Nonfiction by Shilo Niziolek
Spring is near. The bees are coming out in force. Yesterday, a giant bumblebee came buzzing in through the sliding back door we leave open for the dogs.
“BEE!!!” I hollered and took off down the hallway into my bedroom as my roommate did the same, though years previous, as we sat in my parent’s living room on the coast, this same friend sucked a nasty wasp down a vacuum hose after it had intruded when we left the front door open hoping for a breeze. I cracked open my door and saw the bumble floating in front of the mirror. Maybe when it spotted its own reflection in the mirror it thought, Are you my twin? Or maybe it thought, What is a bee like me doing in a place like this? At the very least it must have decided that it was not, in fact, a good day to die, because a moment later my partner called from the living room that the bumble had made its exit the same way it had come in.
I ran out and shut the door tightly, just in case the next one was a wasp.
This morning a sugar bee was seen floating just outside the same sliding glass door. The cool, fresh morning air and all the sounds of the neighborhood drifted through the house: the one lone mourning dove who sits atop the power-pole and talks of the partner it lost sometime this last year, the gaggle of crows flitting from giant cedarwood to giant evergreen making a ruckus as they go, the squirrels chasing each other up and over fences, through the arborvitae trees of my neighbor’s yard, tightrope walking the powerlines and dangling their front ends over them to chitter-taunt my dogs in the yard below. I have been working to try to put names to the birds that I hear in the trees of my street, but I think they mimic each other, which makes everything a bit more confusing when trying to understand a foreign language.
When I noticed the sugar bee about to make the grave mistake of entering my dwelling, I leapt up from the couch and pulled the sliding door shut gently, so as not to accidentally catch up the little fellow in all the commotion and squish his miniature body between glass and steel. The bee landed on the edge of the screen door and sat at such an angle that I could put my face right up to the glass and see the whole side angle and back of his body. He began to do what I can only describe as meticulously groom himself.
I am usually too busy running from bees to observe them, like that time when I was 16 years old, driving my old Ford Ranger down the side street by my old house. I often like to drive slowly, to mosey my way down side streets and backroads. At the time that a bee entered the open window of my truck, I was only cruising at around 10 mph, maybe even less. Without a second thought, when the bee flew in, I flew out. The scene was much like you imagine. A rather large bee, or so my memory claims, flew in. I removed my hands from the wheel, unbuckled my seatbelt, opened the door, and hopped out. It wasn’t until I turned to see my vehicle veering to the right of its own accord, or the look of profound astonishment on my ex-boyfriend’s face as he turned to look at me, mouth gaping open, that I realized what I had done. Lucky for us, we had been moving at a snail’s pace. David, after turning from me in disbelief, unlatched his belt as quickly as I had, slid to the driver’s side of the truck seat, and stepped on the break right before the tire had made its way up over the curb and into a powerline.
At the time, rationality had been shut off, and we were still at the beginning of our relationship, so what would have later turned into an enormous fight leaving insults and hurt feelings scattered all over the corner of 3rd and Klatskanie was instead a space filled with raucous laughter, and a story that we couldn’t tell without laughter spilling from our lips.
I am not quite positive where this deep-seated fear of bees grew from, as I am sure it had to come from somewhere. It is possible that it was a by-product from a road trip we took when I was very young. A story I have been told, though I am not sure it is even my memory to keep. We were traveling down the road in a secluded area. No towns in sight. A yellow jacket got into the moving vehicle, flew down into my winter jacket, and proceeded to sting me on the back five times. I imagine a scene of me sitting stock-still, a scream not eclipsing my mouth, no tears streaming down my face, because as a young girl I was prone to hoarding my tears inside, for later use no doubt. However, this was probably not the case; otherwise how would my mom have known to pull over on the side of the road, empty a bottle of water into the desert dirt, and turn it into mud, which she then smeared all over the wounds to draw out the infection. She protected my skin, the way she always has and always will. I bet you my petite mother slaughtered that yellow jacket, her brown curls blowing out in the wind like Wonder Woman. And even if she didn’t slaughter it, if the wasp did its worst and then made off to its villainous lair before she could get to it, I bet she wanted to murder it. That is what moms do, after all.
I am not in the habit of making friends with bees. However, with the protection of glass, I found myself with a unique opportunity to examine the little bee up close and personal. The bee used his deep brown back legs and ran them over his body and butt repeatedly. I could see the lines of his body as he groomed. As it turns out, the bee’s stripes are not actually definitive straight lines like I have always thought; they curve with his body, rounding in certain areas, and then they bleed into one another down the center of his back, as if whoever painted him moved the brush from one color right into the next. Color giving way to color.
The bee then moved to his delicate papery wings, like plastic when it has been melted in a fire. He could touch them, and they did not break or bend.
He used his mouth, which extended from his body like a suction tube, to remove the pollen, a speckled-yellow dusting. Suction, pull up, eat, extend, step up, repeat.
The bee flew to the glass pane landing at eye-level. He moved with precision, repeating the previous procedure on the new coat of pollen that the door wore. I never knew how a bee could be so fascinating, so shiny, so sure of his own body, of its construction, its purpose. I wonder what he thought of me, of how I exist in my own body. Did he see the girl who once hid under a blanket in her bedroom for half an hour from a wasp until her younger brother removed it with a Tupperware container? Did he see the girl who would abandon the first vehicle she had bought with her own money because a bee dared fly in through the window? Or did the bee see the woman who was recently driving her niece and nephew to the pool on a sunny day when a bee flew in the back window and the kids began to shriek and cry as if they were truly about to die, so the woman pulled the vehicle over gently, got out of the car calmly, opened the door, and guided the bee slowly back out to freedom, then calmed her niece and nephew, rolled up their windows slowly, and assured them that all would be alright, while inside she understood more acutely the deep betrayal it was to have a woman’s body that could not bear children of her own for her to protect from the dangers of the world?
The sugar bee went along gathering pollen off the door with his lined limbs and bringing them up to his mouth, unaware of the woman looking back at him, bumbling around in her own body, how unsure she often was of what it could and couldn’t do, what it should and shouldn’t do, where it even belonged.
Two squirrels in an adjacent yard began chasing each other in loopty-loops on the sides of the trees, as if it were normal to see the world slanted and all at once.
I slid the glass door back open, treaded to the impression of my body on the dark green upholstered couch, and wrapped myself tightly in a chartreuse blanket cocoon.
Shilo Niziolek is a Portland, Oregon–based writer. Her work has appeared in Oregon Humanities’ Beyond the Margins, Litro Magazine, Broad River Review, SLAB, Persephone’s Daughters, and Heartwood Literary Magazine, among others, and more of her nonfiction is forthcoming in Buckman Journal. Shilo writes because she wants to but reads because she has to, in order to breathe. Her favorite bird is the crow, and she spends an exorbitant amount of free time listening to them call to each other while staring at the blank page.