I’m laid out on the sofa, cursing the droning hum of the air conditioner. My limbs are wrapped in sandpaper. My every joint is gripped in coarse vices of fatigue. I’m stretched out on the sofa, almost in tears. I’m praying for sleep, begging to be unconscious, when there’s a knock at the door.
I roll, dropping onto my hands and knees. I get to my feet and I’m zombie walking through the hallway. I’m padding along an icy, concrete floor that’s sending jolts up the backs of my ankles with every, single, heavy step. Then the texture of the floor changes and I’m slipping on one of the letters strewn about the hallway and I’m tumbling forward towards the door. I manage to reach out and get hold of the latch. I twist it and then I lean back. The door begins to swing open until it’s caught by the chain and clunks to a stop. My head jerks back. I pull myself upright and I’m peering out at a thin, vertical slice of a woman.
It’s Joan from next door.
“Hello, Joan from next door” I mumble.
She looks me up and down, frowns at my bare feet and then she’s rearranging her face into a polite mask, fixing me a concerned stare.
“Hi there!” she beams, “How are you?”
“I’m ok, Joan,” I say, “I’m pretty tired.”
“Good, that’s good. That you’re ok, I mean.” She forces a cough while shifting her weight from one foot to the other, “We heard that we might have been making a bit of a racket last night.”
“Ok” I say.
“We might have unintentionally disturbed some people?”
She’s nodding expectantly and I feel as if I’m messing up some sort of call-and-response. As if I don’t know my part in this.
So, again I say “Ok.”
“Well,” she looks past me at the snow-drift of post against the banister, “we got a call from Environmental Health you see. Apparently someone was disturbed and decided to complain to the authorities, instead of being neighbourly and coming to speak to us personally.”
“I didn’t hear anything Joan.” I say, straightening up to block her view of the pile of windowed-envelopes, take-away menus and ignored correspondence.
“Oh good. That’s good. I’m glad you managed to sleep through the racket at least.” She pulls her cheeks and lips apart to show me as many of her teeth as she can.
“No,” I correct her, “no sleep for a while actually.”
“Oh dear, oh dear. We are so sorry.” She’s hiding her teeth again. “It’s the bees you see.”
“Bees?” I ask.
“Yes, the bees. All the bees that live with us, they need to fly when the nights get warm and the swarm was clamouring to be let out. The buzzing was quite loud apparently.”
This makes so little sense it hurts. What the hell is she talking about?
“What the hell are you talking about, Joan?”
“Our bees.” She repeats.
“Bees?” I‘m saying again, my head quickly filling with gritty confusion, “Like for honey?”
“And pollination!” She shouts. “It must have been what was keeping you awake. All the bees.”
She opens her face to show off her teeth again but she doesn’t stop speaking. She’s still saying Bees, forcing the word out at me from behind those pearly-whites. She’s hissing and buzzing through her clenched teeth and I feel a dull rumbling tremor growing in my chest.
I want to scream at her, to make her understand how crazy she’s being but the vibrations start to swell and I’m shaking, I’m heaving when the swarm starts to crawl from her ears, spilling from her eyes and her mouth, tumbling down her chest and over her shoulders and spreading into an undulating cloud, a mass in constant motion, drumming at the air.
Then, the opened hive that is Joan-from-next-door and all it’s bees say, “Knock, knock.”
And I’m lying on the sofa.
And there’s a knock at the door.