Last winter, my veins held only blood and not an army of nanobots. You were four, and I thought my fatigue was a normal side effect of parenthood. Surely the exhaustion was from chasing you around the house, or too many nights of interrupted sleep. I convinced myself that nothing was wrong, but other symptoms appeared: a lingering cough, chest pain, night sweats.
Lumps swelled up in my neck, and I went to see a doctor. The prognosis was bad, but I qualified for a spot in a research study. My treatment started in March. The weather was warm and bees emerged from their hives to visit the first flowers of spring.
You wanted to know what was happening to me, but the treatment was hard to explain to someone so young. You were fascinated by insects, so I told you the nanobots were tiny bees that swarmed in my blood, communicating with each other in buzzing vibrations. My bees hunted down bad cells and destroyed them.
My hair fell out. The bees sought out whichever cells multiplied the fastest, and hair grew fast enough to be mistaken for the enemy. I bought three wigs and half a dozen cute hats. Everybody lied and told me I looked great, except for you. You got angry and told me to grow new hair. I let you wear one of my cute hats, and you forgave me.
Summer came. The doctors said my nanobot bees were doing well. They used words like “optimistic” and “remission.” You were delighted when my hair grew back, stubbly and uneven. I had enough energy to take you to the park, to lift you up to the monkey bars or kick a soccer ball around the grassy field. My blood was still full of nanobot bees, but there was less for them to do. They buzzed idly at each other, waiting for an enemy to attack. The doctors told me my kidneys would eventually filter the bees out.
At your fifth birthday party, you did a scavenger hunt in the backyard with some of the neighborhood kids. We’d hidden little plastic frogs and bouncing rubber balls, and you were excited to find all the treasure. The bees in my blood were excited, too. In the bright August sunshine, I noticed some odd gray patches on my arm. Metallic gray, as though thousands of tiny metal bees were swarming beneath the surface of my skin. I ignored them and watched you eat a chocolate cupcake, smearing frosting across your cheeks and licking it off your fingers.
The next day, I went to my doctor and learned that my remission had ended. The bad cells had returned, and the bees in my blood were replicating, determined to outnumber their enemy and win the next war. The doctors used medical jargon to explain why this second attack was different; why my army of bees wouldn’t be enough to save me. They gave me six weeks, maybe less.
On the last weekend of summer, I baked your favorite Christmas cookies. You were old enough to be confused by the timing, but it didn’t stop you from eating the sugar cookies and washing them down with milk. We talked about kindergarten, and I could tell you were nervous.
Exhaustion returned, and the short wisps of hair that I’d grown over the summer fell out. My bees multiplied until my skin was more gray than tan, but despite the efforts of my swarm, my health was failing.
On the first day of kindergarten, I walked you to school. I held your hand, and I hugged you for far too long before you disappeared into the classroom. Will you remember that moment, someday, and know how much I loved you?
I’m sorry I can’t defeat this enemy and have a lifetime of peace with you. Bees are creatures of summer, and my tiny buzzing army cannot win another war.
About the Author
Caroline M. Yoachim lives in Seattle and loves cold cloudy weather. She is the author of dozens of short stories, appearing in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Asimov’s, and Lightspeed, among other places. Her debut short story collection, Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World & Other Stories, is coming out with Fairwood Press in August 2016. For more about Caroline, check out her [website] (http://carolineyoachim.com).