Natural History Illustration
Just now, while you’re walking through the park, if you look up at the right-hand corner of the third floor of the hospital, you’ll see her, Bryony. You know she’s seen you; she has keen eyes and a sense for the coming and going of things. Back in her early twenties, when she was studying natural history illustration (with a focus on insects), that sense was invaluable. Spare daylight hours were spent in this strip of nature bordered by suburbia. Here she would wait, by bushes and flowerbeds, and like gravity they were drawn to her—butterflies, beetles, and wasps. Once she even pulled a bee into her orbit. Bryony outlined it, darting pencil marks on wax paper, flew home and locked herself in her studio. There she busied herself endowing the sketch with fullness, going three days without meals and sleep. She re-emerged with her final illustration: a stripped yellow jasper body, and four delicate, complex wings—cells encased by veins that split and ran like alternate histories. It was Bryony’s magnum opus.
A week later the University closed, who could afford tuition? Bryony, like many other academics, lacked skills for “essential work” and was press ganged into the newly formed Manual Pollination Corp. You were lucky. Your background in the medical sciences landed you a job at the hospital. You joined just as the first cases of Pollinator Syndrome (the news called it “The Buzz”) were recorded. The Buzz is a form of Essential tremor bought on by vibrations of the pollen brushes. They started out mild but developed into severe Dystonic tremors. Some days Bryony would buzz for hours after she came home from her shift.
The children you’d meant to have would’ve found it gleeful when they were small, laughing while they mimicked her buzzes, drones dancing around the queen, unknowingly playing her pain in parody. Around seven they would’ve seen Bryony’s Buzz for what it was, a symptom. That would’ve been their first brush with adulthood—but they never happened.
The night before you admitted Bryony you asked her why she studied natural history illustration. There was no future in the field, even then. She knew she knew that, but the work, immortalising beautiful things…
I loved it too much not to look while it died. That’s what she said.
You’re nearing the hospital. Bryony is seeing you.
You’ll see her, just look up.
Josh Sorensen is an Australian writer and student. He’s a staff writer for Film Daze and has had additional criticism appear in Screen Queens, Rough Cut, and Flip Screen, among others. His prose has appeared in The Tiny Journal. In his free time Josh can be found explaining to anyone who will listen that Paddington 2 is a masterpiece, actually. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @namebrandjosh and learn more about him at his website.