Photo copyright 2004 by Jackie, Essex, Ontario, Canada–Sphex pensylvanicus
I sift the earth, extracting slender green things with surgical precision. The garden is my heaven; in it, I play god, choosing what lives or dies. This is where I sift my thoughts, too, and comb the tangles of my life. The sun warms my back while I help a fat worm escape the demolition. Birds natter and scold. Butterflies dip and dance. I rub my nose with a dirty hand and shut my eyes. This peace, it’s balm to my soul.
The healthy shrieks of my two young daughters shatter the moment. I quickly assess the sound.
Little girl’s screams are, in my experience, classified by four types: the ear-splitting staccato of jubilant happiness; the guttural wail of anger/hurt; the shrill piping of terror, and the breathless squeal of shock/awe, which is a little like terrible excitement.
The girl’s feet patter through the open garage with united purpose, their yells are peppered with hushed collaboration. Okay, so—not fighting. Scratch outrage. I watch them seek my outdoor haunts with systematic composure. No mindless terror present there, but—they aren’t happy either.
The youngest spots me first, and they both rush to tower over me, babbling and gasping for breath. I relax. This is awe.
“A bee!” the younger one exclaims. Her knees buckle and spring as she hops in place.
“A black bee,” the older one impresses upon me. Her five year-old face is as serious as a newscaster announcing a contagious outbreak. “It’s really big, too.”
“He’s chasing us!” The youngest tears up. You can only be brave for so long when you are three.
My mind stumbles over this information. Wha . . .? A black bee? Is there even such a thing?
I sigh. “Show me,” I say, but I lead and they trail behind. They trip and giggle while pushing each other, intoxicated with the thrill of fear.
“See? There!” the five year old cries out, triumphant. She points to the paladian arch over the sink.
The ebony-colored insect crawls across the window, wavering in drunken circles and buzzing like a hive on steroids. This is no bee. Its sleek body, backlit by the afternoon sun, is the length of my smallest finger. The gloss of her graceful lines is an evil shine.
“Wasp,” I whisper, though I have never seen one so large. Queen! my instincts shout, and the roiling in my stomach seconds that summation.
Tired of listless wandering, the queen takes flight and dive bombs us. I suffer age regression, yelping and ducking with my children. She circles back, and we sway and scream like we are riding the tilt-a-whirl over a bump. We cower beneath our counter-top while the black bullet commands the air space.
“What do we do?” the youngest asks, trembling. Both girls, wide-eyed, look to me to fix the problem. I know exactly what to do.
“Time to call out the big guns,” I mutter. I shuffle across the kitchen like a soldier under siege, then grapple for my lifeline—the phone tumbles into my hand.
“Hey,” my husband says, his voice low and distracted. “Everything okay?”
“There’s a bug in the house,” I hiss, and flatten against the wall as the thing zooms by. “I think it’s a wasp!”
He laughs. “Oh-kay. Is that it? I’m sorry.” His voice drops to a conspiratorial whisper, “We’re really busy today.” I hear him shift the phone and confer with a co-worker.
My lifeline is leaving me adrift! I persist. “I-I think it’s a queen. It’s huge. And black and . . .” I trail off as he interrupts.
“I’m sorry, honey. Talk to you later?”
“Wait! What about the wasp?” The unmistakable whine in my voice makes even me cringe.
A pregnant pause that I’m all too familiar with fills the line.
That short span of silence is one of many things that I love about my husband. Instead saying exactly what he’s really thinking, right after I do or say something stupid, he waits approximately four seconds—most likely filtering what he’s going to say, instead of giving me the reply I deserve.
He clears his throat. “What did you want me to do—come home and kill it for you?” A hint of sarcasm colors his answer.
“Of course not, that’s ridiculous.” Yes, I do. I really, really do.
I hang up the phone, then stand. I wryly note I have backbone and it is intact. My children peep at me from between the barstools, intrigued by the change in my demeanor. “Is Daddy going to come home and kill the wasp?”
“Nope. I am,” I declare. They gasp and jostle each other.
“Are you gonna use the vacuum cleaner?” the five year-old asks. I bite my lip, and shake my head. Vacuum cleaners are perfect fly traps, but the uncertainty of whether the wind tunnel and dust would kill a hardier creature weighs upon me. I have a ridiculous fear of insect vengeance. My vacuum sat out of commission for two weeks, the nozzle secured with plastic and rubber bands, right after I sucked up a three-inch wolf spider.
I march to the dish drainer and grab an empty jar, at once smug. My husband, who decries my penchant for saving them, will be assailed of this virtue tonight. Above the sink, the queen has resumed crawling on the glass. With my heart in my throat, I climb the counter and poise. Can she see me? I lean close. She vibrates with fluid motion and humps the glass with her needle-tipped back—flaunting the weapon she can use at will. I quail at the thought of getting stung. My hand shakes. What if I miss? In my mind, she has supernatural speed and looms larger than my reach. A murmur breaks my confidence. I drop my hand and look down. Buoyed by my newfound courage, the girls have collected below and wait with hushed anticipation.
