Tag Archives: fiction

No. 7 – the bees

3 Feb

You can’t stop looking. It is obvious that looking is the exact opposite of the proper thing to do. But you can’t quit. And every time you look, it makes you so nervous that you light another cigarette. The smoke temporarily kills the bees that are buzzing and swarming in your gut, but when you look at her photograph again, they just come back to life.

You smoke Lucky Strikes because that’s what you heard Kurt Cobain smoked. You used to fantasize that you’d die at 27, the way he did and the way Janis Joplin did and the way Jim Morrison did, but nobody even knows your name and wouldn’t care anyway. You know this deep down, but you still couldn’t help the surprise when your 28th birthday arrived and you lived through it. Then you were 29 and 36 and 42 and death never came for you and you never got famous.

In fact, if I had to title your autobiography, it would be called Death Never Came & I Never Got Famous. Or something. Anyway, you aren’t memorable for anything except being extremely odd and acting creepy around women. You stammer and clear your throat repeatedly in line at the A&P when the checkout girl is remotely pretty, even if she’s obviously a high school student working after school shifts, and you’re nearing middle-age and starting to go bald around the temples. She’ll hand you your change and politely decline the offer of your idea of a witty joke or maybe even your phone number. She’ll smile and tell you to have a nice day, but her eyes are full of terror.

The same thing happens with the Starbucks barista. Every time you leave the establishment, the conversation is the same. The pretty girl with the dark, curly hair turns to her co-worker and complains that you’re the guy who always comes in and mistakes good customer service for a come on. They talk about how you give off a serial killer vibe and start quoting lines from “Silence of the Lambs,” then laugh. The baristas agree it’s totally gross when a customer takes advantage of the situation they’re in and makes the entire transaction creepy. They both roll their eyes, but you never see this. At Starbucks they believe in good customer service.

You’ve been stalking this girl on the Internet for a while now. It is stalking, but you call it “being interested.” You visit her blog more than 10 times in a day. You have looked through all 2,071 photos of her on Facebook, twice. You know her home address, her cell phone number, where she went to college, what the outside of the building where she works looks like, her parents’ names and social security numbers. This information is all readily available and easy to procure. Other information is more difficult to find, like what her favorite color is, for example and what she throws in her trash. However, you could find that information out with a bit of determination. When you’re interested in someone, the determination flows.

You look at her photograph again, the one you printed at Staple’s and taped to your computer monitor. The one where she’s smiling for her husband who is behind the camera, but you know it’s secretly for you. She’s never said it and you’ve never actually met in person, but you know she’s in love with you. Her eyes are so blue.

The bees swarm.

You’ve lost track of how many hours you’ve spent trying to decide if her eyes are blue or actually green, a fact that disappoints you since you fantasize about conversations you’ll have with her someday, in which you present to her statistical data on how much you’ve thought about her over the years. You think she’ll be impressed with your dedication.

The bees begin to sting and fly into your throat. You light a cigarette and smoke them back down to your stomach where they lie in wait, a dull, moving hum.

In your email there’s a new message. It’s from her. It’s not good news. She says she feels uncomfortable with your friendship, that some things you’ve said have really bothered her and creeped her out. She prefers you stop contacting her. She’s afraid of you.

The bees rage.

Once a girl broke up with you in high school. It was your first girlfriend ever. You went out for a little less than six months and she wrote you a letter asking you not to call her anymore. You went home and chased a bottle of Advil Migraine with a bottle of whiskey. You thought that would show her.

When you woke up in the hospital the next evening, you called your mom and asked if she had explained to your girlfriend what had happened. She said yes, she had but that your girlfriend had hung up on her. You lie in your hospital bed feeling dazed. You wonder why she hasn’t come to see you, begging you to take her back and feeling terrible for what she made you do.

She never comes to visit and never talks to you again. She’s afraid of you. When she sees you in the hallways at school she tries to ignore you, but her eyes are full of terror.

The bees are in your throat now, choking you. You light another cigarette and stamp it out on your arm. You tear the girl’s photograph from your computer monitor, fold it up and swallow it. It presses the bees back down to your stomach, but they’re eating through the paper. Your pulse throbs in your temples where you’re losing your hair and you light another cigarette.

