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Pollen

 

 

It was a great day until the bee died. A bee flew in to our conversation and settled down next to the ashtray in smooth and uncompassionate marks that resembled winged eyeliner drawn by a steady hand.  I panicked at its aerodynamic waterfall nearly into but thankfully a split second away from the rim of my wine glass. I hated it instantly at the thought of having to rescue myself another glass from the kitchen. That, and with no wine left in the back room there was no chance I would let one of the others outdrink me. I licked my lips pretending to taste the honey venom. 

When it lay still on its back for more than a few seconds, it was the ideal moment to stare deep into its belly. Its wings were cut I noted as I tried to justify its abandoned fall to the meticulous menacing of the wind in the mountains. It cut through my layers too like an aimless herd without shepherd or purpose. Its legs or limbs or leg-limbs shook vigorously and I found it extremely odd for something that was apparently so dead to be so agile. The wind was getting gossipy too, breezing in and out of touch. It was only when I noticed it’s thick and pulsating bottom that I realized the bee had a face. It reminded me of the pug I had as a child, flat-faced but furious over furniture and strangers’ legs. In every other regard he was faithful until the night he ran away but I was certain it was only because of his night blindness.

Even while administering a judgmental evaluation of the bee’s current state of affairs, I was distracted by Eli’s face. In the patrolling sunlight, his eyes managed to catch my reflection in them, and I was sure my obsession had been discovered. He had a beard that I liked, a crop of harsh and thick stubble that made right angles underneath his cheekbones and made his hot chocolate skin seem shyer than it really was. He looked caramel to me yesterday in the fastidious orange light.

It could have all just very well been hunger. When I looked at the bee again I could only imagine stabbing it with a toothpick. I wondered how long it would beat its taxi heart before it would die. Would my saliva kill it almost instantly or would it suffer all the same in my mouth? Perhaps it would find the skill to live through my esophagus and the plummet into my stomach. Maybe it would build a home and reproduce and give birth to ten thousand little bee-lings that would fill me with honey, and then of course kill me eventually with their pincers.

Eli followed the sound of his own voice in order to sit next to me, and it wasn’t until he touched my arm I realized he had been calling my name. Where are you lost?

I licked the rim of my wine glass, my tongue sharp as I’m certain my answer would have been. Later my lips softened into a pouty arc perfect enough to enunciate the word, you. But the devil retreated and I said nothing. Hoping he would understand it was the wine making me loopy and withdrawn, I pressed on the silence, squeezing out every last bit of comfort and compliance like a tube of finished toothpaste. When his hands moved nervously about his thighs, I knew I had failed. 

He didn’t ask any further questions. The deliberateness of my wine drinking may have thrown him off for good. I poured large sips generously in my mouth. I thought of the family of bees I was destroying and immediately became upset again. It was a wave of cold lightening that matched the recession of sunlight, and as it seared through me like all my bad moods do, it became familiar almost instantly. 

Eli must have noticed my face fall and I was surprised when he kicked back his chair gracefully rising to his feet, his loafers barely scuffling as he came and held me from behind. He draped my shoulders like every other time I remember. His arms were slight, but had deep-digging elbows that clawed my neck bones and I was soothed only by the touch of his bare forearms with hairs that withstood the cold wind under instruction from his hands.

I was confused and easily more upset. Though seemingly quite innocent, his gesture had destroyed my dreadful daydream of past-ward reminiscing and I was so thrown off my obsessive schedule that I could now only think of how he touched me, how he was touching me, and the way that a stream of his cold breath warmed itself against my back by sneaking in through the seams of my shirt that were brazen enough to let him in whenever and if ever he wanted.

I eyed the mountains carefully and reached for a cigarette. If anything he might find my silence alluring. But with its Mona Lisa disappointments—the rising expectations as you walk towards it, then the crash and burn of seeing something larger than life dwarfed simply by its position in the room across from The Last Supper—I turned up my volume from mute. A flood of spit and sweat circled my gums quite unexpectedly and I realized I was full of words to say to him. And in a sudden fear that quickly overcame my desire to over-share, I began to sieve my words into actual sounds and canker sores. 

Do you like the mountains?  It was quite unfair that he broke the silence before me, especially now that I had decided to fake my inner silence instead, which would require me to dress as a relatively chatty person, regardless of exes and O’s and woes and that sort of poetic, pathetic tragedy. He was looking at the mountains when he asked me this and for lack of his piercing acknowledgement of the top of my head, where he still stood, I was convinced of his rudeness and determined to disagree with everything he said. No, I prefer the beach.

Hooray, for actual words and when I heard them for the second time as they came out of my mouth I knew I had engaged him in yet another possibility of happening, not happening, having happened, and the never having happened.  

Afraid of heights?  No, being 6,000 feet above sea level is like taking one extra step on a ladder. No, being 6,000 feet above sea level is like taking one extra step on a ladder. 

Hooray, for an actual sentence.

