Mary found her honey bee the same way as her momma and her momma before. She paid for him.
She first saw the fine young man while watching the Billy Graham Crusades on television. He sat next to the big man himself and she liked how his suit shined in the sunshine. It was enough to make a girl pull out her credit card and tithe online and that she did, adding a note—More where this came from should you email back stating the name of the spiritual being sitting left of the world’s finest preacher.
Deacon Willis, came back in reply. A woman true to her word, Mary tithed ten percent of the amount she felt appropriate for a Christian match-up. Please have Deacon Willis email me at LordmyGodinfinity@gmail.com and I’ll finagle a few more dollars your way.
An email popped up in her mailbox, a form letter request for contributions to help the suffering children enduring life in the war zone known as Haiti.
Happy to help the effort, Deacon Willis, she replied, upon learning your first name. Best, Mary Temple.
The answer popped up quicker than quick. William. William Theodore Willis. (If I may be so bold, as the Lord has instructed us to go forth and procreate, I am happy to say, I am a single man in search of a good woman.)
That I am, a very good woman. You sound like a gentlemen I’d like to meet, a true man of the cloth. I imagine Billy Graham doesn’t travel to the place of my home and heritage. Yet, I would not find you presumptuous to board a plane and come calling.
Thank you for your kind invitation, Mary. I’ve placed your contributions in my personal travel account and will catch the next flight your way. Our brief counsel will console me during my mission to Haiti when darkness falls and the streets are lined with candles and the debris of lost souls.
Sir, I’m off to buy a fancy dress to meet a faithful man. Let’s meet with the Lord’s blessing Sunday at Hopewell Church. I’ll look for you at the church supper.
Following services, she scooted past the milling parishioners and sat at the far end of the table by an impressive potted split leaf philodendron. An enthusiastic reception greeted the deacon as if Billy Graham himself stood before them. Willis maneuvered around the table, shaking hands and greeting the ladies.
Mary watched him save her for last. The philodendron tickled the back of her neck as the breeze trickled through the screened window. He stopped behind her chair and rested his hand on the back. The tickle turned red hot. She dabbed a napkin at her lady dew as he asked all to bow their heads for the blessing. “Thank you, Lord Jesus,” he breathed down her neck, “for this bountiful food and these good people. Amen.”
He sat himself down. “That is a very nice plant you’re wearing, if I may so say.”
“Oh, this old thing?” She laughed. “My name is Mary Temple, which likely you well know and I promised to support your mission in some small way.” She removed an envelope from her purse.
Willis slid open the flap, his eyes on her. He unfolded the legal document inside, the title of her home. “Why, Mary. I can’t accept this selfless contribution, but I tell you what.” He whispered in her ear. “I’d love a tour.”
“Deacon Willis, by all means. Let me show you the way.”
The deacon made his excuses to the gobbling congregation and met Mary out front of the church watching a woman parade by, pushing a baby stroller with a wild-looking dog leading the procession and a black cat taking up the rear.
“Bless you,” Mary called after the odd procession.
The woman stopped short. “Sunday words don’t pay the rent,” she said, turning round the stroller. “How ‘bout blessing me with something a bit more substantial?”
Mary took a step back. “I meant no disrespect,” she said.
“That’s quite a dog you have there,” Willis offered, stepping in front of Mary. “What’s the breed?”
The woman shrugged. “No telling, though it’s said, if a black cat follows along after a dog, it’s sensing a bit of the wolf. Or so, I’ve been told.” The black cat looked at Willis, closed its eyes slow and opened wide slower, strolling over to peruse the deacon’s ankles, rubbing the full length of his body in and out.
“Cats don’t usually take to me,” he said.
Mary fished through her best purse for a couple of dollars. “Again, I meant no harm,” she said, handing the woman the money.
She accepted the offering. “None taken, it’s just I’ve got my brood to care for,” she said, giving the stroller a sharp tap and a harsh jiggle.
Willis chuckled. “What’s inside? A wolf pup?”
The cat circled eight around the deacon’s ankles one last time.
“See for yourself,” the woman invited, zippering open the stroller enclosure. “I won’t charge you one red cent.”
Willis leaned in.
The bees swarmed the deacon and knocked him flat to the ground. His struggle proved short. After certain he was good and dead, Mary fished a cartridge from the pocket of her new fancy dress and freed a queen bee. The bees followed their mistress and were gone as quick as they had come, a dark cloud of audible darkness.
“That cat is never wrong,” the woman said to Mary. “Senses the wolf each and every time.”
Mary smoothed away the hair from what had once been the forehead of a handsome face. “I don’t know, I sort of liked this honey bee.”
The woman sniffed. “Now don’t you start getting all blubbery on me.” She zippered the sticky stroller closed. “Plenty of fancy pants out there preying on those with little or without, stealing and thieving whatever they’ve got, all in the name of the Lord.”
“I think Momma would’ve liked the deacon.”
“Good Lord Almighty, child!” She bent over laughing, clapping her hands together. “Your momma would’ve liked you tossing the queen bee into the mix, though she probably would’ve watched that no good shyster swell a few minutes longer. She was hard like that.”
She looked Mary straight in the face. “I knew your momma and though she struggled with passing on the work to you, as sure as I’m standing here, she was dead right to school you in the family tradition, just like her momma taught her. Don’t ever lose sight of your purpose on this earth. As for me, I am happy to help you rid the monkey suits from our little piece of heaven, bees willing, as long as I walk among the living.”
Mary sighed. “How much do I owe you, Ora?”
“I’ll take the watch. I need myself a reliable time piece. You’re doing the Lord’s work, sugar.”
She pushed the stroller on down the sidewalk, dog in the lead, cat in the rear, heading towards the hive back home where she would find the bees killing off their queen, like their mommas and their mommas before.
"Stung" was originally published in X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine in 2018.
Sheree Shatsky is the author of the novella-in-flash Summer 1969 (Ad Hoc Fiction 2023). Her work has appeared in numerous journals including Cowboy Jamboree and BULL. She is a contributor to MAINTENANT 17: A Journal of Contemporary Dada Writing and Art ‘PEACEFIRE’ (Three Rooms Press 2023). She calls Florida home and is a Tom Petty fan. Read more at shereeshatsky.com . Connect on Twitter @talktomememe .