I’ll make her sorry, you think to yourself. You pick up your cell phone where her phone number holds the prominent place of first in your favorite contacts list. Hands shaking, you type out a text. It’s hard to type because the bees are getting through the paper of her photograph that now sits in your stomach. One by one, they’re darting toward your esophagus. The entire world seems to have turned into one pulsating, electric throb.

“By the time you read this I’ll be dead,” you type out and touch the send button. You crawl into bed, bees buzzing inside you, your whole world seeming like a carnival ride that’s gone out of control, but no one pulls the lever to stop the spinning. There is no hope anymore. You pull your sheet up over your head and grind your teeth until you fall asleep.

When you wake up, it’s morning. Something is crawling across your forehead, close to your eye. You slap it away and it buzzes toward the window. It’s a bee. It reaches the window and rams itself into the glass over and over again with tiny thud thud thuds. It is trapped. It’s nature tells it to go toward the light to get outside where it will be free again. The only light in the room comes from that window. The bee flies in circles, always ending up at the window, continuing to thump against glass with its fuzzy body. You watch it for six hours before it drops into the windowsill and stops moving.


© Ashley Noelle, 2012. All rights reserved.


No. 4 – camp confessional

21 Jan

Summer camp was technically seven days and seven nights of early-adolescent debauchery. At least, that’s how we thought of it at the time. We’d play pranks on each other. Fill condoms with whipped cream from a can and smear maxi pads with red magic marker and leave them stuck to the walls when the counselors came to inspect our cabins for order and cleanliness.

My best friend, Karen was lying next to me on the weathered, gray dock that stood above one edge of Lake Timberfall, which was more of a glorified pond than a lake, with green, brackish water that tasted exactly like every summer since I was ten.

I was thirteen then, smeared with sunscreen that smelled like pink chemicals and wearing the new fuchsia bikini my mother would die if she knew I had purchased with my babysitting money. My goal of the summer was to find a boyfriend and to make out with him. A lot.

“There are so many kids this year that there’s no way the adults can keep track of all of us,” said Karen in a voice that told me she was thrilled with the possibility and excitement of all the rule breaking. Back home Karen was a good girl, following the rules and doing well in school. At camp, Karen was an instigator, a loudmouth, a back talker. She spent a good deal of time being lectured by camp counselors and sitting in a room by herself as punishment for some misdeed.

Karen was the coolest girl I knew apart from me, and as my best friend, we were unstoppable.

“You know what’s weird?” Karen said, dreamily staring up at clouds that barely seemed to move in the blue, perfect sky. So many of our conversations started this way, with the realization that something was weird.

“Hmm?” I responded.

“It’s so weird, how like, one minute everything can be so perfect, and the next minute everything is going so, like…wrong,” Karen said softly. The strain of her mind being blown by this realization was evident in her voice. I knew what she was talking about. It was this boy she liked, Lonnie. Sometimes it seemed like he liked her, too. He would spend time talking to her and she’d just glow. Then there were other times when he’d ignore her or make fun of her when his friends were around and she wouldn’t smile the rest of the entire day.

“Totally weird,” I agreed.

Pondering the oddities of existence as a human on planet Earth with your best friend is, was, and always will be one of the finest things in life. If you’ve never done it, make a point to do so for at least two minutes tonight and thank me in the morning.

Days at camp were spent in little classes broken up by meals in a hall that seemed gigantic then, chanting obediently at the appropriate times, singing songs, and complaining when you had KP duty. It was like being a little soldier, but with more archery and fewer guns. Okay, no guns at all, really. Just the actual threat of other kids spreading rumors about you, which could be almost as bad as being shot, I thought.

On the second day of camp, someone made up a rumor that Jenny, a girl from our cabin had a sick obsession with hot dogs and had actually been caught by one of the camp counselors stealing them from the kitchen. The rumor went on to say Jenny was planning to add the stolen hot dogs to the stash of hundreds she kept in a locked suitcase under her bed.

Hot dogs. Locked in a suitcase. Under her bed. Everyone believed this.