He uncoiled himself from me, unwrapping my head like a present for his birthday, but nothing about the way my skull felt on the inside was new. In his unwarranted departure I felt something unclip and an icy slither lost itself in my shirt. Before I could even recognize my startle, Eli had thrust his fingers down my back and pulled out a metal bracelet. Thick and gauche, I could recognize its mediocrity anywhere. It was the bracelet I had given him for his first birthday that we had spent together, but I sought out the tiny evil eye bead I had specially engraved in for him, just to make sure it was indeed mine. It had been seven years and that’s a long enough time to fall in love over and over and over again.

Mountain clouds are more stubborn than regular clouds. A strange observation considering clouds are all the same, and now that I was mountainside-up all that had changed was the magnification but somehow that was enough for me to realize that the clouds were more untiring and strong-minded than I ever gave them credit for. A litter of them had descended over my panoramic view from the patio. There was only Eli and I and the mountains had already been long forgotten. 

Still using any excuse to touch me I see. The wine glass was empty but I held on to it for support, and for the slight possibility that someone would have found another bottle and topped me up considering I was climbing down from my buzz and likely to say or do something I would change and re-change a thousand thoughts later in my head. The key was to just stay drunk. 

A free pass, because it’s the bracelet you gave me. 

I don’t think it’s marked with the words, “She’s open.” 

Ah but memory serves me well.

A rumor of my own making. 

Gibberish, such gibberish cascading out of my mouth and his like two children stumbling down the largest slide in a playground with no one to catch us at the end. In the time our laborious banter had taken, Eli had exchanged my shoulders for the seat across me bringing the poor bee I had only recently adopted intellectually into view.

Its arms were still writhing in synchronic motions. Half a doorstep away from death but still so much in control, and I felt envy replace my earlier pity and fear for its life.

More arms rushed in and voices echoed closely and if it were not for my wine glass, now full and red, I would never have remembered the others on the trip let alone their recent excursion on the patio where Eli and I sat alone with the bee. A rumor must have already been afloat (remember the gossipy wind) because no one disturbed us again after that. 

I’m uncertain what came first—my desire to have Eli all to myself for an artificial barrage of minutes that mimicked the first seven years I had known him or was it the others staying away on account of reading my face like their journal that I wanted him all over again.

My nostrils swelled at the possibility of his sweet scent reverberating close to my nose again, his curly hair entangling itself in my own disheveled hive of blackness, his fingers tracing my jawline in preparation for his tongue. He would finish by nibbling my ear I knew.

The inner silence I had experienced about twenty minutes ago for those few impoverished seconds had returned, except this time in the form of physical paralysis. My body felt like a cocoon inside which I filled with a dark and steamy sexualized wish that my skin and the expressions on my skin covered up in stillness matched only by the bee, still between us, in its contagious control.

I wanted to lead him astray from what I was actually thinking so I asked rather glibly, What are you going to do once we leave here? And he, quite possibly stunned by the supreme realism of my question, answered, I was planning to stay on, maybe for a few more days.  

If the light in Eli’s stare had a color, I am certain it would be jet-black. When I caught myself in a thick vein of his vision, I often felt like I was swimming deep underwater. I couldn’t see much else except for the tip of my own pursed lips, and my hands waving wildly infront of me making some unrehearsed announcement of which way I was going. Sometimes I even caught myself not breathing and the moment in which I would realize that I had in fact stopped inhaling my head would tilt back and I would fill like a balloon. When no such immediate realization occurred, my head would bang against the invisible walls of his cylindrical stare, like a clumsy bucket on a pulley.

He got up, then, quite hastily, knocking his thighs against the round ceramic table and the bee filled with tremors. Where are you going? I asked him without even thinking about why I was so concerned about him leaving me, though logic told me he was leaving the table and though I was the only one amongst the five empty chairs that sat at the table, I was a separate entity. But in my heart I was convinced that any more ceramic behavior from me and I might turn into a statue.

Just the bathroom. I’ll be back. I swooned at his kind words, possibly the most reassuring he had ever been in a conversation and I settled into a happy buzz ignoring the frazzled tip-tapping of my feet.  

The sky changed once he left, the sun growing dark and delirious, like the insides of a candle that’s burned itself to soot. The wind had lessened the voracity of its fanning, only once it had consumed all of the clouds in the sky. It hadn’t been a clear day but it was a clear night. I only hoped it would carry off the bee, now entirely dead, to its sepulcher of sleep. Perhaps it could be nature’s way of showing compassion to the deceased by offering it one last taste of anti-gravity after a lifetime of flying. I felt the urge to pocket its soulless body that seemed to shrink over the last hour but I resisted, feeling an odd sense of comfort in its presence. Even while it held its eternal pose, it filled everything around it with life: the table, the chairs, even me, perhaps even the sun and the clouds and the wind. Its crucifix connected us all, and for the short while this sensation came over me, I was at peace, like a storm boat that finds a wave large enough to carry its load.  

