Extinction

fiction

Tree Texture

       Livia races through the orchard towards me, hands cupped before her as she weaves her way through the flowering apple trees. Around her, silver drones belch clouds of pollen and sucrose onto the waiting flowers. She knows enough to the avoid the drones’ sticky-sweet emissions, and soon enough, I can hear her shrill voice calling out over their metallic hum.

       “Grandma,” she yells, “look what I found!”
       “What is it?” I ask as she races towards me, her ink-black braids flying behind her as she takes the porch steps two at a time.

        Livia holds her cupped hands out towards me, her sweaty forehead wrinkling.

       “I dunno,” she says, breathing hard, “I just found it on one of the apple blossoms. It was stuck.”

       She opens her hands a crack, and I lean forward to peer inside. There is a small creature, not much bigger than my thumbnail, crawling across her palm on six fuzzy legs. Translucent wings fold back against a segmented yellow body with faint black stripes, as two thin antennae probe the folds of her flesh. The sharp point at the back end nearly takes my breath away. Apis mellifera.

       “Kill it,” I hiss. “Drop it to the ground and step on it. Now.”

       Livia frowns, her hands closing protectively around the little creature. “Why? What is it?”

       But I can’t force the words from my throat. I’m twelve years old again, a throbbing pain in the sole of my foot, my lungs screaming for air as my throat swelled shut. I stopped carrying my epi-pen long ago – it’s been decades since the extinction – but the memory is sharp as ever.

       I swallow my anxiety, forcing myself to think rationally.

       “It’s called a bee,” I say, trying to keep the fear from my voice. “They used to pollinate the trees and flowers before we had drones to do it.”

       “You mean, before Great-Grandpa’s invention?”
        I smile despite myself. “Yes, sweetheart. In fact, my father invented Hill Pollens because the bees were going extinct.

       Without him, we would live in a world without fruit.”
       “Because apples need pollinators,” Livia recites. “And without pollination, there is no fruit.”

       I feel my chest swell with pride; the child is a Hill through and through. But then she frowns, her face scrunching into up as she gazes down into to her palm.

       “But the bees aren’t gone,” she says, holding her cupped hands up for me to inspect, “are they?”

       As I stare down at the incontrovertible evidence before me, fear and guilt war with curiosity inside my mind. Where did it come from? Honeybees like this one have been believed to be extinct for decades. Why has one suddenly shown up here?

       “Apparently not.”

       I can’t hide the tremor in my voice but Livia, busy peeking into the crack between her thumbs, doesn’t notice.

       “Then why’d you want me to kill it?” she asks, not looking up.

       I force myself to take a deep, shaky breath. My granddaughter does not understand the repercussions of what she’s found. And I intend to keep it that way.

       “They can sting,” I reply, voice miraculously calm. “It’s very painful, and sometimes a sting can even kill you. It almost killed me once.”

       Livia gasps and opens her hands. The bee takes off, making a faint buzzing sound as it zips through the air. She watches it go, her expression falling.

       “It could have killed me?” she asks, a slight quaver in her voice.

       I want to kick myself for my hasty words. Ever since I became Livia’s guardian, I’ve dedicated myself to fostering her sense of wonder, to supporting her bright and quizzical mind. Yet when she made this incredible discovery, my first instinct was to shut her down.