My sister keeps photoshopping her cat’s face onto bees. Cynthia is lost the way I want to be found. I’m supposed to be her caretaker, court appointed, paperwork signed and notarized, but Cynthia doesn’t really need me. After her accident with the bathtub and my flat iron, her adult social worker said she needed supervision, so here I am.
Together, we keep finding ways to explore what we have left when there’s nothing else available and today, her focus is once again on her bees. To pass my own time, I’ve been waitressing to myself, all honeydew questions about coffee refills and nudges to try the pie. We are just one room apart but might as well be in different towns. In mornings, when Cynthia looks for the perfect bee, I eat pickles straight from the jar. I like the briny open mouth pucker the way Cynthia needs clover honey sweet. In the kitchen, I make us Picasso eggs, all ribbon edges and blurred lines. Cynthia’s cat Irma watches me from the corner.
Cynthia searches for brightness, her pollinator magic. Stuck to her sheets, her skin is developing sores. She wasn’t always so centrally focused on finding a bee belly to match Irma’s face. Let her explain it and she’ll tell you it was an attempt, but I call it an accident. One day she might head to the honeycombs, to open the lids of the keeps, to search out of the queen. For now, she remains in her bedroom, just trying to be free.
In the kitchen, I hear another squeal. Irma blinks, suspicious and languid. I almost burn the potatoes but plate them just in time. Untying my invisible apron, I shift from pretend short-order cook to tired, feet-achy waitress, pulling a pen and pad from my wide skirt to write the next order.
“Cherry pie, a side of honey, sweet tea to drink,” the voice is lake water soft, the kind of reflection only seen in early sun and periwinkle twilights. In the far corner of the dining room, where Mother’s silver is stored under heavy layers of velvet and brocade, a small buzz. Cynthia’s baby bees. She keeps them in jars even though they’re going to die.
I learned a word yesterday, reading the online dictionary in between waitressing shifts: thole. I found it in the archive section of the online dictionary where I navigate to sometimes when I want to feel like I’m still a part of this world. It’s outdated, archaic, retired, same as me. As a noun, it means the ability to bear hardship. I am thole. As a verb, the meaning changes, becomes the deep red of Michigan cherries, perfect for the pie that’s just been ordered but still needs to be assembled and baked and cooled and cut and presented and admired. I thole, endure patiently, Cynthia’s obsessions, her flightless bees, her bitter honey. The long make-believe, the steady stream of shifts. Eventually, my sister will come out of that room, will tire of pasting faces onto creatures who already live lives. Endurance is my specialty; comes with a side of the soup de jour. Sour like love, secretly hidden cherries and wildflower honey pureed inside.
Jessica Evans is a Cincinnati native who practices uprooting and restarting her life. Recently she lived in a Bavarian forest and now she’s back on US soil. Evans has work forthcoming in mac(ro)mic, Tiny Molecule, Lily Poetry Review, Past Ten, and Collateral. She serves as a mentor for Veteran’s Writing Project and is the flash fiction editor for Mineral Lit. Find her in the afternoons drinking licorice tea.