The Case of the Midnight Bee

It has come to my attention that I am living in a horror movie.

I’m fine with this. Really. I had a suspicion for a while that I was living in a romantic comedy — I’m a single woman who’s worked creative jobs exclusively in big American cities, I’m constantly tripping over nothing, and have what I consider a pragmatic and realistic view of romantic love that others find pessimistic. But that’s a bit self-aggrandizing to begin with, and if it were a romantic comedy, it would be a really long, really boring one. Especially considering I’ve mostly dated STEM grad students and engineers. I’ve accepted that a horror movie is much more likely. My only concern is what kind of horror movie I’m in.

Last night I came home late from my cousin’s graduation party (everybody please say congratulations to Daryl), got my mail, and went into my building’s elevator. I was opening a $22 residuals check when I caught something out of the corner of my eye, a patch of something dark yellow on my jacket sleeve. I looked closer, and saw five tiny eyes looking back at me.

I froze, because this is pretty much how I got stung by a bee when I was a child. We were at a day camp outing at Castaic Lake — not a real lake, but we’d already had a beach day — and I was eating watermelon Fruit By The Foot in my bathing suit when a very determined bee landed on my shoulder strap and refused to leave. My friends told me they’d get it off, but I should be prepared to run after, and I ran a little too soon. It stung me right at the base of my neck, which is really not a fun place to be stung, and I screamed and cried a lot because I was nine years old and that’s what you do.

Actually, I guess that wasn’t “pretty much” like this, at all. Still, even though I haven’t been stung in more than twenty years, and I’ve experienced many way more painful things since then, I’m still a little uncomfortable around bees. They’re smarter than other insects, I know, and they don’t want to sting. Leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone. They’re not like the dumb, giant California figeater beetles, one of which flew into my hair a few summers ago.

Still, when a bee lands on you and won’t go away, it is unsettling. Especially when it’s after midnight, and you’ve never once seen a bee at night before. Maybe I brushed up against some night-blooming jasmine, I told myself, but images of horror movies were already flashing through my mind. Very limited images, of course, because I haven’t actually seen very many horror movies: I love horror TV shows, but slasher films and mirror-image synaesthesia are not a good mix, and I don’t like jump-scares or other people screaming. But bees are all over horror movies, I know that, there were all kinds of movies about swarms and “killer bees” in the ‘70s. And there was a bee in The Ring, right? No, it was a fly. Candyman? There were bees on the poster, but I only knew what my brothers told me after they saw it on Spanish TV in Madrid and had my oldest brother translate, using his two years of high school Spanish. If I was suddenly in a horror movie, I needed to know which one it was. I’ve seen Scream, I know that knowledge of the genre is the only way to survive!

I noted, to my relief, that she didn’t look like a yellow jacket. I’m not the best with insect identification, but when I was six and filming a scene for Melrose Place in Griffith Park, a yellow jacket drowned in my cranberry juice. That’s a pretty vivid image for a six-year-old. Yellow jackets were forever burned into my brain, with their ugly, early-’90s-esque neon yellow, as opposed to the more subdued honey yellow of honeybees and bumblebees. Wasps I wasn’t so sure about: were they also brightly colored? They were longer and more tapered than the girl on my sleeve, I thought, but I still wasn’t taking any chances. You’re supposed to treat any snake as poisonous if you can’t tell what kind it is, surely the same was true of bees and wasps.

If I brought it inside, one of my cats would inevitably kill it. They’re pretty lazy, but good hunters: I once saw my biggest, laziest cat catch a fly out of midair between his front paws on his first try, and immediately bring it to his mouth. It was so surprising and disgusting that my friend and I stopped talking and just kind of stared in awe at him for a moment. But I didn’t want them to get stung for their efforts, especially if it was a wasp. If it was a honeybee, aren’t you not supposed to kill them? Aren’t they the ones at risk, without whom entire ecosystems might be destroyed? Anna always goes out of her way to help any lost or injured honeybees she finds out in the wild. But she also thanks plants before she picks them, and lets strangers’ dogs lick her face, and we can’t all be Snow White. I’d just let the bee outside, and let her figure out how to get home.

I walked slowly through the long hallway, trying not to disturb her. Every time I looked back, she had crawled about a half-centimeter higher, a half-centimeter closer to the place I was stung as a child, the place now giving me extreme headaches because I’m in my thirties and scalene tension headaches are just part of the routine. It felt like ages to find the nearest exit door, and I silently cursed the California architecture that makes L. A. apartment buildings so beautiful but so weirdly hard to navigate.

When we got outside, she wouldn’t leave. She’d found a home on my jacket. I finally took the residuals I had in my left hand and gently scooped her off. I did not run this time. A second later I saw her down on the ground, not hurt, but not flying away. She was just sitting there, looking at me.

I made my way inside and locked the door. This was an omen. I don’t even believe in omens, but this was one. I have never seen a bee at night, let alone had such a weird, tense, intimate moment with one. What was the bee trying to tell me? What kind of horror movie is this? Is this the first moment of a Guillermo Del Toro film? A bad remake of a Korean movie? “The Case of the Midnight Bee” does sounds like an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? (That would actually be cool, I’ve always wanted to be in a campfire story.) While I don’t consider myself a brave or strong person, I am a very prepared one. So I’m going to need help figuring this out, because if this is going to be my life from now on, I need to be prepared.

Although, right after I got inside, I sat down on my couch to find that one of my cats had thrown up all over it. That might lend more credence to the romantic comedy theory.

Stuff I Did This Week: My interview with Lifehacker, about what and how I eat, went up! I talked about matzoh ball soup, cooking with Anna, Jollibee fried chicken, my health issues that allow me to have as much sodium as I want, embarrassing myself in front of Jon Hamm, and much more!

Fake BBC Show Title of the Week: Ey Up, Me Duck!