Bee Sting and a Horse Kick was a short story I wrote some years back, and it later fit perfectly into the novel Snake Oil on Snow Cones. In the novel, Sophie is Callie's daughter who leaves town and becomes a famous television evangelist/huckster. Cleft is Sophie's fiancee, and I was looking for a way to have these two break up in an explosive manner. This short story popped into my thoughts (yes, during a walk), and suddenly I knew exactly how their breakup would occur. With that explanation...
Bee Sting and a Horse Kick
Sophie had been companionable when she walked into the clinic on her man’s arm, smiling and rubbing his shoulder as he signed in and handed the clerk his insurance card. He was handsome and in uniform, and she felt pretty in her pony tail and a thrift store blouse she’d bought just for the occasion. Now she hunted for hidden objects on the back cover of a Highlights Magazine as he stared at a scuff on the toe of his boot and picked at a cuticle while waiting for his name to be called.
“I decided against wearing boxers,” Cleft whispered. “I was getting dressed for my shift earlier, and I thought it might facilitate the process. If I don’t have them on, all I have to do is take my pants off.”
“Good idea, I guess,” replied Sophie, who raised a brow as if she didn’t think it was a good idea. “Are you planning to leave your shirt on?”
“Thought I would,” he replied. “I just feel like I should maintain some sense of decorum for the procedure.”
“Oh,” she replied.
“Got a little chafed during the shift, though,” he admitted.
“Oh, yeah, I guess so,” she nodded. “You still want to do this?”
“Sure,” he replied. “It’s all part of the plan.”
“I love you,” she assured him.
“Love you, too,” he said.
Cleft proudly wore a top marksmanship pin on his strapping chest opposite his badge; another for having made the most drunk driving arrests in the last year; a third for successfully performing CPR on an elderly woman whose heart had stopped as she sat in her Oldsmobile while waiting for a train to pass; and his proudest, a crossbar of two rifles centered over a growling wolf signifying he was on the county SWAT team. No one at the Sheriff’s department wore a uniform more sharp edged, and the perfect part of his dark-blonde hair, the crease of his Trooper hat and the punctuation of his nose only enhanced this precision.
If Cleft’s uniform and attention to duty were precise, his life plan was all but cast in stone. In two months he’d marry the only girl he’d ever dated. Two more years of patrol, and he’d take the sergeant’s exam. His life mission was to settle into a home Sophie would create for them and earn promotions to lead men in crime fighting all the way to the Sheriff’s seat.
He’d had plenty of time to change out of uniform after his patrol shift but, gracious, how much better to walk into a specialist’s office wearing the symbol of your life’s mission for all to see. Despite Sophie’s offer to bring him some sweat pants and a t-shirt, Cleft had walked his gal into the waiting room with the straightest back and proudest chest of any man in the county.
He was there for a vasectomy—part of the plan.
For he and Sophie had decided four years earlier, her freshman year in Salted Springs High School, that they would one day marry. They’d agreed even way back then that they would live their lives childless. Sophie had dreams of starting a business that would allow her to buy all the things she missed as a little girl. Cleft acknowledged that children would pose a challenge to Sophie’s aspirations, and Cleft wanted Sophie happy.
The two had been diddling in the back seat of Cleft’s car since their first date, but astonishingly they’d always, every time, used a condom. Today’s procedure was Cleft’s wedding gift and a demonstration of his undying commitment. Vasectomy today, followed by two months of celibacy and a sheathe-free wedding night, would mark their consummation as man and wife.
“Cleft Hawley,” called a nurse from the door leading back into the surgical suites. Cleft felt his stomach plummet to his pelvis, but he gamely stood and walked toward the nurse after receiving one last kiss on the cheek from Sophie.
“I’ll be right here, baby,” she cooed. He nodded in a manner worthy of a lawman and strode to the back.
Framed photos and oil paintings of bird dogs had covered the dark wood paneling in the waiting room, a theme that continued down the hall to the procedure room. Cleft, who appeared as stoic as a Plains Indian despite actually fighting like hell to keep from gagging, didn’t notice much at all.
The nurse led him to the room, a nine by ten box in which the wood paneling was topped with olive green ceramic tile. A second door on the opposite side was open, and Cleft spied his doctor and another nurse sipping coffee and eating sandwiches in the next room. His nurse casually shut the door.
