Thousands of veiny, paper-thin wings crinkling. Buzzing. There behind the drywall. I can hear them.
They aren't in the walls, my father says. It's your imagination.
Come here, I say.
My father walks away, out of the living room.
Father. Funny, how hard it is to say. To call someone father for so many years, and then to have it feel so awkward.
Our words are heavy now. They fall to one another's feet, ever since my mother said the words then left.
I could hear the silence between them, I could. In glances and touches. Hear it all those years, though I never understood. It's hard now to even remember a time before the silence. A time when things were better.
There is this story. One of my father's favorite stories to tell.
He was mowing the grass in the back yard and I was playing in my playpen back there too. I was just a toddler. The dog was scratching at the playpen.
My father was watching. He was vigilant, mowing past me, waving, making faces, sure I was fine.
Then the mower went over the yellow jackets nest in the ground. He saw them rising up, hundreds, and he ran for the playpen and picked me up, my head against his chest. I was crying. He was running for the basement as fast as he could. The dog was yelping as it followed behind. My father closed the door and ran up the stairs with me, the dog still following us.
He turned on the shower and held me there in the water. He held me against his chest, crying, aware of how quick it can be. How fast things can happen sometimes.
I was crying too, not understanding what had happened.
It turns out I had only one sting -- on my nose. One small sting. The dog had been stung four or five times. My mother checked the dog three times over, looking for bees in his hair.
My father was in bed, stung more than 25 times. Most of them on his arms, as he held me against him, trying to keep them away. A few stings on his ears. Several stings on his chest and under each arm, in his armpits.
How can the man in this story walk away from me now? He is not the same man to me, and I am not the same son. I am not his son.
I yell to him.
The bees are there, Dad. And they're not going to go away just because you turn your back on them.
But he continues up the stairs.
I put my ear to the wallpaper again. I imagine them. All of them, on the other side, scratching, digging with black insect legs. Trying to make their way further into the house.
You wouldn't think they could get in. A brick house, a solid house. A two-story Williamsburg with black shutters. But they have. At the corner, above the garage, where the wood meets the brick. My brother and I watched them fly in and out of the wood, before school started, my senior year.
We were spraying the car with the hose, spraying each other.
No, don't, I said to my brother, who was aiming the hose at me. Come on, look. I pointed behind him and up.
I'm not stupid, he said.
No really, look, I said. Look!
And when he turned around he saw them too. He sprayed the corner of the house and they swarmed. They spun and whirled in a mass of crinkling wings and stingers. Then they went back into our house.
We didn't worry about it. Bees. A few bees. Whose house doesn't have a bees nest behind a box in the basement? Or mud daubers behind a light fixture on the front porch, yellow jackets under the deck?
It was a month later when the dog started to hear them in the walls. He wouldn't leave the living room. I would watch him there, his ears up, listening, ready to bark, like a stranger was on the front porch. He would stand in the living room for hours sometimes and growl. I didn't hear it then. It must have been there. Faint. But I didn't hear it. I didn't connect what was happening to the bees I had seen.
Until the bathroom, my father's bathroom upstairs, along that same wall. I went in to steal his shampoo, wearing just a yellow towel, and there they were. Bees along the grey tile floor. Six or seven of them. Small and curled up. I picked them up carefully with toilet paper. Flushed them. I was halfway out the door when I noticed the others. Another five or six in the shaggy blue wrinkles of the bath mat. Curled up like small straw wrappers.
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