Did you know that when a queen bee gets too old, the worker bees just create a new one and kick the old one out? Well, now you do and you can keep that in mind while reading the story below.
She was missing a sock.
It was either the left sock or the right sock, Beatrice could never quite tell. Did socks have a designated foot to go onto? Her mother had taught her no, but at the same time she’d taught her to always start with her left foot when putting on socks.
Beatrice sat on her bed, left foot socked and the other bare, and wondered whether the missing sock was reason enough for her to be allowed to crawl back under the covers where her feet would be warm, naked or not.
„Bee, sweetie, why aren’t you dressed, yet?“ Her grandmother peeked through her bedroom door and Beatrice lifted her un-socked foot towards her. Grandma seemed to consider the situation, but to Beatrice’s disappointment, she said, „We’ll just put on another pair.“
Grandma came into Beatrice’s room and closed the door behind her. She was wearing a black dress, like the one that was currently sitting on the back of Beatrice’s chair. Expertly, she took off Beatrice’s abandoned sock and then produced another pair out of nowhere. At least it seemed as if it had come out of nowhere, but Beatrice hadn’t been paying attention. She’d been watching the clouds outside. From where she sat on her bed, she had a good view of the yellow bee boxes in the backyard.
„Bee, sweetie, I’m going to need you to help me a little here.“ Grandma was holding out the dress for Beatrice to slip into. No crawling back to bed, apparently.
Grandma had been staying in their house ever since the officers had come and Mom had vanished into her bedroom. She’d cooked, she’d cleaned, she’d been on the phone a lot. She’d made sure that Beatrice had gotten dressed every day. She hadn’t done the same for Mom, though.
„Alright, can you brush your hair for me now?“ Grandma vanished out of Beatrice’s room without waiting for an answer. With the door open, Beatrice could hear the shower from her mother’s bedroom across the hall.
Beatrice knew today was important. Grandma had told her that, today, they were going to say goodbye to Dad. Beatrice didn’t want to say goodbye. Not today or any day.
But Grandma had said this wasn’t something she could change.
Beatrice looked back the yellow boxes, clutching the hairbrush in her hand. They were Dad’s boxes. Dad’s bees. Mom had never shown much interest, so he had shown Beatrice how the bees lived, how they made honey. He let her carry the honeycombs to the cellar where he’d extract the honey twice a year. She’d have to carry them one by one sometimes, that’s how heavy they were.
The clouds were going dark. Maybe if it rained, she’d be allowed to crawl back under the covers where she’d be dry, rain or not.
The door to Mom’s bedroom opened. Beatrice stared at her mother, her black dress and the black shoes. She wasn’t wearing socks. Today, there was no going back to bed for her, either.
They looked at each other, Mom and Beatrice, then the corners of Mom’s mouth curled up slightly and she took the hairbrush out of Beatrice’s hand. Without a word, she brushed Beatrice’s hair. It hurt, but Beatrice didn’t tell her mother to stop.
They took Grandma’s car to church. Dad’s car was gone, Grandma had explained. He’d taken it with him to Heaven. Beatrice wondered if Dad needed the car to drive to work every day in Heaven as well.
When Beatrice got out of the car, a raindrop fell on her nose. Grandma took her hand as they walked into the church while Beatrice watched the drops fall on the sidewalk.
She used to love getting to church early before the service. The colored glass windows always sparkled when the sun was shining and Dad would tell her stories about the people in the windows. There was even a bee in one of them that Beatrice was sure nobody but them noticed.
But today, the sun wasn’t shining. And Dad wasn’t here.
By the time they left the church, there were puddles on the ground. They walked through the cold grass and muddy paths in silence, Grandma squeezing her hand. The water dampened Beatrice’s socks.
„Bee, sweetie,“ Grandma said as she pulled Beatrice into the first row of the group, „they’re going to put the casket down now. You see that shovel? When your mother is done, you go there, and you pick up some of the dirt with the shovel and then you throw that into the hole.“
„I don’t want to,“ Beatrice said, trying to push a blade of grass from her shoe with the other foot.
„I know, sweetie. We’ll go together, alright?“
It wasn’t alright, but Beatrice nodded anyway.
As the pastor began to talk again, she heard a humming sound. It came closer to her ear. She turned her head just in time to see the bee land on Mom’s skirts. Mom hadn’t noticed. She was still staring ahead at the hole in the ground.
The bee settled on a place in one of the skirt folds. Bees didn’t fly during the rain, her Dad had once told her, because the water made their wings heavy. This little one must have been very tired and just wanted to crawl into some warm covers. Beatrice envied it a little.
The bee took off again. Beatrice’s eyes followed her path as it flew over to the flowers by the casket and then came back to her. It tumbled, and then landed on Beatrice’s shoulder.
The weight was heavier than it should have been. Dad had often placed a bee on Beatrice’s hand to show her there was no reason to be afraid. Maybe the rain had made this bee and its wings particularly heavy.
The bee crawled towards the edge of Beatrice’s dress and then underneath the fabric by her neck. It tickled as the bee made its way down to where Beatrice’s heart was beating faster and faster.
If she was stung right now, would she be allowed to crawl back under the covers?
Of course not. Especially not now, when you’re already almost through the whole thing.
The voice didn’t sound like Grandma or Mom, it was much higher. And much more quiet. Was it in Beatrice’s head? The bee settled down underneath her collarbone, they weight a perfect companion to the weight in her chest.
You can do this. You’re a big girl.
Beatrice looked at the adults surrounding her. They were all looking at the ground or the pastor or the box, as it was lowered into the ground.
Beatrice’s mother took a few steps towards the shovel and threw some dirt into the hole. She stood silently for a moment, her shoulders shaking. Grandma let go of Beatrice’s hand and walked over to lead Mom away.
Beatrice forced her feet into motion towards the shovel with the dirt. It was still wet from the rain and it made the shovel heavy. Like it had made the bee heavy.
The hole was deeper than she had thought. So this was where Dad would have to stay from now on. She dropped the dirt into the hole. It made a thump when it hit the box below. That was a terrible way to say goodbye.
See, you did it. Good job.
Someone came to take the shovel from her hand. It was Grandma, leading her over to where Mom was standing, still shaking and covering her nose with a tissue. There were tears on her cheeks.
By now, the voice had settled nicely in Beatrice’s mind as if it had always been there. She grabbed her mother’s hand and squeezed it.
You’re so strong. He’d be very proud of you.
One by one, the other adults stepped towards the hole to throw dirt onto the box. The bee crawled up Beatrice’s shoulder again, towards the back of her neck.
„Bee, sweetie,“ Grandma said quietly, „these people will come and shake your hand.“
And then, we can go home.
Home, where Beatrice would finally crawl underneath her covers and wait for the weight in her chest to subside. If Mom could stay in bed all day, then so could she.
„Grandma, what will happen to Dad’s bees?“ Beatrice asked.
„I don’t know,“ Grandma said as she shook someone’s hand, „I think he was going to give them away. We can talk about this later.“
„I think I want to keep them,“ Beatrice said. The bee hummed behind her ear.
„We don’t know how to take care of them.“ Grandma frowned between whispers of thanks.
„I do. Dad showed me. I can take care of them.“ Someone was holding out their hand towards Beatrice, but she didn’t shake it. Instead she looked up at Grandma, waiting for her answer.
„Bee, sweetie.“ Grandma sighed. She shook hands with every person that came while Beatrice stared. Finally she said, „Alright.“
The bee took flight then, lifting the weight from Beatrice’s neck.
And a little of the weight from her chest.
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