Jenny was a quiet girl with a sad face, an easy target. She spent the remainder of camp on her own, unable to shake the reputation that she was a disgusting hot dog theif/hoarder. Other kids, especially the girls laughed and whispered to one another behind cupped hands every time they saw her. Sometimes Jenny would wake me up at night with a whimpering cry from across the cabin, her form shaking beneath her sleeping bag in the near total darkness. I listened, frozen as she cried herself back to sleep. I never said anything to her, but I did lie in bed going over and over in my mind hypothetical conversations I could have with her, in which I was always the sweet, helpful heroine who talked Jenny out of hanging herself over loving hot dogs so much.


It was night again and time for the ritual known as “campfire,” in which every single person in camp walked in what was supposed to be silence–but was more often a parade of giggles–to a large clearing in the woods where an enormous fire was blazing in a pit. There we heard announcements for the coming day, surprises about activities that weren’t listed in the camp brochure that were supposed to excite everyone, but always left me feeling bored and empty. And then the strangest part, called “testimonials,” when people would randomly stand up in front of the group and confess to their deepest, darkest sins. I couldn’t understand why they did it. Maybe it was the darkness, or the knowledge that most of the fellow campers were strangers you’d never see again until next summer, or the odd phenomenon of the emotional frenzy campers would whip themselves up into year after year, as though it was what was expected. As though summer camp was a place to purge demons, or to have a scheduled, on cue nervous breakdown.

One girl my age stood up and told us all about how she was addicted to sniffing hairspray to get high. She said she kept at least four bottles of the cheap, Suave aerosol cans in her backpack at all times, just in case she needed a fix. She sniffed hairspray in the bathrooms at school, in her room at home, at the mall. Her parents didn’t know and if they found out, they’d send her to juvie, she just knew it. She was scared this hairspray sniffing thing was a real problem. She burst into tears near the end of her speech, and fifteen kids crowded around her, hugging her and putting their hands on her back and head in a show of support.

A boy got up and said he felt ashamed of his lack of ability at sports. He said his dad pushed him to play basketball and he hated every minute of it. He didn’t want to disappoint his dad, but he was sick of the other guys making fun of him in the locker room, calling him names he couldn’t repeat and threatening to kick his ass. He couldn’t tell his father the other guys on the team hated him. He said he’d rather die than his father find out no one wanted him on the team. The boy’s voice cracked and he stopped talking. Kids surrounded him, whispering encouragement, patting him on the back.

I just sat there on the grass, wracking my brain for any dark secrets I may have that would make me seem cool and mysterious. I couldn’t think of any that weren’t just completely uncool and embarrassing, so I kept my mouth shut. Karen never told any of her secrets either, though I knew she had them.

At the end of all these true confessions we had a prayer in which the entire group would join hands. This was my favorite part because I would always position myself in such a way that I would be holding hands with a boy, which gave me a little thrill. I had my eye on one of the counselors that year. His name was Rudy and he had curly brown hair and bad acne scars. He was thin and not at all athletic, but he was hilarious and to me that made him the hottest guy at camp. I held his hand during the prayer and rubbed my thumb back and forth across the base of his palm and at the top of his wrist. I thought this was extremely erotic, but he never said anything about it. In fact, he never looked me in the eye again.

When the prayer was over we walked solemnly back toward our cabins. Karen and I ran to catch up with the two boys we liked best who weren’t counselors, Lonnie and Joe. Karen loved Lonnie, so I supposed I loved Joe. Any chance we could get to spend time with them alone, flirting and showing off, we took. I was cold and Lonnie let me wear his beloved White Sox jacket, which made Karen sneer at me. I just gave her a look like I didn’t know what she meant and smiled to myself, knowing I was messing with her a little. When we reached the door to our cabin, we all stood there for a while, not wanting the night to be over. I gave Lonnie back his jacket, and he and Karen decided she would walk Lonnie to his cabin. Karen was probably trying to leave Joe and I alone, since Joe was Lonnie’s best friend and I was her best friend, it was her goal to get Joe and I together.

