Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Stinging & The Shining

Isn’t it great when something happens, and it reminds you of a book? (OK, OK – or a TV show. Because everything in life can be traced back to The Simpsons or Seinfeld, right?)

When we moved into our house, my mom gave us a coconut shell wind chime as a housewarming gift. It hung innocently on the front porch for almost a year. In early summer, I noticed that wasps had moved into the concave top of the wind chime and into one of the dangling bamboo tubes. Each day, as I went out the front door to water the hanging plants, I peered into the wind chime to watch the progress of the hive. As the honeycombed network grew, I vaguely thought about knocking the nest down before it swelled into an unmanageable mess. But the wasps dutifully trundled across their geometric home without paying me any mind. So we struck up a peaceful co-existence.

You see where this is going, right?

Beady face with no discernable eyes, 
abdomen curled. 
A few weeks ago, during a routine watering, I reached into the tangled tendrils of  a hanging plant. Half-sensed a wavering insect body inside - and as the realization formed – a sudden pricking. Quick needle stab, instant throbbing. I was stung.

I don’t think I’ve ever been stung by a wasp before then. Even though I knew the one that got me was simply acting on pure instinct – protecting its queen and the nurturing hive – I felt betrayed by those winged workers. And as my hand swelled to the size of a latex glove filled with water, The Shining popped into my head.

Down to the basement to find our copy of the Stephen King classic (which we bought here, just to make things extra creepy). I flipped to the part about Jack getting stung while working on the roof. Detonating the poison bomb to kill the wasp nest, then giving the now harmless nest to a delighted Danny – despite Wendy’s reservations. Even though it had been years since I’d last read the book, 
I remembered  the wasp nest coming alive in Danny’s room in the middle of the night. 
I eagerly re-read the scene, wondering if my new sting would lend greater intensity to the words.

Putting Danny to bed, Wendy is shaken by the nest in her son’s room. “She didn’t like the idea of that thing, constructed from the chewings and saliva of so many alien creatures…”

After Danny’s episode in the bathroom – where he sees Tony “way down deep” in the mirror – Danny settles into bed with his Snoopy night light, slips into a nightmare, then wakes with a start:

Something on one hand. Crawling.
Wasps. Three of them.

They stung him then, seeming to needle all at once…

After Jack and Wendy rush in and realize what all the shrieking and thrashing is about, I love the description of the wasps as “lumbering” creatures that “rise into the air, droning.”

Jack eventually goes back to Danny’s room to dispose of the pests. The should-be dead nest is inexplicably crawling with wasps. He takes the nest outside, where the 25 degree night chill will surely kill them once and for all. Comes back in and locks the door standing between him and nest, just in case.

Suddenly the hotel seemed full of a thousand stealthy sounds: creakings and groans
and the sly sniff of the wind under the eaves where
more wasps’ nests might be hanging like deadly fruit.

                They had come back.

I swear, I’m normally not freaked out by bugs or insects. But that night after my sting, puffy hand still pulsing and tucked between my pillows, moonlight extra bright and throwing unfamiliar shadows across the room, curtains billowing out from the open windows – my mind started to race. The air whirred with a constant hum. Maybe it was the fan at the foot of the bed. Maybe it was the de-humidifier outside the bedroom door. Maybe it was a cloud of wasps hovering by the ceiling. Beady faces with no discernable eyes, abdomens quivering. Ready to strike.

In the light of day, my momentary panic was silly. I spent a few days obsessively scouring the Internet, looking up tips on how to de-wasp a front porch. Tiptoed outside the door to water plants. Jumped out of my skin each time something whizzed by me. Started to recover my wits as the week passed, learning that wasps are actually beneficial to gardens and help keep away other pests.

Last night, I opened the door to our supply closet and discovered an unexpected guest inside. A live wasp. Clinging to the pile of cleaning rags. Its angular, black and yellow body curled tight against the white fabric.

All quotations and italicized text in this post were taken from The Shining by Stephen King.


  1. Fiona,
    One time I was taking care of a friend's house for a day while some workmen were there. She told me she'd put the keys in the milkbox. She did, but becasue it was dark and cool every morning when she got into the box she was unaware of the wasp nest in there. Well I poked my hand in as fast as I could to get the housekeys, but one still got me. I feel your pain. AKA Jude

    1. Did that experience give you a fear of getting stung again? I think remembering the pain of the sting is what drives me to be so jumpy around wasps now!

  2. Last night as I lay sleeping, I dreamt
    O, marvelous error--
    That there was a beehive here inside my heart
    And the golden bees were making white combs
    And sweet honey from all my failures
    --Machado de Assis

    1. I love this - thanks for sharing it! Turning failures into something sweet, and a reminder that even if bees can hurt us with their stings, they are actually beneficial and amazing creatures...