Monday, June 15, 2009

A Tremendous Thing

Right, well. I haven't posted anything here lately because I'm submitting stories to journals that accept only previously unpublished work. "Published" includes blogs.

Thus far I am 0 for 6 on submitted stories. So I'll post the rejected ones here.

First up, "A Tremendous Thing."

A Tremendous Thing

I am standing in a house of bees. The house is mine. It smells like honey and love from the outside. Inside it just smells dead. For a few minutes I watch the clock, then when it is time I walk outside and stand on the porch, where I wait for the people come.

A bee stings me while I wait. I want to feel it but don’t.

Then fifteen minutes later people come. There is a woman with two young children. They walk from the gravel parking area a little ways away. I watch them intently as they come, checking myself over a little and shaking out any sleepy dumbness that might still be in me. Last night the bees seemed restless.

When she gets to me she stands and looks at me.

I say, “You’re looking for the bee-house? This is it.”

“I know,” she says. “I’ve been here before.”

A few months ago I quit my job. I was a wedding photographer. The thing is, a lot of people have dreams about their weddings, and those dreams include a certain kind of photographer. Brides especially seem to have a thing with photographers who are covered with red spots and aloe cream. I don’t know why. I guess I never asked them why. It’s just a blemish, I suppose, on the whiteness of things.

And we can’t have that.

Outside the house I wrap the children’s bare arms and legs with saran wrap, because it is all that I have that could work. I look at the woman.

“You’ve been here before?” I say. “Really?”

“No,” she said. “I don’t know why I lied. I know people who have.”

“Next time cover yourselves,” I say. “I mean, Christ, there’s bees in there.”

The children don’t seem to mind the wrap or the duct tape that closes up their sleeves. I try to put some on the woman too, but she refuses.

“I think I should brave it,” she says.

“Sure?” I say.

“Don’t you?” she says.

“It’s all I know,” I say.

We go inside, and I show them around. The house is not a big house. It is more of a shack, really. Outside it is painted white. Inside it mostly looks like wood. If you dream really hard, you can imagine that you’re in the woods, even though you’re in a house.

The woman starts to examine the walls, and then she makes a noise.

“Yikes,” she said. “They’re real.”

She turns to the kids.

“They’re real, all right,” she says to them.

I take them first to the back bedroom, which has my bed and dresser. That’s about it in there. I tell them that this is where I live.

The bigger of the children says, “You live here?”

“Of course,” I say, and look at the woman because I want to make fun of the kid a little but know that I probably shouldn’t.

The woman understands, though, and nods.

The kid says, “I would be scared of the bees.”

“It’s not the bees that can hurt you,” I say.

The woman looks at me. I look back. I had meant to sound smart in front of the kids, wise like a wizard. The little one seems to buy it, the bigger one no.

The kid says, “No, it is.”

The woman waits for my reply. I guess she is on my side, and for a moment I think she’s gorgeous in her dumb look. I stay quiet for a second.

She says, “You only hurt yourself, right?”

And I think, these can’t be her kids.

Everyone lets everything go, and we move into the living bathroom. I tell them that it is usually wet and steamy in here and that the bees don’t like the walls around the bathroom. They nod.

Next is the living room, which has bookshelves and chairs.

“Go ahead,” I say to them. “Sit down and feel what it’s like.”

They do.

“If you stay real quiet,” I say, “you can hear them in the walls.”

For the most part this isn’t true, but people always buy it. They sit on the edge of their seats and try to point their ears in the direction that seems the most bee-like.

The woman says, “I can hear it! I can! Kids, listen.”

The big kid says, “I am. I just hear us.”

The little one says nothing. The big kid is right, because there is no noise but our silly human noise.

As we’re sitting and listening for the bees, someone knocks on the door. Outside there is insurance man that I called the week before. I tell him to wait and come back inside.

I say to the woman, “Okay, it’s time to keep moving.”

But they don’t listen. Up in the corner of the room some of the bees have come through a tiny crack and are flying around with a purpose. The visitors are entranced by this. I let them have their fill, and eventually the bees fly into the bedroom and land on the curtain that covers my bed.

So I take the three people into the kitchen and offer them some honey. I have big jars of it sitting all over the place. The people assume that the honey is from the house, but it’s not. It’s from a supermarket downtown. There is honey in the house, sure, but I don’t know how to get it. I’m not a carpenter or a beekeeper. I’m just a salesman and a guide.

The people eat some honey with crackers and then look around the kitchen.

