Third Prize

Third Prize Story Winner
2021 Short Story Competition 

Trigger warning for suicide and domestic violence in this story.


LOVE STINGS

By Holly Jamieson

There’s a bee on the windowsill. It buzzes angrily, pausing before launching its body at the window pane once more. Thwack. I think about putting it out of its misery, holding it in my palm and closing my hand tighter and tighter until it reaches a crescendo with a sharp sting of relief. But I don’t. Some loose thread of remaining morality stops me. One of us should leave here alive.

I hear the slide of the key in the door and the click of the lock. All thoughts of the bee are wiped from my mind as I launch myself off the couch and to my feet, brushing out wrinkles in my skirt before clasping my hands shakily in front of me. Footsteps. I smell him before I see him, the cloud of his cologne teasing my nostrils and making my stomach clench. My gaze follows the length of his body as he saunters towards me before his face comes into sharp relief too close to mine. He smirks.

“Hard day in the office, was it?” he jokes, eyeing the lounge and my novel resting on the coffee table. “You’d think the house would be spotless now that that’s your only job.” I glance away. Losing my job due to COVID still hurt, but for him it had only brought a thrill of power. He grabs my wrist, and I hiss as he puts pressure on the bruises already encircling it. He begins pulling me towards the other end of the house, heading for our bedroom, and I clench my eyes shut knowing what’s coming. “At least you’re still good for something” he chuckles, pulling me into the room. The door shuts.

***

The bee is back. Perhaps it never left, and it’s trapped in this house, fated to bang its head against the window for eternity. There are worse things. My hands are cold but they’re always cold these days. I place them under my thighs and glance at the clock. 10 am. Two more hours until I’m permitted a snack. He likes me waif-like and delicate, easier to pull about, no energy to fight, to talk, to live, to leave.

Through the window, I see the neighbour’s cat prancing along the fence line. It appears every morning to walk the high beam and gracefully dismount into the herb garden. He doesn’t know. I’ve been putting fresh herbs in his dinner each evening, earning a slight thrill from the knowledge he’s eating cat faeces. Perhaps I do have a little bit of fight left in me.

Pain lances through my skull and I close my eyes with a wince. I don’t need a mirror to picture the colourful bruises bleeding down the left side of my face. The dizziness and nausea have abated, at least, and I know the pain too will fade. At least I feel something. Sometimes I picture myself as a puppet, a corpse tied up with string and manipulated this way and that, the flesh slowly rotting off my body as the audience laughs, oblivious, as he makes my mouth move. He has me locked down.

***

I’m on edge today. It’s getting harder to ignore the stick buried under rubbish in the bathroom bin; a stick that carries so much weight and possibilities in its little plus sign. I place my hand over my stomach and sigh. I shouldn’t hope. But there’s a little voice that says perhaps if I make things truly perfect, truly spotless, I can protect us both. If I don’t do anything wrong, there’ll be no reason for punishment.

***

There’s a sliver of light that creeps through the clouds outside. I can see it from where I lay on the couch, not having the energy to turn my head. The bleeding started last night. I suppose I should be relieved. It seems cruel to bring another life into this house. He’s always said I’m selfish.

I’ve set out a little dish of water for the bee. It’s growing weaker by the day, making fewer leaps for freedom. Right now, it’s sitting on the windowsill and watching me. I wonder what it thought when it saw me limp into the room this morning and ease down onto the couch. Pathetic, I think, that’s what it thinks.

***

“I’ll be working from home after tomorrow.” His voice startles me and my fork scrapes along my plate. He huffs and slices into his steak. “You heard about the lockdown, didn’t you? I’ll be able to keep an eye on you” he chuckles, as if the idea of me doing anything these days is hilarious. I suppose it is. He chomps through a too-big bite, yanking a piece of green from his mouth. “How much parsley do you think I need?” he growls. “Sorry”, I offer quietly, and that’s enough for now.

He continues eating, leaving me picturing an endless stretch of time in close proximity to him, every move watched, every sin noted and punished. My breath stutters and I can’t take a single bite, my stomach curled in tight. He eyes my full plate and smiles approvingly. “That’s my girl.”

***

“It’s our last day together,” I tell Bee, “just you and I.” His leg twitches and I imagine he’s listening, hanging on my every word. Bee has stopped banging his furry head against the window. He understands it’s hopeless.

I hold out my hand and leave it resting on the windowsill in front of Bee. There’s a pause, but then he slowly clambers onto my palm. “It’s okay”, I tell him, as my hand starts to close. Then – a sting. I open my hand and he lays there, his little body still and soft, so peaceful.

I open the sliding door and ease down onto the lawn by some daisies, placing Bee next to me as I lay on my back. I can already feel my throat starting to close up and dizziness comes in a wave, leaving me nauseous. Soon, a rash will blossom over my skin, and then there will be no return. I look up at the sky and the sun breaks through the clouds, basking Bee and I in its glow. Sometimes love stings.

**********************************

 

Where to get help:
1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 to talk to a trained counsellor.
Anxiety New Zealand 0800 ANXIETY (0800 269 4389)
Depression.org.nz 0800 111 757 or text 4202
Kidsline 0800 54 37 54 for people up to 18 years old. Open 24/7.
Lifeline 0800 543 354
Mental Health Foundation 09 623 4812
Rural Support Trust 0800 787 254
Samaritans 0800 726 666
Suicide Crisis Helpline 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Supporting Families in Mental Illness 0800 732 825
thelowdown.co.nz Web chat, email chat or free text 5626
What’s Up 0800 942 8787 (for 5 to 18-year-olds). Phone counselling available Monday-Friday, noon-11pm and weekends, 3pm-11pm. Online chat is available 3pm-10pm daily.
Youthline 0800 376 633, free text 234, email talk@youthline.co.nz, or find online chat and other support options here.
In a life-threatening situation, call 111.

Where to get help for domestic violence:
Women’s Refuge 0800 733 843 (females only)
Shine Free call 0508 744 633 between 9am and 11pm (for men and women)
1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 to talk to a trained counsellor.
Kidsline 0800 54 37 54 for people up to 18 years old. Open 24/7.
What’s Up 0800 942 8787 (for 5 to 18-year-olds). Phone counselling available Monday-Friday, noon-11pm and weekends, 3pm-11pm. Online chat is available 3pm-10pm daily.
Youthline 0800 376 633, free text 234, email talk@youthline.co.nz, or find online chat and other support options here.
If you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 111.