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The Buddhist


My buddy Barry, on Shepard Street here in Neighborhood Nine, is a Buddhist. This comes as news to me; the last time I checked he was Lutheran. I become aware of this fact one cloudless Saturday afternoon in mid-May just as I’m on my way out the door.

“I’m touching up the trim on my house,” Barry tells me on the phone, “and I was wondering if you could do something for me.”

“Name it,” I say, me being a good neighbor.

“There’s this wasp nest under one of the eaves,” he says. “I was hoping you could come over and remove it.”

I’m not an exterminator by trade. I’m a college professor with a PhD in Victorian Literature.

“I was just on my way to Savenor’s,” I tell him, “to pick up some ribs for the grill.”

“Just take you a sec,” he says. “I’d do it myself, but I’m a Buddhist.”

When I get there, Barry’s totally prepared. He’s set up the ladder, put down a canvas drop cloth, and bought two spray cans of Raid Wasp & Hornet Killer. The nest itself is the size of a volleyball, gray, papery, and barely visible from the deck below. A few wasps have come out, ready to abandon or attack as the situation calls for.

“A Buddhist?” I ask him.

He nods. “Almost three weeks now,” he says. “It’s changed my life. I’ve become a better husband, a better father, and a more thorough claims adjuster.”

“And as a Buddhist you don’t believe in killing wasps?”

“’Trust few, love many, do harm to none,’” he says, misquoting Shakespeare.

At this point, I figure the best thing is to get it over with. I learn by reading the front of the spray can that I’m afforded twenty feet of safety, and I plan on taking every inch of it. I perch on the third step of the ladder, aim the poison up and to the left, empty one can on Wasp & Hornet directly into the black hole at the bottom of the nest. Wasps rain down onto the drop cloth, barely missing me as they tumble. They twist and writhe in the throes of death, then fall as still as burnt embers.

“Better hit them with can number two,” Barry says as he hands it up to me.

This time a few more go down, but I also notice a couple of the hardier ones flying over the roof apparently no worse for wear. Silently, I cheer them on.

“Beautiful,” Barry says referring to the carnage. It seems a strange word choice given the circumstances.

On my way to Savenor’s, I can’t help but think about this whole Buddhist thing. Believe me. I’m not about to judge a twenty-five hundred year old religion based on the actions of one man who’s been at it less than a month. But when that one man located the sight, supplied the toxins, and cheered on the actual massacre, the sincerity of his pacifism—even though he never actually pulled the trigger—becomes suspect.

When I get home, my wife has already started up the grill. I tell her about Barry’s conversion, about the entire wasp incident.

“Interesting,” she says as she prepares dry rub for the ribs, “I didn’t even know he was religious.”

Z.Z. Boone received an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, and currently teaches at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. Fiction has appeared, or is scheduled, in Smokelong Quarterly, Annalemma, The MacGuffin, Third Wednesday, FRiGG, Wigleaf, decomP, Word Riot, and other terrific places.