When I worked at the Washanuck Library there was a wasp-nest humming in its eaves; a football sized wasp-nest that discharged angry bullets (or were they wasps?), which, if they could have spoken, would have said, “Stay away from our hive.”
I carried overdue books, a backpack, and a water-bottle up to the front door where I didn’t notice the yellow fiend, dart side pointed skyward, who had positioned itself on the door-handle. The eaves weren’t enough; the hive wanted the whole building, the books and their vanilla scented pages, the crisp air-conditioning, the new computers and DVDs. I imagined the queen sitting in her glob of honey, rubbing her prickly feelers, humming,
An electric shock shot through my hand when I touched the knob, and, as I recoiled, the felled wasp thudded to the ground in a sound no louder than a raindrop plopping onto pavement. Then another shock in my neck. And another. A buzzing storm burst into life around me, and I hurried inside, pulling the door closed, pinioning a wasp, splitting it, between the door and its frame. My water-bottle, a casualty, rolled into the parking-lot. The electric shocks exploded into three burning welts that puffed from my skin.
Kathy came around the corner holding an icepack to her cheek; holding another at the end of her outstretched arm.
“Got you, too?” she asked.
I nodded, and put the ice pack on my neck where I could cover two welts at once. She looked through the door at angry wasps crashing into the glass. Thump. Thump, Thump. Thump. Like hail on a windshield.
“What are we going to do,” she asked.
We were only two employees that piloted this library in rural Rhode Island, and we were at war with the wasps. Somedays I was the children’s librarian and the reference librarian. Other days I was the webmaster and the custodian. Today, there was nothing I wanted to be less than the custodian—the general to lead the battle against the wasps. We were outnumbered. It was beyond my job description.
“Do we have wasp spray,” she asked.
We rummaged under the sink and in the closet between brooms and buckets, but only found a fossilized marshmallow. No wasp spray. Kathy stood and disappeared into the nonfiction section. She plodded around, moving the step stool, shelving and moving books. A pause. The wasps had stopped pounding against the door. Kathy turned the corner her arms pressing an armload of books against her chest.
“Let’s try these,” she said.
She laid book after book on the table “Sustainable Pest Control,” “Just Beeat It: A home guide to bee and wasp extermination,” and even “Ain’t No Bats in this Belfry.” We searched through the indexes, whispering “Wasps… Wasps… Wasps…” our fingers running down the lines of text.
“There it is,” Kathy said, “Peppermint.” She jumped from the table and scurried to the staff room. The cabinet doors banged. Silverware shifted, metal hitting metal, in the drawers. A chair was dragged across the floor. Then the pattering of Kathy’s footsteps echoed as she walked back to me holding a tiny brown vial up to the light.
“We used this last winter to make peppermint hot chocolate for Storytime,” she said.
We mixed the peppermint oil with a half-bottle of Windex and hot water from the faucet.
“Here’s what we’ll do,” she said, “Well… what you’ll do. Open the bathroom window and spray the hive from there. You’ll have to do it since you’re taller.”
I eyed the bottle, grabbed it, and fought myself on the walk to the window wishing it were winter and that the snow would come and put the hive to sleep for a season. In the bathroom, the buzzing arpeggiated, rising and falling, echoing louder and louder off the tile. I cracked open the window--only wide enough to spray a thin, direct stream at the hive. I aimed, and then I squeezed.
My mother is an expert markswoman, but I didn’t inherit her talent. Instead, I missed the first shot, but struck a floating drone and sent it spiraling groundward. A few curious friends buzzed around it, and then the buzzing started. I squeezed the bottle again. I hit the hive. And again. The stream pierced a hole in the papery bulb. Again. I sliced the stem, and the hive crashed onto the ground, splitting open like a ripe watermelon. I closed the window before any angry wasps could find my hiding spot and watched a pixelated cloud of angry wasps, now homeless, fly in all directions, swarming, beating their wings so fast my teeth shook with the vibration.
I locked the window shut and walked out to the front door to watch as the cloud of wasps buzzed one way and then the other, struggling to fly away with heavy Windex wings, repulsed by the scent of peppermint. I opened the door, and walked to the parking-lot waiting for another electric shock sting. But nothing came. I shuffled to my water-bottle, picked it up, and then went back inside to open the library with Kathy.
It didn’t take long for Kathy and I to laugh about our war with the wasps, and it turns out that we aren’t the only librarians to have had battles like this one. Check out Marilyn Johnson’s “This Book is Overdue!,” Rebecca Makkai’s “The Borrower,” or Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s “The Shadow of the Wind” (also in Spanish!) for more stories about what librarians, libraries, and books can do. Now I work at the Morrill Memorial Library, and I don’t have to worry about wasp-nests.