-Published in Swallow the Moon 2016
We loved smacking bees when we were kids. Especially with baseball bats. Dylan was the only one who had one, but his wasn’t made of aluminum or wood like the kind the Tigers play with. His was orange, the same color that the crossing guard wore at school, and made out of plastic. By the end of the summer, the top was dented in from too many bee beatings.
For some reason, we thought that ticking off those tiny insects and running away from their stingers was the best thing, since the ice cream truck came down our street only once per year. Once we tried picketing with signs made of yellow paper and sticks, but that only lasted one day and the ice cream truck didn’t come down the street.
The best place to find bees was in the old, blue truck next door. It sat dead in the driveway, a carcass in an empty lot overrun with weeds. Even the house was a wreck – uninsurable because of the peeling siding, my mom said. Not to mention that the sidewalks were split open and uneven, making it difficult to rollerblade without tripping. We got really good at avoiding the cracks. Every kid on the block knew that the man who used to live in the old house was mean. Not because he didn’t take care of his property, but because whenever a ball went over the fence, he would hold it hostage and it would never be seen again.
No one else saw respect for his abandoned truck, but I thought it was a terrifying beauty. It was my favorite shade of blue, like the color of my muddy denim jeans, and it was big. It could have fit my entire family in the back and still have room for more. The only blemish was the rusted out hole in the left side under the window, but inside of the metallic cavern was a colony of bees; and we would take our bats in our nine-year-old hands and wail on the side of the truck to provoke the little warriors. We barely made a dent in the truck’s cold exterior, but we sure did make those bees angry.
The miniature soldiers would stamp their feet and beat their wings against each other. With every hit, the buzzing would grow louder and louder like a crowd of fans sitting in the stands of a baseball game. One good hit too close to the rusted entry would send out a swarm of enraged bees at us. We’d drop our bats in the tall grass and take off running down the empty street, laughing as the bees chased us halfway down the block.
One day, one of the bees was faster than us, and it stung Dylan’s sister right in the arm. The moment it landed its attack, Sarah smacked it with her open palm and squished it flat. That tiny little bug died in honor, and if we cared, we might have given it a tiny insect funeral. However, we had more important things to fuss about, like the stinger that was still stuck in Sarah’s arm.
The skin began to swell around it, and it started to turn red. We panicked and rushed her back home. She was crying and holding her arm tightly as if she thought it would fall off her body. My job was to keep an eye out for parents while Dylan told Sarah to keep quiet. After pulling the stinger out with tweezers, he put a rag filled with ice on the little bump.
“You’re okay. It’s your first bee sting, so you’re not gonna be allergic. No one’s ever allergic with their first bee sting,” he explained.
Dylan’s assurances didn’t calm her. In fact, it made Sarah cry even harder. “Call 911,” she demanded, hiccupping on her snot and spit.
God must have heard her prayers, because a big white ambulance came roaring down the street, their sirens screaming and spinning and flashing their lights. We watched in awe, expecting it to pull into our drive way to take Sarah to the hospital. I was excited. I had never seen an ambulance in action before.
Instead, it drove on by and didn’t stop until it was two houses down, on the other side of the vacant lot. That was where my dad’s friend lived. We all hurried outside, running down the driveway to watch from the safety of our yard. Two paramedics rushed into the house, but the abandoned truck blocked our view. Dylan wanted to get closer. Sarah wanted to get more ice. I only wanted to know why they came.
We stood for a long time, quietly watching and waiting for something to happen. Other neighbors on the block were coming out to see what the commotion was as well. My mom hurried across the street to talk to Sarah and Dylan’s mom at the foot of the driveway. They were whispering things like “What happened to Johnny?” and “Do you think it’s the Heroin?” None of us knew what they were talking about. All we knew was that the paramedics came out with Johnny on a stretcher and were lifting him into the back of the ambulance.
“Do you think he got stung?” Dylan asked me quietly, his eyes glued onto Johnny’s thin and pale face. The bees were still angrily buzzing inside of the truck, and it’s possible one had ventured out and attacked Johnny.
“Maybe he’s allergic!” Sarah said in a panic, her hand gripping the melting ice pack closer to her arm.
I didn’t have an answer for either of them. After all, I was only nine at the time. I didn’t know anything about bees and their stingers, what Heroin was and why it would hurt a good man like Johnny. All I knew was that the ice cream truck needed to come down the street more often, and that I didn’t want to mess with bees anymore.