Last evening Dizzykin wanted to go out at 10 pm. His little sister, Minikin, followed fifteen minutes later. I was elated at the prospect of spending an entire night without cats lounging all over me, grooming incessantly, and leaving pieces of themselves all over the blankets. I looked forward to a stretch of tranquility.
But three hours later I was awakened by a weed whacker. It buzzed in short bursts interspersed with longer ones, the nylon filament whipping the air. In those hazy moments between being asleep and being awake, I decided it was rude to run a weed machine at one in the morning. But as I came more fully awake, I realized it was winter. Cold and dark. No weeds to whack. Weird.
Not a machine after all
When I sat up, I began to realize the buzz belonged not to a machine but to a bee. My first thought was a mason bee. Every year mason bees nest in the drain holes of my window frames and from there get inside the house. I keep a net handy for these frequent incursions and I sometimes catch upwards of 20 masons in and around my desk.
However, when I stood up, the frigid wooden floor reminded me it couldn’t be mason bees, not in January. Not with ice on the ground.
Eight hours earlier
Suddenly, I had a thought. Aha! Earlier in the day, at about 5 pm, I had opened the garage door. There, lying on the concrete just in front of the heavy door, was a dead honey bee. I snatched her up, curious.
She looked fine except all four wings where frozen in the “K” position and she was light as a feather. I concluded she had opted for a quick cleansing flight during the brief interlude when sunlight pierced the clouded sky. But the sun was deceiving—bright but not warm—and she didn’t make it back. Without any further thought, I carried her inside and dropped her into my tray of dead bees.
Okay, yes. I admit I share certain traits with preadolescent boys, one of which is keeping dead bugs on my bookshelf. I can’t kill bees, even for science, so I collect dead ones to dissect, gaze at through the microscope, and learn to identify. The trays contain mostly native bees, but also a few honey bees and a small assortment of wasps. My biggest fear is they will someday disappear into the vacuum cleaner.
Not dead, just cold
The trouble is, I reasoned, this particular dead bee wasn’t actually dead when I tossed her in there, and eight hours later she was ready to roll. I’ve seen this before: honey bees can appear dead when they’re not.
I peered into the tray and, sure enough, she was gone. I followed her buzz and soon found her crawling up the spine of Bees of the World. How àpropos. But she soon left Michener in favor of Garner’s Modern American Usage. A woman after my own heart. I considered putting her outside, but if I opened the door the cats would bolt in at the speed of light. So I left her to examine the books while I tried to sleep.
But sleep wouldn’t come. She kept buzzing. I took a blanket and tried the sofa for a while, but that didn’t work either, so eventually I went back to bed. A minute after I settled in, I heard her plop down on my pillow, a tiny muffled thud. Okay, enough is enough.
A sting in the night
With the light switched on, I put my finger right in front of her. I do this all the time, hundreds of times during the summer. The bees crawl onto my finger and I put them outside. Nothing to it. She too crawled up, then bam! She nailed me! The s-word wailed through the not-so-silent night.
I couldn’t believe it. Who gets stung by a bee in a pillow at two in the morning in the middle of winter? Looking at it from her perspective, though, I can see the problem. She went out for a potty break, got chilled to the core, dropped from the sky into a coma, and then woke up in the morgue. Sounds like a horror story. She probably freaked when she saw all the corpses, so I can’t blame her for being skittish.
However, it’s sad for me to report that she’s now back in the tray. Only this time, like the wicked witch of Oz, “she’s not only merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead.” Her stinger hangs limply from behind, much like a toe tag. And me? I’m too tired to think. Right now, the prospect of sleeping with kneady cats seems like heaven.
Honey Bee Suite