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The International Writers Magazine
: Bee Careful - Dreamscapes Fiction

David Tavernier

Somewhere in the western valley, there was a rosebush. Inside, lay a buzzing beehive. Every warm afternoon, when the birds took respite in the diminishing shadows, a beekeeper would come walking down a red brick path. Up high, all of the bees swarmed about open beehives, but down below, they confined themselves to the rosebush. It was a hive inside a hive, and the beekeeper admired his work, for he had put the hive inside on a whim, thinking that it might bear special honey, more delicious than all the rest.

On one particular day, as the beekeeper was tending that special hive, he had an accident. Reaching through the roses, thorns and leaves hiding the lively innards of the bush, he tore a hole in his great white suit. Instantly, all the rose bees began flooding its interior.

Now, the beekeeper was a wise old man, and rarely lost his head in a frightening situation. He had seen many years, many accidents, many scary things. Of course, he had adopted a peaceful attitude to life because he had known many lovely things, so many, that he no longer sought new beauty, but was content with all the colorful aging images buzzing, like bees, in his head.

These comforted him, so that as his suit filled, and he could feel the feet of the bees scuttling all over his body, he stood still as a gray stone statue adjacent that thorny hive of a hive.

One hasty move and he may have been stung all over his body, and he knew this perfectly well. Bee stings had calloused his skin over many years, yet he continued to feed the bees and collect their honey. He loved them, though he was never sure if they returned the favor. Their hive mentality was passionately turned inward, so much so, that sometimes the beekeeper wished that one bee, if only one, would come out of the hive to visit him in his house on the crest of the hill. They were his only company. All his family and friends had died, and he was getting on in years. No one even knew he was alive, way up in the hills, not a house in sight for miles. The postman came and went on his route, though on some rainy and wintry days, because the road was too slick and steep, his absence left a void in the old man's heart. For even though all the postman ever delivered were bills and gaudy pieces of junk mail, he was a face.
On a rainy day, even the happiest of hermits needs another face.
Otherwise he becomes too lonely.

"What shall I do?" the old man asked in a voice muffled by the bees and his black wire veil. The red patio was empty, and the forest stood silent all around, birds chirped and bees buzzed, and, though he had asked, he regretted the sound of his voice. He made a habit of dumbness, because speaking, and never receiving a response, flooded his chest with sorrowful emotion. His muffled echo, rebounding in the tree hollow, came back to him. "Wah shah I duh," he heard his own voice repeat. Though distorted and emanating from outside his body, he knew it was his own, and it gave him little comfort.

Meanwhile, the buzzing in his suit was becoming unbearably loud, and he began to lose his ability to distinguish one pair of scuttling feet from another. Myriad scuttlng feet pricked his skin, his hands, arms, neck, face, and nose, itching. Itching intolerably, and sweat began beading at his brow so that he could feel itchy wet footsteps on his brow where the bees intermingled in the brine. He twitched his nose, praying softly under the hum, "Don't let me sneeze." And this time, he spoke too softly for the little man in the trees who echoed him to hear.

Bee after bee, swarms of them, filtered in a buzzing stream through the roseprick in his suit. "Why are you doing this? Have I not fed you enough? Are you not pleased by the beautiful smell of the roses in spring?" he asked the bees, pleading with his eyes before he had to shut them, for the cloud was becoming too dense, and bees were wandering dangerously close to them. It was suffocating. He feared moving. He feared breathing. Bees bumbled in the vicinty of his mouth and nostrils. Bees crept into the hollows of his ears. Bees in his pants and bees tickling him beneath his elbows and armpits, and around his ribs and stomach.

"Bees, why had I loved them?" he thought, unable to move his mouth. "Why had I nurtured them all these years, when after all, they couldn't understand me, couldn't love me as I loved them?" he thought further, as tears welled beneath his eyelids. "I cannot cry. I cannot speak. I cannot see or hear, and I'm afraid to breath. Here I stand in a coffin, and not a person in the world is here to read my eulogy for me. They are all dead, and will I join them in the hereafter?"

Somehow, he had his doubts about it. All of his years trembled, and he became a boy again, sobbing under the black wire veil. Spit grew at the corners of his mouth, and snot trickled from his nose. His face was wet, streaming with tears, sweaty from anxiety and the heat of day.