“Get back,” I tell them between clenched teeth. “What if …?” They scramble before I finish. I return to my task and plunge the jar with swift aim.
“You did it! You got her! Yay!” The girls clap and jump up and down. Mom has saved the day. But, wait. I didn’t think this through. She’s trapped—yes. But the blood rushing from my arm reminds me that I cannot lift the jar from the window without repercussion. The queen rails against her glass prison, flinging her hard-shelled body in every direction like a berserker military tank. Tap, tap, tap, thunk.Tap, tap, tap, thunk.
“How are you going to get her off the window?” the five year-old asks.
From the mouths of babes.
“Quick! I need an envelope.” The three year-old runs for the item, eager to help. Later, she will tell her dad she played an important role in the wasp’s capture. The arch is lined with pie-shaped grills that defy this simple task. I drag the queen to the widest spot and worry she will sneak through the minuscule crack as I slide the stiff paper beneath. I worry she will jab me through the thin vellum before I exchange my clamped hold for a metal lid. The queen knows this is her last chance for freedom and redoubles her efforts. The gap the envelope will leave while I transfer the lid is enough to give me pause. I shake the jar hard, knocking her to the bottom, and seal the top posthaste.
The girls and I turn the jar, examining the queen in her glass prison. She rages, grating like an outboard motor, but she’s no longer a threat. I cup her in my hand and find pity.
“Now what?” the five year-old asks. “Are you going to let her go outside?”
I stiffen—I can’t let her go. More than bug vengeance, reason tells me this critter’s particular purpose will not serve my home or neighbors very well. My shoulders sag. Suffering in a jar until she wastes away seems inhumane, but a quick death is no longer possible. The queen stops her frantic lashing and pants. I admire the elegant, albeit wicked, beauty of this creature—her only crime is that she is as she was made. She is a warrior, and a mother. A twinge of sadness weights my heart.
I’m in no mood to sort this out. “Your father will know what to do,” I reply, and give the queen a temporary home in our cool garage.
Later that night, my husband pokes his head in our bathroom. I’m dressing for our evening engagement and running late, so he only gets half my attention.
“Hey! Do we still have a wasp in the house?”
I hear the snicker in his voice, and roll my eyes.
“No. I captured it in a jar.”
“Really?” He is intrigued. “Where did you put it?”
“Um . . . in the garage. Somewhere.” I finish swiping mascara on my lashes and look up, but he is gone.
We are en route to our event before I remember the queen. We have a long ride ahead, and I’m using the time to topcoat my nails.
“Did you find the wasp?” I ask.
“I killed it.”
I chew on this information for a bit. The last time I saw the queen, she was spitting mad. I can’t figure out how he got her out without getting stung, or her flying off. To further complicate matters, I can’t understand why he of all people would take the risk.
“I shook the jar until it got dizzy and I threw it against the ground.”
Oh. Yes. That makes sense. Hadn’t I shook her myself to fell her from the top? But, I’m surprised as well, she seemed tougher built than that.
“And that killed her?”
He is quiet. I know this particular silence. I stop painting, and look up.
“What did you do?”
He clears his throat and a rare blush stains his profile. “I torched it.” This statement is punctuated with a shrug.
“You . . . What?” I am at once dull-witted. My brain stops and starts, sputtering—This does not compute.
My husband helps me get there quicker.
“I torched it. With. A. Lighter.”
The words sink in. I envision the long-handled butane type used for the grill. Blood heats my skin.
“You torched it?” I repeat. My voice rises at the end.
“Yeah,” he shrugs. “And then I stepped on it.”
“You burnt my bug?” I yell. The vehemence surprises me as much as it does him.
“Yeah. So what?”
Bewildered, I stare at the stranger beside me, attempting to reconcile him with the husband I know— the man who rescues our pond frogs, which, would otherwise be run-over because they like to party in our driveway when it rains; the man who maintains multiple feeders for wild birds and stray ducks; the man who roused me from a deep slumber to aid the seven week-old kitten who cried so piteously on our deck, and never left.
My quiet interlude prompts him to speak. “She would have stung me, you know. She would have killed me without hesitation.”
He’s right, of course. A fatal allergy to stinging insects has marked his life with much angst.
I think about my little girls and the variety of screams they use to convey their emotions. Women do that, too—in a more articulate fashion, of course. We rely on our voices, our sounds, or lack thereof, to express our feelings. My husband knows this, which is why my silence concerns him more than any words I might say.
Mars and Venus are so different.
Male quietude usually equals contentment. Venting is resolved, not with words, but physical expression. The boy in Home Alone faced fear with a baseball bat. John Wayne confronted anger with fisticuffs. College boys bump chests to show happiness. And if a boy wants your attention, well, depending on the age—there’s hair-pulling, tickle-prodding, or bear hugs. It makes sense. Traditional roles dictate that Venus nurtures and Mars protects. It’s a condition of how we are made.
“Are you upset with me?” he asks.
How can I be? Even I, in my garden, pull weeds.
“No,” I reply. “It was just a bug.”
What issues have caused Mars and Venus to become unaligned in your home? What would you have done with the queen?