Ben doesn’t notice the tangy residue – acid, vitamins, orange juice, saliva – washing up the back of his tongue or the dull pain from his cracked lips, quilted with dead skin. The tip of his nose brushes against the gold stigma. Nothing. Years of handkerchief, tissue, and sleeve rubbings have numbed the nerves. He pushes deeper inside, willing the few remaining olfactory filaments still firing signals to remind him how, again, a summer squash flower smells.
The first wave of the bee venom ignites his lower lip. He feels the body of the honeybee with his finger and flicks it away. It falls to the grass, shudders, then begins crawling in a wide oval. Ben extracts the stinger and looks at the tiny amber barb on his fingertip. His lip feels like it’s touching a hot coal.
Ben isn’t worried. This has happened before. His lip will puff, stretching that quilt of dry skin until it splits even more. Some of the wrinkles fanning out from the corner of his mouth will vanish for a few hours. But his heart beat will hold steady and the membranes layering his throat won’t clench together like a frightened sea anemone, closing his airway tight.
He walks into his house and finds the meat tenderizer. Rubs it over wound. As he’s examining the numb lump in the mirror, he finds he’s been holding the flower this whole time. He walks to the den and sits down at his desk. He folds the flower into an envelope, then writes a letter in longhand to his daughter, who lives across the country in Atlanta. He says nothing about the sting.
Ross McMeekin’s writing has appeared recently or is forthcoming in Storyglossia, The Rumpus, Connotation Press, and Necessary Fiction. He is the assistant fiction editor at Hunger Mountain and has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He lives in Seattle and blogs at www.rossmcmeekin.com.