A fly buzzed around my head as I strode down the corridor leading from the chapter house to the quad. The sun shone though the Gothic windows patterning the concrete floor. My oxblood Doc Martens chose only the sunlit squares.
I shooed the fly away. It came back. I swung around, surprised to feel its staccato movement in my hand; hear it buzz, buzz, buzzing. I hesitated. The passageway was empty. I flattened my fingers against my palm and its wings stilled. I was instantly repentant.
I stepped out of the shadowy passage and hurried to the patch of lawn in the centre of the quiet courtyard. Most of the students had left for the holidays. I sat down cross-legged and placed the body of the fly on the grass before taking my penknife out of my backpack. A few seconds of jabbing at the soil created an opening big enough to take the remains.
I lay back on the grass. The sun warmed my body as I thought about the Lazarus Expedition. My bags were all packed — T-shirts rolled up like larvae in a grow drawer. But was the proposition even viable? There was little proof bees were hiding deep in the Amazon rainforest. And would we be able to return with any? The possibility of cloning had been raised. I’d voiced my doubts and they’d been dismissed.
Rolling over onto my stomach, I reached for my backpack again and took out the parcel a steward had given me earlier. I smiled. The attached envelope had my mother’s handwriting on it.
My Dearest, Darling girl, Melissa,
I know how you hate too much sentiment, and that it’s my greatest weakness. Well, this is going to be one of my mushy, overly-sentimental letters. I hope you find a few words of wisdom and I’ve also enclosed something special — the last of my stash. There is enough for you to taste, but please save some for your own child (or children) someday.
Here we go… I still remember the summer you turned two. You wouldn’t wear anything but dresses. A summer of pretty pastels and light gingham. You discovered butterflies and dandelions. You were delighted by the tiny seeds floating in the breeze. Because you were too young to understand wishes, I made some for you. Looking back, I see how you discovered your love for things so very hard to capture.
During that last beautiful summer, the garden was filled with tiny butterflies hovering above the lawn. They were the exact colour of the shadows between the blades of grass and even though you became an expert at spotting them, they fluttered away from you before your chubby fingers could grab one.
There was one particular bush in our garden. A bottlebrush, I think, that attracted bees. Catch, you would say and I would have to hold you back. I tried to explain how bees were beautiful and useful, but could sting. Of course, this was before they disappeared and we lost so much.
I’ve never told you about the years of hardship and you never asked. Do you remember the police coming to the door to tell us about your father’s death? Do you remember me dragging you to so many conventions and political rallies? It was hard to convince people there were alternatives, as wriggly and wiggly as they were. Flies could do more than pick up the slack with regard to pollination and maggots could easily be processed into protein bars.
What I did was more than a job. It was more than a calling. It was a way to help mankind survive. I hated adapting my skills from clean beautiful bees to filthy flies. Going from a workplace that smelled like a summer’s day to one that (no matter how sterile the food source) smelled rotten.
And now I feel as if the circle is closing. You are going to try to bring back the insects of the past. I envy you and pray you and the team achieve what seems to be impossible.
I know some of my wishes have already come true for you. Although there were a few lean years, I was always able to provide. You are talented in a field you are passionate about and I hope that as you go forward, you are able to find someone to love and respect, and that they love and respect you back.
I still miss your father.
At the end of the day, all I want to say is I love you and am so proud of you embarking on a quest for something so elusive. Sometimes I think of myself as Beelzebub, the Lord of the Flies, but also the pragmatic solution. I think of you as the idealistic way forward, a way to return the world to one of cherries, raspberries and plums.
Go with all my best wishes.
Wrapped in layers of bubble wrap was a glass jar half filled with amber liquid. I picked up the jar and tilted it. The lazy liquid rolled to the left. I tilted the jar the other way. The lazy liquid rolled to the right.
I removed the lid and sniffed the contents. A memory surged into my conscious mind — a cold morning, hot toast.
How could I abandon the exploration? Questioning was good, but what if the doubts were all mine? Perhaps I was scared of leaving the comfort of the university to follow some indefinable quest? Was the potential result important enough to pursue even if there was little chance of success? And if it was and if they succeeded, I needed to be there.
I stuck my finger into the jar, coated it and lifted it to my mouth.
Laura Alexandra Hunter indulges in creative pursuits. She occasionally tweets using the handle @LauraLxH.