Eli returned precisely during my cerebral celebration and I was excited to greet him with my sudden burst of positivity. I just knew he would acknowledge my audacious smiling with a nod. I had become so much more pleasant over the years. But just as he was sitting down, he said, oh little monster, and smacked the ashtray down on the bee followed by a surprisingly lady like swish of fingers that rolled its dead body overboard, below my chair.

I felt my gaze grow hollow; since his gesture had been so traceless and it wasn’t until I heard myself speak did I realize I had processed what had happened. It was already dead. I spoke with such a toothy hatred his breath recoiled. Well, then, no harm done, he answered me casually. To kill something that is already dead is to take away its life again. Then I paused, casually. What’s dead is dead is dead is dead, he replied, and as far I’m concerned, all things dead have no chance at life again.

Perhaps it was the hurried sunset that had settled like gloom around us, but my brain quickly evacuated any and every previous trace of pleasure. I traded in its pithiness for the old voice in my heart. The mountains blackened along with Eli’s face, both eroding, both denuding, both vacant and anonymous. 

A stinging sensation rose like a hot spring in my eyes and I blinked rapidly to hold back the tears. Over a bee? I thought. Eli was unaffected since he hadn’t looked at me at all. Perhaps the last time he saw me, I imagined, was when he returned from the bathroom with his hands washed and fresh smelling of brown sugar. He probably looked at me as confession, thinking to himself; Hey I used your hand cream. 

I wanted to say something powerful to him, having by now, appointed myself the jury for my poor, defenseless bee. I filled with such terror and longing at his disposal, I forgot it had been dead. But where were the right words? They failed me like a blister that takes the place of poetry in one’s mouth, when a strange sort of deafness turns everything to bile. A mustard color popped before my eyes, a visual break from all the black though I was confused if my eyes had been closed all this while. Since Eli wasn’t watching me, I assumed I had taken the liberty of putting the moment on pause to think up a stormy something of pure goody-goodness that would take his breath away and he’d concede on his death point. I didn’t even know what I really believed about death. How does one recognize when one is dying? I could tell when the bee passed, its legs had stopped moving. But I was only convinced of its death when it held itself to that repose for a long time. I imagined it flooding internally, its organs mixing and melting into sweat and blood that probably swirled like a whirlpool of orgasmic tendencies, but was unfortunately contained. I had hoped its spirit would not waste and its ability to control itself had passed into me. I felt inadequate then, thinking of the small creature and its accomplishment, and my own constant failing in that regard. Perhaps death was a staycation of sorts, a temporary insanity that interrupted daily routine. Or an escape, like being high on pills that can change the way your own name tastes in the mouth. Maybe there was no transcendence, just a translucence in which presence weathers itself down into a bottled being, where the body disappears but everything else is left behind. 

Eli brushed his hands against my own on purpose, and when I caught him he looked anything but sheepish. I wanted to savor this moment in which he’d made a first move, to respond to his touch with a grab or a squeeze, to pull his chest closer to mine so that we could hug away all this tension I felt suffocating my throat. We sat close to each other but I just wanted to be near him. He didn’t relent, keeping his hand close to my little finger that shook nervously. With a few hefty finger-steps I slid my palm underneath his. I studied our entwining the way one looks at the face of a beautiful baby one memorizes without meaning to. 

Then he stood up, pulling me to my feet with him. My legs were weak; I hadn’t used them since earlier that afternoon. But just standing with him, next to him, holding his hand I remembered how he made my levels of strength and weakness rise and fall like some sort of emotional stock exchange. I could sense my heart breaking even while it reveled in a thirst that I had carried for so long, they had given it my name. I wished then for someone to interrupt us not with their concerns or their advice but a camera that might capture us in Polaroid—quickly developing. We were caught in a perfectly lucid crossfire. 

But there was nothing romantic about the way he held me. In fact it was more like his fingers were only meeting an old acquaintance, one who’s address you’ve forgotten but bump into on the street. I realized this when he pulled away and walked the length of the patio away from me. I forgot something inside, he said and disappeared behind the door. If I could have stretched all my features flat against my face that had now lost its color, I would have. I felt like a canvas returned to blank, a hollowness only someone with a great memory could feel, a puzzling to be both something and nothing and everything at once stuck inside my mouth like a stinging finger. I hated the way I looked against the receding backlight. If I had the Polaroid taken now, it would be over-populated with the death-demons of all the moments I had said yes to life but somehow ended up with something I hadn’t wanted. Standing out there alone on the patio, I hadn’t the faintest clue of what I wanted to do. Was it the moon that could comfort me in its stillness, or did I want to be surrounded by friends with good intentions spewing from them like bad breath? All that sat on this patio now felt like dead. 

I swallowed the last few sips of wine like a river of hope, but its acidic undertones made me feel worse so I turned to the pack of cigarettes that leered at me, half open with two cigarettes sticking out of it like a pair of spread legs, and I was tempted to smoke one, my hand jittery and hovering over it in the shape of a halo, but I caught my wrist with my free hand and pulled it closer, turning my face instead to my feet darkened by a brush with the cobblestones below them, where the bee, as if dead twice over, didn’t even flutter as the wind blew past.