by Jude Higgins
SHE IS MORE wasp than bee because she stings repeatedly. One day she’s minding her own business. Next day she’s on at me, non-stop. My hair, the mess I make with my food, my old gardening jumper, pots and pans not washed properly. Telling me now I can’t work, at least I could make myself useful around the house. I want to swipe her away. But if I do, she gets worse.
She’s more bee than wasp when I find her humming in a contented way on her days off, while she’s hanging up washing, buzzing about getting dinner ready, diving her nose into the sunflowers I bought for her birthday. At least I remembered this year.
She’s more wasp when she’s on her hobbyhorse, ringing the authorities about her pension. She tells me she would sting less if she had equal rights with other women just a few years older than her, who already have their benefits. She tells me she wouldn’t have to go out to work if the state paid her what she deserved. And waspish, she adds I should know this already. Why did she have to tell me again and again? Surely that’s one thing that should stick in my brain?
But then she’s sorry, she cries. She says sometimes she wants me to think of her as an endangered species who needs protecting. She can’t be looking after me all the time. I bring her a cup of tea and say I wish I could still work and I’m sorry I forget things. We go outside. Neither of us mind the wasps in the garden. They manage pests, she says. We watch them fly in and out of their nest under the eaves of the house. She says they’re family minded and cries again. Because she misses our boy. So far away. I do too. Sometimes I forget whether he’s alive or dead. And I daren’t ask her that. But I am sure we don’t hear from him. Haven’t for years. I doze off.
Next thing she’s standing by the door wearing her smart yellow and black uniform. I’m off to work now, she says. Well buzz off then, I say and I’m the one who sounds nasty now. I hate being alone. Everything fizzes in my head. Don’t go out in the car please, she says emphasising please. She’s been droning on about where I put the spare car key. Says it’s not safe for me to drive. Can’t I remember where it is? She wants to take it away. But I don’t want to lose the key to everything.
After she’s gone, I do remember where I put it. I sit in the car for a long time with the engine running. I watch a wasp crawling inside the window.
Jude Higgins is a writer, tutor and events organiser. Her flash fiction chapbook The Chemist’s House was published in 2017 by V. Press. She is widely published in magazines and anthologies. Jude is founder of the Bath Flash Fiction Award and directs Ad Hoc Fiction and Flash Fiction Festivals, UK. Connect at @judehwriter, judehiggins.com.