The perils of summer are many, but ill-defined and effervescent. Yes, snakes and lightning are obvious risks, but other hindrances to physical health come wrapped in afternoon haze and humidity. No one can put a finger on them. No one can predict when they’ll strike, the damage they’ll do or the consequences. Perils of summer are conjured in the minds of children, turned over like a stone hiding a bed of fire ants.
It begins with skipping and singing, “I’m bringing home a baby bumble bee,” and the child thinking, Won’t my mama be so proud of me. She did tell him to turn off the TV, go outside and find something constructive to do.
When another kid says, “I bet you can’t catch that bee,” he automatically answers, “I bet I can.” Words are like birds, too quick to recall. Besides, it’s only a bee and he’s wearing work gloves and he’s sure his mama will approve. Actually, he has given his mother no thought at all, but he will assure her later that it was she who inspired him and she who gave him implicit permission. Otherwise, she would have let him spend his whole summer on the den sofa watching Discovery Channel reality shows.
Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz, bzzzzzzz, bzzzzzz, bzz, bzzzzzzzzzzzzz, bz-Fwap! His leather gloves smack together. “Oh! I got it,” he exclaims, surprised at how things worked out in his favor to save face in front of his friends.
“Nuh-uh,” the challenger says.
“Yah-huh,” says the bee catcher, due a contract from Discovery Channel for his own reality-TV show. He raises his cupped hands over his head in triumph. In the hollow between his palms, the bee vibrates and spins. He feels the creature’s frustration and his own regret.
“Show me,” commands the challenger. This is when summer becomes dangerous. The boy holding the agitated bee has not considered the protocol for releasing it. He wants to say, “I’d show you, but I’m bringing it home to my mama.” He’s certain she would know what to do. He doesn’t say it though, because the worst peril of summer for a 16- year-old young man is being tagged a mama’s boy. That kind of thing sticks well into fall.
That’s the only consequence he considers, and he doesn’t ponder it long. His curiosity about his captive equals the doubt of his challenger plus the inquisitiveness of the circle of kids who gather. He lowers his clasped hands. The bzzzz-ing and vibrating and spinning stop. He pulls his thumbs apart and peels back his palms. A streak of black and yellow darts forth, sending the mass of onlookers screaming. They run home to complain to their mothers that they’re bored.
At the hub of the frenzy, the boy fends off the furious bumblebee. It zooms straight for his forehead. His legs pivot his body 180-degrees and propel it in the opposite direction. Meanwhile, his eyes maintain a bead on the bee.
Konk! A vertical metal pole sunk solid in the ground slows his retreat, beginning with the side of his head. Momentum slams his face into the clothesline. A rope burns across the child’s cheek and snaps his head back, which drags the remainder of him with it. Laughter roars from a safe distance.
That evening his mother remarks on the condition of his countenance, and the boy brags about the bumblebee. After listening, she says to her son, “I bet you can’t wash these dishes.”
“It doesn’t work that way, Mama,” he replies.
But it does. Because another peril of summer, one not dreamt of by children, is that Mama is as immovable as that clothesline pole.