Fiction Fragment of a Memoir Story Started 20 Years Ago

May 30, 2015

Initially he thought someone had left a sewing needle on the upstairs landing floor. The needle pierced a good half inch into the arch of his bare foot. It was around 1:00 AM and he was groggily padding back from the bathroom to his bed. The needle punctured his foot in the center of the arch and he screamed as a jolt of pain seized him, awareness of the damned pain and nothing else. He clutched his leg by the calf, just above the ankle, and began to hobble about, swearing and whimpering because of the burning pain. A night in September, the windows open, a cool and humidless breeze. His wife, Amaranta, switched on the light in the same moment he realized the impossibility of a sewing needle standing upright on a wooden floor. He continued to hobble and groan, with the pain of the stab somewhat abated, but a new swelling in the foot and a deep dull ache creeping up his leg.

“My God! What happened?” Amaranta nearly screamed.

“I don’t know! I don’t know!”

“Oh my God!” she said, pointing at the floor.

A bee. Not an ordinary honey or bumble bee or hornet. An unusual bee. Large. Maybe an inch-and-a-half in length, the thorax a black banded yellow like a hornet’s but the abdomen an amber color, almost brown, and shiny like a chestnut. The bee crept slowly and tentatively across the carpet, appearing drained of its vitality, its essence, twitching the diaphanous membranes of its wings. The shock of something incalculably heavier, a weight bearing down to crush it had triggered the defensive barb, perhaps maimed in the split-second effort and now spent of its life force. Amaranta, his wife (he reminded himself), leapt out of bed, and hefting a thick catalog finished off what remained of that life force.

“We couldn’t let it live,” she said, justifying her small murder. “Look what it did to you! And what species of bee is this?” she said peering at the smashed body cautiously. “I’ve never seen it. Do you think it’s a queen?”

“Probably not. I see these bees around the apple tree. A queen is rare. It might be a drone . . . Oww!”

“Hold on, I’ll get an ice pack.”

His wife’s footfalls faded down the stairs. He waited for her to return. The pain had moved as far up as his thigh, the entire shaft of his leg clamped in a throbbing leaden ache, his foot swollen and red and numb. He’d suffered bee stings before but nothing like this, nothing of this magnitude of pain. Normally he’d wind up with a slightly pink and swollen pox that didn’t spread much beyond the wound. He could not stand on two feet because of the bee sting. He was effectively crippled.

He applied the ice packs and that produced a minimal soothing of the inflammation. He laid one pack against the sole of his foot and another against his calf just above the ankle and Achilles’ tendon. He tossed and squirmed on the bed in darkness, and it felt easier in the dark to concentrate on the pain working through him, the toxin seeping through his veins and arteries and muscle tissue. In the dark he heard his wife’s soft but indifferent voice.

“Do you want to go to the hospital?”

“No, I’ll be alright,” he said.

“This is weird. Did you see the size of that bee? He must have shot his wad and injected you with a stream of poison.”

He said nothing in reply but lingered on the tone of her voice, deferential as a spouse perhaps, but detached, no genuine empathy, no cuddling or concern, as if he were a stranger to her or certainly someone of less significance than her husband. They hadn’t been in love for the past year or longer, and this minor injury, this silly unfortunate accident somehow pointed up the rote sterility of their feelings for one another, especially the coldness of his wife.

“You poor thing,” she offered, but there was no affection in her tone and she would not caress or even touch him.

“Should I get more ice?”

“No, thanks. Go to sleep.”

The pain kept him awake for another two hours.

A sting, like a cut, manages to strip away whatever hazy illusion or self-deception your mind was enslaved to in the moment and abruptly brings the world into sharper focus and makes you pay attention. Your senses are cleansed. You see the fragile impermanent stuff we’re all made of and react like a child to the bruise, the welt, the blood issuing from its shocked vessels and fanning across your skin. You rejoin Nature because in that vulnerable state, weakened and anguished, you are reminded that you’re linked to other creatures who meet similar assaults and meet those assaults a lot more frequently and that you share Life with them and with other people on this planet and you’re really not alone after all. The paradox is that often in damaging a part of the body the mind is momentarily healed.

He slept a few hours and in the morning headed off to work. The pain from the sting appeared gone and there was only minor inflammation. He’d not slept well. Apart from tossing and turning in pain, he’d been more acutely aware of the familiar emotional chasm that gaped wide between him and his wife. In a fog of confusion and isolation he somehow took solace in the plain fact he wasn’t hurting as bad—on both fronts.

But by mid-afternoon, ensconced in his office cubicle, he began feeling pain and pressure in the region of his ankle. He looked down and saw a grossly swollen ankle, lower leg and foot! He slipped off the moccasin and peeled away his sock: the entire foot and ankle had become so swollen and mottled with rash that it looked as if he’d succumbed to elephantiasis, like a photograph he’d once seen in National Geographic depicting tribesmen with similar grotesque appendages resulting perhaps from the bite of a tsetse fly. He attributed the sudden rash and swelling to a downward flow of blood into the extremity and immediately raised his leg to the level of his hip in hopes of reducing the pain and discomfort of the engorged foot. He had never experienced anything quite like it—after 12 or 13 hours his body somehow still carried bee toxin and it would take another evening and a goodnight’s rest before all traces of the sting had disappeared.

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