Monday, June 23, 2008

Bees and Strawberries

The sting on his face was clearly swelling. He was horribly self-conscious all of a sudden. For the entirety of his adult life, he had managed to steer clear of bees, and now, today, a bee found its way downtown and attacked Jim, as though it was targeting him because it somehow knew it would cause him a greater deal of pain than it would anyone else. He fell to the ground in agony and the most gorgeous woman he had ever seen happened to be passing by, and of course she stopped to help him. When it became clear what the matter was, she took his hand to lift him up and then she accompanied him to the emergency room. She assured him that she could stay with him throughout this ordeal, if he wanted her to. He nodded miserably, having no one else to call.

“My name is Alice,” she gently remarked.

“I’m sorry we’re meeting under such circumstances, Alice. I’m Jim.”

He feebly smiled at her, trying to ignore what he felt was surely an incredibly disgusting rash developing around the spot the bee had stung. She smiled warmly at him in return, and he melted to the floor. He was now in love with her, and particularly with that dark, curly hair hanging loosely at her sides. But he could barely stand to look at her, and he inched away from her on the bench as far as he could without seeming rude, because this beautiful, kind woman smelled awfully strongly of strawberries.

Bees and strawberries. Jim cursed his parents for carrying the prone-to-allergies genes without said genes actually manifesting in either of them. Instead, they were passed down to Jim, in whom they manifested severely. He was tested for every allergy he could possibly have, and it boiled down to two: bees and strawberries. He hated the summer, and flowers, and sugar. He cursed his one real misfortune in life.

As a teenager, he became fanatically obsessed with his allergens. He learned everything there was to know about bees and strawberries (The most well-known bee species is the Western honey bee and the most commonly cultivated strawberry is the garden strawberry). One evening, as an adult, he watched a television show about the pollination process of bees on The Discovery Channel (Most bees are fuzzy and carry an electrostatic charge, which helps in the gathering of pollen). That same evening, his fanatical obsession switched gears. The Discovery Channel was now his sole joy in life, having given him something to look forward to every night (The Discovery Channel debuted on June 17th, 1985, and he is so glad that it did). He hated his job, and women mostly terrified him, and he couldn’t have any pets in his apartment building, and despite having lived there for three years, he still hadn’t made any real friends, so The Discovery Channel was his company (The Discovery Channel’s slogan is The World Is Just Awesome, which Jim appreciates but mostly disagrees with).

was on her way to the local New Age/hippie store, In Tents In Cents, where she bought many of her candles and all of her incense, when she saw Jim fall to the ground. Always wanting to help, she rushed to his side, day’s plans forgotten. She helped him up, and he mumbled something about an allergic reaction to a bee sting. “I don’t need an ambulance,” he said, “but I do need to get to the hospital.” So she hailed a taxi to get them there. He reminded her of Alan, her next door neighbor, although Jim was scrawnier, and awkward. Alan was never awkward. Alan was gorgeous and tall, sweet and polite, funny as hell. She hadn’t seen him in a couple weeks; he was away on business. Somewhere in Spain, he didn’t miss her. She thought she loved him, but he considered her nothing more than the friendly woman next door. She briefly wondered about Jim’s love life, but by then they had arrived at the hospital, so she didn’t ask.

In the emergency room, Jim thought that if only he could distract himself from the smell, maybe he could scale down the escalation of this already hellish experience. So he focused on her necklace. The chain was long, and the bright green parrot at the end of it hung squarely in the center of her torso. ‘I am not allergic to parrots,’ he thought. ‘A parrot might be nice.’

And then she noticed.

“Oh, do you like my necklace?” she asked. Startled, he looked up into her face.

“Yes… It’s quite lovely. You like parrots?” he managed to choke out in between raucous coughs, which in turn caused her to rub his back good-naturedly, which itself caused him to cough even louder.

“Oh yes, I just love parrots. All animals, really. I have a parrot at home. His name is Barry, and he’s just great…” He tuned out after this, and tried to let the sound of her voice soothe him. It didn’t, because even her breath seemed to reek of that god forsaken fruit.

“You know, we’ve been waiting for a while,” she suddenly changed topics, “and your rash and cough are not getting any better. I’m going to go talk to someone in charge, see what I can do.”

“Wait, wait. Let me ask you something first. Do you ever watch The Discovery Channel?”

Half-out of her seat, she sank back down. “The what?”

“You know, The Discovery Channel. They play all kinds of interesting shows about science and space and sharks.”

“Oh. It’s a television channel. I’m sorry, I don’t even own a television set. I can’t remember the last time I watched one.”

The rash instantly spread across his already-red face, and he could feel the burn; as if all this weren’t already embarrassing enough, now he had really made a fool out of himself. He smiled the pitiful little smile of a defeated man, and cursed himself under his breath as Alice walked away to consult the woman at the front desk. Jim did not notice the small battle that ensued between the two, nor did he witness the final concession made, entirely missing the first (and perhaps only) time two women would ever (technically speaking) fight over him. He did immediately notice, however, when Alice came striding back, his troublesome genes forcing his poor nose to twitch at the smell.

“Well, I have good news and bad news,” she announced.

“Bad news first, please.”

“Anyone that could possibly help you is busy, and as long as you aren’t visibly dying, we have to wait.”

‘If only I could plug up my nose and get rid of this rash, I could spend all of eternity waiting next to you,’ Jim thought as he said, “So what could possibly be good news, then?”

Alice grinned mischievously and pointed to the muted television perched in the corner of the room. This television, normally kept strictly on the public access channel specifically created for hospital use, had been changed for the first time in twelve years. Perhaps it was Jim’s sad demeanor that had convinced the woman at the desk. Regardless, The Discovery Channel’s swirling-Earth, instantly recognizable logo was now displayed, miniaturized, in the right-hand corner of the screen. As only pure, random luck would have it, a program about the African Grey parrot was on. The closed-captioning ticker scrolling along the bottom read: “These parrots are particularly known for their cognitive capabilities, thought to have evolved due to their history of cooperative bird-feeding as largely tree-dwelling birds in central Africa.”

“Hey!” Alice exclaimed, “That’s what Barry is! An African Grey! And he is quite smart; he calls me by name and everything!”

Jim’s heart rate decreased. His rash stopped burning. Even the swelling seemed to have petered out, and was now reversing itself. The Discovery Channel did for Jim what Alice’s voice could not, and within minutes, even his coughs grew less and less frequent. He looked over at Alice, who was now reading the ticker with rapt attention (“African Greys have been kept as pets for over 4000 years”), and was struck once more by her beauty. Filled with gratitude, he braved the smell and scooted closer to her. ‘Oh, to hell with it,’ he thought as he reached for her hand.

1 comment:

Jumping Fences said...

I was originally going to post this in parts because it seemed longer than it actually is. I looked over it again, and decided it reads much better if the whole thing is read at once, so now it's all posted.

I noticed that another story is about an emergency room trip, too! I love that somehow that's been hit on twice.