“This whole place smells like honey,” she says. “That’s just, it’s really pretty.”

By the table the little kid is looking at a bee that has landed on his arm. For a second I think about what the kid would look like completely covered with bees. Then I think about him flying away, carried by bees.

I say out loud, “Someday this house will be carried away by bees.”

I try to say it like I was actually dreaming it first, and saying it out loud only by accident. This usually works. This was how it started. I think that lately I actually have been dreaming it.

The woman in her beautiful way nods in approval and then chomps a cracker with honey.

And then, shortly after they arrived, the woman and the kids are gone. After they pay me forty dollars.

Outside the insurance man is standing with a few people.

He says, “I hope you don’t mind, but I told them you were already on a tour.”

“We can wait,” one of them says.

“Thanks,” I say. “I don’t mind. Excuse me, people, but I need to have a meeting with this man.”

Inside the insurance man asks if the living room is the best place.

“I mean, with the bees and everything,” he says. “They’re real, right?”

I show him the stings on my arms.

“The bathroom might be better,” I say.

The thing is, people say that bees get used to the people who are around them all the time. This has not been my experience. For me, bees are bees. They sting you if you get in their way. It’s a price to pay for running a profitable house of bees.

The insurance man says, “How did you get into such a weird predicament?”

“I’m not sure I know what that means.”

“You run a house of bees.”

“Right,” I say. “Well, I’m not ready to go into all that.”

So instead we talk about insurance. It’s difficult to get insurance for myself and for my house. The house is likely to fall any minute, most think. In fact, most think the same for me the bee-man.

The whole time the man is just talking, on and on. I don’t recognize most of what he says, but I think he is on my side because of the way he smiles at me. After a while he sighs and quits with the insurance stuff.

He says, “I didn’t come here just for business.”

Then he stops, waiting for me.

So I say, “Okay.”

“No,” he says, “I think this place is a star. A real star. I’ve been here so many times that I’m sure the bees know me.”

“They’re just bees,” I say.

“Still,” he says. “I have something. What you do, I think I can do. What you do is what I will do.”

I look at the man. I don’t think he’s crazy. I should, but I don’t.

I say, “I’ve been in this house for a long time. You want to show me something? Show me. Please.”

So he does. He shows me. We sneak out the back window and run through the trees to the parking lot. I feel new again. We get in his car and drive away, laughing at the people who are still standing outside of the house of bees, waiting to get in and get my tired tour. In the car the insurance man talks hotly about life and beauty, and I listen because I have to say nothing. Halfway down the mountain, halfway back into town, a bee flies out of the man’s shirt.

“That bee didn’t sting you?” I say.

“Jesus,” says the man. “That’s a sign. That’s a sign if I ever saw one.”

And I believe him.

In town he takes me to a neighborhood that I have never seen before. It is on the south side of town. He drives deep into the place and then pulls over in an alley.

“It’s behind this building,” he says. “Follow me.”

So I do. I follow him. Behind the broken down building is a big pile of shopping carts. There are just a ton of them, stacked up and spread out on this empty expanse of cracking concrete. It is a tremendous thing. Just tremendous.

I say, “Dear God.”

“Right,” says the man. “Right?”

He leads me to the middle of the ornament of shopping carts. No, it’s a skeleton of something long lost, something beautiful and sad and ancient. I look at the man and feel thankful.

“I’ve been gone for a long time,” I say.

“In the mountains,” he says. “In a way, I have too.”

“Who knows about this?” I say.

“Only us and lost souls,” he says.

I look at the red marks on my skin.

“I think that my soul is lost,” I say.

“That has to be why we’re here,” he says.

He brings me to the center and has me kneel down there. I do gladly. He kneels next to me and tells me to wait, so I do. I put my hands together.

“Don’t do that,” he says. “That’s not right. Just wait.”

And I do. After a while a bird lands on one of the carts stacked on the highest part. Then a while later another bird lands nearby.

“Jesus,” says the man. “This is rare.”

“Oh, God,” I say.

I wish that it would rain. I wish that it would rain a rain that could wash me all away into the concrete cracks of the shopping-cart foundation. That is all that I want at this moment.

Sometime later I jolt up. I have been nodding off. Or meditating. I still don’t know the difference, but want to. I get up with the man and feel strong and alive. I feel good. And I know that in the days to come I won’t remember how many birds came that day to save me, to lift me away.

It could have been a thousand birds. Or it could have been a single bird. In the end, I know it wouldn't have mattered.

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