caused the brutal murder of at least one thousand bees.
Because she carelessly wiped her sucker against the bush, the bees came. First, one. Nuzzling into the prickly green bramble-sticks. Attracted by the faint aspartame stickiness perfuming the taught needles’ shiny varnish. Enpapping his little furry beak in his prescribed yet always desperate search for melilotusessence.
Then more came. Sniffing ravenously. Forsaking the flimsy but dependable suckleblooms for the promise of something new. Something watermelon.
By the end of the weekend, a small colony had taken residence in the bush. Prospectors on a common mission. Tiny devil minions whipped into a single-minded fracas against the stoical bush. Threatening to terrorize and violate passers-by. Frightening the children. Disconcerting the residents.
It was like totally so her fault.
The sucker-wipe she had learned from a Sex in the City episode. With her own twist. In the episode, the weight-sensitive, but actually very skinny character pours dish soap on a cake to stop herself from eating it. Walking back from a totally fattening lunch of rice, beans, peppers, onions, corn, lettuce, guacamole, cheese, barbequed beef, salted and fried chips, and a Diet Coke, she already regretted grabbing the sucker on the way out. Almost as a reflex, she had dipped her hand into the glass bowl at the hostess station next to the door.
Watermelon, her favorite.
She fingered the sucker in her pocket while saying ciao to her girlfriend. One kiss on the cheek. The sucker formed a tiny bulge in the stretched white denim near her panty line. A light promise to do a movie-night on Saturday--a promise which neither her nor her friend intended to keep or to hold the other to--and then she was off on her way.
June then, and not long until the gloom would wear off and the ‘bikini body’ foreboded by Marie Claire, In Style, US Weekly, Vogue, the older-but-still-sassy woman from the TV news, and The Los Angeles Times would be necessary. The last thing she needed was empty calories. But before she could stop herself, once her friend was out of sight, she quickly unwrapped the boiled and hardened sweetness and plunged it into the elastic insides of her cheek.
For three blocks, she slurped the sucker and let her surroundings seep into her thoughts. The difference between “Retirement Community” and “Assisted Living Facility.” If some street signs had to be special-ordered, or is there a stash somewhere to choose from?
Then she remembered her promise to herself: to lose five pounds by the summer. Her already tardy promise.
For one and three quarters blocks, she pinched the white straw between two fingers like it was someone else’s soiled underwear, and looked for a trash can to toss the sucker into. But all the lids were closed, and she wasn’t about to foul up her hands for something so small as a sucker.
So for another half block the sucker went back to the easiest place to carry it and she continued stimulating the sucker with the laterals of her tongue. But now she couldn’t think of anything save the sucker. This would have to come to end, she decided. Passing an embankment, she smacked the sucker against the concrete, envisioning the frail candy shattering into watermelon snow-flakes. The stick she could dispose of later. But it didn’t happen. The sucker just went tick against the precast portland.
Good enough, she thought.
She could still taste the watermelon in the corners of her mouth, like the lingering sensation of a sure touch long since removed. Those memories were enough for her, weren’t they? So too shall be the taste of the sucker.
She continued on for another block, when her cell phone rang. By the end of the conversation, the sucker was back in her mouth. She couldn’t say how long it had been there. Two blocks? Three? Obviously this called for more drastic measures. If she didn’t want a colon cleanse again. Or the Max-Thin capsules that had kept her awake for the greater part of five days. Or the all-acai diet that had made her pee turn purple. She was close to home now, but she knew she couldn’t be trusted. The sucker was already half-gone.
She plucked the tangy treat out from between her taut lips. Remembering the aforementioned Sex in the City episode, she searched for something to sully the sucker with. Doggy’s doody on the sidewalk. Too revolting. A lamp post. The concrete hadn’t stopped her suck; why would metal? So finally she reached out and dragged the sucker through the unruly hedge lining the sidewalk, for most of a block. The tall viridian thicket tickled her wrist. By the feel of it, the sucker-head was meeting some resistance in the form of leaves and twigs. Suggesting enough stroking and rubbing to transfer whatever lived on the tiny spikes of the bush onto the sticky surface of the sucker.
Good, she thought.
Upon arriving at her apartment, she tossed the soiled sucker into the trash, having successfully avoided contact with her mouth but having been unsuccessful in locating a garbage can on the way. Lying in her bed that night, she ran her tongue around her lips once more. The scent of the watermelon gone. Stickiness gone. Never to be had again, that exact taste of that precise sucker. Her tongue slowly traversed her smooth lips slick with saliva. Thinking about the sucker in the trash, her chest rose and fell more deeply.
Long before she went to bed, the first bee had already scouted the bush.
In the morning, before she woke, there would be more of his flying friends.
* * *
Dawn break, the first flickers of heat tickling the armpit cracks in the sidewalks. Some sorts of small-scale tectonic protests created special for human co-ambulation. The bush, alive with the golden insects warming their wings in the sun. Gaining confidence, the bees. Suckling the sweet scent now deserted her lips. Gobbling greedily. Heedlessly. Dropping dead from the additives and preservatives. New recruits more and more to take the fallen soldiers’ places in the sacred mission to serve the Queen. The bush seemingly on fire with noise and furious activity.
Gross, said one passer-by.
Oh my goodness, said another.
Meanwhile, she dozed. Sunday, this. No need to get up. Especially when to awaken would mean to obliterate yesterday forever. And to face breakfast, taking her one step further away from the goal.
The goal. The goal the goal the goal. To wear short-shorts without feeling like everyone was staring at her thighs. In the wrong way. To look like those girls in the television commercials eating those burgers in their bikinis. She knew they didn’t eat that crap, but that wasn’t the point. That the boys thought that all girls should be able to eat 2,000 calories per meal and still be able to roll an orange down their abdomen was enough. Enough to obligate her to sleep through breakfast. To ignore the bush-dusted tasty treat in her trash tin. Thirty-five grams of fat in a quarter-pound bacon cheeseburger. Thirty-Five! That is like, what, seven-hundred watermelon suckers?
Nobody could pass by the hedge for the entire day. Kids and adults looked both ways before they crossed the street to the other sidewalk. Checking their shirts to make sure none of the apian pests’ paw pads had stuck to them. Quickening their pace and shooting their glances.
* * *
On Monday, the exterminator was called by one of the local landlords. He drove from past downtown, forty-five minutes pushing through the city’s choke-points in the squeaky frill-less van. Unafraid of all types of pest, he tarped off the bush and with rote movements filled it with metallic-tasting steam. Inside the vinyl tarp, one bee dropped, then another. They had been too busy with their sacred mission to notice that they were being trapped. They panicked, searching through the phthalocyanine haze for escape. But there was none, and when the exterminator pulled the tarp back, after finishing his Big Gulp and yesterday's newspaper, a hundred dozen bees lay dead on the sidewalk.
And that’s how she caused the death at least one thousand bees. And moved one seven-hundredth of a burger closer to her goal.
Totally worth it.
Zac Locke lives in West Hollywood, CA. He has worked as a baseball umpire, television producer, bartender, gardener, Spanish translator, computer programmer, and lawyer, among others.