My mother always liked the idea of being queen. I think that’s why I hated her so much.
Though she believed we lived in a palace our home was modest and our garden was, to my delight, unruly. She wore clothes she couldn’t afford, stained with perfumes so sweet they made me feel sick. Her king had left her and she had no other children. Her only kingdom was me.
Sure, I’d considered running away. Jumping on a bus to some distant city, the ink of a one-way ticket staining my fingers. The closest I came to doing it was a month before you found me. The night my mother decided I was to be schooled from home.
History lessons, once rich with stories of struggle, centred instead on the ancestry of my family. English lessons, packed with the prose of writers I admired, contained little beyond words strangled by tradition. Where once I had the freedom to sprint next to friends, posture, fine dining and elocution had taken precedence.
She wanted one thing from my education. To ensure I was ready to take the crown.
Before you arrived she’d started spending more time in the bathroom, the running water doing nothing to smother her sobs. I can’t tell you the number of times I used the tangled shadows of our garden to empty my bladder.
But that’s where I found them. The hole set into the armpit of a tree. Their bodies moving in and out of its darkness, so small I almost missed them.
I was enraptured by the way their wings moved. The way their legs looked, bloated with the weight of pollen. By the time I heard my mother screaming for me to return to the house I’d begun to wonder whether their queen was anything like mine.
The day you found us – found me – she’d been particularly awful. After spending most of the morning in the bathroom she’d approached me in the garden flustered and agitated. When I asked her if there was anything I could do she’d struck me across the face.
And that’s when I saw it.
It was small. Covered in fur. At first I thought it was a mouse, pushing into itself in pain. When I crouched, I saw it was a ball of the creatures I’d seen in the tree. Packed together. Tight.
I picked them up, knowing their stings couldn’t compare to the one throbbing above my left cheek. They felt odd in their softness and their barbs stayed buried in their abdomens.
As their wings vibrated against my palms I used my finger to separate them. Every time I’d reveal an opening or remove a blade of grass caught between their feral bodies they’d fall back into each other, like magnets moving towards metal.
Eventually I saw her. Who it was they were trying to stifle. Eventually I uncovered their queen.
Her wings had been ripped from her back and her flesh was freshly bitten. Did you know insects could scream?
Behind me I heard the shrill voice of my mother calling me back to the house and for the first time in a long time, I felt my mouth mold itself into a smile.