I had spent the summer swimming in our pool. Normally the water was a pale blue, a little lighter than the sky. During my swims I would alternate between different strokes, with moments of rest in-between. It was just me and Mom that summer. I’d swim until she called me in for dinner. She’d spend most of the afternoons on the phone. Sometimes she was on a call for so long she’d forget about me, leaving me out there past dark. Those nights I wouldn’t go in until my hands and feet were so pruney they ached.
There was a day in mid-July that it was unseasonably cold. Normally I’d leave the pool and would certainly be completely dry within a few minutes. That day the pool was warmer than the air, the sky was a single grey sheet hung above me, and a bee was on its back, fighting the small ripples and waves I had made, struggling to stay above the surface.
I swam over, careful not to disturb the water too much, so I could keep an eye on it. The bee was alive. I kept my body submerged to my neck. Its legs were running in place as the bee frantically tried to get off its back. I didn’t like bees. Before Dad had left he installed hurricane shutters. One day on the job he accidentally jostled a hive. The bees went after him. Dad came home red and swollen all over.
Despite this, I was at ease, not swimming, near the bee. It was the first time that summer I had done nothing but float in the pool, and it felt good. But I knew I had to get back to swimming.
The bee was helpless. It was on its back, unable to fly, and I was able to control the water around it. I thought about killing it. Gooseflesh rose on my neck. I sunk a little deeper into the water. The small bumps dispersed and smoothed over.
The bee’s legs turned over like the small teeth of a lawn mower or the blades of a trimmer. I got out of the pool and found a leaf. I scooped up the bee with the leaf and flung it onto the edge of the pool. Assuming the bee would fly away, I resumed swimming laps.
I hadn’t seen Mom yet. She hadn’t yet left her bedroom that day. I kept glancing over at the sliding glass doors, trying to spot her. During the butterfly stroke my breathing seemed off; I was especially winded at the turn of the length.
During the breaststroke my shoulders’ range of motion seemed limited. My resting periods grew longer. I removed my goggles and saw the bee back in the water.
Once again, the bee was on its back, legs kicking, and the water was moving in low waves around it. I wondered if the wings failed it. After retrieving the leaf, I scooped up the bee, and placed it on the edge of the pool.
For a moment I thought it was dead, but soon its wings started flapping. I perched myself up on the edge of the pool with my elbows. The bee’s wings reminded me of wilted petals moving in a steady breeze. He did not leave the ground. I wondered if the bee was trying to fly or just letting me know how bad it all really was out of the water. Slowly the bee started walking back towards the pool. It was almost there and a gust of cold wind took it the rest of the way. The bee, on his back, kicked his legs, but this time a little slower.
My arms—heavy—pulled at my shoulders. The air hurt my lungs. The bee’s stinger was gone. His legs slowed even further. I, for a third time, scooped him out with the leaf.
Twice I tried to brush the bee away from the pool with my hand. He stumbled when he walked, swaying side to side. His wings did not flutter but instead were wet, hung down close to his body. The upper-half of my body was out of the water for a good amount of time but it did not dry. I let the bee into the water. One of his legs was kicking, but very slowly. There were no waves, the bee waned at the surface. Only slight pushes of cold wind made the bee move.
I picked him up, cupping him in two hands. I weighed him there for a moment but felt nothing. It reminded me of when we had a bird. My parents used to go out to Arcadia to bird spot. One day they found a white-eyed vireo with a torn up wing. They brought it to a vet and then home. They tried to get me to hold it, but I was too afraid it’d bite me. Dad would always hold him with two hands. The bird died not too long after he became ours. That was when Mom and Dad still spoke without yelling.
The bee did not move in my hands, but I thought he might still be alive. I placed him back into the water. His legs were still. I placed the leaf over the bee, and let him drown.
Mom still hadn’t come out of her room. She was probably waiting for someone to call.
My face was numb from the cold. I held my head under water. At first I held my breath but soon I let small bubbles fill my nostrils, and slowly air escape my lips. The more air that left my lungs, the lighter I felt. Once I let my breathing go my body became buoyant. I floated on the surface. With my back exposed to the air, I opened my eyes. The water was warmer than what was up above the surface. After a minute and fifty-five seconds I was forced to come up for air
Nicholas Finch is the assistant editor of Neon Literary Journal. He was raised
in England and South Africa before moving to Florida. His major influences
include Ernest Hemingway, Ben Lerner, Raymond Carver, John Keats,
Flannery O’Connor, Rudy Wilson, Cormac McCarthy, Bret Easton Ellis, and
Akiko Yosano. Finch has pieces published or forthcoming in Haiku Journal,
Wyvern Lit, Catfish Creek, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Pioneertown, The
Molotov Cocktail, Gravel Mag and elsewhere.