"Do you know how to use it?" he asks me.
"I just like to eat it. Haven't had any in quite a while. Are you the beekeeper?"
He nods. It also looks like he hasn't sold any in quite a while.
It's a mystery to me why during the day's sunny prime, 12:00 to 3:00, all the vendors in the large concrete market hall are slumped over their sacks and tables, only to wake again and turn on the lights when the winter has dropped even more degrees. The only light is coming in through tiles missing in the roof. There is no heat. Along the edge are small shops built into the walls, where families make a living rolling up dumplings, stitching long underwear and puffy pyjamas, or grinding beans into soy-milk.
Hesitantly, he hands over the rectangle box of golden honeycomb. The outside is a bit sticky, and there is no clear way to open it, so that for a moment I think it might just be a decoration (I've seen worse), or an educational exhibit about bees. I have, however, checked carefully that no larva were in it. That's because of the last time I bought honeycomb in China—a whole rack of it.
I was cycling from nowhere to nowhere, places no one travels and now I know why—spending a whole summer like that, seeing no one but the people tending plants along the endless, deserted roads, dotted with buildings unfinished, pulling my 3-year-old son in a trailer behind.
Life: Do you know how to use it?
A whole rack of honeycomb, the wooden frame and all, from a beekeeper by the side of the road.
Delighted, I sat down under some trees and started pulling out chunks of it with my bare hands, shoveling them into my mouth, chewing vigorously, spitting onto the ground.
It wasn't till maybe the fifth bite that I started to seriously notice the crunching.
Then I saw that all the globs I spit were black.
Upon closer inspection—the blindness of my delight at this find wearing off—each alveole had a bee fetus, almost fully formed.
I'm a vegetarian.
Back in the market, I wander around. Some sellers have pulled old blankets over their pumpkins and leaks, their sesame paste and goji berries, as if their produce could take a cozy nap as they dozed beside it in broken lawn-chairs or played games on their phones in hopes of winning small sums of cash someday.
As always, the zipper man is in his corner beside a hand-crancked sewing machine on a spindly tripod. Shoes, handbags, zippers: he'll fix it. Doesn't matter what the problem is, he'll fix it cheap. His hands are large, two of the nails grown long for tools. He has some blue chalk that he first rubs over the zipper, as if offering a prayer to the zipper gods. If you've lost a zipper, he'll find you one from a rusty old tin of his, and if your zipper lost teeth, he somehow arranges the balance of things so it doesn't matter so much.
If you try to pay him more, because he just saved the life of a $200 coat for 20 cents and you'd feel happier giving him 40, he will try to give it back, but if you really insist he'll thank you and shove it into the dark recesses of his pockets.
I have nothing for him to fix today. Everything stays in working order, now that I've noticed the zipper man.
But now I am disturbed.
Do I know how to use it? Use it?
There is something I am missing.
I rush home on my bike to open it. It takes me over 5 minutes to find the point of severance and cut through the tape, placed there as if never meant to be cut, as if the honeycomb box were a sacred object.
All the while, I tell myself how foolish it is to waste money. Isn't eating honeycomb just like eating honey, in a more expensive way? You spit out the costly part. Maybe I could make candles, I try to reassure myself, but part of me knows I never will. At best, the chewed-up globs of wax will sit on a plate in the kitchen for a few weeks, then it will finally get knocked over. At worst, I will set off the smoke alarm and wreak some of my utensils, while getting an unwelcome pounding at my door.
But when I finally do taste the honeycomb, it is worth it.
The feel of it in my mouth, the way it oozes out, the taste and texture of the wax itself, thrills me and sends me back to my grandfather's garage.
I'll never forgive what he did, though I know why he did it.
He was a monster, and I have many memories of him looming over my childhood. Not to mention the memories I recovered as an adult, during therapy, the ones I cannot talk about with anyone but a trained professional, for fear of scaring you away.
That is the strange part about people who grew up in a horror movie. The sunny scenes of it, without which the contrast of dungeons would have no weight.
The sunny scenes we want to cling to, as if to forget even a moment that the rest even happened. The childhood we would have wanted, tessellated together out of pieces of the sun that shown even though.
In there, in the center of it, my grandfather kept bees. Every summer his garage breathed with the scent of beeswax cut with a hot knife. The honey streamed out all summer, into basins and jars, and there was always honeycomb to eat from the dark woodsy honey.
Normal honey never tastes like that, not even when I buy it from beekeepers. Maybe they do something to make it hygienic. This wasn't hygienic, but it tasted like a summer day in the woods, a summer day I could take into myself and keep there to become a part of my cells. A feast.
This is how I use it.
I'd just like the world to know that there really are little hunch-backed men on the streets of Xuzhou, China, and they are absolute geniuses. Put anything in their gnarled, leathery hands, they will fix it! Against this age of medical eugenics, I want to say wow—the Goddess works in wondrous ways. Let's stop aborting disabled fetuses and instead look at how they increase the range of human possibility and help fix broken perceptions of it.