Stung

He doesn’t suggest we sting her the first time he brings her around, just offers one of the chairs next to our hive. She is a kaleidoscope of colour; on her lips, on her body. He hasn’t laughed since Karen left, but he’s smiling and that’s something, the smell of mead on his breath.

He touches her knee as they start up the small-talk, first date, get-to-know-you stuff. Favourite books, favourite bands, favourite cities. She is an artist, lives on a farm with a goat. Her voice is soft, like a plume of liatris. He demonstrates how to push on a drone’s abdomen to pop out its penis, and her cheeks burn violet.

“The drones are useless come winter,” he says. “They get kicked out of the hive and die.”

He doesn’t tell her how he used to sit here and rant about suffering a similar fate. But he’s pulled through to spring just as we have.

“I haven’t been stung before,” she says. “Does it hurt?”

“It depends on your tolerance for pain,” he replies.

She slides onto his lap, kicks off her shoes. Her toenails are painted the colour of lilac, the same shade as the shrub Karen planted when they first bought their home. It remains our dearest scent, the one we forage for most often. He hasn’t planted lilac here and we miss it.

He tops up their glasses, the sweet smell drawing us from the hive. She is nervous as we buzz about, her pheromone strengthening.

“Is it true bees die when they sting?” she asks.

He nods. “Only the females are capable of stinging. They can’t remove their stinger once it’s set.”

His face hardens, his eyes dip down. We are familiar with this routine of his. We are slaves to routine ourselves, after all, and she is not the first swirl of colour to visit this new house.

She tucks an errant hair behind his ear, asks, “How often do you get stung?”

“It feels like every day.”

“Do you do it on purpose?”

“Sometimes,” he says.

She laughs, and its a beautiful sound. Light and warm, like summer wind. She grabs one of us mid-flight, the sound of wings buzzing inside her cupped hand. The stinger lodges into the fleshy part of her palm beside a smear of green paint, and we’re devastated to see one of us go. But it’s a necessary sacrifice given the look of admiration of his face.

“Shit,” she breathes, a flush spreading across her face.

“Jesus.” He pries open her hand. “Why’d you do that?”

“To see how much it hurt.” She bites her lip as he pulls out the barbed hook, as he kisses the red welt.

“And?”

“It wasn’t that bad,” she says, but her pupils have dilated.

“Seriously?”

“It hurt like a motherfucker.”

“You become numb to it after a while,” he says.

“Have you?” she asks.

He shrugs. “Not yet.”

Jennifer Todhunter’s stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. She is the managing editor of Pidgeonholes. Find her at www.foxbane.ca or @JenTod_.