The lives’ work of a hundred bees is gone in one swallow. Amber nails, still coated in the polish of sticky, sweet resin, the corners of her mouth stained clear and baby blue. White crocheted dress tinged brown from falling in a yard on another street, green from the park down the road. She clutches the brimming mason jar close to her chest, her only joy in belonging to the haze.
The bear smells the honey. The bacteria sets in to the green body. A tight-mouthed grin three days later. And now she lingers by me, one streetlight behind me whenever I walk home. Her face sallow under filaments lit by cheap electricity, anemic hunger pulls her cheeks close to her teeth. The brown beast growing in her left shoulder wants more, its eye the raised bump poked and prodded by slender fingers. It reached her heart once, but that wasn’t enough for it.
Honey bee. Our mother used to call her that. Always visiting flowers, sucking on the white ends of clover. Make me another dandelion necklace, adorn a budding nymph in springtime bliss. But she got too close to her namesake. It showed her what it really meant to live in hives of saccharine drones aching to please a queen.
We performed bathroom surgery on the sting all those years ago, old tweezers and a moment’s-rinsed safety pin. Played doctor while Mother was on the phone, a harmless game of young children. That’s what killed her.
She won’t let me quite forget that.
I stare at her across the street, watch her clinging to the jar, its innards clinging to her hands. The bear isn’t done with her yet. It made her teeth decay into fangs, tart transmutation seeking satisfaction. Satisfaction, that savage little beast, eluding her and me. A stranger named peace between us.
I did not mean this fate for you, tiny girl, to doom you to black eyes and honey when you crave verdure and flesh. I did not mean to drape funeral flowers around your head and neck. I did not mean for you to echo in my footsteps each night, find home in the shadows cast by lampposts on a street that you once fancied yourself princess of. I did not mean for our mother to hate me and miss you so terribly to the point she did nothing but sit on your old bed, cradling your drawings of the garden as if Da Vinci had sketched them. Nowadays, she just ignores me, probably wishing that I had succumbed to your fate, and not you, her newest child. Even I wish the same sometimes.
Do you think you could ever forgive me, cast out that animal in your veins for a moment and realize I did not know what I was doing? You must see that I can’t go outside the same way anymore, can’t enjoy the nectar of a loved one’s voice, can’t help but shudder when I see a papery enclave in a tree filled with the buzzing of determined soldiers. I can’t wander behind the house without seeing you grab your shoulder, cheeks red and glistening. I can’t walk by your old bedroom without seeing you static beneath your bedsheets, cool to the touch and a pulse lost. I can’t pass the churchyard without seeing you promenade for me in your muddy white dress, weak and stumbling to catch my eye. But you always do.
Even when you stare at me like this, I miss you. I miss you, strayed, wrathful phantom. So small a specter, following close by me as you did in life, one streetlight behind. Maybe this way, I could guide you in the way I never could when you were alive.
When we were alive.