Why Does The Bee Die?
by Tess Crosbie
"Megan, wake up."
Megan's eyes opened blearily and squinted up at her mother. "Are we at Grandma's yet?"
"Yes. Go ring the doorbell and I'll get the bags from the boot."
Kate watched as Megan shuffled through the dark, stumbling over in her semi-wake state, until she reached the safety of the porch. Inhaling deeply, Kate felt comforted by the familiar smells of her old home. Somewhere nearby, a cow coughed, making her jump. The bags were heavy and bumped uncomfortably against her hips as she struggled towards the light now streaming through the open door.
"Come in, you two. I'd almost given up on you making it tonight," exclaimed Heather. "How are you, darling?" The pitying look from her mother was almost more than Kate could bear but she blinked away the prick of tears and slung the bags into the corner of the hall.
"Just tired, Mum," she said. "The motorway was horrendous but fortunately Megan's been asleep for the last few hours."
"Come in and take a seat," ordered Heather. "I'll make us a nice cup of tea but first we need to tuck this little lady straight into bed." She ruffled Megan's hair and Megan managed a weary smile before it was swallowed by a huge yawn. Obediently, she took her grandma's hand and followed her up to the bedroom.
Relaxing into her old favourite sofa, Kate felt herself dozing off before Heather came back in with two cups of tea.
"Poor darling, you look very pale," observed Heather, passing the tea to Kate. "Have you heard anything from Luke?"
Kate shrugged, sipping at the tea and wincing as it burnt her tongue. "He's tried to get in touch. He phoned Saturday, in fact. That's why I invited myself up to stay with you."
"Did you manage to get anything resolved?"
"Nothing. I told him to go through my solicitor." Kate stole a glance at her mother who was concentrating on her hands, folded neatly in her lap. "I'm guessing from your silence you don't approve."
Heather leant over and tucked a stray strand of Kate's hair back behind her ears. "I'm not the one in the middle of all this and whatever you decide to do, you know I'll be there for you. It's just that, well, once you get lawyers involved, the whole situation takes on a different aspect. Like a point of no return, I suppose."
Kate leant back against the comfortable sofa, feeling its soft support mould around her. If only she could sink into the centre of it, she'd happily suffocate in its embrace to escape the world outside. There was no way she could make her mother understand the sense of outrage she felt against Luke. How could she? Her parents had been the most happily married couple she'd ever come across, faithful and in love until the day her dad had passed away.
"I'm really tired, Mum. Can we talk about it in the morning?"
It felt strange to be tucked back in her childhood bedroom. Since leaving home, every visit to her parents had been spent in the spare room which had the double bed but this time Megan had asked if she could sleep in that room because it had a TV set in it. It wasn't like Luke was there any more so Kate took the narrow single bed in her old room, still furnished with old teddies and posters of long-retired pop stars, and slept late into the morning.
By the time she came down, breakfast things were long cleared away and lunch was only an hour away so she contented herself with a cup of strong coffee and looked out over the lawn to the field at the back of the garden. Heather was already out with Megan, feeding the chickens and fighting off the goat who was fussing along beside them trying to steal food scraps from the bucket.
"Look how many eggs we found," exclaimed Megan when they returned. "Grandma let me get them and feed the chickens. And look at these!" She stuck her foot out towards Kate. "These used to be your wellies when you were a little girl and now they fit me."
Kate smiled in recognition. "Lovely, but they still shouldn't be worn inside. Go take them off and I'll put your eggs in the store room."
"Grandma said I can help get some honey from the bees tomorrow," came Megan's muffled voice from the back door as she struggled with the wellington boots.
"As long as you stay well out of the way," Heather reminded her. "I have to wear special clothes to get the honey from the bees. They don't like to give it up so you'll have to stand right back while I puff smoke at them to make them sleepy."
"When you lived here, you used to look after all the animals, didn't you?" enthused Megan. "Did you really want to be a beekeeper when you grew up?"
Kate nodded. "I did."
"Did you know all the bees are girls?" she continued.
"Your mum knows everything there is to know about bees," interjected Heather with a smile. "Shame you don't keep them but I suppose it's difficult where you live. Go wash your hands, Megan, and we'll get ready for lunch." She caught Kate's eye. "She's just like you were at that age," she said with a chuckle.
Kate frowned. It was as if her daughter was an uncorrupted version of her earlier self and she didn't want Megan to grow up to be like her, to feel this overwhelming sadness inside her. If only she would stay like she was at this moment, young and free and protected from the world. As Megan clattered off towards the bathroom, Heather turned to Kate.
"Luke's called this morning," she said quietly.
"And he'd like to see you and Megan. I didn't want to wake you so I said it would be okay for him to see Megan but that you might not want to be around. I hope that was the right thing to do."
Kate swallowed hard. "Mother, how could you?" she hissed. "I don't want him here. He's got no right to invite himself."
"You won't have to see him. He can visit Megan and then go."
"He's never going to see Megan, ever again. He lost that privilege when..." Kate caught sight of Megan standing in the doorway, her eyes brimming with tears.
"Is Daddy coming? I do miss him," she said, her voice quivering with the effort of not crying. Kate fled the room, leaving a trail of sobs.
Heather knelt down and folded Megan in her arms. "Tomorrow," she replied. "He can help us with the bees, if you like."
Kate spent the rest of the day sitting in the kitchen and staring out of the window. She couldn't concentrate on her book or the radio and both Heather and Megan stayed out of her way, leaving her with her thoughts. Not Luke, not here. She was still so furious she wouldn't be able to cope with seeing him.
