I linger among the bees flying in and out of the numerous hives lining the side yard by the alley. It’s a sunny late afternoon and each bee wears a halo. I imagine them foraging the overgrown yards of abandoned houses, and the weeds the railroad doesn’t bother to fight anymore, and the thickets along the potholed streets the city no longer maintains. I assume the owners of the property have lived here since that time when the neighborhood was vibrant with families who worked in the vanished factories. They have a sign on a tree in front saying “Honey For Sale.”
A couple is sitting on the porch and I introduce myself. They are barely middle-aged, the man with a beard and shaggy hair, the woman in a long gingham dress spread between her knees to catch the beans she snaps, the way my grandmother did. “How did you get interested in beekeeping?” I ask.
“My parents were country folks who moved here so my father could work in the mills,” the man says. “My mother’s people kept bees, so there were always a few hives in the yard and enough honey to last the winter. When my parents passed, we decided to move back from San Francisco and put roots down here. One thing led to another,” he laughs.
I tell them about the tree in the woods of my boyhood, a hollow sycamore inhabited by wild bees that crowded constantly through a small hole. Every time I went on my rambles I would stop at the tree and put my ear against its side and listen.
“The ancients knew the bee to represent goddesses and gods,” the woman explains. “The hum of its wings is a prophecy, its voice the very sound of creation.” She pours a rain of beans from her lap into a pan and tells me she teaches English at the local college. “The Scottish say to ask the wild bee for what the druids knew.”
The three of us walk around the house to a long shed with weathered siding. Inside wait the implements of the beekeeper’s trade – the helmets with their drooping veils, thick pairs of gloves stained by pollen, wax, and royal jelly; there are bee brushes and fume boards, strainers and feeders, uncapping tools and a smoker hanging from a nail. In the middle of the floor stands the extractor, its handle begging to be cranked. The man has placed old photos of the neighborhood in its prime all around, and on the far side of the room, in good light, the Monet-like paintings of flowers and gardens he has done.
When the woman brings me a golden jar of spring honey, I know what the bees were telling me in that hollow tree so long ago, what these people here in front of me are certain of – there is still magic in the world, and there is still hope.
Flash Fiction by Steve Brammell
Steve Brammell has most recently published in RavensPerch, Northwest Indiana Literary Journal, White Wall Review, The Tiny Seed Literary Journal, The Write Launch, Flying Island Journal, Cathexis Northwest Press and Toho Journal. An upcoming flash fiction piece will appear in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. He is a member of the Indiana Writers Center.