Copyright is held by the author.
For Frances and Viveca
“THEY’RE ON the their way, now. Everything is going to be all right, Eddy. You’ll be just fine.” Miriam stood smiling down at me from where she stood near the door.
“You won’t leave me?”
“No, I’m right here.”
Grandma turned and looked over her shoulder but didn’t say anything. She was sitting at my bedside where I lay at three o’clock in the afternoon. It was a fine yellow afternoon that only the best July can cook up. The window was open and apart from all the rest I was experiencing at that moment, I could smell the clippings from Doug Rushmore’s lawn across the street. He had just gone in from mowing it. Grandma had both her hands on mine — kind of a sandwich — and the worried look on her face worried me.
“It’s just a bee sting,” I said. “I’m glad I squashed the bugger.”
My lips had started to swell and my arm looked red and spotted and tightly wrapped like some kind of salami hanging in Schumacher’s Deli.
Miriam nodded and that made me feel a little better.
Grandma called out: “Did you get them, Jolene?”
“Yes, Grandma. They’re on their way.”
“I wish you wouldn’t.”
“Be quiet,” Grandma told me. Patted my hand. “Don’t talk. You’ve got to stay calm.”
“I am calm. What are you talking about? It’s just a bee sting.”
Funny thing. I don’t ever remember a sting from a bee having this kind of reaction. I’d been stung a couple times as a kid — I think by bees but I’m not sure. And one time I got a shit load of stings when Cory Granger and I threw a Canada Day firecracker at a wasp’s nest. When the thing exploded it was like live shrapnel coming at us. But even then — I was sore, bawling, but I didn’t have to take to my bed. Actually, as I remember it, I got stung in a strategic place enough times so I couldn’t sit down. But this? What was happening here? I could feel my heart racing and feel the sweat rolling down my face like somebody was pouring water over my head.
How it came about is the funniest thing. Three nights ago I woke up to something screaming outside my bedroom window. I have the bedroom on the ground floor, with great Grandpa’s old brass bed and a buffalo robe he told us once belonged to Wild Bill Hikcock or Geronimo, depending on which memory he drew upon. I had put the garbage out earlier in the evening for early morning pick up. They come to do our street at seven usually, sometimes quarter to. I bolt up in my bed, eyes like a pair of hard-boiled eggs. “Jesus Christ!” I whisper to myself. “Somebody’s being murdered out there.” I want to find out what’s going on but at the same time I’m a little scared. Then I hear the screams again. I jump out of bed, ready to be the knight in shining armour for some girl being raped or murdered outside my window, when I flip the curtains and see five raccoons in some kind of raccoon wrestling tag team match. They were after the garbage. The green plastic bags had been ripped open and trash lay all over the sidewalk and part of the lawn. “Jesus Christ!” I cried again. But this time it was directed at the coons. That summer was a boom season for the rascals and the local paper called it “a plague.” Matt Patterson was doing a good business selling traps in his hardware store. I was a little relieved. At least I didn’t have to go out there and fight some thug or rapist. I hollered at them to shoo — not too loud or I’d wake upstairs. They shooed. I went back to bed. I wiggled my toes against the buffalo rug that hung over the end like I always did. It did a fine job putting me to sleep. Nice sensation. Try it if you have one.
Next minute it seemed like they were at it again. Round two. I heard a scrunch against my screen window. Then a sort of ripping sound and a clunk. I sat up in bed wishing I had my old baseball bat. What happens? Two coons are scrabbling against the screen and knock it out of the window. Half of it is bent and hanging inside my room. There’s a coon sitting on top of it, looking as surprised as I am, but with a kind of ‘Hey, buddy, how’s it going?’ look on his face. “Get out of here!” I scream. I knocked something over before I snapped on the light. Snapped it on, stood up, waved my arms. He turns, falls out of the window onto his side and I’m right behind him. Just too far away to grab his tail. I probably wouldn’t have done that in any case. A coon can best most dogs and if they bite you you’ll have a scar to show your grandchildren. I think this time they got the message, though. I yanked the screen out of the sill and put the thing on the floor, slammed the window shut and closed the curtains. What I knocked down was my favorite photo of my fiancée Miriam and me. It was taken outside the CN Tower in Toronto when we visited there. The glass was broken and that really annoyed me. I set it back on my bedside table. It was a hot night. I either slept or had a bath — one of the two. When I woke up bleary-eyed to the early sound of the garbage truck I was awash in sweat.
