A beep. Another beep. A door opened and shut.
Joel sat down on his sofa, the paper plate in his hand already turning clear from the oil of his microwaved pocket sandwich. He jerked when the plate briefly touched his lap, then found a way to hold it, slightly curved, in one hand. The sandwich sagged in the middle of the taco-shaped plate while Joel’s thumb swiped away at his phone.
He had checked his feed on a whim and was now forty minutes into reading about how to keep squirrels out of a garden, nevermind that he lived in an apartment and couldn’t remember the last time his skin actually made contact with soil.
He was just bringing his attention back to laughing at a GIF on his feed when he heard the buzz.
His eyes darted over to the window before his mind fully registered what his ears had heard. The jolt that ran through his body was just as instinctual. There, in the window, was a wasp.
Joel hissed and jumped from the burn of the pocket sandwich that slid onto his lap. That caused it to roll onto his sofa. He cursed, rolled it onto the plate, then cursed again from the heat on his fingers.
There was the buzz again. Joel plopped his plate down somewhere and stared at the window with a racing heart.
The window was slightly ajar, but he left it cracked open all the time. Keeping bugs out was what the screen was for. If there was a hole in the screen, and presumably there was, there was fat chance of the wasp finding its own way back out the way it came in. The wasp was on the window pane, toward the top.
And then it disappeared behind the blinds.
Joel watched with keen eyes seeking movement in the thin gaps between the panels. He didn’t want to lose sight of the bug. That was how bad things happened.
But he did. He couldn’t see or hear the wasp. He dared to get closer to the window. He walked, hunched over, low to the ground, to get the right angle.
Before he could get a good look, another buzz. This time it was long, as the wasp bounced back and forth between the blinds and the glass. Joel jumped back. A sound escaped from his own lips.
Then he laughed to himself. It’s a bug not a dog. He wouldn’t alert it by being too loud.
He took a deep breath to still his racing heart and watched the window for a moment longer. The wasp had stopped fluttering about behind the blinds and was again pacing back and forth near the top of the window, occasionally popping out from under cover.
He couldn’t stay here and watch the bug indefinitely. Eventually he would have to move. The wasp was clearly not going to let itself back out. He would have to deal with this.
That was how Joel’s mother dealt with wasps. Fearless. She would grab a magazine, or a broom, or a shoe, or a phone book. Sometimes she would even use a fly swatter. She didn’t hesitate. She didn’t miss.
Joel’s father preferred bug spray. Why get close if he didn’t have to? He’d fill a window with enough fumes to force the family out of a room for the rest of the day. No one worried if he got the wasp; they were more concerned over whether he would melt the glass.
“We’re outside, Dad. How is this even possible?”
Joel and his sisters stood halfway across the front yard. Somehow their father had sprayed enough bugspray that they couldn’t breath on the front porch. All over a wasp that dared to walk inside of the covering overhead.
But here, alone, nearly a decade later, Joel lacked any of his parents’ resolve. He couldn’t bring himself to kill the bug quite so quickly.
It’s not that he took the stakes lightly. He knew he wouldn’t die if stung, but the pain would ruin his day. Would probably put a downer on the next one, too. He rather spend his evening doing taxes than nursing a sting.
There was something about taking a life that didn’t seem his to take. The wasp hadn’t yet done anything worthy of a death sentence. It seemed wrong for an existence to be snuffed out solely due to being on the wrong side of a pane of glass. To think that a few millimeters was all the difference between life and death, or that his own heart would stop for as arbitrary a reason someday.
Joel went to the kitchen and scrambled in his cabinets for a cup that he drank out of less often. Then he decided on a disposable one. No use doing dishes over this, and there would be no worrying about his lips or drink touching a surface a wasp had crawled on.
This time his heartbeat pounded against his chest. He wasn’t trying to hurt the bug, but the bug didn’t know that. A slip up could get him stung on the finger, one of the worst places to be stung.
A cup alone wouldn’t be enough. Joel looked around for a piece of paper.
He had learned this technique in karate class. There a student had spotted a spider crawling across the floor. Joel expected a martial arts teacher to approach the spider, lift their foot directly up above their head, then bring it down in a ground shaking stomp eradicating any trace of the critter.
Instead the teacher used a cup and a sheet of paper to escort the spider outside.
Joel had never seen someone show a bug such kindness. He felt guilty for what he would have had someone do to the spider instead.
So Joel approached the wasp with cup and paper in hand. He would trap the bug with the cup, then slide the paper under.
Or so he planned.
Instead, the bug lifted off the glass as Joel approached. Joel panicked, turned the cup around, and —
Joel could hear his heart thumbing against his skull. He waited to feel the sting against his fingers.
But no. He got it.
His dad would have given him props. His mom might even have been impressed, if she herself hadn’t come by the talent so naturally. Joel didn’t feel as proud as he once would have.
He took the cup to the trash, made his way back to the couch, picked up his phone, and returned to his feed. Half an hour later, he was somehow again reading about squirrels.
Life rarely went according to plan.