I was still upset that Rudy hadn’t returned the gesture of my stroking his hand and wondered silently to myself if I’d ever get a boyfriend. Maybe no one really liked me at all. Maybe I was ugly. It was a thought that had crossed my mind many times before, so maybe it was true. My nose was too big. My belly button was weird. I was ugly. Maybe I was on the verge of being like Jenny, stuffing stolen hot dogs into a freaking suitcase and spending all my time alone. Then again, that was just a rumor, wasn’t it?

Well, wasn’t it?

Maybe I’d get so upset about not having a boyfriend on top of having to listen to Jenny the Hot Dog Lover cry and whimper all night like a fat baby puppy crying for milk, that I’d resort to sniffing hairspray. Only, I didn’t buy the aerosol kind. I only had the squirt bottle kind and I imagined myself standing in front of the mirror, squirting it into my face, eyes closed and inhaling deeply. That seemed gross. I didn’t want to end up that way. I needed a boyfriend. Karen had Lonnie and if I didn’t have someone, I’d be alone. I looked up at Joe.

“Can you believe that guy’s dad?” Joe said, his voice serious. He was standing too close to me and I was leaning against the cabin door, shaking a little without the warmth of Karen’s boyfriend’s jacket.

“Yeah, I know,” I said. “It’s so sad.” I sniffed a little, a nervous habit.

Joe must have thought I was crying. He put his arms around me and swayed back and forth, like awkward dancing. I put my arms around his waist, feeling the heat of his chubby body. I was a combination of disgusted and in awe of the fact that a boy–any boy–was holding me, rocking me back and forth, paying attention to me. This had never happened before. Was this love? Was Joe going to kiss me?

Well, was he?

Suddenly I was crying. Hot, irrational tears streaming from my eyes and into Joe’s t-shirt. He held me tighter and we just stood there, swaying together in the night, crying and not speaking a word.  This became a ritual of sorts. Every night after campfire was over, Joe would walk me to my cabin and we’d stand there swaying in each other’s arms as I cried. It was never difficult for the tears to come. Night after night, on command, I would cry the moment we got back to my cabin. Right on cue. Sorrowful, pathetic, mournful sobbing into Joe’s shoulder.

Night after night.

I wasn’t sure if that made Joe my boyfriend or not, and he never kissed me. It felt good, though, the attention from a guy. I had never had that and I sometimes thought about what that might mean. Usually while I was in bed, wide awake after Jenny woke me up with her own nightly sob-fest. It had something to do with my father, I decided. My father who was hardly ever around, and when he was around only proved himself to be a source of pain and cruel criticism, not love.

Was I in love with Joe because I hated my father?

Freud would have the answer, I thought. I scanned my mind for anything I knew about Freud, but nothing much came up. A face with glasses and a white beard, something about a complex, a fixation. Maybe I had a complex of some sort. I just knew it all had something to do with my father and that Freud would have something smart to say about it. Something that made sense of the whole thing.


When camp was over we all went home with our suitcases full of dirty clothes (and for some of us, hot dogs…or hairspray) and attempted to readjust to our regular lives and answer the millions of questions our parents eagerly asked about our time at camp. When Karen started talking to me again after my wearing Lonnie’s jacket, we spent the last few days of summer before school started up again lying on beach towels on the sidewalk outside her house, attempting to re-live those fine days on the dock at camp.

“You know what’s really weird?” I said to Karen from my place next to her on my favorite flamingo-covered beach towel.

“What?” Karen asked, tilting her sunglasses up a bit, squinting at me.

“It’s so weird that someone could spend every night holding someone else while they cry and then never even kiss them or like, answer any of the letters written to them by that person.” I had sent ten letters to Joe, one even included a lock of my own hair, which I thought was romantic. He had never written back.

“Totally weird,” Karen agreed. She knew exactly who I was talking about, even though I had never told her about the letters. And then, in true best friend form she added, “I bet he’s gotten addicted to sniffing goddamn hairspray.”

It was the first time I had ever heard Karen say a swear word. We burst into laughter that undoubtedly annoyed the entire neighborhood and rolled over to make sure our tans were even.

We grew up a little.


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