I noticed the nest first, in the space between my window and the screen. The screen was split horizontally from one end to the other, as if someone with witch’s nails had run their finger along its length, slicing it. I figured that’s how they got in.
The nest itself looked like a decapitated mummy’s head. Its paper quality suggesting a misleading fragility. A wasp climbed out of the hole located at the base of the nest. One wasp appeared, then two, then five.
We were recent exiles of the city. It’d only been a few weeks since my father, all broad shoulders and forearms, had kicked us out of the apartment. My mother, always persistent, was teaching me about nature. The day we moved, she took me to a petting zoo for the first time. “It’s important that you make them feel comfortable,” she’d said, stroking my hair as I gingerly held carrots out to the llamas.
One wasp broke away from the others. It wandered, half flying, half crawling – a spastic two-step – to the sill. It was about to make its way through a crack where the window was just barely open. Instinctively, I slammed the window down, crushing the wasp beneath the lacquered wood. The force of the slam shook the house’s old bones.
My mother wandered into my room. She pushed her heavy blonde bangs away from her sweat-slicked forehead. I pointed to my window as a form of explanation. My mother moved in closer, blinking sleep from her eyes despite the fact that it was noon.
She moved past me, stopping in front of the window. “Wasps don’t sting unless provoked, sweet pea,” she said, her voice like half-melted sugar, sweet and gritty. Then she opened the window, her arms muscular under her linen nightdress. A lone wasp meandered onto the sill. She held a steady finger out to it and smiled. I held my breath.
“See,” she said. The wasp crawled onto her pointer finger. For a minute, there was nothing but a charged stillness. Then, my mother’s face seemed to crack; her usually distracted eyes were suddenly wide and present. She let out a small, almost inaudible whimper, and I knew she’d been stung.
But she didn’t move. Instead, she remained standing there, her finger extended, steady, the wasp flitting over more of her exposed flesh. Tears began to collect at the base of her eyelids, but her smile never wavered.
I don’t know how long we stood like that: her in pain, and me pretending not to notice.
—Alison Romig grew up in Virginia and earned her BA in English literature from the College of William & Mary. She is currently a children’s book editor working in New York City.
Interview with the author: Alison Romig
What was your inspiration and writing process like for “The Nest?”
I was inspired by the ways in which we hide from each other – both small and large. And how sometimes, in refusing to show weakness, we can unwittingly send the wrong message.
In a work so short, how did you decide which details were essential to include and which to leave unsaid?
I am a big fan of stories that let the reader “peek through the window” but don’t actually let them inside, so leaving things unsaid comes naturally – it’s finding a way to make such a short stay with these characters feel satisfying that I find trickier. But I think as long as the reader feels the characters have been honest with them, if not with each other, then I’ve done what I set out to do.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about writing?
A piece you thought you’d given up on might resurface and surprise you. So write often and save everything.
What’s your best advice for fellow flash writers?
Nearly every story can be trimmed.