The Sting and the Tale
That holiday I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and escaped to a place of stoops and eaves where a tiny stump of tree was the only touch of green. The book was an ancient Penguin copy, all striped orange and black, with a rich scent of tanned paper.
Where we were staying – a caravan in a cattle field – was worth escaping from. After the day at the beach when I found seashells of extraordinary delicacy – whorls like homes for the tiniest of snails, pairs of pale pink ovals like baby fingernails – the week turned liquid. The inside of the van sweated as the rain pounded the metal roof. We played endless hands of rummy and whist while Mum attempted to brew tea without creating steam. I tried to eke out the pages of my book, scared I’d run out of words before we reached the end of days.
All this time, the wasps had been taking shelter beneath the caravan’s metal chassis. There must have been fruit cast down there or something else rotten that they craved. Over the sound of the rain and our own boredom we could not hear the whispered buzz of their gathering. But they must have been there.
On the final day, the downpour eased and we opened the narrow fold-back windows. I closed my book and put on sandals, struggling with their stiff straps. When we flung the door wide, wasps rushed in like heat, swirling past the kitchenette to cluster onto the buff-coloured Formica of the table. I picked up my book to protect it, then felt a tight pinch in my palm. The wasp was still hanging there as I turned my hand over, attached to me by its sting and fury.
That evening, squished in the bench seat bed, I read the last pages of my book struggling to hold it to the light with my aching hand. Goodbye Francie, I thought, as I closed the wasp striped cover. My tears tasted nothing like rain.
Anne Summerfield’s recent publications include stories in Sleep is a Beautiful Colour (NFFD Anthology 2017) and Flash Fiction Festival One. She has work online and forthcoming in various places including The Cabinet of Heed and Jellyfish Review. Her story ‘Lamb’ was nominated for Best Small Fictions 2018. She is based in Hampshire, England and tweets infrequently as @summerwriter.