The Shelter of Bees
Rain listens. Kitchen windows open, ears to the wind, shaking blue-green tambourine leaves. Arms bent at the elbows, hands resting on the table. Cloth's got crumbs. Stacks of propaganda: you could be home by now. Bullet points scattered back and front. Round-the-clock support. No words assure Rain the right move for mom. Rain listens.
Carl had said the bees were going to swarm. "Any day now. Overcrowding." Just like in the city. They'd move to the 'burbs, take their honey with them. Did they do that? Carl said, "a little, in their stomachs."
The deadline is tomorrow. Her sisters told her Rain will have to choose; she's closest.
Tiny violins sawing the same sound. A white noise orchestra beyond the screen. Rain pushes back and sails to the door, cracks it open, finds herself transported to a busy outdoor market. Up. Down. Sideways. Back and forth. Dancing, zooming, soaring. What are they really doing? Fulfilling, active life.
Carl is out on his landing, leaning on the railing. Tells her they're gentle. Tells her she's safe. Has she seen bee beards? This is when they make them. Take a drop of pheromone, touch it to your chin. Bees pile on. So gentle. You'd have to hit them with a stick to make them mad.
Rain can't do it. Can't emerge, yet. Trusts Carl, but not sure about the bees. Pokes her face out, but keeps her hands and body behind the door. Like she's forgotten her towel at the pool. Medication management, bathing, dressing, transportation.
"I'll get my camera."
"I don't know if you'll see anything."
Having a role makes her step out to the porch. She stays behind the camera and begins to film. Carl stops talking when he realizes what she's doing. She zooms in. The sound gets fainter. She peers around and sees the bees have moved.
"I better tell Greta there's a swarm in her backyard." It's happened before, but he got them back. He's not so sure they'll return this time. "I think they're going to move on."
Rain hears his voice, disembodied. "I was just going to start a honey super. There won't be enough bees, now. The old Queen's gone, took half the hive with her." Rain hears " honey soup." Quality, innovation, and choice.
"You plan for things..." Rain begins. She's on her porch now, the door is shut behind her.
"That's part of the beauty," he says. "It's a real democracy, you know. They all have to agree on their final destination. They come back, check in with each other. It has to be a majority. Not like us. The Founding Fathers didn't trust us."
"We don't make honey."
"Not even close," said Carl.
"But if we did..."
"Now that would be something fine."
Rain looks down, touches the screen, and checks the film. Bright dots move around, in front of a dark garage, a light tree, an abandoned coop. The sound: captured.
"What will happen to them?"
"I'll call my friend — he's got room for another hive. He'll fit a cardboard catcher around the swarm then hit the branch above it with a stick; the weight makes them fall. Thousands of them. Maybe ten thousand. After a few hours most of them are in there. He'll take them home. They pour like liquid." Like honey soup.
"That's it? You just let them go?"
"It's not up to me."
Round-the-clock support. Ground floor. Transportation.
At night, her eyes close. Her mother comes to her. Running across a four-lane highway, dodging traffic. Saying it makes her "feel alive" and keeps her "senses sharp." She gets to the other side and simply sits on someone's lawn. Rain is called to move her. "More honey," says her mom as she points to invisible tea.
In the morning, in the kitchen, brochures are stacked as she left them, edges aligned. Rain resolves to call her sisters to tell of her decision. The phone stays cold. She sits down with a loaf of bagged bread, opens the windows wide. Two mourning doves are close, coo-wooing, twigs dropping as they try to nest somewhere. She can't think of a good spot so near. Five notes calling: two falling, three repeated. As she opens the back door it sticks, then gives; the doves startle and frighten, take off and twitter away. Are doves stubborn or dim, or is it a memory problem? They always return to an unsafe spot. This time: the flat top of the porch light. She pauses to listen for them, the plastic bag of bread twirling from her fist. She sees an amber jar from Carl on the stoop, dated last year, and nestles it under her arm. Rain listens. Placing her hand on the doorknob, she thinks she hears bees in the distance. But it is only Carl's dryer on low.
writes, makes art, and teaches bookmaking and letterpress printing at California College of the Arts. Her stories, essays, poems, and art have been published in Rattle, 100 Word Story, Diagram
and NANO Fiction
, among others. She is the author of Making Handmade Books
(Lark, 2011) and edits Star 82 Review
in the one-square mile city of Albany, CA.