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Telling the Bees

What stings us

By Lori LamothePublished 3 years ago Updated 3 years ago 5 min read
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Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

1817

I’d already waited too long.

Not that it wasn’t the right thing to do. Sure, Hallie was 18 and she’d put off the wedding for a full year just so Daddy wouldn’t fall behind with the chores and the kitchen garden behind the cabin. Caleb was a good man though and if he minded the wait he didn’t let on, at least not in front of Daddy and me.

Most days after he finished work at his own farm he’d ride over and help with the orchard. It was late in the season and the branches were so heavy all you had to was walk beneath the trees and your basket would fill itself with golden pears.

I was lugging my basket toward the wagon when I first saw them there, all tangled up with their lips locked. There was something frantic about the way they held each other, something almost ugly. But it fascinated me too, even though I couldn’t say why.

That night I snuck out to the bees in my nightshift and stood before the white box, my lips smeared with honey. I wanted to know what that stinging felt like, wanted to see if it hurt or if I’d like it as well as Hallie seemed to.

The bees didn’t want anything to do with me. I stood there shivering in the cold with the stars above shining their prickly light until finally I gave up and went back inside.

I knew then I’d never marry and that I’d die in that cabin while Hallie would go off with Caleb to live happily ever after.

Well, there was a thing or two I could do about that.

Before she died Mama told me all about the bees, secret things she never told Hallie. Maybe she knew Hallie didn’t need any help, not with her hair the color of hay and her eyes so green every plant she touched grew to three times its regular size.

My hair was the color of dishwater and if people noticed my eyes at all, they could never settle on a color. Some said they were hazel, some called them brown, others were sure they were the angry gray of clouds right before a storm. But nobody ever called them green.

Sometimes when I went to visit the bees I could see flecks of ghostlight on their wings. I knew they’d been to see Mama and that the honey I scooped out of the box would be sweeter than ever.

I also knew if I told the bees about Hallie’s wedding before she did the marriage would go bad. Then she’d be back with me again and things would go on like they always had.

It was early morning when I swung my feet onto the floor and glided through the still-dark cabin. At the edge of the mountains, the sun was just a glimmer. I had plenty of time. The wedding wasn’t for hours yet.

I wrapped my arms around me and glanced over my shoulder. The curtains hung unmoving in the windows, the door stayed almost shut, just like I’d left it. I could already hear the bees humming as I crossed the yard, almost as if they were onto what I had in mind.

I stopped a few inches away from the box and cast another look back at the house. Still nothing.

The grass was cool and wet around my ankles and from somewhere far off a mockingbird was singing. I leaned forward and let the words I’d rehearsed run through my head one more time. Another few seconds and it would be done.

Behind me, hinges creaked. I jumped and whirled around.

Hallie stood in the doorway, those emerald green eyes holding me steady in her gaze.

I braced myself for her to race across the yard and knock me down, the way she used to when we were younger. I saw myself sprawled on the ground, yelling the news of her betrothal before she could get the words out herself.

Because if she told the bees first, it was a done deal. She’d get her happily ever after and there would be nothing I could do about it.

She stayed where she was. Her pale hair fell over her shoulders and in her white nightshift in the mist she looked a little like a ghost herself.

We stood there like that, neither of us moving, until finally I felt myself gliding back across the yard. I don’t know if she understood what magic I’d been going to do to ruin things for her but I suddenly got the idea Mama might’ve told her more than I’d thought.

I expected her to slap me hard or yank my hair or at least give me a good talking to. But when I reached the doorway she only took my hand and led me back inside to the kitchen so I couldn’t hear the bees anymore For the first time, she brought me coffee and sat across from me while I drank it.

The wedding went off without a hitch.

Photo by Anna Hecker on Unsplash

Hallie looked beautiful in Mama’s dress and even Caleb didn’t seem as scuffed up as usual. At the end of the day, after everybody headed home, the two of them piled into Caleb’s wagon and set off for the other side of the mountain. Daddy had already disappeared into the barn to tend to the cow but I watched them until they were just a speck in the distance.

The next morning when I looked in the mirror my eyes were blue. Not gray-blue or hazel-blue but the deep blue of oceans I’d never sailed on.

At least not yet.

I got the scissors and cut my hair until it was short like a boy’s. Below me, long tresses fanned out across the wood. I thought about telling the bees I’d be leaving but I figured they already knew.

*

Note: The need to “tell the bees” about important events is an old custom that started in Europe and was also prevalent in certain parts of the United States, especially Appalachia. Although the practice of telling the bees is usually connected with funerals, there are places where bees must also be told of happy events, such as weddings.

According to some sources, newly married couples must “introduce” themselves to the bees so their marriage will be a good one. If someone else tells the bees the news first, some superstitions hold that the union may fail.

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About the Creator

Lori Lamothe

Poet, Writer, Mom. Owner of two rescue huskies. Former baker who writes on books, true crime, culture and fiction.

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