“Smells like lemons,” said Cleft gamely. “My fiancée has this dish soap that smells like lemons, and…”
“Need you to be a little hustle-bug,” said the nurse with feigned cheer.
Cleft hung his pants and cap on a coat stand a few feet away, but his shirttails remained firmly in place with elastic suspenders attached to his socks. He’d never been in examination stirrups before, and he quickly got the impression from his nurse that he was doing it all wrong.
“Now, your feet go in the stirrups and your bottom comes toward me. That’s right…scooch your butt more towards me…no, more…more, hon…more towards me now…okay, that’s fine…no, a little more…okay then.”
Cleft had never felt so vulnerable. “Ricky and the Bongos” dangling down at the other end, in clear view of doctor, nurse and anyone else who might wander through to the break room. A set of stainless instruments lay on a sterile towel three feet from his right leg.
I am a brave man, he thought. I do nervy things for a living. This is not, not, not scary as crap.
“Is this…” said Cleft, pausing to work up enough saliva to speak, “…gonna hurt much, ma’am?”
The nurse smiled sagely, the veteran of that same question for over twenty years, and she answered as she had so many times before.
“It’ll feel like a little bee sting,” which did nothing to comfort him as he remembered exactly where on his body the bee was going to attack.
Doctor Benjamin Acker entered from the break room, and his presence went a long way toward calming Cleft. The physician was entirely dignified, with a gray, conservative haircut and rimless glasses. He moved with the grace of a man who’d done the procedure so many times as to have forgotten the first few hundred.
“I’m going to make a sterile field around the area,” said Doctor Acker while framing Cleft’s giblets in blue towels. Cleft raised up on his elbows to look and flashed on a memory of a three-stemmed beet he once saw displayed on a gingham tablecloth at a county fair, recalling it received a blue ribbon for “Most Unusual Root.” A moment later he’d had enough looking and lay his head back down.
“So, have you been to the café out by the amusement park?” asked Doctor Acker in a most professional, chipper tone.
“All the time,” said Cleft with a dry throat
“Delightful,” said Dr. Acker. “Best hamburger I’ve ever had, including medical school.”
“I like it,” replied Cleft, and that was about as clever as he could be just then.
Doctor Acker continued the chatter as he shaved his patient and made clippie forceps sounds around the very area of Cleft’s body he least wanted shaved and clipped. “Follow the Cowboys?.. Weather’s been grand… Family?.. I’ve got a new boat!”
“Big fan… Yep, weather’s good… my fiancée is in your lobby… Boat, huh? That’s swell…”
“Here’s the injection,” said Dr. Acker in his most somber tone. “You’re going to feel a little bee sting and some pressure that will feel like a horse kick.”
Cleft mewed like a wet calf, and to cover his embarrassment he offered a mumbling moment-by-moment report.
“Bee sting…horse kick…yes, yes, doctor…I concur.”
“So, you’re a police officer, I see,” said Dr. Acker.
“I’m uh, I’m a deputy sheriff.”
“Cop’s a cop,” said the nurse with zero effort to hide her hatred of his kind.
“I give up,” chuckled Doctor Acker as he held up his hands in the universal sign of “I give up,” but it took on a different meaning as Dr. Acker stood there with forceps in one hand, scalpel in the other. Suddenly this dignified professional, this skilled surgeon who asked polite questions about one’s family without ever once letting slip a snotty tubule, morphed into every tank-top wearing, get-me-a-beer-dammit, screw the neighbors if they don’t like cars parked on my own damn lawn, confederate flag tattoo on the calf redneck Cleft had ever had to deal with on a payday Friday night.
There were so many places Cleft couldn’t go anymore because of people who took pleasure inflicting the extra little nicks life has to offer, all because of this thing he did for a living. The barber who gave him three consecutive haircuts with large bald spots shaved into the back¾it took Cleft that long to realize the barber had a brother he’d just arrested for drunk driving; the shoplifting teenager who now worked at the Dairy Mart Cleft suspected was licking his pickle slices before she wrapped up his double with cheese; the dime-bag punk of a lawn-mowing neighbor’s kid who would someday leave for boot camp or prison and who somehow always managed to weed-eat yet another chunk of paint out of Cleft’s car fender “every fricking Saturday morning.” Because as a deputy, Cleft was somehow a suitable target for maliciousness. Now it was the surgical mask twins currently in command of his very manhood, living the dream, drunk on the power of truly, finally having a cop by the balls.
