The Bee in the Wall by Yoojin Hahn

"The Bee in the Wall" was first published in Quarto's Spring 2017 edition.

I tell you the story while we are both lying in bed. With our eyes half-shut, your fingers soft in my hair. It has begun to snow, and my feet are cold beneath the sheets. Your room smells of ironed clothing, of warmed water and fabric.

When I was younger, I tell you, I could never eat at school. I didn’t have anyone to have lunch with. I didn’t have any friends.

That’s sad, you say, giving me a smile. Tell me something else about your school. About the buildings. The nicer things.

You have the tendency to smile when you find something sad, as if you don’t want to admit that it is, that everything has the possibility to become so. And I don’t like it when you smile that way, so I do as you say. I tell you how my school used to have roses growing on the walls.

The walls of my school held the smell of old fish cakes, but the roses themselves were sweet, as flowers should be. Their fragrance often attracted bees to the wall, which settled in the gaps between the bricks, building fat beehives that reminded me of tumors.

Because of this, all of us were forbidden from going near the roses. The gardener put tape around the nearby trees, so that we would stay away. And I vowed to never go to the walls, not even when people made me do so. I would rather die than be stung by the bees, to touch the fish-cake bricks.

Thinking back now, I don’t know what made me hate the walls so much. I hated them with an abnormally strong fervor, even if they weren’t alive. It wasn’t because I was scared of the bees, nor was it because I found the beehives ugly. I just hated the walls for being there, permanently in my line of vision.

But there came a day when I couldn’t stay away from the walls. And it wasn’t because my classmates made me do it, as I thought they would one day. As pathetic as it sounds, it was because I was hungry. I was so hungry, that I wanted to cry.

It’s strange why I felt so hungry that particular day. My stomach was accustomed to skipping lunch -- I had been doing so for the past three years. I think it might have been because I was on my period, or because I had to run many laps in the gym. My teacher made me do that as a punishment, for I had forgotten to bring my PE uniform.

Yet of course, I could not eat in the classroom or cafeteria. Especially not when I was so sweaty, and my pad had leaked. I could see that people were staring at me, and that I smelled terribly bad. I found my PE uniform in the corner of the girl’s bathroom, clogging up the dirtiest toilet.

Therefore, I decided to go to the walls. Because no one was allowed to go there, near the roses and the bees. I think my hunger might have made me go mad, for I temporarily forgot my hatred for the walls. Under the sun, the bricks appeared very bright, as if they had stepped out of a fairy tale, I thought. I tore through the gardener’s tape and walked past the trees. I settled on the grass, right by the roses.

And there, by the flowers, I ate as if I’ve been famished for days. I tore through the meat as if I were an animal. I could not stop until I was full, till I could feel the food till the top of my throat. Only then could I bring myself to breathe again. Only then did I hear the hum of the bees.

And what happened after that? you ask, leaning close to me.

Your eyes look rather soft, as if made of warm water. The scent of your hair reminds me of earth after rain, and I do not want to speak anymore. I press my nose against your scalp, which makes you laugh and pull away.

Nothing happened, I whisper into your skin. It was winter. The bees were already dead.

 

And what I say is not a lie, because it was indeed winter that day. And a lot of insects die in the winter. I am sure bees do as well.

Yet I have some difficulty falling asleep at night. I look up at the ceiling, at the dead bugs collected in the lights. I can’t help but imagine the bulbs cracking open like an egg. The bugs raining onto my skin, and nibbling all night long.

It would hurt, but I know I won’t be able to make a sound, because you are a light sleeper and can’t fall asleep once you are up. Insect bites hurt more than people expect them to be. But you wake up too easily, and I do not want that to happen.

Just then, I feel your hands slipping into mine. I realize that you are awake, and that your eyes are not fixed on the lights. Instead, they are on me, on the white of my face. Your lips are quite pale, and a little bit chapped.

I heard it, you say.

The sound of the bees.

Somewhere from the hollow of your throat. Ringing like a chime.

At first, I have no idea what you are talking about. I almost think that you are speaking in your sleep. But once I manage to silence my thoughts, I begin to understand what you are saying.

In the quiet, I begin to hear the sounds as well. The sleepy hums of bees. The itch of their legs. As soft as the sound of pencil shavings fluttering to the floor, the feeling of light rain collecting in my eyes.

That is true, I reply. You are very observant.

You do not smile, and bring your lips to the cold of my eyes. I can feel the veins of your mouth pulsing against those in my skin. You tell me the bees cannot hurt me, because I have swallowed them up. And you won’t be hungry anymore, you say, since bees are more filling than you think. Their bodies are filled with honey. Honey is more filling than you think.

And that, as strange as it is, makes both of us laugh, and I smell roses in the air, even if it is the middle of winter. I hold your hands quite tightly, my face warm in your breath. I wish what you say is true. I wish the night would never end.

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