Hornets’ Nest

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Anyone looking at the back of my house would see it — the lamp just outside my back door stuffed with hornet accretions, the nest shaped like a rugby ball but twice the size.

What the hell is that?”

Hornet’s nest.”

Jesus.”

Yes, what would Jesus do?

Some days, I stand a few yards away, safe, and watch the traffic. The workers invisible in the distant woods, gathering food or material to expand their home, speed silently though the air, then decelerate precisely, and hover near the mouth, waiting for a spot. A few crawled on the outside, repairing, expanding, laying down their spit and wood like expert plasterers building graceful lines on the smooth surface.

You should do something about that.”

Yeah, I know.”

It could be dangerous.”

Yeah, I know.”

An army of angry hornets thrust their tiny barbed blades, releasing their venom into exposed skin. Some find paths beneath clothing to sting more sensitive sites. Her blood vessels weep from the hundreds, maybe thousands of wounds. Gathered at the bedside, we withdraw support. What might trigger an attack? What’s the likelihood?

I first noticed it six weeks ago, just a newborn nest, smaller than a golf ball, inside the lamp.

The queen comments: “This seems nice — great light but still protected.”

During the weeks of construction, I don’t visit. Then, in midsummer, I walk out the back door, and see it, only a few feet away.

Whoa!” I back up. “Holy shit!”

I post a picture.

That’s amazing.”

You gotta get rid of that.”

I’ll just wait for winter and then take it down.”

Get a bat. Ha Ha.”

Those things are dangerous.”

Call the exterminator.”

You shouldn’t wait.”

You never know.”

That’s right. You never know.

It begins to take the shape of a head. Its open mouth at the bottom — jaunty silent singing of the prosperity of the hive.

I can’t see inside but know the queen must be busy, laying more eggs, perhaps thinking about setting a record, wondering how she’ll ever manage Thanksgiving dinner.

I’m wary now while walking in my back yard. The hornets ignore me. But, genocide is cruel. (OK, apicide.) What gives me the right? Whose land is this? What’s wrong with peaceful coexistence?

Still, you never know.

Wikipedia labels them bald-​faced hornets. Like liars?

Still, you never know.

At the fantasy funeral.

Why didn’t he call an exterminator?”

Horrible way to die.”

Crazy.”

The exterminator suits up. Ready now, his can of poison in his right hand. He pauses for a minute to watch. Wary of inciting the mob? Do hornets have souls? Saying a small silent prayer to ask for forgiveness? He dusts, the deed done in a second.

In forty-​eight hours, it’s still, gray, silent — a tomb.

By winter, it would have been a tomb anyway. Really, what was the hurry?

St. Peter at the gate. “Everything was okay until the hornet’s nest. It just wasn’t necessary.”

It was the exterminator, not me,” I plead.

You don’t think I’ve heard that before? And what about next year’s queens? Did you think of that?”

I didn’t know.”

Ignorance is no excuse.”

Do you know of vacancies nearby?”

I’m sorry. I just can’t help you. You might check with the devil. He has openings.”


Dave Macpherson

David Macpherson is a recently retired physician living in Upper Burrell, Pennsylvania.

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