Wasp Queen



Convention says I should kill you. By convention I mean my wife, the artist, who had plans to repurpose the vintage steel trash can inside of which you’ve built a nest the size of a small child. By convention I also mean my four-year-old daughter, who has been afraid to play outside since the day she bumped the trash can, prompting your drones to emerge and sting her on her face, and across her stomach, and even in the tiny pockets of flesh behind her knees. Twenty-six hits? Some might call that excessive. 


When I invite people to think about you, everyone’s an expert. Burn them, says my dad. Wait until night, when they are sleeping, then douse the nest in gasoline and chuck a match inside. My brother submits a different method: Let’s duct-tape the lid on. We’ll dump it in the country and make it someone else’s problem. An old man at the hardware store tries to sell me something he calls a bug bomb. The old man says, The best thing about the bomb is that it kills the bitch. I say, The bitch? He apologizes. The queen, he says. It’s guaranteed to kill the queen.


Everyone who hears about you requests a picture, and everyone who receives a picture feels two sequential feelings. First, they are impressed by the size of your colony. Second, they are curious and sometimes excited about the possibilities for destruction. My friend from Chicago sends me an article that argues for professional involvement, an article that reveals how each spring you lay approximately fifty-thousand eggs then train up legions of soldier-children to protect the nest. My friend from Seattle tells me, Whatever you decide on, film it. That kind of shit goes viral. I thank all my friends for their enthusiastic support in imagining all the ways you might die.


I share the viable tactics with my wife. She hates any plan that would damage the trash can. The artistic project she envisions requires a clean, history-free object. No burn marks, no stains. On this she is clear—there must be no you, but also no sign of me removing you. With help from a young man at the hardware store, she secures a poisonous spray that promises to achieve this end. It’s simple, says my wife. Spray this at night and in the morning they’ll be dead. I ask, The queen too? My wife nods. The queen too. When I mention the article that asks if creatures such as bees and crabs could be said to have sentience, my wife falls silent for a moment then says, How would you feel about lasagna tonight?


Which more or less brings us here, to this moonless spring night, where I stand in our backyard wearing three layers of clothing and gripping two cans of poisonous spray. Here where I stare down into the trash can and try to see you, or your family, or at least some part of what you’ve built. What I see, though, is nothing. So dark is the night that the trash can resembles the black throat of a bottomless well. I have to aim the poison not at you but at where I believe you are. I have to imagine you there. I aim but don’t yet squeeze the nozzle. I hesitate. Listen—there is so much I want to tell you.

(winner of the Editors’ Prize in Prose for issue 33)