The last time she'd seen him was over a month ago when she'd demanded he leave the house. He'd taken a suitcase of clothes and some of his books, leaving gaping holes in the wardrobe space, empty slots in the bookcase and a massive, aching wound in her heart she was sure could never heal. She'd trusted him, he'd betrayed her and she'd never forgive him, it was as simple as that. The only way she could stop her own pain was to deflect it towards him, to make him feel the smallest part of what she was going through. By the time she and her solicitor had finished with him, she wanted him to have lost her and Megan, the home they'd built up together and his self-respect. Only when he was utterly destroyed would she be able to move on with her own life.
Megan ventured in at bedtime to kiss Kate goodnight. "I love you, Mummy," she whispered, her arms tight around her mother's neck. Heather took her up to bed and then came back to Kate.
"We both love you," she reminded her gently, one hand on Kate's arm.
"I know, Mum. Sorry I shouted."
"I'm worried about you. It's not like you to be so bitter."
"Mum, if Daddy had ever had an affair, trust me, you'd be bitter, too."
"I thought you said it was a one-night thing? That's hardly an affair. And he could have kept it to himself and you'd never have known but he told you the honest truth. I know he's done you a terrible injustice but I'm sure he's trying to make amends."
"It's still a betrayal." Why couldn't anyone understand this? Just because Luke was sorry didn't mean it all went away.
"But you're making yourself ill over this. Have you tried going for counselling? I'm sure Luke would go with you and they might be able to help."
Kate looked steadily at her mother. "He suggested it and I turned it down. Marriage counselling is for people who want to stay married. I don't care if I never see Luke again." With an effort, she stood up. She felt drained, exhausted beyond measure. "I'll see you in the morning."
Despite her fears that she wouldn't be able to sleep for worry, Kate crashed out and woke late in the morning again. She peered out of her window and her heart sank as she saw Luke's car already pulled up in the driveway. There was no way she was leaving her bedroom until he was gone so she got dressed and lay back on the bed, staring at the ceiling.
A sharp scream from outside pulled her out of her reverie.
"Megan?" In a flash she was downstairs and confronted by a howling Megan in Luke's arms, Heather just behind them. "What's happened?"
"It was all my fault," gasped Heather, still in her beekeeper's protective gear. "The wind blew the smoke around the wrong way and the bees were driven straight towards Megan and Luke. She's got quite a few stings."
For the first time in weeks, Kate felt in control of the situation. "Mum, get me some tweezers and a solution of bicarb. Luke, hold her steady. Megan, show me where you've been stung." She deftly picked out one of the tiny stings and dabbed the bicarbonate of soda onto Megan's reddened skin. Carefully, she picked out each one with the tweezers and Megan's cries softened to sobs and then quiet.
"You've been stung, too," she said curtly, tweezing a sting out of Luke's cheek.
"Don't worry about me," he replied. "Is Megan okay?"
"These stings are still pumping poison into you," said Kate. "Hold still while I get them out or you'll have a swollen face. You have to be careful not to make it worse getting them out like this, so don't move." Luke sat patiently while she pulled out the remaining stings and applied the solution. "This neutralises the sting," she explained.
"I don't like bees any more," sniffed Megan.
"It's not the bees' fault," said Kate. "If the hive is attacked, the bees do their best to protect it."
"It's worse for the bee than it is for you," added Heather.
"That's right," said Kate. "You just got stung but the bee is dead now. She pumps her venom into her attacker and then she dies."
Megan's eyes widened in horror. "Now I feel a bit sorry for the bees," she admitted.
"Exactly. Mum, have you got any paracetamol for Megan?" asked Kate.
Heather nodded. "You sit there, Kate," she said quickly, "I'll get it. Come along, Meg." They scurried out of the kitchen like conspirators.
Luke glanced up at Kate in the silence that followed. "Your mum's subtle," he remarked.
"Like a bulldozer," said Kate wryly.
"So tell me. Why does the bee die?" he asked.
Kate sighed and sat down. "The barb hooks into your skin and as the bee pulls away, her muscles are torn from her body, allowing the pumping action to continue even if the bee has been brushed off. Big sacrifice for the bee but more of a discouragement for the predator so the hive as a whole benefits."
Automatically, Luke reached out for her hand but then pulled back. "Thanks for getting my stings out." There was a tangible silence in the kitchen. "I didn't deserve to be rescued."
"No, you didn't."
"Kate, I'm so sorry."
"That you were stung?"
"For being so stupid."
They stared at each other across the kitchen table. In her head, Kate could hear her own words reverberating. It all seemed so familiar. If the hive is attacked, the bees do their best to protect it. The bee pumps venom into her attacker and then she dies.
"I never wanted to hurt you or Megan," continued Luke. "I just want everything to be like it used to be."
The bee pumps venom and then she dies.
"I'll do anything to make this up to you, Kate."
The bee pumps venom and then she dies.
"I love you so much," he said sadly.
Kate sighed heavily. "I know," she agreed. Her whole world had come apart in the last month. Now it was time to make a decision. Repair the damage or pump venom and die?
"Luke, I don't know if I can ever forgive you. But I will go to marriage counselling with you and see if we can get over this."
He looked up her, his eyes shining with the first glimmer of hope. Tentatively, he held out his hand toward her and with equal gingerness, Kate took it.
©2004 Tess Crosbie
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