Toward the end of the summer that year, the wasps in Berlin came out in droves more than they ever had. It was as if they couldn’t decide whether or not it was worth it to surrender to the impending cold weather so gracefully as they had in the past, instead opting to take their protest against it in an extremist direction.
One could barely sit down for more than thirty seconds in a restaurant before three or more of them would lay into their attack. But the worst part about it was that they would never actually strike, instead content to menace with fear. They were perhaps not the bees of Hitler in that way. For Reseda (who had been fortunate enough with regard to her name to never have anyone call her out over the fact that she shared the same moniker as a shitty California town), bees and their ilk had never been a source of terror. She had grown up with them, her father, Sinclair, making her all too aware of their inner and outer composition in his unpaid position as a beekeeper (“But bees aren’t the same as wasps!” the Berliners reminded).
It was his great passion and hobby, and it became a total obsession after her mother, Virginia, left them without warning one August evening, when she quite simply never returned home from work. It was possibly for this reason that Reseda tended to feel a general apprehension and sense of dread whenever summer came along, no matter where she was. It was like an incessant tightening of the sphincter and a closing of the throat. Yet somehow, as we all tend to do with simple existence, she grew accustomed to the discomfort–naturally associating summer with pain as opposed to pleasure, as most did. Accordingly, the bees did not seem to bother her as much as they did die Deutschen, or rather, the many Americans living in Berlin who had an unintentional air of self-righteousness about them on the basis of “escaping” the U.S.–as though you ever really could once it was within you as a result of one’s birth in a place so steeped in its own self-delusion that it inflicts the same phenomenon upon all born unto its soil. It doesn’t matter where you go, such a disease as nationality cannot be evaded.
Reseda was not trying, at least not any longer, to evade it. She wanted nothing more than to embrace it, to serve as a walking thumbing of nose in the face of all those Americans who wanted so desperately to conceal their identity. Undoubtedly, they were not bargaining for the presence of all these wasps to unveil who they truly were as a people–dainty and desirous of constant sanitization–as summer came to a close in Berlin.
“The pesticides must not be as strong this summer,” Marco reasoned. “That’s why they’re seeking to be nurtured by other means. They want to scavenge your sweat.” Reseda coughed as he exhaled a plume of smoke, an act that added to the disgustingness of his statement. They were sitting outside of a bar called, unoriginally, Cafe Kreuzberg. She had somehow been taken under his wing when they were introduced through a mutual American friend who had since absconded for Lisbon. Everyone’s always absconding to somewhere else in Europe. It is the blessing and the curse of budget airlines that always offer one the luxury of running away from herself. Reseda’s American friend was just such a person.
While Marco was somewhat goofy-looking for an Italian, Reseda was not opposed to sleeping with him, which she did that night, when the wasps had finally driven them down the street to the apartment he was subletting. He provided her with something she had been missing the past three months: human touch. He was amenable to massaging her back, complimenting her on her tan as he did so. It was so often the simplest of kindnesses that can make a girl feel attached before she re-acknowledges there is no true connection. It is, as the wasps were seeming to do, a seeking of a substitute for that which they’re really in search of. They have so limited an amount of time, as well, to forage all they can for their queen and her nest. The queen is, after all, the only one who will survive the winter.
Their sole purpose in serving one higher authority spoke to Reseda as she thought about the Germans and their strange period, to say the least, of unwavering loyalty to the Führer. Maybe the bees and the wasps and the hornets were all making up for the lackadaisical devotion of the Germans now, specifically the Berliners, so content they were to drink in public in a jovial fashion that suggested this was how they coped with work, and the constant presence of unsettling history haunting them (for one can’t walk down any street without seeing some Holocaust remembrance, some nod to the depths of human depravity). While they could lay no claim any longer to “providing for a grander being,” (for no one saw Angela Merkel that way), the frantic and ardently ominous wasps could.
One was swirling around her cigarette now in the bright sunlight of the morning after, as she surrendered to everyone’s favorite pastime in Berlin, saying fuck it to her lungs. She was better off smoking directly than receiving it second hand, which she had in every place both public and private that she went since arriving. They were relatively high up, on the sixth floor, and she marveled at the inescapability of these voracious creatures at any vantage point in the city. She blew at it angrily after swatting it away didn’t work. It was at this gesture that the wasp felt threatened enough to finally sting, pushed to its limit of pleasantries with all these coquettish games about merely brushing up against the skin.
“Fuck!” Reseda screamed more monosyllabically than any German. Her exclamation awoke Marco, who was still dozing peacefully in a beer-induced slumber that made him a bit slow on the uptake in terms of apprehending what had just occurred. The wasp continued to swirl and buzz frenetically throughout the room, prompting Marco to laugh as he watched Reseda scurry into the kitchen to find some ice to place on the instant swelling wrought by the sting. Taking pity on her as she sat in the kitchen with a deflated expression, a cold compress against her wrist where the wasp had struck, Marco made her a cup of coffee from a moka pot that looked quintessentially battered.
“You can’t aggravate the wasps. You have to be one with them, let them do their thing.”
She scoffed. “I’ve spent my whole life catering to bees and their kind. Just once, I wanted it to fuck off and let me smoke in peace.”
“Someone like you can never be ‘in peace’ anyway, so what does it matter if there is a wasp swirling around you to manifest your inner torment?”
Marco might have had a point, but Reseda did not want to take it, instead rising from the chair and tersely stating, “I’ve got to go.”
“It’s still early.”
“No. I mean…I’ve got to leave Berlin.”
In the increasing light of the day that Reseda found herself enveloped by on the sidewalk outside Marco’s apartment, she rolled her eyes at an eddy of the relentless creatures combing the trash. They would be gone soon, she reasoned, as though a part of herself was insinuating that to wait it out and stay would be best. But she would still have to leave before they did. The wasp’s nest–paper ones that expand as summer wears on–is set up solely as a hub to house them while they perform their propagating work for the queen, eventually abandoned by the end of summer, disintegrated by winter.