Slowly but surely, the bees disappeared. It was called Colony Collapse Disorder. In the beginning people would say, I read something in the newspaper the other day, about all these bees that are dying. These were page-six or -seven stories. Bad but not believing. Then they moved up. In the order of things. Then the language turned threatening. The terms had dire warnings embedded right in them, and names became conflated with consequences.
The bees: they left their hives and flew into oblivion. The problem with bees is that they are domesticated creatures; there are no feral bees left. Once they leave the hive, the farm, the company of man, that’s it.
It was amazing to think of the weight they carried, and how far.
Vampire Mites were certainly part of the problem – the sight of bees with deformed wings was appalling. But there was a greater sickness at work here. The bees behaved like rats leaving a sinking ship, only without panic, and no attempt to swim.
* * * * *
I win one hundred dollars at poker. Our last game, a little basement tourney. I normally don’t win and in this game, even at the end, I shouldn’t have stood a chance: coming down to heads-up, I was completely dominated by the chip count, and Leon from Accounting probably had a dozen times my stack. But by forcing my decisions (not allowing any value bets, constantly pushing me all-in) ol' Leon from Accounting did me an immense favour; in effect, he simplified things and you always have more courage when you have fewer choices, when you’re not supposed to win. And so I got lucky, put a few bad beats on him, doubled up a few times, and then it was my turn to play the bully. And I ground him down. All the boys stayed until the end and afterwards everyone shook hands and wished each other luck. It was never about the money, Leon said.
* * * * *
Cleaning – the car, the kitchen
the bedroom, the bathroom. Then shopping.
The supermarkets are emptying but there’s still no panic, just a hard flatness to things. This dead-winter feeling. The cashier looks very tired. Only a few soldiers in the parking lot.
Home, making a chicken casserole. Chicken bits in tins. Talk to Janna on the phone. She’s anxious, worried, last-minute with her packing. I tell her it doesn’t matter, we’ll get whatever she needs, she should go to bed early. I know she won’t listen. Afterwards I stay up smoking and drinking in the darkness until I pass out in the armchair. No need to break any bad habits now.
* * * * *
Up early with more cleaning, straightening things, organizing the tilted chaos of the cupboards. I’ve become a real pack rat this last year. There’s a bag of organic cereal up there, from back when we were believing in that kind of thing, so old now that the bag crumbles, just falls apart in my hands. A real mess. Flakes of plastic mixing with the cereal, melting under running water.
Janna’s plane arrives at 9:45. On the drive to the airport I’m so nervous that I make the mistake of turning on the radio. The news anchors have all been replaced by scientists, it seems, and the scientists have this way of lecturing that sounds like they’re setting down some kind of record, like they’re talking to some future they can't imagine. They explain the breakdown of the food chain, the climate disasters, the miscalculations of genetically modified crops. They have their grim panels and passive arguments but everyone agrees it started with the bees and the flooded radiation fields.
Janna’s early. I’m looking right over her head as I scan the crowd and then I see her face bright red with embarrassment, and I can tell right away that she’s not quite right. She’s flushed and overwrought and physically undone: getting up at three for the six a.m. flight, the disarray at the airports, the confused resignation of the flight crews, the half-empty planes. Things are breaking down.
You were lucky to get a flight, I say. They won’t be running much longer.
I stayed up all night watching TV, Janna says.
On the way home, I stop off at a department store to buy a new quilt. Then I buy three. Janna walks around the store, trying out beds, lying on her back with eyes shut and her arms crossed in front. Quit being silly, I say.
In the parking lot of my building she’s standing there looking unsure, looking like a bird wrapped up in a nest of sweaters and scarves and she has that worried way of eyeing me from the side, that way that makes me grab her hand and I distract her with a story about how I found the place years ago (it involves a friend of a friend, a broken engagement, a nurse going off to Africa to do volunteer work, and then almost immediately being eaten by a crocodile) and once inside she relaxes a bit, says she likes my apartment, all the photographs and the way it’s decorated. I don’t tell her that these things are new. That all my other lives were just boxes. We put down her bags and I’m holding her and smelling her hair and squeezing her and kissing her face her neck her breasts but when I look up she’s crying. I’m a little overwhelmed, she says, so I get her a drink and make dinner and we settle in to watch a movie. Only it’s not a movie, it’s episodes of this cable series she’s obsessed with, this show about a time-travelling wizard who alters history for entirely personal reasons. He does it with a watch and then lightning. When I look over to see her sleeping I insist we go to bed. The next thing I know it’s three in the morning and the television is blaring from the other room, so I get up and there she is on the couch.
