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Borer Bees

by Charles Blackburn, Jr.

January 28, 2009

A displaced flower child of the ’60s, Trey Meadows had hung in, after dropping out, way beyond anyone’s expectations, including his own.

For nearly three decades he had lived in an abandoned bat-cave of an antebellum house, without running water or electricity, overlooking the Little Pigeon River. He took his drinking water straight from the river, boiled it on a wood stove, and then ran it through an old restaurant coffee-maker filled with charcoal. This approach to life’s necessities was among the factors that had earned him the reputation as a most ineligible bachelor.

Like many a Meadows before him, Trey was big and intimidating, with the devil’s own red hair all over his head and his face and his body. His raging beard and tempestuous locks made him look like something out of a Nordic storybook, the kind employed chiefly to frighten small children into behaving. Plus he had the temperament of old sweaty dynamite.

On his business card, however, instead of Pillage & Plunder, Inc., there appeared the non-militant notice “Signs Painted & Carved.” Trey could do anything in that line, as plain or fancy as you pleased. He was locally famous and had all the orders he could handle. He also made salt-glazed pottery, which he sold at the co-op in town. He kept a garden. He hunted and fished. Overall, he was pretty self-sufficient.

There was only one drawback to the lifestyle. He had an insatiable appetite for conversation. Trey was highly educated and read a lot, and what he really liked to do was talk about books he’d read. He got lonesome sometimes living out there on the bank of the Little Pigeon River.

In consequence, he spent hours on the porch of that weather-beaten manse waiting for God’s salesmen to come and convert him. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, Missionary Baptists, Adventists, you name it. The welcome mat was always out for true believers.

Trey loved a good theological debate better than anything. He liked to spring philosophical traps on the unwary and rattle the cages of smug complacency in which the devout had voluntarily imprisoned their minds. Most people’s religious convictions, or so he surmised, were based on an overwhelming need to believe. As he saw it, it was a lot easier for most folks to harbor a prejudice or profess a faith than it was to examine the need.

“I don’t believe in much,” he slyly confided, “other than good and evil.”

It was all he needed to say. Given that opening, the righteous were off and running, and in no time Trey had a five-course discussion on his hands, which he seasoned liberally with quotes from Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Sartre. Bertrand Russell. Paul Van Buren. Joseph Campbell. It was invigorating. And it didn’t cost him a dime.

That’s not to say that Trey Meadows didn’t know evil when he saw it. Take borer bees, for instance. The pesky devils had a depraved craving for the unpainted wood of his front porch. He could put his ear to a roof post and hear them buzzing away like miniature chainsaws. Once, in bed with a fever, he dreamed they were boring into his brain.

The bees got on his nerves something fierce. But he’d hit on a way to fix them good. Whenever he saw one of the plump little suckers fly into its perfectly round hole, he whipped out a caulk gun and sealed it in there - sealed it right in its own hole with a glob of white goo.

So what if the porch beams and posts resembled Swiss cheese? There was something so profoundly satisfying about this method of bee control that it gave him a mystical sense of inner peace and spiritual fulfillment. He sometimes cackled with glee as he squeezed the trigger and entombed another one of the unspeakable blighters.

One sunny afternoon, as Trey sat on the porch reading a worn copy of Finnegans Wake, the yard animals alerted him to the approach of visitors. He looked up from the book toward the river and saw a skinny bird-like old lady and a large blonde corn-fed gal climbing the path to the house. They were both dressed in black, and the tall skinny one was toting copies of a pamphlet he took to be some flavor of The Plan of Salvation.

Trey’s happy heart sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” as the duo marched past the blackberry thicket. It broke into “Hava Nagila” when they rounded the bend by the pottery shed. And as they passed through the shade of the mimosa tree, it was to the imaginary strains of “You got me a rockin’ and a reelin’. Can’t hear Buddha call.”

All along the way, the two were given a noisy escort by a welcoming committee of beagles, cats, and guinea hens, led by Trey’s pet pig, Prosciutto. “Don’t mind them! Come up on the porch!” Trey hollered over the commotion. “I’m in dire need of conversation! And I thank God for sending me people of faith!”

“The beasts of the field are mine!” the bird-like woman cheerfully shouted back, wading through the menagerie. “And the cattle on a thousand hills!”

Neither woman seemed in the least dismayed by the hulking sight of Trey Meadows in paint-splattered overalls, despite all that wild red hair on his head and his face and leaking out of holes in his blue flannel shirt. The intensity of his gaze and the way his John Deere cap was perched catawampus on his head did nothing to inspire faith in his mental stability.

He gave the old girl a hand up the steps, duly noting that the publication clutched to her bosom was none other than The Watchtower.

“Bless you,” she said, catching her breath.

“Light and rest,” he offered, doffing his cap. “There’s a nice breeze this afternoon, and I’m eager to hear the good news.”

The women took a seat on a wide split-log bench Trey had made himself. Their contrasting size reminded him of a female version of Laurel and Hardy. All they lacked was bowler hats. Neither wore make-up, and both had their hair pulled back in tight buns. They were not really of this world. But, then, neither was Trey.

“Won’t you set with us, brother?” the old lady asked.

“Ma’am, if you don’t mind, I prefer to receive the truth standing up.” Trey replaced his cap on his head and leaned against one of the porch roof posts.

She glanced at her younger companion and said, “We’re here to talk about the news of the world and the news of the spirit.”

“Mighty fine,” he replied. “But perhaps we could dispense with the formalities and proceed directly to Bible study.”

“Amen!”

“Hallelujah!” the younger woman concurred.

Trey stood there on the porch on that fine sunny day and envisioned an afternoon’s conversation spreading out before him like a feast before a starving man. He relished the prospect, however remote, of bringing a glimmer of enlightenment to these two poor lost lambs. But regardless of the outcome of their discourse, he was prepared to enjoy himself thoroughly.

Just then a big fat borer bee buzzed right past his nose and flew into a hole in the wooden post against which he was leaning. Acting purely on reflex, Trey reached for the caulk gun on the window ledge and, in one fluid motion, whirled around, stuck the tip of the gun in the bee hole and pulled the trigger. Once it was full, he rubbed his broad thumb over the opening to smooth out the caulk. The entire procedure took maybe five seconds.

His two visitors stared at him, aghast.

“That’s liable to kill it,” the old lady protested.

Trey turned to them, his blue eyes bright with vengeance, a wicked grin radiating across his hairy face, the caulk gun raised and at the ready.

“Exactly!” he declared.

The missionaries exchanged startled looks. Before their host could do or say anything more, the two women rose up without a word, marched off the porch and down the steps. They didn’t even bother to look back. Before Trey could fully comprehend what was happening, the two were halfway down the path to the river, trailing a lively escort of semi-domesticated animals.

Trey Meadows stood there, dumbstruck. He looked at the caulk gun in his hand. He stared at the white goo in the bee hole. He watched the missionaries disappear into the valley. Throwing the gun down in disgust, he snatched the cap off his head and slapped it loudly against his thigh.

“Damn!” he said.

A shorter version of “Borer Bees” was originally published in the Sunday Reader section of the Raleigh News and Observer.

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