January 25, 2005

The Sting of No Sting

A man sits crosslegged in a field, motionless, eyes lidded. A bee flies close and begins to study him.

The man thinks, “Yet another flashing of the phenomenal world.”

The bee buzzes around the man’s head. It does a dance to call the other bees.

“What is it, a statue?” dances a pale, hesitant young bee.

“I’ve seen this kind before,” dances the first bee. “They don’t make honey, they don’t build hives, they don’t sip nectar, they don’t dance, they don’t sting—they don’t do anything.”

All the bees fly inquisitively about the man’s head and torso. Bees brush his nostrils, tickle his eyelashes, nuzzle his earlobes. Bees tease his hair, bounce off his beard. “I am not attached to phenomena,” the man thinks.

“See what I mean?” the first bee dances. “Somebody sting it. Come on, who’s bee enough to sting it? You!” She gestures at the pale, hesitant young bee.

“Me? But ma’am—I mean, if I sting, I’ll—“

“Hey Sarge,” intercedes a more experienced bee. “She’s new, know what I mean? Still wet behind the thorax.”

“Arrgh, new recruits,” the first bee dances in disgust. “All right, everyone, fall out. Play time’s over, we got flowers to suck.”

Excitedly the bees depart in all directions, some darting across his field of vision, some circling around his neck, some landing briefly on his forearm before flying away. “There is no bee, there is no field, there is no one thinking, ‘There is no field,’” the man thinks.

Silence. A small fresh breeze. Sweet yellow grains of pollen drifting to the earth. With infinite slowness the man straightens his legs and rises, knees creaking. He hasn’t stood up for four days. There is a brook where he can wet his lips.

For no apparent reason, as he takes his first step, he begins swatting madly at his arms, his neck, his torso, his beard, his hair, his nostrils, his eyelashes, his earlobes.