Do you mind if I turn this down? I ask, eyes wide, already taking away the remote. When I go back to bed I close the door behind me and turn on the little space heater for white noise.
* * * * *
We get up around nine-ish because sleeping any longer feels wasteful. She doesn’t want to have sex. Instead we watch some more of the wizard show, and she glares at me when I slurp my coffee. That wizard’s a defeatist, I say.
Early afternoon. Downtown. She likes the downtown, the winding alleys and designer shops, although half of them are closed now. We start at the low numbers and work our way up. In some kind of Third-World, handmade-crafts place she finds a hat that she likes, one of those Nepalese-looking things with the flaps and little tassle on top. She finds some boots too, but wants to wait for a better price. I say nothing, then buy them for her anyway. She also wants some stuff for her next tribal dancing class and I make no comment about that either while guiding her to the appropriate shop. Janna is delighted that their jewellery selection is “so excellent” – apparently, jewellery is very important for dancing. I buy her a whack of that, too.
After awhile we can both eat and she suggests a sushi place, it’s not what I had in mind but I go along and it turns out to be a good idea, she gets what she wants and I get a kind of soup or stew that comes in a miniature iron pot, I’m struggling like hell with the chopsticks and stabbing at noodles but it’s delicious, plus there’s a warm, peaceful ambience in the room, these little blinking decorative lights and I kind of reminisce about all the places I’ve been in like this, how I’m going to miss the act of going out for a meal, all the miniature theatre, and then I feel guilty about opportunities missed, and time wasted, and how good we had it for so long.
* * * * *
Last day at work. I haven’t given notice; I just won’t come back again. Down to twenty three from just over forty. The last will leave in a hurry.
Going through old emails I am sleeping, dreaming. They feel like another life. After lunch I go for a walk around the block and it’s a soft-ish warm day, the sun low and draining. Back at my desk, I pack up a small box of possessions but end up dumping it all in the trash. I leave around three.
For supper I make baked butternut squash with cheese tortellini. Very nice, Janna says. While I do the washing up, she starts phoning her friends, then pretty much stays on the phone for the rest of the evening. I don’t say anything, just put on my coat and go out walking. Down by city hall a soldier sees the bottle sticking out of my pocket and stops me, asking for a drink.
* * * * *
The alarm goes off twice before I’m ready to get up. I ask Janna how she slept.
Not great, she says.
Oh, what’s wrong? Are you not feeling well?
Not great, she says.
Is it your stomach? Are you nauseous?
She shrugs. I tell her there’s ginger beer in the fridge. Then: How long were you on the phone last night?
A couple hours. Okay most of the night. I was talking to Brenda.
Is she okay?
She’s fine. I talked to Allison, too. And Mara. I’ll pay you for the calls.
That’s not why I’m asking, I say. And then drop it.
After breakfast I start packing boxes for the car but Janna gets upset, says she doesn’t want to go to the cabin, at least not today.
I’m not ready, she says.
But that’s the plan, I say.
I know, but what difference does a day make?
There’s going to be a lot of people saying that when it’s too late, I want to say. But I stop myself. I’m getting good at this business of not saying anything. Besides, this is my own damn fault, what I get for having a young girlfriend. Such a young, long-distance girlfriend. Actually it’s ridiculous. As if to underscore the point, Janna’s immediately on the phone to her mom, and I end up going out walking again.
On an impulse I climb on a bus out to the west end, out to the suburbs, just because I’ve never been out there before, and I’ve always imagined these wide streets and clean parks with little artificial lakes. Indeed the parks are nice but the neighbourhoods are ghostly, homes abandoned in a tidy way, tidy and grim, these shiny things with shuttered eyes. And that’s when I realize that Janna will never go out to the cabin with me, that she can’t see what the future looks like, that she will never look this thing in the face. She doesn’t believe.
It doesn’t matter. I have the proper pills, and I’ll sprinkle them as powder into her supper tonight. She’ll be awkward getting into the car, all skinny limbs, and I hate driving at night, especially in the country. But it will fine. It’s a one-way trip, straight north. Afterwards, the car keys can feed the woods. She has come this far for me to carry her, and I will, right to the end.