Nurse never looked at Cleft’s face again during the rest of the procedure. She talked to his scrotum. Strike that. She told off his scrotum.
“I got pulled by some cop on a motorcycle a few weeks ago, and your buddy…”
“…I probably don’t know him,” Cleft said.
“…made me spend four hours in district court because they couldn’t find his paperwork, and in the end the judge made me pay two-hundred-seventeen dollars anyway. But do you think I ever got paid for that four hours, and do you think anyone ever apologized for hammering me for half a day?”
“They should definitely have apologized,” responded Cleft in a voice barely above a whisper.
“And I was sick that day, but do you think that jackass prosecuting attorney cared?”
“No, I don’t think he cared, and that was wrong. He should have cared so, so much.”
Instruments passed between Nurse and Doctor, their efforts rhythmic and well practiced. He could feel Nurse’ loathing, her power as she passed sharpened steel over his glans, and he wanted more than anything in life for a representative of the Fraternal Order of Police to come running in with a hand-scripted, velvet lined apology and a cashier’s check for whatever this woman made in half a day’s time—better yet—a full day’s pay.
And Cleft would be damned if she didn’t yank out a hank of pubic hairs. She never looked up at him, and Doctor Acker never said a word; he just kept working that syringe around his marbles like he was Archimedes showing the world how handy a lever can be. Cleft knew the anesthetic was already kicking in because he could only feel the tug, but right after she yanked them he saw her left hand kind of fold back behind her hip and do a little sift like she was measuring out a pinch of salt.
“That’s all right,” she said sweetly. “You can make it up to me by giving me some advice about a no insurance ticket I got last month.” She followed this with a little chortle that sounded as sinister as anything Cleft had ever heard in his life.
Delilah in white support soles.
To be honest, he never felt the incisions. Cleft heard little electric buzzing like mosquitoes hitting a bug zapper as Dr. Acker welded a vas deferens shut for good. Instantly a smell like bacon burning scented the room but aside from an overwhelming urge to kick, scratch, bite, eye gouge and run away from a hot electric prod burning his bongos, he didn’t feel a thing.
The next thing he did feel, however, was monumentally perturbing. There was a tug. Not a little tug like uncontested monofilament reeling home to rod. No, this was more of an un-greased lawn mower pull-rope kind of tug. A piece of sinew Cleft never even knew existed stretched slowly at first, but with increasing verve, and soon he swore he could feel the end of that baby somewhere around his collar bone. Cleft’s eyebrows met his hairline, his rectum puckered violently, and his diaphragm went on strike.
“Lord, doc¾feels like a goat head’s coming out of my pecker!”
“Oh, are you feeling that?” Doctor Acker asked over the top of his glasses.
Cleft answered with a sad little whistle and was rewarded with another bee sting and horse kick.
The rest of the deal was all mind games, wishing it to be over, half wanting to look as Doctor stitched the hole he’d created on the left side, knowing that would lead to fainting, seizures, tearing of clothes. Cleft remembered Dr. Acker saying something like, “I’m just tidying up a bit,” and Cleft, with five milligrams of Valium on board, thought about how important it was that it look tidy down there.
“Well,” said Doctor, once again sprightly and professorial, “let’s get to the right side, and you’ll be done.”
Meanwhile, Sophie thumbed through a People magazine as she waited for Cleft, and cast furtive glances at three clearly nervous men who sat in other parts of the waiting room. She’d been bored within minutes, but silently chastised herself for not thinking more diligently on Cleft’s current plight. She imagined tending him later, acting as a good fiancé should in nursing him back to health. She scrawled a shopping list of suitable menu items for her convalescing sweetheart in the margins beside a magazine crossword: noodle soup, spray cheese, Vienna sausages, Saltines, Jell-O.
Sophie suddenly felt that all the oxygen had been sucked from the room as her mother swung open the front door and entered like she’d just ignored the “No Females Allowed” warning sign in an old west saloon.
Sophie could have expected her mother to curse and break things¾she’d done it before, after all. She half believed her mother might physically grab her and wrestle her to the car and she momentarily considered yelling, “Stranger Danger!” to the nurses behind the counter. She was certain she was in for at least a good tongue lashing about life choices, responsibility, respect for one’s mother, and not being sucked in by the charlatans of this world.
