My earliest memory is of a swarm of bees lifting me into the apple tree. I was four, hair the color of chrysanthemums. The bees anointed me their queen and began building a hive around me, their little legs tickling, wings fanning my face as they danced. I never felt afraid. To this day I love the taste of honey.
My mother called the Fire Department. The bees fought bravely, but lost the battle to the hoses.
Next were hummingbirds. They lifted me to a nest made of spider silk, soft and strong in that same apple tree. My father fought his way to the top branches with a trash can lid shield, the hummingbirds dive bombing with needle beaks. Blinded in one eye, he snatched me from the nest.
“No more playing in the backyard,” Mom said.
That summer at the beach, a squadron of seagulls hoisted me by the straps of my one piece, lifting me above the waves. Feathers flew forehand and backhand from the tennis racket my father carried. He snatched me from the sky and we made a run for it.
“At least we know it’s about flying things,” Mom said.
True. Until a river of voles swept me off the monkey bars toward the woods. Voles, a.k.a. meadow mice, are furry little things and riding a carpet of them is luxurious, but they were unable to navigate me through the playground chain link. Lucky for me because voles mate for life.
Was I terrified? Quite the contrary. How would you feel if nature couldn’t keep her hands off you?
Boys and some girls were attracted from an early age, but a move in my direction might elicit bee stings or a hail of guano or a shredded earlobe inflicted by squirrels. A boy named Reynolds was the only one brave enough to approach me in armor fashioned of tin foil. He asked me to the school dance in eighth grade.
Reynolds brought me an orchid on the night of the dance. He wore a beekeeper’s outfit and carried a sturdy umbrella. Dad stood guard at the door to the gym with a shotgun loaded with birdshot and a utility belt with insect repellant, a racket and other precautions.
I was happier than I’d been since the beehive. We made it through a fast dance and into a slow one. I thought I was in love. Then I saw terror arrive on Reynold’s face and felt hot breath on the back of my neck.
“Sorry to interrupt,” the grizzly said, standing ten feet tall on his hind legs. “But you’ll have to come with me.”
“No,” I said, stamping my foot. “Don’t you understand I need to be with my own kind? You’ve made a mistake.”
“This,” the bear said with a sweep of an enormous paw, “Is the mistake.”
“School dances?” I said.
“You were okay as hunter-gatherers,” the bear said. “Arrows and spears were only fair, since most of the time you ended up as snacks. But concrete? Freeways? The whole climate? You’ve taken far more than your share. Time to restart the natural order.”
The gym remained silent. The chaperones weren’t prepared for this. The DJ on the little stage had stopped spinning. My poor father noticed the commotion occurring on his blind side and girded for battle.
I raised my hand to stop him. I knew about Adam and Eve and Australopithecus. I couldn’t pretend I wasn’t flattered. “So am I supposed to live in a garden or something?” I said.
“What’s left of it.” The bear said.
“I’ll need an Adam.” I looked at Reynolds. “Are you in?”
He looked around the room and then at me. “Sure,” he said. “Sounds cool.”
“Just so we’re straight?” I said to the bear, and Reynolds, and my Dad. “I’m not having kids right away. This is on my terms.”
The bear shrugged. “We’ll work it out. It’s not like we have much choice.”
I can’t say it’s all been milk and honey, but we’re comfortable. Elsewhere, the bees have stopped pollinating, the fish got word not to swim into nets (duh!). Wheat and rice are on hiatus. Drug resistant super bacteria are scary, but have their place in the food chain. Extinction is a nasty sort of process but you can’t argue with an epochal die-off. It’s non-negotiable.
I agree that failure on this scale is a little sad. But at least we got our slow dance. At least we got an orchid.
Robert P. Kaye
Robert P. Kaye’s stories have appeared in Penn Review, Potomac Review, Juked, Hobart, Dr. T. J. Eckleburg Reviewand elsewhere, with details at www.RobertPKaye.com. He facilitates the Works in Progress open mic at Hugo House in Seattle and is a fiction editor at Pacifica Literary Review.
Artwork: Brooke Shaden