Stories, Essays, Poems, all pointing to JOY
Mercy Killing

Mercy Killing

The salty smell of the ocean, lifted by the sea breeze, wafted slowly across the amusement park. The smells of coconut oil laced with PABA drifted on currents within the salty breeze. Not that the sea breeze amounted to much, but it did keep the air from being completely still. Tourists spread out on towels and blankets carefully positioned over the blistering hot white sand. Some were splashing in the little breakers on the shore; others were trying to catch a ride on the waves. The surfers were a short distance down the beach wishing and praying for a storm to brew up and blow some waves their way.

Two of those surfers had pulled on jeans and t-shirts in order to comply with the dress code of their employer, who managed a little snack bar on the edge of the amusement park. The sea breeze did not see it worthwhile to pass through the open windows of the snack bar. So two large fans were blowing gently, one on each of the employees.

It was actually too hot to complain about the heat. Hot and dry had been the forecast for the past three days. A radio, tuned to the local golden oldies station, played softly in the background. The surfer-attendants sipped ice water and tried not to move. It was just too hot.

Besides, they had already opened and stacked a ton of popcorn boxes, made sure they had plenty of ice and drink cups, followed the checklist posted on the back of the door to make sure that, when the sun moved a bit closer to the horizon and the air started to cool, they would have plenty of stuff to sell. Not for fear of their boss, but fear of the customers. They had run out of popcorn boxes once, two weeks ago. As they scrambled to open more boxes, the customers glared at them. They never wanted to have that happen again.

One little boy wearing polka dot red and white shorts and a black Pink Floyd t-shirt walked up to the counter and placed a couple of coins on it. “One,” he said, pointing to the cotton candy machine. The attendant closest to the machine slowly stood up and walked over to the machine, almost like a robot. He turned it on and the pink melted sugar began to congeal in spider-web strands in the bowl of the machine. He began to pile the sugar-webs on a specially designed paper cone and then handed the boy a fluffy pink double serving of spun sugar. Then he took a special scraper and cleaned the machine, tossing the wad of sticky pink sugar into the trash can.

The aroma of the cooked sugar melted into the smell of salt water and suntan lotion and drifted around the amusement park. The two attendants watched the boy walk toward the bumper cars and then glanced at each other. What if this caused a ton of customers to line up? It seemed too hot to make any movement. Yet it was possible that they’d have to make twenty or more of the cotton candy sticks.

Yet no humans came seeking pink sugar. Instead, the two attendants watched as a solitary little wasp flew in through the open window. It flew straight to the wad of sugar in the trash can. Walked around on it for maybe four seconds and then flew away.

About 45 seconds later the wasp was back. It did exactly the same thing: flew to the sugar in the trash can walked on it for a moment and then flew away. One of the attendants said, “We studied them in biology. They are very beneficial to humans. And they won’t sting unless they’re provoked.”

The other attendant said, “Yeah. And to them a swat to move them away from you is called provoking.”

Still, one or two wasps won’t hurt anything.”

The next wasp to fly in was accompanied by two more wasps. And behind it was a squad of five. Suddenly, the cotton candy machine was covered in wasps.

One of the attendants grabbed a can of insect killer from the supply cabinet and walked toward the cotton candy machine. The other attendant shook his head and said, “Yeah. I’ll get some soapy water to wash the machine.”

When he returned with the cleaning supplies he noted that there were eight or nine dead wasps in the bowl of the cotton candy machine and well over a dozen in the trash can around the wad of pink sugar.

The next day a wasp flew into the snack bar shortly after they had sold a stick of cotton candy. One of the attendants quickly swatted it with a flyswatter. He looked at his friend and said, “Mercy killing.”

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