Red Wasp on Leaves
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We live by the feud here in the South. We will wait a lifetime to get even with anyone or anything, including an insect, and I believe some insects will wait lifetimes to get even with us. I don't believe this of most things. I don't think there is a caterpillar out there who holds a grudge. But I hate the red wasp, and I am sure the whole species hates me back.

I have heard that in cooler places, preachers spend entire sermons on forgiveness, about how we should love our enemies. Their pulpits are worn smooth with goodwill and polished with human kindness. It sounds like a noble way to be—and I think, sometimes, I could do a little better myself.

Then I step out into the thick air of another Southern summer and am beset by a squadron of hot needles with wings. And I am still a hater, and my heart is a parched and stony place wherein the milk of human kindness soured many swarms ago.

It began in childhood. I owned a beautiful Daisy Red Ryder BB gun with a saddle ring and a leather thong to tie it to my horse—which, in 1968, was a sad, wobbly bicycle. I roamed dirt roads and driveways looking for something to kill.

I drew down on birds and squirrels, but my heart was still soft then, and I couldn't pull the trigger. I searched for things that deserved to die, like water moccasins, brown scorpions, and woolly boogers. The best I could do, usually, was a red wasp. They were too small and erratic in flight to even try to shoot on the wing. So I waited till they lit and drew a careful bead.

I got braver with time and attacked the nest, which resulted in a hateful swarm that was almost human in its nature. They stung me till I retreated inside my grandma's house, where she doctored my wounds with a daub of wet snuff. I quit when I was 11 or so, but the wasps did not relent. I imagined them sitting around telling stories about me, generation after generation. They stung me walking across the yard. They stung me in the bed. They sting me now.

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Some would say it is karma, but being not altogether certain what that means, I respond in my old age with a can of toxic, foaming Bengal Wasp & Hornet Killer. But it's getting harder and harder to run away. I try to shoot them from the air, and sometimes I do. I hoot and do a little dance, which looks sadder the older I get.

Someday, perhaps, I will wander into the yard with an empty can and shoot at wasps that are not actually there. It would be a very Southern thing to do. And I bet one last, mean wasp, the sneaky little devil, will see me down there and jab me one final time, just so he can brag about it.