Bees

bees

It was an accident, really.  I was walking home with my backpack slipping off one shoulder, filled with homework and deadlines and heavy, heavy books.  The spring air had warmed just enough to coax leaves to open from their buds and grass to poke out from the ground.  I was chasing my thoughts into circles, never resting on one long enough to get anywhere.

There was a bee in my path, crawling slowly over the ground, its wings limp and tired.  Something about the way it looked weighed to the ground tugged on me, so I grabbed a short stick to pick up the weary bee and took it home.

I set my backpack down on the floor with a heavy thump, keeping my eyes on the little bee to make sure it didn’t fall off.  My mother was in the kitchen, and I announced my presence by saying “Don’t worry, it won’t hurt us”.  She still jumped when she turned around, but she merely told me to be careful of the stinger as she left the kitchen.

I set the stick and bee on a small plate and dissolved a bit of sugar with a little water.  Carefully, I placed a spoonful of the sugar-water next to the bee, then carried the plate back outside.

I did not know what path I’d begun.

Here’s the thing: bees do not forget a kindness.

As the days stretched longer and the air grew hotter, I found more bees crawling near my house.  I started carrying a small jar of sugar water and a dropper with me, to give them just enough strength to fly again and continue their work searching for flowers.

I started filling our long-abandoned birdbath with a shallow pool of water for them, scattering a handful of small rocks so they had a place to land and drink in the midst of their long day.  After reviving a weary bee, I sometimes carried it to the birdbath and set it on the edge, in case it wanted a good long drink before it flew away.

I began to notice how few flowers grew nearby.  It was no wonder the bees often grew faint under the hot sun.  I rode my bike to the store and asked after flowers that bees might like.  My allowance scattered across the store counter and I carefully balanced my purchases in one hand as I steered my bike home with the other.

I planted purple clover around the birdbath, started thousands of daisies along the garage, and lined our backyard fence with lavender.

My father expressed surprise at my sudden interest in gardening, but offered me the use of his old garden tools. “It’s good work, to garden.” he’d said, pulling the box out of storage. “Give it all you got.

My mother loved the flowers, telling me she’d often wished she had the time to plant some.  She would join me from time to time when she had a few minutes to spare, the two of us sometimes working in silence, sometimes chatting about our day.  She bought me a new pair of gardening gloves after a particularly hard day of weeding.  I think it’s a little piece of a dream she thought she’d never have.

The bees recognize me now.  Hundreds of them.  They gather around me when I come out to fill their water, and they like to land on the backs of my hands when I’m gardening.  They follow me when I go out for walks, and I swear they come to me in swarms when I’m feeling upset.

Over time, my friends have met the bees and learned not to fear them.  It has taken a couple years of getting acquainted, but now my friends have started planting flowers of their own.

I had not planned on becoming a caretaker of bees.  All I know is this: that I was walking home from school with a backpack full of work, that I saw a bee struggling and weary, and that I decided to help.

Here’s the thing: I’m glad I did.

Listen to me.

Bees do not forget a kindness.

 

Autumn Leaves

leaves

We do not venture out when the leaves fall.

There is something about the way the air turns cold and still.  There is a reason why even some of the most vicious animals go into hiding at the first signs of summer dying.  There is a reason we stock up our harvest and hoard firewood.

The leaves are turning color.  They are falling.

They are hunting.

Once they fall from the tree they become vicious.  Waiting.  They will swallow us whole.

I’ve seen them out my window, springing up around a hapless squirrel, spinning in a small storm of leaves.  They rustle in a wind that is not there, swirling faster and faster until the squirrel cannot be spotted any longer.  It takes a long time for them to disperse, as if a strong wind suddenly halted and left them to fall.

The squirrel was gone.

They gather at our doorstep, they collect in heaps on our yards.  They hunt in groups, hungry and merciless and barely clinging to the last, terrible parts of their lives.

We hurry inside when they begin to fall and bolt the doors against their phantom winds.  Some try setting them on fire, but they have a way of carrying those flames to our homes.  Still, if we must go outside, we set out with a torch in one hand and a bucket of water in the other.

And then we run.

I did it once.  There was no torch, no bucket, but I was young and my parents weren’t watching and I saw a hedgehog scurrying through the grass.  Leaves were already picking up in its wake, and I didn’t stay behind my window glass to watch.  I flew out, slamming the door before anyone could stop me.

The still air bit my nose and cheeks, warning me to go back.  The leaves were rising in front of the hedgehog now, cutting it off.  I stepped on one as I ran.  Some part of me that my mother raised right turned my head to shout an apology.  I don’t think it did much.  Leaves were rising behind me.

The hedgehog curled itself into a prickly ball, its last desperate attempt to survive.  I was almost there.  A leaf flew right past my face, and I smacked it away.  Then apologized.  Again.

Stooping low, I scooped up the ball of bristles.  The feeling of a thousand needles barely piercing my skin was fuzzy and distant.  The leaves had sprung up all around us, and they were closing in.

I gasped for air, the cold rushing down my throat and settling in my lungs like panic.  I knew the longer I waited, the less chance I had, so I charged the thinnest spot in the wall of leaves and shut my eyes.

They were a million small blades slicing my skin.  They were a thousand hands pulling me back.  They were a hundred whispers of a dying wind.  I held the hedgehog close to my chest and covered it with my hands, shaking off the pull of a thousand tiny deaths.

