I lay on my bed for a while, thinking of not very much beyond machines that couldn’t exist, and how to build them. Eventually, I rose and dressed and put on my shoes and went to see the Mad Scientist out of the phone book. Well, it just hollows you out, you know? Life, time, the things people do. Some people, it makes them full—maybe with poison, maybe ambrosia, but full either way. You can see it in them, under their skin, in how they move and talk and be. Not me, though. I’ve had this hole under my breastbone for ages, and every year it gets a little bigger. Nothing else had made a difference, but I hadn’t tried a Mad Scientist before.
I hadn’t expected the wasps, but I hadn’t really expected much of anything. I hadn’t met a Mad Scientist before, and so what would you know to expect in any case? It wasn’t at all like a movie. It was like a doctor’s office, except full of these little bugs flying around all over the place, yellow and red and brown and black. Eventually one got close enough to see it was a wasp. The room was full of wasps. There was a big sign, too.
I tapped my fingers on the back of the chair and a wasp flew away. It didn’t pay me any mind beyond that. None of them did, and why not? Then I sat down and we talked. I explained the hole and the Mad Scientist explained how she could fill it. It might not work, but then again, it might. If it did, I’d be different. There was no telling how. I thought, why not?
It started with a shot, but I don’t mind those. We talked a while longer and then I noticed that there was a wasp crawling on my hand. A yellowjacket, I thought. Yellow and black, small and burly. I raised my hand for a closer look. She flicked her wings once, then turned to look back at me. Confident, but wouldn’t you be? If you could fly and fight like her?
After that we went in another room with no wasps in it and I laid down on a big padded table with a crinkly sheet of paper on top of it. The Mad Scientist said this part made some people uncomfortable, and she could put me to sleep for it if I wanted, but I didn’t and it wasn’t bad anyway. I guess now I know how a bike tire feels when you pump air into it. She did some things I couldn’t really see, that prickled a bit but didn’t really hurt. It was only a few minutes before she let the air out again and said she was done. I felt just like I had before, except for my bellybutton. We went back in the office.
I went over to the same chair and CHECKED SURFACES BEFORE USING, but the wasps flew off this time on their own before I sat down again. The Mad Scientist said this was good. One landed on my hand again. Not a yellowjacket this time. Bigger, much, still compact, but burly. Like if a clenched fist could fly. Orange and red and black and as long as my littlest finger. I liked her right away, and the way she tapped her antennae on my skin made me think she liked me too.
Something Latin I think, the Mad Scientist said, and then: the Asian giant hornet. She looked back at me for a while with her big kidney bean shaped eyes. You couldn’t see which way those eyes were pointing, the way you can with ours, but I knew anyway. She flicked her antennae at my hand a few more times, then flew down and crawled into the small dark round opening that my bellybutton hadn’t been before. She had to shoulder her way in. It didn’t quite tickle. The Mad Scientist said that would get better when the swelling went down.
After a minute she came out, then went back in again. I could feel her crawling up into the hole under my breastbone, which hadn’t been real before. Not this kind of real, anyway. But this was better, not worse, because now the hole wouldn’t be empty for long. The Mad Scientist explained some things. How to look after them, the parts of that they couldn’t do for themselves. I just had to make sure they had what they needed: water to drink, old wood or cardboard to make into paper to make their nest in the hole. Maybe some sugar water, once in a while, once they had a colony going. But for now that was fine because she’d implanted an artificial gland that would secrete a kind of nectar, so the queen could feed without having to leave me. She’d found that already. It felt good, but not like how you’re maybe thinking. I just liked knowing I could take care of someone.
I didn’t think to ask how long they live, but I did some reading later and found out: a year. But they like to reuse their old nests, when they can. So every year, in the fall, I go far out in the woods and find a nice warm grassy clearing and pull my shirt up to my breastbone and lie down for a nice long nap. Like now. It’s really comfortable, and really comforting. They like to patrol near the nest entrance, and when it’s time for the mating flight, they all come pouring out of my bellybutton and go buzzing off into the sky, among the trees, seeking their lovers of the moment, and I just look down at myself and wonder to see such life pouring out of this body I never had much use for, before. The hum of their wings is deep, like an old propeller airplane, and in that moment it’s all there is in the world to hear.
Then later, when the sun’s going down, when it’s almost chilly enough to notice, a few of them come crawl back inside, to settle in and sleep. They don’t need to, I suppose. Winter never touches the little world we’ve made for them, inside me. I think they just do it because they like to, and no wonder. Sometimes I sleep out in the woods a night or two, too, partly to give them all the time they want for gathering wood for paper, but mostly just because I like to. In a little while they’ll wake up, and start the next cycle of their lives, and in the meantime, in the cold months when all the world is asleep except humans who lack the sense to be, I’ll be getting ready for the next cycle of my own.