Word Count: 1093
A/N: Written for musemuggers. Challenge #531, Option #4, infocloud (bees).
It was hot, too hot to be working, but she didn’t mind the weather. This was the best season for honey, so while everyone else napped in the drowsy doorways of summer, she walked the long sunwarmed path to her orchard and the bee yard beyond.
“It’s almost July,” she said while she worked. “It’s doesn’t feel like it, but it is.” She didn’t need to tell them that, of course, but she talked out of habit, even about the little things. She liked to think that they gentled under her voice. She imagined them snug in their hive, the larvae sealed in the combs and the workers standing sentinel over the growing generation within. From the queen to the drones, she knew they could hear her, even if other people thought the old traditions were silly. How else could she reach them with a bare hand and nary a sting? It was because they trusted her; they’d grown used to her voice steeping them in their combs as if it was their own honey. She’s been talking to them since she was a girl, and long before that her mama had told the tales. They knew her blood and they allowed her to come to them. It wasn’t silly, it was life: pure as pollen.
The wind blew from the west, lifting her veil and bringing with it the smell of a midsummer storm. She still had time, though. She reached into the hive box and slid a frame into view for inspection. The cells looked healthy. She spotted the queen right away, clustered amongst her drones. She nodded and released the frame back into the housing, unwilling to harvest just yet.
“Delilah’s getting married today.” She kicked off her shoes and sighed at the familiar dry grass prickle under bare feet. She’d walked all the way from the village in her good shoes and her toes had paid the price. “I was supposed to stay for the dancing, but you know I can’t step a reel. Aunt Dodie’s gonna give me whatfor, I’m sure, but I brought cake for us, so let’s sit a spell and not think on that no more today.”
She laid their serving first, a small slice of the prized confection set square in the middle of the plate. The napkin folded just once in half; her mama had taught her plain-country manners, and that would have to do for the bees and for her. She frowned as she tried to remember on which side the fork belonged, but in the end she just guessed. They didn’t stand on ceremony here. That part didn’t matter.
After a quick murmured blessing from her grammy’s bible, she hitched her skirt to the side and sat on the grass opposite the hive to eat her own cake. “She was a pretty bride,” she admitted.
The constant bzzz was her only answer.
“Yes, all in white, of course in white. With flowers in her hair. Roses as big as my fist,” she said around the bites of cake. “Uncle Deacon cried, don’t think I didn’t see it, even though he had a hankie as if he was just sweaty in this heat. But I know better. He’s gonna miss her when she goes off with Jeb.”
A few bees circled the hive, enticed by the scent of sugared lilies and irises made of icing.
“We all will,” she said, taking another bite.
More bees emerged and surrounded the cake. A few landed on the sticky surface, their antennae twitching.
“You know I’m glad they got married. We wouldn’t have suited after all, not when I stop to think about it. It’s true, I mean it. Jeb’s a looker but he ain’t for me, no, sir,” she said. “Delilah made a pretty bride, she did. I can’t even dance a reel. Or a waltz. It’s better this way.”
Unused to such rich dessert, she decided the frosting was too sweet on her tongue and left the last bite on the plate. She didn’t notice the crumbs that had fallen in her lap and scattered in the grass around her like a constellation of lost seeds.
Sometimes when the days grew shorter she would head to the field even though her work was mostly finished. She could always claim some art of need when it came to her colony, but the days had long since passed when anyone thought to contradict her. Even Aunt Dodie stopped wondering when she would come down from the northern stretch of meadowlands that held her captive for the better portion of every year.
“Rebus finally died, don’t you know?” she asked by way of greeting. “It was a long time coming. Probably a blessing, I’m thinking, but I hate it when folks say that so I won’t.”
A muted bzzz sounded.
“Oh, right. I told you that last time I was by. Sometimes the days, they do blend together.” She picked a dandelion that had gone to seed and shredded the white tufts with her fingers. “Let’s see, what other news is there? I don’t rightly know that I can think of anything today. I haven’t seen anyone in awhile. I did have a letter from Delilah. She’s expecting a baby, she says. So that’s something.”
The bees were silent.
She released the dandelion seeds and watched them drift away from her. “Yes, I’m happy for her, too. She’ll be a good mama. A real good mama.”
She pulled a frame from the box and watched the swarm. The honeycombs overlaid each other in ancient geometry. She watched the bees work for awhile and let her mind settle into their wordless rhythm, then she began to hum. When she stopped feeling the breeze and the sun and her heart in her chest and the only thought was her voice in tune with the eternal bzzz of her bees, she knew it was time. She reached in for the queen and squeezed off the head. There was no struggle. There was no sting. Just a quick twist, then peaceful death.
The wind stiffened, reminding her that winter waited in the wings. It was time to think about closing the hives for the season before the killing cold came. She wasn’t ready to think about that yet, not with all the preparations left and the new queen to raise.
She’d sing to them awhile longer, and then she’d head for home. There was always time for the harvest next week. She had many stories left to tell.