Even though all the other children were dead, I wasn’t lonely my last day in the attic because I still had a bumblebee in my jar. I spent my last day like every other day I can remember, staring out the window and taking care of my bees. Through the window, I could see the small garden that had three types of beautiful flowers. I didn’t know the flowers’ names, but each type had a strange shape and color of the rainbow. One bud looked like my pinky, one like my open palm, and one like my clenched fist. My favorite was the purple pinky bud because that flower was the bees’ favorite and it had the best smell. Beyond the garden and the golden grass was a forest with tall dark trees. I had never gone into the forest, but our keeper said that the trees went on forever.
I was waiting for my turn to die, and I knew that I deserved it. I learned how to die from the other children. They just cried some and went to sleep in a corner. Our keeper would drag their bodies into the forest and clean the red puddles from the floor. Usually our keeper replaced the dead with a new child after a few days. I never knew where the children came from, but I’m sure our keeper saved them from the forest. Now the room smelled of rotten bodies, and I was alone.
I was hungry because there hadn’t been mealtime for weeks. Usually for mealtime our keeper brought two pots of food through the door. One pot had sticky white rice or long yellow noodles. The other pot had hot brown water that sometimes had chewy chunks in it. Sometimes our keeper would teach us words, and he called this food stew. We learned to mix the foods and shovel it into our mouths. There were usually fights because there wasn’t enough food. I was the biggest, so I always ate enough.
I missed the other children, but we were never friends. Most were young and sick. It was against the rules to talk or make noise, so we didn’t play. At night, we slept in a corner to stay warm, but it was easier to sleep during the day. Our keeper knew who broke the rules because he always asked us about the other children. When our keeper was angry he’d take one of us away for a long time. Now that I was older, he didn’t pick me much anymore. Us children never talked about private time.
Even more than mealtime, I couldn’t stop thinking about outside time. For outside time our keeper took one lucky child to the garden. I think my first memory was finding a glass jar in the garden, and since then I always kept it with me. Actually, maybe my first memory was lying beside a nice keeper. That keeper had long gold hair, a beautiful voice, and soft hands. But each time I dreamt of that keeper, the colors and sounds and feelings became less clear. Now the face was blurry and the hair gray; the voice was scratchy and the fingers rough. Sometimes I closed my eyes for hours trying to remember, and hoping to awake in that scene.
I always looked forward to outside time, even when I had to wait for weeks. Every outside time, I walked with our keeper to the garden and he gave me a job to do. I had to pull out the ugly green plants from the dirt or feed water to the flowers. I always stayed near the purple plants waiting for the bumblebees to come. The bees only liked sunny days, but I always waited just in case, even in the rain. Sometimes I found other animals like the little gray bugs that crawled around and rolled into balls, but they couldn’t fly like the bees. I even saw birds way up high in the sky that were even bigger than bees, but I couldn’t catch them. Once I saw a huge scary brown animal with four legs that came from the forest, but I don’t think it was real. Bees were the only creatures I desired.
When I was lucky and the bees did come, I’d wait for one to land on the purple buds. And as it enjoyed the flower, my hands would surround it. I’d slide them up and off the stem, careful not to hurt the bee. Trapped between my palms, most bees stayed still as I put them in my jar to join their brothers and me. I would whisper lies to these creatures, letting them know that it would be O.K. But once in a while a bee would fly around bumping into my skin, tickling me. And if the bee wanted to fight, he’d puff up my fingers by stinging me. When I was younger, I forgave the stinging bees and still let them live with me. But then I noticed that once a bee lost his stinger, it would soon get sick and die. Those bees didn’t deserve me, so I’d squeeze my fist as soon as I felt a sting. If I still felt a squirm, I’d grip harder until the bee’s guts oozed through the crevices between my fingers. I hated that because I had to wash my hands in the dirt to get rid of the smell of bee guts.
When outside time was over, I’d bring the bees back to the room and take care of them. My first bees had short lives, until I learned to poke holes with a stick in the lid so they could breath. Then I learned to put flower buds in the jar so the bees wouldn’t be hungry. I wish they could whisper back to thank me. Sometimes the bees would fall asleep forever during the night. Every morning I’d use my fingers to remove the dead ones from the bottom of the jar.
This day, water still dripped from our faucet, but those yellow drops hurt my stomach even more. I was starving, so I tasted the other children. I dug through the skin with my fingernails and broke the bones, but tiny white bugs had already eaten the meat. The rest just made me vomit. I had waited as long as I could for our keeper. Now I sat against the door and looked back at my home. Dead children covered the floor and now I only had one bee left in my jar. I had raised this bee for weeks and he was strong. His body had three yellow stripes and only two black stripes. I had touched him before, and I remember him being extra soft and fuzzy. He used to have orange bubbles between his legs, but they were gone now. One of his see-through wings was bent funny, and I hadn’t seen him fly in days. Instead, he liked to rest on the purple buds.
I grabbed the knob on the door and twisted. The door creaked open, and the sweet smells of outside time rushed into the room. I pulled myself to my feet and stepped down the stairs towards the garden. I smiled and groaned as I limped through the flower patch. One by one, I tasted each flower like the bees did. But the buds didn’t stop my stomach from rumbling. On this cloudy day there were no bees, but I waited anyways. In my jar, the bee saw the fresh buds all around and perked up. I waited and waited, but this day, outside time didn’t end. I thought about going back to the room and waiting for our keeper, but he had failed me. I spun towards the forest and my heart pounded as I headed for forever.
Amongst the tall trees, the forest grew darker and my body grew weaker. When I couldn’t walk anymore, I crawled. And when I couldn’t crawl anymore, I cried. I propped myself against a tree, and placed the jar on my lap. For the first time in my life, I was free. Yet, I longed for my keeper to find me here, to punish me, to kiss me, or to drag me through the forest to the other dead boys.
Giving up, I twisted open the lid of my jar and whispered to the bee, “be free, my friend.” But the bee stayed put. I shook the jar to stir him. But the bee did not fly. With the last of my might, I bent down and blew into the jar. And with that breath, the bee stirred and his broken wings slowly raised him out of the jar. But he did not escape the dark forest. Instead, my bumblebee flailed and tumbled into my outstretched palm, recognizing his rightful place in the hands of his keeper. As I closed my eyes, I clenched my fist, and we went together into the dark.