Sophie’s mother slowly lowered herself into a chair opposite her daughter as if at any moment she might change her mind and leap across the magazine-strewn table between them. Her platinum hair stood as high as it had ever been and her oxblood nails were as tapered as pencils. The commode in the waiting room flushed but no one emerged. Neither mother nor daughter spoke for a whole, awful minute.
“Momma, I’m sorry, but we have a plan,” Sophie finally said. “It’s going to work, I promise.”
Her mother still didn’t speak, instead reaching into a beaded and fringed purple leather purse she’d made during her groupie days to extract a sequined diary and an equally bejeweled pair of eye glasses. These she tossed onto the coffee table like a dramatic attorney throwing down a bloody glove in front of a jury.
The two women stared at the items, both knowing exactly what they symbolized. The diary was, of course, Sophie’s, a journal she’d redeemed with her green stamp collection when she was eleven. She’d documented her most private thoughts and moments in the tiniest of script in order to have enough room in the two-hundred blank pages. There were fewer than three blank pages left in the whole thing; she’d made it last seven savory years.
The eyeglasses had been purchased with the journal as a set from the Spy Barbie collection. The set had come with a pen and four replacement ink cartridges, and the cool thing about the set was that the ink in the pen was invisible unless you were wearing the glasses. The lenses on the glasses were a red plastic that instantly brought out the thousands of thoughts and dreams Sophie had planted and nurtured on the pages of her adolescent years. How many hundreds of times had her mother passed by Sophie’s room and chuckled to herself to see her baby girl jotting furiously with bauble encrusted Barbie Spy Lenses perched on the bridge of her nose?
“You read my—my diary?” said Sophie in a betrayed voice that her mother had never heard from her before.
Her mother grabbed for the diary, but Sophie got it first.
“The bullet already left the gun, momma. We’ve gotten ourselves in a big storm over the last few months, and we can’t take things back now.”
“Alright, yes, I read it—at least the last few pages. Sophie, there’s a man on the other side of that wall doing something that will change him forever, and you wrote in your journal just last night that you want to leave. You said that if you stay in Salted Springs much longer your soul is going to drown”
“I can’t believe you read my diary,” whispered Sophie, although this rang hollow to both of them.
“Dammit, girl, don’t be cruel. Cleft is in there trying to give you a gift he thinks you want, and you’re mad that I’m making you be honest. Do what’s right, Sophie. That’s my very last rule for you. Do what’s right.”
Sophie’s mother knew within seconds that the plan to shock her daughter into some sense had failed and that it was likely to be the biggest mistake she’d ever made. Mother watched her daughter turn livid as she finally pried her gaze from the coffee table to meet her mother’s, and she realized that she had just lost her daughter, perhaps forever.
But in that moment Sophie finally understood the irrevocability of Cleft’s procedure, of the deteriorating relationship with her mother, of how her life would be if she stayed in Salted Springs. She realized there was no way in hell she could live life here any longer amidst faux wood paneling and double-wides, near a mother she no longer trusted, the wife of a deputy sheriff, forever and ever.
With equal clarity she understood she couldn’t allow Cleft to proceed with the vasectomy. It simply wasn’t fair to allow that when it was for her. What if he got another girlfriend someday? The thought irritated her, but she was mature enough to know it was likely. And so, with equal parts restrained dignity and panic that she’d waited too long, Sophie strode past the objecting receptionist and into the back of the clinic, peering in every treatment room until she came to the one in which Cleft lay supine and on display.
“Um…hello?” she managed to squeak out.
Doctor Acker held Cleft’s right vas deferens with forceps, his scalpel poised midway between two clamps squeezing the tube. All eyes turned to Sophie Shepherd, all motion stopped, no breathing, no blinking.
“You can’t come in here,” said the nurse.
“I think I’ve made a mistake,” Sophie said in a voice quiet, yet husky. “Cleft, I’m really sorry, but this is a mistake.”
“This? You mean as in me getting my swimmer tubes cut, this?”
She nodded. Doctor and Nurse stood back and waited, enjoying real life drama right there in their operating room. Nurse stepped back toward him just long enough to dab Cleft once more, then cleared the lane between him and his fiancée.
“I’m doing this for you…for us,” said Cleft, in a voice he immediately regretted as too whiny. “You said that children weren’t part of the plan, and that this was the most caring gesture you’d ever heard of. You remember?”