Frightening at first, the desire to throw his arms up and scream as loud as he could warmed in his head, and became almost appealing. The old man knew the consequences. He was not frightened of death. He was frightened of being alone forever, and he knew that if he lived, he could never love his bees again because of their disregard. "In the afterlife, shall I meet the milkman who delivered every Tuesday and Thursday? On those days by the window, secretly watching, I had waited until he disappeared around the corner to lay my hands on those cool bottles, frothy white liquid staining the glass. And my parents had indulged me by staying out of my way, as I tip toed to the kitchen, dug through the silverware cabinet for a bottle opener, and drank straight from the bottle, the first few sips from the sweetest one. I was certain it had been the sweetest one because I had chosen it. My parents must have watched, from somewhere, laughing to themselves, affectionately whispering about the forgotten pleasures of youth. How could I have known then, that afterward, I would stop drinking milk because the taste had grown insipid with age, and turn to a bottle of a darker tint.
And now I will die, and it doesn't matter how strongly I hold my fondest memories to me. I will die, but will I keep the milkman, and his bottles of milk?"

Inside, his suit was swarming; outside, it crawled with the furry bodies of honeybees. A morbid urge grew inside him, and his upper lip twitched. Inside his mind, cities were spiraling, buildings crumbling, crashing to the ground; worlds disolving, brown dust drifting in space; he saw his house on the crest of the hill falling apart, plank by plank, and the red brick path disintigrating, brick by brick; and his honey hives falling, smashing on the ground, honeycomb oozing in dirt, absorbed by the shadowy earth.
"Every memory will crumble!" he shouted at the top of his lungs. He had made a rash decision, because, for a moment, lost in the colors of his memories, he had become a man of seventeen again. But the world did not become dust, and his house remained intact, and the bees didn't sting him.

No, amazingly enough, something beautiful would happen for the old man that he could never have expected.
He felt his feet rise a few inches from the ground. He was hanging in the air, in front of the rosebush, startled, looking down at it from a slightly higher elevation. It was as if his spine had straightened, and his bones had regained their vigor, and he had resumed the height he'd enjoyed in his peak of health as a young man. "Am I growing," he whispered? "No, I don't feel any growing pains."

He became aware of the stillness of the bees. They had ceased their crawling. Opening his eyes, he saw that the bees, every one of them, beat their wings in harmony. Against his wire veil, they clung, furiously flapping. All their wings together looked like a silvery film coating the dark walls of his mask, like micah embedded in a black rock.

Rising further--branches passed--and he could sense some divine cooperation between all the bees of his suit. The old man imagined they would have had looks of determination on their faces if they had had faces to wear expressions upon.

Soon he could see the canopy from above, and he remembered a helicopter ride his father had once taken him on, over a bay. Between waves he had seen the black fin of a whale, and on the sunny rocks, from a bird's eye view, he'd seen the gray backs of lounging sealions. Their bodies shone with water, and he'd thought that it would get awful hot on the rocks, though they seemed to enjoy the sun, and rarely moved from their places. Elevating in the air further--passing a flock of birds--he could make out the eaves of his house. The trees covered it imperfectly, like broken fingers, and he could see his bedroom window, his desk with its papers, and a ballpoint pen beside it. Sweating, he became intoxicated by the sun. It was stifling in his suit, and though he loved the view, in some respects he wished that the bees had found another way to show him their gratitude for his service.

But he was moving too quickly now to linger on thoughts for a long time. Small foothills raised lumps in the landscape, and--startled--when he turned his head to follow a wayward eagle who had grazed his suit, he lost track of which hill his house called home. The features of the landscape were macroscopic, indistinguishable. Like the individual stitches on a patterned sheet, the hills melted together into a greenish brown tapestry. The sky grew hotter than any oven burned--clouds passed--and the sun intensified, unobstructed, freely blazing. The atmosphere was growing thinner, though the bees didn't seem to mind. They kept at their work dutifully, just as they did inside the rosebush, collective minds on task, owing to their ignorant, but powerful hive mentality. The old man had always admired the bees for that ignorance. Men were dreamers who had their minds always on some object in their minds. They often sat, staring off into space, and no one knew where they went, off, inside their isolated worlds, wandering lost in the folds of their minds. The bees never sat and stared off into space. The bees lived, and lived, buzzed, and buzzed, until they dropped, stopped buzzing, like wind-up toys. But what if the bees had minds too? And when they were inside the hive, they were also outside, in the trees.

Gratitude isn't a spontanious emotion. It builds inside, like a fire, until it spills light from the hearth and warms the tender skin of the man who kindled its flames. Gratitude is an emotion tended by observation and memory. It requires the recognition of some familiar object, a friendly face or hand, a feeding instrument, coming repeatedly, and on a steady rhythm. Being greatful, every day, builds gratitude.