I squinted my eyes open and there were my parents, standing at the door and shouting for me to run, run, run!  The cold air stirred and a slight breeze pulled out of its slumber just enough to rise and push the leaves back, if only for a moment.

I had just enough breath to whisper thank you to the struggling wind, then I was bursting into my home with the door slamming shut behind me.  It took a few weeks for my cuts to heal, a few months for the first winter snow to come and finish off the leaves.

I named the hedgehog Hubert and he lives with me now.  When the first leaf falls from its tree, we go to the kitchen and I make hot chocolate while he sniffs at the cookie jar.  My family gathers around the kitchen table, pulling out mugs to drink from and plates for cookies and we all sit down and hope for winter’s snows to come early this year.

We do not venture out when the leaves fall.  They are dying, but they do so slowly, and they wish to take us all with them before winter comes like a reaper of the dead.

The air has gone cold and still.

We bolt our doors and hope for snow.

Goodnight

bed

There’s a monster under my bed.  I put him there myself.

He’s half shadow, half solid night, with white smoky eyes and rows of long crooked teeth.  I found him in my basement under the stairs, no bigger than my teddy bear, stuck under a box that had fallen from its stack.

I’d been careful freeing him, of course, because I’d seen his teeth and didn’t want them clamping down on me.  I pushed the box off of him with a broomstick and waited at a distance for him to scamper away.

Instead, he limped over to me—at least, it looked like a limp.  It was hard to tell, since he was half shadow and I couldn’t actually see his feet.

I sat down and held still, trying to keep from frightening him.  I also held my breath, trying to keep myself from being frightened.  I didn’t know how to act around monsters, but I knew a bit about how to act around frightened animals and I hoped that would be enough.

He looked up at me with his round white eyes, a small whimper coming from somewhere inside, and I let out the breath I held.

He crawled into my lap, and I dared to reach out my hand and touch him.  He felt cold, and soft, and a little bit not there.  I gathered him in my arms and he pressed himself into my ribs and right then I knew.  I knew I wouldn’t let anything happen to him.  He was mine and I would take care of him.

So I grabbed an old jacket lying nearby and draped it over my arms, smuggling him as I dashed upstairs to my room.

He lives under my bed now, and I think he eats my nightmares.  Sometimes when I’m trying to sleep, I dangle my hand off the edge and he sleeps just under it.  Sometimes, when the night has gone still and the clock ticks past midnight, he crawls onto my bed and curls up next to me.

He doesn’t feel as cold as he used to.  A little more solid too.  His rows of crooked teeth don’t scare me anymore.  If anything, I just complain about his bad breath.

I curl myself around him when he presses himself next to me.  I fall asleep so much faster with him there.  I find I’m not so afraid of the night anymore.

Not since it came to me as a small lonely monster.

Sirens

cliffs

I can hear their whispers.

It must be the sirens singing

Our town is built of stone and sorrow, holding stubbornly to the rocky clifftops.  Below us is the ocean shore, where waves break against the rocks that stick out like jagged teeth.  Below us are bones and seagulls and pieces of ships.

Below us are the caves where we dare not venture.

They say sirens live there, tucked away and hidden, in the dark and wet, with rock surrounding them to echo their voices.  An ideal home for their kind, and I cannot blame them for settling there.  If anything, we are the ones that shouldn’t belong.

Sometimes I think the cliffs are not made for humans to live on.  Most of my town would probably agree, but we are too stubborn to leave.  When the storms rock our houses and the winds scream past our windows, the mothers will just tuck their children deeper in their beds and tell them it must be the sirens singing.

I grew up believing that the sirens protect us with their song, and that was why my mother told me not to be scared.  I still believe it, though that is not the only song they sing.

Tonight it is a terrible night, and the wind is lost and raging.  Thunder cracks overhead as if it is breaking against our rooftops.  I’m sitting up with my little brother, because he will not believe anyone’s assurances and he is frightened of the storm.  The things that calm him are sitting with me, wide awake, an old quilt over his shoulders, and a cup of tea in his hands.  I know when the cup is empty and the quilt begins to feel soft and warm, he will nod off and I will carry him to bed.

He is almost asleep when cries rise up from outside and yank him out of his drowsiness.  I tell him to stay there as I put on my heavy raincoat and light the shielded lantern.  The wind tears at me the moment I step outside to investigate, as though it could find a place to hide beneath my coat.  Half the town is out in this terrible night, and they’re all looking past the cliff edge to the ocean beyond.

I don’t have to look for myself to know.  There is a ship, and it is getting too close to the shore.  Everyone is holding up lanterns, trying to keep the flames from blowing out, clumping together so the sailors can see our warning.  We are shouting, but there is little we can do against this wind, this rain, this storm.

I go back inside to my little brother, and I know neither of us will be sleeping tonight.  We sit close together and share the tea, listening as the shouts outside die down.  Eventually, all we hear is the wind, the rain, and the thunder.

And then the song begins.

It is not one I could repeat, nor is it one a human could make.  It is loud enough to muffle the storm, but soft enough to cradle anyone who listens.  The words are not in a language I know, but they are familiar sounds, longing and mournful and aching.

My brother and I are silent, tears running down our cheeks.  It is a song for the ship.  For the sailors.  For the events that could not be stopped, only mourned and honored.

I have too many memories of this.  I think the cliffs were not made for humans to live on.

There is no need for me to listen to know what the mothers are whispering to their children tonight.

It must be the sirens singing