“I know, I know, but this is too much, especially since I don’t even know where we’re headed, anymore.”
Cleft, still in stirrups, was flabbergasted.
“What are your talking about?” he demanded. “We’re getting married in seven weeks. I’m getting my balls cut in your honor. How can you not know where we’re headed?”
“It’s just that I’ve been sitting in the waiting room, and I’ve come to realize that our relationship is based entirely, entirely on nonsense. All the passion we’ve ever felt for one another was just that¾passion. I love you, Cleft, but I don’t know anyone else. I want to travel, and you want to enforce the law in this county for the rest of your life. I want to make a fortune, and you want to retire with enough pension to buy an RV. I mean, what the hell, Cleft? I’m sorry, but the love we have isn’t enough. It’s not enough.
“There was a lot of love that came with that necklace with the diamelles I bought you for Christmas, darling,” Cleft said through teeth so gritted they were about to shatter.
“That wasn’t love. That was just you showing off.”
Cleft jabbed both index fingers toward his groin. “What the hell do you think this means?” he demanded.
Sophie nodded in acknowledgement of this monumental sacrifice, but he’d known her long enough to see that she’d made up her mind. In the space of time it had taken to have his scrotum shaved and put to sleep, the love of his life had changed her mind about the course of their lives together.
She looked down at the surgical area for the first time. It took her a moment to realize just how close Cleft had come to having both superhighways shut down. Her eyes flooded as she looked from the area to Cleft and finally to Doctor. Her last words before leaving the little room and Cleft behind were, “Please don’t cut the other one. Please don’t.”
Sophie and her mother locked eyes for one moment before she flung open the clinic door and screeched out of the parking lot. Fifteen minutes later she left the county with one packed suitcase and a shoebox of cassette tapes, bellowing an oath to never return as she shoved the accelerator to the floor and headed …anywhere.
It took Cleft a few moments to register it all before he realized his feet were still aloft in stirrups.
“Sew me up,” he’d ordered.
The urologist stitched quickly and his nurse dabbed quietly, both as ready for Cleft to leave as he was. The doctor fitted him with what he called a “squirrel sack,” and it was hours before the dazed Cleft got the “nut” joke.
Cleft went right back to work, telling the county dispatcher that he was available for service as he pulled out from the clinic parking lot. She took him up on it, too, sending him almost immediately to a domestic disturbance in which a very intoxicated husband had argued with his equally hammered wife over control of the TV remote.
The result was a free-for-all. She slugged him; he slapped her; he demanded makeup sex; she bit him on the shoulder; he yanked a hank of her hair out of her scalp; she stabbed him in the ear with the TV rabbit ears.
A neighbor who preferred to remain anonymous summoned the police.
Cleft arrived when the fight was still on. The wife now wielded a baseball bat. The husband had questionably chosen to de-root and brandish an Aloe Vera plant, commando style.
Cleft would later write in his report that he “exited his vehicle and attempted to intervene in the disturbance.” He did not report that one loose stitch in his groin had bled right through the squirrel sack, and that his tan pants were now stained red from his coccyx to his belt buckle. The first to notice was the husband who paused in the violent pursuit of his wife to point and laugh.
“What the hell, dude? You on the rag or something?”
Cleft looked down and saw the spreading blood blot. Seeing blood coming from his own groin made him swimmy-headed. To keep from passing out Cleft lowered his head to his knees, at which point the husband slapped him in the back of the head with the jagged cactus. Four little crimson cuts appeared on Cleft’s neck, and the pain they caused made him momentarily forget his stitches.
Cleft stood straight up and knocked the husband out with one mighty blow to the neck. In response, the wife swung her bat like a golf club, right where she absolutely knew he’d feel it most. More blood flooded across Cleft’s thighs and began leaking to his knees.
The husband came to. Before other officers arrived he and his wife took turns kicking the fallen deputy repeatedly. They laughed hysterically as they took his gun out and fired it dry into the air. They sprayed him with his own pepper spray, and assaulted his car with vicious blows from his own baton.
Cleft lay heartbroken and beaten as he listened to sirens in the distance. His last action before losing consciousness was to unpin the badge from his chest and let it drop ignobly into the white caliche dust.
“Bee sting and a horse kick,” he whispered as his eyes closed and his rescuers arrived. “Yep.”