Suddenly, a shaft of light beating the old man's right eye woke him. He was sitting at his desk in his bedroom upstairs. His papers were in front of him, mottled by stains, saliva and sweat. They were a stack, thick and even, squared and in proper order. They were his manuscript. At the head of the cover sheet, in bold, black, straight lettering, he had drawn in marker, "The Faces, and Loss of Memory." He looked around him, at his dresser, a frilly white shirt hanging from one of its drawers, and a blue tie snaked on the glossy floor in front of it. And at his bed, rumpled. Now that he remembered, he had been driven from bed in the middle of the night to make changes. There was a paragraph that had bothered him in his sleep, and needed to be changed, although he hadn't known which it was, or what changes he had wanted to make. He'd begun a frantic search of his manuscript in the middle of the night, and, looking to his left, he could tell by the light of the electric lamp that he'd fallen asleep against his will. His ballpoint pen still lay loosely in his right hand. It felt smooth, he liked its texture and the way it ran softly over the page, whether he wrote hastily or at a lazy drawl. Hurried strokes and long, curving arcs of the pen landed smooth alike. Flipping through the leaves, the frustration of the night before returned to him, and he swore at the pages.

"Confound it, I'll never figure out what must be changed. I'll die before a soul has read my story." His eyes rested on the final paragraph of his novel: "With each day that passes, the faces dim. The candles of my mind are flickering. Old faces, as I paint them on the page, leave me. And when they've finally died, and all that remains of them is a whisp of smoke and a pool of melted wax, this novel will be their only record."

There was something wrong, something that bothered him; a catch in his throat gave him pause. Feeling his gnarled hands, like roots of a tree, he looked as if struck by epiphany. His eyes opened wide, and something moved his rickety bones. His hands fumbled, his knees juddered, and his writing table quivered. His shirt! Leaping with new energy to the dresser, he hurriedly put it on, buttoning feverishly, a grin on his face. His nose whistled as he chuckled to himself. Like a young man, before leaving his bedroom, after putting on his shoes, he stood at the threshold, and ran his fingers through his thin hair. He wished for a mirror. Pretending one hung above the head of his bed, he turned to the left, smiled, drawing the left corner of his lip up into a sneer, and winked. Skipping, the hallway and stairwell echoed with the clatter of his footsteps. as he passed the kitchen downstairs, he noticed mid-morning light pouring blue through the kitchen window. He had a passing impression of silverware glinting in a pile of suds. The front door, out the window he could see a nest of birds busy with life.

"The front door, every day," he felt a warm feeling rising in his chest, and it wasn't the warmth of the day, but an emotion inside, in his blood, breathing life into his bones. Outside, in the direct light of day, an old man could be seen fluttering down a gravel path, running to a white shed fifty paces from his home. Rifling inside, with noisy exhuberance, excitement shooting impulses through his hands and feet, he had found what he was looking for: his beekeeper's suit. Donning it, he planted his black mesh helmet on top of his head firmly. He pulled on his gloves, and took up his feeding instrument. Returning down the path, he walked, "Every day, I walk down this path, at the same hour, and feel the sun wrinkling my back through this white suit." The sun confirmed his statement by beating brightly against his back. And the birds in the trees chirped, "Every day, the birds chirp as I walk down this red brick path." The hum of the hives sounded from around a turn in the path. "And every day, as I come to the bend in the path, I can hear the bees humming good morning." The feeling in his chest swelled with every passing moment. A feeling of death in his mind, of shattered memories, mulishly clung to the diminishing portion of his brain it had encroached upon. Like a malignant army making a final stand, refusing compromise, demanding death over surrender, a wicked demon vied with the brilliant new emotion swelling in his chest. Turning around the corner, stepping lively on the red brick, the old man turned to each of his hives, and fed the bees.

"Every day, I feed my bees, and feel better for it." The tumor of despair in his mind shrunk smaller and smaller, as finally the old beekeeper wound down the curving red brick path to the alcove in the trees where he had planted a rosebush the year after he had married his wife. Extending his feeding instrument through the bush carefully, his arm went unscathed, and he removed it. "Every day, I come here to this alcove where the trees obscure the sun, and feed these special bees inside their hive of roses." He stood there in front of the rosebush, caught in a dream again, and then turned on his heels to add one more paragraph to his novel, beginning with the word, "Gratitude..."

© David Tavernier October 2004

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