You’d think the first thing I’d do is replace the screen. But I did not. Once I discovered I could stick my head out I was like a kid. I wanted the new thing not the old. I could reach out and pick one of Grandma’s roses whenever I felt like it because they grew beside my bedroom. Ordinarily, if I wanted one I’d have to walk through the house and go outside to get it. Not that I was especially desirous of roses — except I’d pick one everyday when they were in bloom to give to Miriam. Now all I had to do was reach through the open window. It seemed the world was closer without the screen. Anyway, I told everybody I was going to leave it until the fall. First frost I’d put one up to stop the snow from coming in. Sure it was hot sometimes in the room at night but I slept in my boxers anyway and I got used to it. It was a fair trade for the open window.
Three days later — that would be today — I was lying on the bed, nearly three o’clock in the afternoon, when something bigger than a mosquito and smaller than a hummingbird flew in. At first I thought: wasp! But it turned out to be a bee. I was reading a magazine so I took a swat at the bugger. I missed him and he swirls around. So I swatted him again. There’s an old adage that runs never swat a wasp or a bee, you’ll just antagonize it. That puts me in the slow learner category, I guess. Next thing I knew—or rather felt—the little fucker’s on my arm and it feels like I’ve been jabbed by a hypodermic needle.
“Oh, Jesus!” I cried. “Ouch, dammit!”
“What’s the matter?” Miriam asks from the other room. At least I think it was her.
“I got a bee on my arm. He just stung me!”
“Well kill it for God’s sake!”
I smack it with the magazine but fail to render the fatal blow. I can feel the stinger going deeper. I also feel peculiar at that moment in a way I can’t explain. Everything was coming at me in a rush. I could feel my heart racing like something with an eye on the finish line. “Dammit!” I hollered. “God, god dammit!” This time I rolled the magazine and leveled the fucker with all I had. He left an inch long mess of a splat on my arm. He was dead, even though his little legs continued to wiggle and he was hanging off the skin by his disemboweled stinger. I brushed him off. I wanted to jump off the bed but at that point I couldn’t find my legs. I was getting a little scared. Not a lot. But some. “Help me, somebody!” I cried. “Help me!”
“I’m coming,” she called. Grandma came, too. She got to my room first and as soon as she saw me she gasped.
Miriam cried, “Oh my God! Call 911! I think he’s allergic!”
“Allergic…” I mumbled, feeling for the first time in my life the full terror of those words and the consequences they held.
“A bee stung me…I’m…”
Grandma frowned and tried to comfort me, saying, “No, no Eddy. You can’t be allergic to a bee sting.”
But something was behind the change in me and I could see it in her face. I heard Jolene on the phone, screaming in as hushed a manner as one could and still be screaming. I could smell Doug’s grass and the chicken pie Grandma was in the middle of making for supper. Her hands were dusted with flour and felt like talcum powder against my skin. I remember too, the fine yellow afternoon we were enjoying. Leave it to mid July to cook up a day like that.
I don’t know how much time passed — it seemed to jump away from me. I felt oddly outside of time, like I was looking at events from an opera box or something. An ambulance sounded at the corner of the street. I saw Jolene come into my room, chewing all the fingers on her right hand. Then Miriam came in. ‘They’re here now, Eddy. Everything’s going to be all right.”
“Do you love me?” I cried in a kind of delirium.
“I love you like I never loved anybody, Eddy. Never.”
And Grandma said, “Why Eddy, we all love you.”
Jolene looked out the window. “They’re here!”
