Johnny America


Bee Sting


Illustration of a bee

When the bee comes to your house, let her have beer; you may want to vis­it the bee’s house someday

— Con­go Proverb

What the fuck! you think. But what comes out of your mouth is a hushed “ahh!” as you place the tips of your fin­gers from your left hand to the top of your cheek­bone un­der­neath your low­er eyelid.

It feels like the bee sting you got smelling a rose in your mother’s gar­den when you were six. You said “ahh!” then too. And went in­to the house, where you called for your mother.

“Mom! Mom? Where are you?”

“In the laun­dry room,” you hear her call from the base­ment below.

You walk down the stairs hold­ing your cheek. “I got stung by a bee.”

“Let me see!” she says, throw­ing the sheet she was about to press back on the iron­ing ta­ble. “The stinger’s still there. I need to get tweez­ers. Go to the up­stairs bath­room.” She grabs your hand and pulls you along. “How do you feel?”

“It just stings is all.”

“Well, don’t touch it. We need to get the stinger out and then put al­co­hol on it. And then ice, be­cause it’ll swell. Does your throat feel tight?”

“Bum­ble­bees die af­ter they sting,” you say, won­der­ing why she’s mak­ing a big deal about a lit­tle bee sting.

It’s not un­til the cute bar­tender says the “What the fuck!” that you didn’t, that you re­al­ize a shard from the wine­glass she dropped on the bar top ric­o­cheted and hit you. You gin­ger­ly dab your cheek and re­al­ize it’s still lodged as you study the blood on your fingertips.

“Hon­ey, you’re bleed­ing!” the bar­tender ex­claims as she stops cor­ralling the bits of glass with a wet bar tow­el. “I am sooo sor­ry. That’s nev­er hap­pened be­fore when a glass just ex­plod­ed like that,” she says in a deep South­ern ac­cent. “Let’s have a looksee.”

You lean over the bar, of­fer­ing the side of your face. She leans in, touch­ing the top of your head with one hand and fin­gers of the oth­er hold­ing your chin as she rests her el­bow on the bar. Her but­ton-down shirt gapes as she ex­am­ines you, ex­pos­ing am­ple cleav­age. You try not to look.

“The glass is still in there. I can’t tell how big it is, and it’s right next to your eye! Oh, lordy, you’re so lucky that wasn’t a quar­ter of an inch to the right. You’d have lost a peep­er! I am just sooo sor­ry, ba­by. Do you think you need to go to the emer­gency room?”

The bar man­ag­er or own­er walks over. “Move, Kit­ty,” he says, el­bow­ing her out of the way. “Let me see.” 

The gruff-look­ing, old­er man with an alcoholic’s nose stud­ies your wound. “No need for a hos­pi­tal vis­it, son. I got a first aid kit.” He turns and glares at Kit­ty with eyes that say, “You try­ing to get me sued?”

“Jim­my over there is in the med­ical field. He’ll patch you right up,” nod­ding to the scrawny guy in a flan­nel shirt with stringy, long red hair who just scratched the cue ball at the pool ta­ble. “Jim­my, get your ass down here. I need you to do a lit­tle first aid.”

Jim­my stum­bles over next to you with the cue stick in his hand and leans on it. “You want me to what?” He places an emp­ty Bud­weis­er bot­tle on the bar. “Give me an­oth­er, Ted­dy. I got a wa­ger go­ing on my game with Haystack over there.”

“Not un­til you fix this feller’s eye.” 

Jim­my turns to look at you. 

“Oth­er eye!” Ted­dy shouts.

Jim­my walks to your oth­er side as the cue stick he’d leaned on the bar falls to the floor. “Oh, man, you’re bleeding.”

“I’ll get the first aid kit. You get that piece of glass out and put a cou­ple of but­ter­fly ban­dages on,” Ted­dy says as he walks through the swing­ing doors be­hind the bar.

Jim­my yells af­ter him, “You know I ain’t no doc­tor! I’m just an or­der­ly.” But Ted­dy has al­ready disappeared.

Jim­my looks at you. His eyes are red and glazed. “I’m on­ly part time, man. I got a wa­ger on this here game. Where’s my stick?”

An old man two stools down from you on the left an­nounces, “I got a wa­ger for any­one who wants.” 

“Get your ass over here, Jim­my, so I can kick it!” Haystack yells with arms ex­tend­ed, show­ing a mas­sive wingspan and stom­ach. “And we know all about your bar tricks, Mitchum! What the fuck!”

“Well, this fel­la don’t,” Mitchum says, turn­ing to look at you be­fore go­ing back to his shot glass.

“Ig­nore them. We’ll get you patched up, ba­by,” the bar­tender says as she con­tin­ues to clean the glass from the bar.

You turn to look around, and your fo­cus set­tles on a framed pic­ture hang­ing askew on the wall. Sev­en dogs sit­ting around a pok­er ta­ble. The bull­dog in the fore­ground is smok­ing a cig­ar and pass­ing an ace un­der the ta­ble to the dog next to him with his hind paw. The Great Dane is smok­ing a pipe. The col­lie has his legs crossed.

