- Vol. 02
- Chapter 01
At least with padded cells you are allowed to touch the walls, Julia caught herself thinking. She crouched a little lower in the hidden chamber of the cake.
Her role was to burst from it when the saxophones hit their highest note. Special emphasis had been placed on the word burst during rehearsals, the rs rolled and palate-tooth pizzicato made of the ts: 'Knees bent, head down and then out you burst!'
Julia made her breathing shallow. The cake's surface had started to sheen over with a kind of sweat and, disgusted, she tried to replace the close stink of chocolate with the smell she remembered of the rehearsal-studio’s parquet floors. The memories fell, slotted in: the foot-work required, the money involved, the dance master’s hands on her shoulders. The dance master’s beard grazing the top of her head.
There was a tickle along the side of Julia's foot that felt like the beginnings of pins and needles. It came again, concentrated and small against her ankle with less traction than a breath. It transferred to her shin-bone. Perhaps it was cramp: maybe the saxophones would blare their note, she would slide the crest of the cake away only to topple to the floor in a stiff heap, gasping in a silt of sugar and marzipan, the rest of the dancing troupe Charlestoning around her in an afterbirth of sponge mixture and ticker-tape, her feather-headdress a discarded exclamation mark.
The tickle became a rasp, accompanied by a localised roar of wings.
The bee flew up from the floor of the cake directly into Julia's face.
Gawky-winged in the heat, the bee banged against Julia’s ear then ricocheted, buzzing like a rattlesnake into the cake wall. She jammed her fists between her jaws to stop herself screaming. It tracked its heavy fluffy body across her lip. Each of its footfalls was of no weight at all, but drummed throughout her entire body.
Beyond the false cake in the hall, the saxophones hit their high A and the bee became outraged, smacking into the cake by Julia’s head. Every one of her senses was trained upon it now - it occurred to Julia in a cold wash of horror that she might miss the saxophones’ cue. It must almost be time, surely?
She breathed out, keeping her eye on the thin beam of light through the breathing hole. The bee silhouetted itself in its spotlight, a rumbling eclipse. She uncurled her hand from around her shoulder.
In a single movement Julia closed her fist over the bee. She pressed her mouth together as she felt the bee’s sting enter the flesh of her palm until its wings, with a final twinge of energy, stopped beating.
Its body felt light and woolly and small in her hand. With tears in her eyes and her lips clamped together mid-sob, Julia put her ear to the air-hole and listened out for the saxophone note. She waited, listening, and listening, and waiting.