“Oh Grandma, they are!” I tried to sit up. “I can see angels!”
Miriam and I were just too full of the experience to say anything but I could see it on her, all that love, and I must say that was probably the finest moment of my life.
Three paramedics entered the room and Eddy’s grandmother stood up and wiped the tears from her eyes.
The senior man said, “This man was stung by a bee?”
His name was Archie Joshua and he did not like the look of things. He leaned across the bed and gazed down at Eddy’s face, watching closely for signs of breathing. He raised his limp arm and felt for a pulse. Then he announced, slowly and sadly, what Miriam, Grandma and Jolene already know. “This man is dead. I’m so very sorry.” The other two paramedics stood behind him with solemn faces.
After Eddy’s Grandma told them what happened, she shook her head. “He was never allergic to a sting before. He’d been stung as a child.”
“By a bee?”
“Well, no. Wasps.”
“Well, that’s a different venom,” Mr. Joshua explained. “They all produce their own reaction.” He spoke in the hushed tones of a ministering churchman. Miriam watched him. In grief she was like noble sculpture. She felt she would faint away at some point but not until they had left. She would hold and stay with Eddy until it was all over and everything was taken care of. She placed a hand reassuringly on Grandma’s shoulder. The old woman looked up. She was trembling. Her face was shiny with the water of her tears. Sorrow has its way.
The paramedic said, “We’ll remove the body to the morgue and I’ll fill you in on what happens from here. I know how hard this is for you.”
Miriam sat down on the bed and took Eddy’s cold hand. She could feel the dusting of flour from Grandma’s piecrust. She looked around the room. So many memories. And that was all it would hold now, just memories. Poor Grandma. Poor Jolene.
The three men worked quickly and efficiently. In a daze, Jolene put the kettle on for tea. They could use some.
Miriam followed Grandma into the living room and they sat together on the couch. The TV was on. It was some kind of game show.
Through the kitchen pass-though, Jolene said, “He’s looking down at us, Grandma. He’s not in pain and he’s not scared anymore.”
“No, he’s at peace now,” Miriam said. “I just know he is.”
Grandma said, “The look on his face just before he died. I will never forget it!”
“Grandma…?” Jolene said.
They carried Eddy’s body out on a collapsible stretcher and by the time they got outside some of the neighbors had come out to watch. The senior paramedic returned to the house before leaving. He stepped into the living room.
Grandma looked up at him.
He said, “I got into this line of work because I wasn’t smart enough to be a doctor but I wanted to help people the best way I could. Much of the time I can. Much of the time.” He shook his head. “And then there are times I can’t. It’s the worst part of the job. Again, let me express my deepest condolences.” He nodded at Jolene who had come out of the kitchen and stood in the doorway. Her face looked like she just stepped out of the rain.
Then he turned and walked lightly, even delicately, in his heavy rubber-soled shoes down the hallway to the door. The thing was this young Edward was a fine looking young man who really should not have been a moment in his day. There was a future out there with his name on it and under any other circumstances he would be running to it.
Grandma rose from her seat and went over to see him out. Good manners were called for, even at times like this.
Mr. Joshua took her hand and squeezed it. He nodded politely at the family photographs in various styles of frames that lined the wall inside the door. Eddy as a baby. Eddy in his swim trunks at five holding up a fish and grinning—there was a lake in the background. A high-school graduation picture.
“That was Eddy two summers ago,” Jolene pointed out. In it he was standing beside a young woman.
“He was a handsome man. Who’s the nice-looking girl with him? His wife?”
“No, that was Miriam. His fiancée. She died eight months ago in a car accident.”
“I’m sorry to hear it,” the paramedic said.
Grandma said, “Three days ago he accidentally broke his favourite picture of them together. He was so upset. I shouldn’t have told him it was bad luck.” Then she said, “It’s funny. I was thinking of Miriam. I could almost feel her today. Oh, she was just an angel.”
“He said he saw angels,” Jolene remembered.
“Well, he’s with them now,” Mr. Joshua said.