You had dread­ed this trip to Es­till Mills, in south­ern Ten­nessee, in the mid­dle of nowhere. A three-hour ride in a Kia rental from the Knoxville air­port to meet a state sen­a­tor for forty min­utes to talk about bur­ley to­bac­co and the lat­est Agri­cul­tur­al Re­source Man­age­ment Sur­vey. And you have to spend the night in a Red Roof Inn.

Ted­dy reap­pears with the first aid kit and looks around for Jim­my. Be­fore he can say any­thing, Kit­ty snatch­es the kit from his hands. “I’ll do it,” she states mat­ter-of-fact­ly. She opens the kit and in­spects the con­tents. Her dark brown hair falls over her face as she looks down. Her eyes are emer­ald green and ac­cen­tu­at­ed by her olive skin. Her nose is well de­fined and dain­ty and in cor­rect pro­por­tion to her full lips. She may be a few years old­er than you, per­haps ear­ly thir­ties you guess. “Where’re the tweez­ers?” she asks with­out look­ing up. Ted­dy throws them on the counter in front of her.

“Okay, ba­by. This might hurt for just a minute, but we’ll get you straight,” she says as she walks around the bar. It is then that you see be­low her waist for the first time. The spread of her hips and thighs is ex­pan­sive and in­con­gru­ous with her up­per body. Her low­er half could be in­ter­change­able with Haystack’s. You quick­ly re­assess your ear­li­er thoughts.

She wets a cot­ton ball from a shot glass of vod­ka to dis­in­fect your cheek. You think back to when you were ten and had just come home from a va­ca­tion in Mex­i­co with your par­ents where you’d stubbed your pinky toe on a piece of coral. By then it was in­fect­ed, and your moth­er told your fa­ther to take you across the street to Dr. Mon­ey­mak­er. Dr. Mon­ey­mak­er looked to be one hun­dred and still prac­ticed out of the base­ment in his home. His ex­am room had sub­way tile halfway up the wall. The walls above were paint­ed a drab mint green. 

You lay on the met­al ex­am ta­ble as he cov­ered your foot with a thin white sheet, ex­pos­ing on­ly the in­fect­ed toe. Hav­ing al­ready de­ter­mined a piece of coral was still stuck, he took a scalpel and start­ed to cut…and cut, deep­er and wider. I’m not go­ing to flinch, I’m not go­ing to flinch, you re­peat­ed to your­self, clench­ing your teeth. Mer­ci­ful­ly, Dr. Mon­ey­mak­er put the scalpel down and drew a sy­ringe of Novo­cain, which he shot in­to your open wound. That’s when you saw stars.

“How much you want to bet me I can bal­ance a quar­ter on the edge of a dol­lar bill stretched out?” Mitchum asks you. 

Kit­ty steps back. “Not now, Mitchum. Can’t you see we’re op­er­at­ing here?”

“No, it’s okay.” You need a breather from Kitty’s prod­ding and poking. 

You dig in your wal­let and pull out a five-dol­lar bill. “It’s worth five to me to see an amaz­ing feat like that.”

Mitchum picks up the five and in­spects it. “Nice and crisp. We’ll use your bill to bal­ance on.” He pulls a quar­ter from his pock­et and stud­ies it be­tween his fin­ger and thumb. “‘In God We Trust.’ Yessiree.”

He lays the bill down and folds it in half, mak­ing a sharp crease be­fore tak­ing an­oth­er shot. Ted­dy re­fills it. Mitchum picks the fold­ed bill up and places it on the bar top so that it stands on edge at nine­ty de­grees. He places the quar­ter flat on the crease and drinks the shot for dra­mat­ic ef­fect. With deft fin­gers, he pulls the two ends of the bill un­til it’s stretched full length with the quar­ter balanced.

“How’s that, young fel­la? My two fa­vorite pres­i­dents. Prob­a­bly the on­ly hon­est pres­i­dents we’ve ever had. Hon­est George, and Abe, who couldn’t lie about cut­ting the ap­ple tree.”

“Cer­tain­ly worth five dol­lars.” You don’t cor­rect him about mix­ing up his presidents.

God­damn it, I’ve got to send an email to my boss tonight flash­es through your head.

“Okay, ba­by, I’m get­ting it this time. You’re do­ing great. Just hold still like you been doin’.”

You look again at the dogs play­ing pok­er. You no­tice the ti­tle print­ed be­low, A Friend in Need. And your mind goes blank as you feel nothing.

“All done, ba­by,” Kit­ty says as you re­al­ize she’s putting a sec­ond but­ter­fly Band-Aid over your cut.

Ted­dy comes by with a shot of bour­bon. “On the house, hoss. How’s it feel? Kit­ty make a bet­ter nurse than bartender?”

“Yes sir. Hurts on­ly as bad as a bee sting.”

Filed under Fiction on June 3rd, 2022

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Hazi wrote:

Makes me want a drink. Or a pet bee.

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