He’d heard about this camp where you could pay to face your fears. A blip of a video as he was scrolling through social media, his own life on pause as he marinated in others, thinking them stupid, as his beer sweated on the end table, his kids gone again until the next weekend. The silence a judgment for his relief. A quiet he enjoyed for forty-eight hours until the drudgery of the work week took over, and he missed the random facts his kids spit out at him, begging him to disagree, dragging him into another inane conversation. His attention just short of love.
His son loved to talk about insects. Especially ones that could sting. He had so many questions about their poison, they ways that they could harm. His daughter, older, settling too early into teenage angst and boredom, cut them both to the quick one day. “Can’t you see that dad’s afraid of them? He’s practically shrinking, Dylan!”
The camp reminded him of a pic-n-patch, though desolate in the off-season. There was a rock wall, its globular foothold glazed with the fluorescent colors of a children’s cereal, a cold, narrow space filed with spiders and scorpions, and there were the bees sheltered in boxes, the buzz of them making him want to turn away to find shelter in a darkened bar. But he had his credit card out, the lock screen of his phone lit with the smiles of his children, cute in their poses from three years ago. Before the divorce. Before the custody arrangement. His time scheduled like hockey or ballet practice. The clerk promised a recording of his adventure. Proof of his bravery.
The bee suit, stuffed with his aching knees, and rounding belly, felt hollow, the kind of space that invited exploration from mites and bugs. He had expected the suit to fit snugly, to mold around his exposed skin, but there were places that felt as airy as a tent unzipped and opened to the elements. The sweat dewed on his forehead, his nerves itching, and he felt alive, an exposed wire sizzling, his hands gloved, and separate from his body as they guided him down the path toward the bees, their bodies little blips in the summery air.
A bite of bile lurking in the back of his throat. He reminded himself of the ratios, how his body, especially in the suit, loomed large over the circulating bees. A skyscraper to a bird. A foot to an ant. A father to a child. In every scenario, the insect should have feared him, but here he was bent over, gloved hands on his knees, the drone grating, the flick of miniscule legs walking across the fabric. The feeling of waking from a dream, a whisper fading into the drone of the furnace, the moment just before calming.
He sat in the dirt, legs splayed, arms braced behind his hips, and he let them gather, the white fabric of the suit a curiosity, until a mass clouded the facemask, the camp director begging him stand-up, to remind him of the chance of exposure, that if he didn’t follow directions the camp couldn’t be held liable for any injuries. “It’s all in the literature,” he said, voice muffled behind his own suit. “You signed.”
He’d signed so many things lately, never stopping to read the fine print. The legalese filled him with dread. Better not to know. Every fucking day was a dare. A pit of time people on videos wanted him to know he was wasting. “Just roll the camera,” he told the director. The man nodded, flashed him a gloved thumbs up. “Dylan,” he felt himself shouting, his voice picking up volume over the drone, a flick of sweat undifferentiated from the creep of little legs across his arm, down his back, near his ear. “Don’t ever shrink.”
He pawed at the gloves, the Velcro sturdy around each wrist, but he got one off, and there was the shimmering feeling of standing too close to an edge, the way his mind always imagined the worst, but the other glove came off easier, and the bees dotted his wrist, the webbing between thumb and pointer finger, their bodies diving toward his sweat, and he wanted the camera to get this, so he raised his arms, and the first sting jabbed, followed by another, each a small bite, something for his kids to witness, in fear or astonishment, he didn’t know.