Lacy sat on the weathered steps, watching bluebirds flit across the yard. School was out and Lacy, all of eight years old, was spending a few weeks at Grandma’s house. She tousled her brownish-blond hair with her index finger as three crows vacated the power line across the street in a blur of flapping wings. Lacy loved crows and other birds, especially the pretty red ones that flew up onto the ledge beneath Stella’s kitchen window to eat black sunflower seeds.
Snapdragons graced the sides of the steps. They exploded in pastel orange, yellow, and red-violet blooms, and the scent of Cape jasmine drifted on the air. Huge bees, yellow and black, scurried back and forth over the flowers, buzzing when they took off from one bloom and flew to another. Bees, bees, busy little bees, Lacy sang, tracing the outline of their flight with her finger. She remembered Tony, a boy in her second grade class, who taught her how to catch the white-faced ones in her hand. She thought about her favorite book, Buzzy the Bumblebee.
“Lacy?” Stella, no more than five feet tall with grey hair cut stylishly short, stood at the screen door. “Why don’t you come into the kitchen and have some ice cream?”
“Yay!” Lacy squealed, smoothing her Hello Kitty shirt with her hands. She tromped over the porch, letting the screen door wheeze shut behind her.
Lacy paused on her way back from the bathroom to examine the array of picture frames draped across her grandmother’s antique dresser. There was her late grandfather, James, in his jungle fatigues from his days in Vietnam, smoking a cigarette while leaning on his rifle. A picture of her mother in high school, wearing a blue and orange cheerleader uniform. Pam’s arms were parallel with her legs in a midair split, pom-poms blossoming from her hands. 1994 was emblazoned in gold in the lower corner. A photograph nestled at the rear caught her attention. She separated it from the others and strolled toward the kitchen with it.
Lacy plopped down in a chair and spooned some Blue Bell vanilla ice cream into her mouth, sliding the portrait across the table. “What’s this, Grandma?”
Stella’s hands were up, palms flattened out. Two black and white chickadees pecked away at the mound of seeds she held in each hand. She was smiling.
“Oh, that’s from years ago, sweetie,” said Stella. “I was really into feeding the birds back then. Your grandfather used to laugh at me so. Said I had a talent for attracting wildlife. A special talent.” She pushed the picture frame back toward Lacy. “Now finish your ice cream, and you can go play in the yard for a while.”
“But I want to know about the birds,” Lacy squirmed in her seat.
“Okay, dear. You fill your hands with birdseed and stand perfectly still next to a bird feeder. If you’re lucky, the birds will eat right out of your hands.”
Lacy’s eyes seemed to shimmer, pools of mocha. Her curiosity satisfied, Lacy stood up and placed her empty bowl and spoon in the sink.
“I think I’ll go play now,” said Lacy, sprinting toward the door with the vitality possessed only by eight-year-olds. She brushed by the screen door and down the steps in one fluid motion, leaving Stella to yell after her: “Watch out for snakes!”
Stella peered out the kitchen windows, watching as ominous dark grey clouds crept in from the west. A brisk breeze stirred the trees, and late-evening sunlight slanted through the breaks in the clouds, coating the room with a lustrous orange-yellow sheen.
Lacy’s been out there awhile. Probably out back, playing in the blackberry brambles. Stella spotted the ancient garden shed, a small building with grey weathered oak planks and a rusty tin roof. A crescent had been cut into the upper portion of the door, which was ajar.
“Yoo hoo, Lacy, time to come in now,” Stella hollered through the window. “You’d better not be in that nasty old shed.”
Stella had set a German chocolate cake on the table and was pouring two glasses of milk when the screen door into the kitchen scraped open.
Looking almost directly into the sinking orb of the sun, Stella watched Lacy step into the room. Lacy was a mere silhouette, the invading sunlight fashioning a crude corona around her luminous hair. Her tiny arms were outstretched, and Stella sensed tiny figures clambering over her head, giving Lacy the appearance of a serpent-haired Gorgon. Lacy, who would do anything to impress her grandmother.
“Grandma! Look what I did! Isn’t it neat?” she said, a prim smile playing over her lips.
Fear seized Stella’s heart with chilly fingers. She mumbled something as her hand went to her mouth, managing only a slight oog sound. She stumbled backwards into the table, knocking a glass of milk to the floor.
Lacy glided across an imaginary stage, listening to the clapping of the audience rise to a crescendo. A diadem of blackberry blooms encircled her hair, and a three-tier array of brambles and blooms formed a crude corsage pinned to her shirt by thorns. Blackberry vines twisted around her pants legs like ivy climbing a trellis. Several blooms were tangled in her shoelaces. She wore an old pair of faded gardening gloves, and a pair of rusty shears jutted from her pants pocket. She held a large Snapdragon bloom in each hand with the elegance of a queen preparing to knight someone with a gleaming sword.
Buzzing and crawling over the blooms were at least a dozen bumblebees.
“Don’t move, Lacy.” Stella scrambled under the sink for a can of flying insect killer. “Be perfectly still.”
Bees were already cruising around in ever-increasing arcs, attracted by Stella’s perfume. A bee veered toward Stella who, in her terror, began swatting empty air. She sprayed the flying insect killer in a circle in a futile attempt to disperse the bees. The pungent scent of bug spray permeated the kitchen. She imagined the bees fleeing from a giant can of Raid, just like in the commercials.
The hollow drone of humming wings filled Stella’s ears as more bees circled her head. One hovered in front of her. She could clearly make out its black face. It landed on her chin. Another bee joining the foray landed on the soft skin of her neck and stung her. When she bleated in pain, yet another angry bee crawled over her teeth onto her tongue, stinging her again and again.
Stella collapsed into one of the chairs, her eyes watering, making a gagging sound as she choked on her own swollen tongue. Bees crawled over her lips like Blue Bottle Flies on road kill. Stella snatched her purse from the table, groping for her cell phone to dial 911. Another bee, furious, skipped over her eyebrows, stinging her across the forehead. She slipped in the spilled milk and heard a dry crack when her hip connected with the floor. The cell phone skittered across the linoleum. Her hands caressed her eyelids, which were already swelling shut.
Lacy stood crying in the center of the kitchen floor, bumblebees clamoring over her clothes. Her tear-streaked brown eyes drifted over her grandmother, her delicate features wrinkled in sorrow.
“I couldn’t find any birdseed, Grandma. I couldn’t find any birdseed…”
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