By Kyle Wagner
The sun is rising as Lorna makes a left onto Camino Yerbajo, the blinker still flashing even after she finishes the turn. Her aging truck heaves and chugs as it negotiates the steep, twisting inclines of this hillside neighborhood. She pats the dash with an open palm, urging on her trusty steed.
A few minutes later, the blinker finally decides to give up.
Most of Lorna’s clients are pleasant people, but she’s hated Tuesdays ever since she started working with the Tagnellos. When she complained last week, her boyfriend told her, “Don’t be so sensitive, it’s just business.” Yet he constantly gripes about lost commissions when customers return the clothes he sold them.
At the start of the long climb to the Tagnello mansion, she sees her friend, Manny, walking up the sidewalk in a half-zipped beekeeper’s suit, the distinctive broad-brimmed veil under his arm. She knows he’s headed to the McReynolds’ estate. She slows as much as possible without stalling and shouts, “Want a ride?”
“No thanks,” he says, “good day for walking.”
Manny once showed her the McReynolds’ apiary. The sound of all those bees was like listening to the earth hum. Afterwards, she got a recording of bees to play while sleeping, but her boyfriend prefers the noises of the city. Sometimes, she plays the recording on nights when he’s not there.
Camino Yerbajo winds past elegant manors arrayed along its numerous switchbacks so that each occupant might appreciate the fantastic view from the hill. Most of the homes are accessorized with fancy lawn features. One of her Wednesday clients is sitting underneath an Ionic-themed folly backed by cypress trees. He smiles and waves at her as she passes by.
The Tagnello’s sprawling, blue Victorian occupies one of the highest points on Camino Yerbajo, its massive front lawn decorated with brooks, bridges, fountains, and exotic plants. Lorna parks in the circular, stone-paved driveway.
Across the street is a young boy wearing a costume with feathered wings. His lips burble the sound of a combustion engine, and his arms are spread like plane wings as he glides around the yard. A young woman—probably his nanny—reads in a lawn chair, under a twisted oak tree.
While Lorna unloads her equipment, Mr. and Mrs. Tagnello occupy strategic berms on their lawn from which they can surveil the situation, snarling commands like field generals facing a multi-front war. Mrs. Tagnello hovers around her precious sandalwood trees and admonishes, “Don’t nick the bark, they’ll get an infection. These are very expensive.” She says this every Tuesday, as if Lorna is an inattentive child.
Sandalwoods aren’t adapted to this continent. Lorna feels bad for them, trying to survive in a hostile environment. She monitors each one like a doctor, taking samples and administering tinctures. When she’s tending them, their bushy leaves shade her, and their flaky, white trunks emanate spicy, intoxicating aromas.
After she notes Mrs. Tagnello’s more pressing demands, Mr. Tagnello summons her to his post near a dozen rainbow eucalyptus trees. “Lorna!” he yips, as he points out all of the little runners and stray bark and fallen leaves that have marred the perfection of their estate. “I can’t believe you missed that one,” he says about a tiny sprout that probably erupted only yesterday. She remains calm by repeating his corrections back in a slow, even tone. She learned this technique from an online video. She had to develop this skill because her boyfriend constantly points out her flaws.
As she trims an overly aggressive nasturtium, Manny is walking by the house. He shouts and waves at her. Her wave back is interrupted by the growl of a sports car. She turns to see a sapphire blue Jaguar zipping down the road.
The little boy with wings has wandered out into the street, chasing a butterfly. The nanny has already risen from her chair and is shouting at him to come to her.
The car is headed straight at him.
His nanny starts sprinting as fast as she can in her leather-soled loafers.
Manny is also racing towards the boy, hands waving at him in desperation.
Both of them are too far away.
The boy is frozen.
The moment lingers in front of Lorna: the boy, the car, the two rescuers doomed to fail.
She is too far away to do anything, but hope.
The car snarls as it banks away from the boy and barely misses Manny, who yells a string of profanities.
The jewel-bright vehicle spins like a top. Its momentum carries it over the rush pond Lorna installed last year. And into one of the sandalwoods.
The sound is like a cannon blast.
Tree and car parts erupt in all directions.
Lorna scampers to the driver’s side of the Jaguar as the tree emits a loud snap.
Mrs. Tagnello points at a fissure in the trunk of the tree. “Lorna!”
Lorna knows the tree’s a goner.
The driver’s window is down and his eyes are unfocused. His airbag hangs from the wheel like a sad balloon. Across his lap are rushes from the pond.
Mrs. Tagnello marches over to Lorna and grabs her arm. “Lorna, if you don’t do something about my sandalwood—oh, look at my pond! It’s ruined!”
Lorna holds up a finger to shush Mrs. Tagnello, calls 911, then crosses the street as the nanny takes the boy inside, unharmed but in tears.
Manny is sitting on the sidewalk.
“Brave thing you did,” she says, as she sits down next to him.
“Yeah,” says Manny. “Kinda stupid.”
“Just brave. Want that ride?”
The Tagnellos scream legal threats at the driver, gesticulating at their doomed sandalwood tree and the deep gouges in their lawn.
After the ambulance arrives for the driver, Lorna packs up her tools and takes Manny the rest of his way to the McReynolds’.
On the drive home, she fires the Tagnellos by voicemail.
That night, she fires her boyfriend too, shuts out the sounds of the city, and dreams of bees.