NOTE: This is part of the new novel I am writing. I am posting it here as a diversion for readers who may be living under shelter-in-place policies while the world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to pass. For an explanation of this project, please click here.
July 5, 2018 ~ Sangre Mesa
Morgan sat with her arms wrapped around her knees and her back against the side of the beehive, her hair tucked up under her ballcap to prevent any accidents. Before she’d learned to protect the bees — and herself — they’d had a few misunderstandings, with overly curious workers getting caught in her curls. The trapped bees would panic and sting, disemboweling themselves and leaving Morgan’s face swollen and tender for days afterward. After the third time it happened, she’d remembered to cover her hair when she came to visit.
These visits were therapeutic. The bees didn’t care what she was. They didn’t judge her. They didn’t fear her. They just went about their business, and she told them things, and they kept her secrets.
Today, she wasn’t sharing secrets so much as she was venting.
“I’m just so tired,” she said with a sigh. “I’m tired of knowing people are going to die. I’m tired of screaming until my throat hurts. I’m tired of crying until my head hurts. And I’m tired of people blaming me for knowing things I never wanted to know in the first place.” She sat very still as a bee landed on her arm and began exploring. The insect crawled up to the crook of her elbow and began probing with its tiny red tongue, seeking the moisture that collected on Morgan’s skin in the July heat.
“Really, little bee? We’re 30 feet from one of the coolest, sweetest springs in New Mexico, and you’re going to drink my sweat? You can’t be that desperate,” Morgan chided. The bee ignored her, continuing to lick her arm until it got bored and flew off. Morgan shook her head. Honeybees were strange creatures. They’re strange, but I’m sitting here talking to them like they can understand English, so what does that make me? she thought.
Her head hurt, and she knew she probably ought to go home and sit in the air conditioning, but there was something appealing about sitting here next to the hive, sharing her troubles with a colony of pollinators.
“You girls might be a little weird, but at least you’re not bitchy,” Morgan conceded. “Not like that hateful Maria Moya and her little entourage of airheads.”
Morgan had known Maria since the first day of kindergarten and hated her since the second. Maria’s dad owned car lots in Tucumcari and Santa Rosa, and the family lived on a sprawling ranch just west of Coldwater. They had money to spare, and they spent most of it indulging their only daughter’s every whim. Morgan could understand why — they were older than most of her classmates’ parents, and the story around Coldwater was that they’d struggled with infertility for years and were on the verge of giving up when Maria was born. Unfortunately, their indulgence had turned their miracle baby into an entitled brat who spent most of her time lording it over everybody else in class. Morgan, with her secondhand clothes, unusual hobbies, and freaky premonitions, was a favorite target for Maria and her friends.
Last night, Maria’s crowd had cornered Morgan at Coldwater’s annual Fourth of July celebration, ridiculing her T-shirt — a leftover from a 5K her mother had run on the Fourth of July in St. Louis several years before Morgan was born, and the only red, white, and blue article of clothing she owned — and howling with laughter when Joey overheard them and told them to “stop picking on Morgie.” They followed her around, calling her “Morgie” and giggling hysterically, for the better end of an hour before their parents caught them and hustled them away, tossing fearful glances at Morgan over their shoulders.
“Mom says they’re jealous because I skipped a grade,” Morgan told the bees. “That’s bull. They’re rich and popular and the kind of pretty boys like. Not like the snot-nosed, red-eyed crybaby who can kill you with a scream.” She scoffed. “I wish I could kill people with a scream. If it were that easy, I wouldn’t have to put up with anybody’s crap.”
She opened the Mason jar next to her and took a drink of the now-tepid sports drink inside. The powder had started to settle out, and it tasted watery. She frowned, put the lid back on, and shook it up before taking another drink. “I can deal with them making fun of me for being what I am. It’s weird, and if I weren’t the one who had to live with it, I’d probably make fun of it, too, because it’s that or admit you’re scared. But if they laugh at Joey one more time, so help me, I’m gonna punch them, no matter how much Daddy wouldn’t approve. Daddy’s not here now, and Mrs. Henley just lets them do whatever they want, because she doesn’t like me, and her husband used to play golf with Maria’s dad.” She straightened her legs, dislodging a rock and sending it rolling down the slope in front of her. The rock bounced under a tamarisk at the bottom of the slope, where a startled red racer slithered out from its hiding place in the shade. The snake disappeared behind a small boulder.
“Sorry, Bud,” Morgan said to the snake. “Didn’t mean to chase you out of your shady spot.” She scratched at a mosquito bite on her ankle and finished her drink. “I guess I’d better get home. Mom’s probably about finished with the laundry, and Joey’ll need help making up the beds.” She stood and walked down the slope to her bike, a 16-inch Huffy she’d had since she was 7. She was getting too big for it, but Mom couldn’t afford to buy her a new one. Morgan didn’t particularly mind. The bike had been a birthday present from Daddy, and she had fond memories of pedaling around the parking lot with him holding onto the back of the banana seat to keep it upright while she learned to balance.
The other kids’ teasing hadn’t been so bad when Daddy was alive. They were mostly too young to pay any attention when Morgan cried, and they were certainly too young to make the connection between her crying jags and people’s deaths. Some of their parents had, and as a result, some of them had been told to avoid her, but they didn’t have the nerve to say anything really vicious as long as her father was an administrator. He might not have anything to do with the elementary most of the time, but they’d seen him call high-school students onto the carpet before, and they weren’t willing to risk provoking him.
If Daddy were here, Morgan thought as she bumped over a rut in the hard desert soil, he’d probably buy me a new mountain bike that would work better on this trail. But he wasn’t here, and daydreaming wouldn’t bring him back any more than it would take away the awful premonitions that scared the other kids and made her the least popular girl in school.
Nobody could replace Daddy, but as Morgan dodged another rut, she wished for the millionth time that she had an ally at school who understood that she wasn’t a monster.