Standing on One Leg

Molly Kuhn

He'd managed to turn his east-side lot into a French parterre, complete with plastic flamingoes and koi fish. As a child, I’d run in number eight circles around the rose bushes, cocking my fingers in the shape of a pistol, occasionally shouting commands at the pink birds, sometimes plucking them from their position and throwing them in the pond. It’s the trench! Uncle David would lie on his lawn chair, sometimes wearing his bee-keeping goggles andon most daysolive drab trousers from World War II.

The skunks will pluck the bees from the air and eat my babies like candy. He’d say this while putting a mason jar of simple syrup into the wooden chamber, bees buzzing around his head as I traipsed about in my wide-brimmed hat, looking through my veil at the pots of honey. A couple times I took my gloves off, tried to sneak a lick, and ended up getting stung. 

That’s how I lost my eye. Not paying attention. I didn’t find out until recently that he lost his eye due to diabetes, not a bee sting. His glass eye was like a gypsy’s crystal ball, compact with translucent smoke that floated around a milky orb with a silver ring. The iris was never the same color, and the globe was falling out of place. I tried not to look at Uncle David directly, afraid his eye could gauge people’s morality.

His wife left him because she saw herself too many times while looking at him. When he was freeing Jews from Auschwitz, he got a letter saying he needed to go home and take care of his five abandoned kids. The only thing she wrote in her good-bye letter was “Don’t cut Meg's hair.”

Real love means you get a stinger sometimes. He said this about the bees, not the woman, burning his skin as he molded the wax, forming an ornament for my mother. In the basement, he kept shelves of wax figurines, honey balm, honey lotion, canned beets, canned olives, canned everything. Uncle David preserved everything, morphing the mortal into an eternal jelly or pickle. Wouldn’t it be nice to last forever?

One night my Uncle David helped me put all the flamingoes in the pond. With a cigar lit, he stuck his feet in the water. I got to talk to these birds by myself for a second. Do you mind?

I hid in the tomato patch and listened to the brooding hum of the plastic flamingos—a lilting twitter, a soft chime, a profound bleat. He raised his whiskey in the air. Those krauts aren’t hosin’ my bees! The flamingoes laughed, pink feathers wrestling in the wind as their bellies rose up and down. I squirmed, hearing the slurp of a koi sliding down one of their long necks, the crunch of the vertebrae as it entered the plastic stomach and made its grave in the hollow home.  

Molly Kuhn lives in Pittsburgh, where she works as a youth coordinator at a methadone clinic. She volunteers with the Pittsburgh Greater Literary Council and enjoys making exploratory, pop-up books for adults.