A beehive developed in the pile of limbs I acculmulated last fall. It was my fault. I left them there in the patio, way too long, figuring I’d get to them this summer. By the time I started to clean up what I started, I could see them buzzing around: a helicopter squadron of bees hovering close to the house, darting in and out of the various foxholes to service their almighty queen, who was hidden away beneath it all.
Now I had to clean it up without getting stung to death. Which meant I had to kill a LOT of bees. Writing was the last thing on my mind. And yet being a crime writer, the irony of serial killing a hive of innocent bees didn’t escape me.
Getting rid of them bothered my wife more than it did me. She’s an animal, bird and insect lover. And bees are definitely a good thing for our planet. Bees pollinate plants, many of which would die without these stinging insects. They’re good for the environment. They make healthy and tasty foods, and provide us wax so we can cisit Madame Tussauds museum and see Elvis and Marylyn immortalized. Without bees we’d not have baclava, mead and Honey Cheerios. And one catches more flies with honey and not vinegar. So the prospect of eliminating the hive slightly concerned me.
But it had to be done. Like Muhammad Ali once said, I’d have to “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. You can’t hit what your eyes don’t see.”
So my wife and I set about ridding the hive from our patio. It took a lot of time and patience (the details I’ll skip for the sake of brevity). Bees swirled all around us. We got stung often, although my honey seemed to bear the brunt of their painful stingers. I swept up the remaining pile of dirt, debris, bee corpses and honeycomb, satisfied that I’d cleaned it all up. God Save The Queen, The Sex Pistols sang. More like God have mercy on her bee soul.
After I swept up the patio, I sat down tiredly on of the plastic chair and happily studied my handiwork, a cold beer in hand. But then I noticed that there were bees still buzzing around. They landed on the patio and seemed to be studying their lost kingdom for posterity. I sat fascinated while watching them. It was both sad and mesmerizing to observe them checking out the aftermath of destruction, and I began to wonder what these bees were thinking. Was I a mass murderer of bees? Bees who’ve only helped sustain mankind throughout history? It depressed me as I sat there, and I felt like a character out of a John Cheever novel.
it’s a scene that stayed with me and I vowed to use in one of my novels. So I wrote it down. I wrote down the discussions I had with my wife. What I was thinking. The unique pain of a bee sting on my stomach and ankle. A man alone on his patio, thinking about life and death, his family scattered in one place or another, thinking about his life in relation to these poor bees doing reconnaissance of their bygone civilization, forever separated from their revered queen. Now these surviving bees had nothing. No leader. No home or hive. No where to go except to study the remains of their once vibrant, honeycombed community.
And all because of me. Or maybe because of my laziness in not cleaning that wood pile in the first place. It made me reflect on nature, life and, especially, death.
i thought of Muhammad Ali’s quote again. How fitting the bee sting is for fiction. A writer leaves his stinger in every story before dying a slow death. Good writing requires subtly and an even hand, and yet at the same time the writer needs to strike bodly when the scene calls for it. Thus when penning a novel, the writer must know when to “float like a butterfly” and then “sting like a bee” to jar the reader.
The bee colony must live on.
it will in my fiction. Maybe in my next novel so if you see a bee flying out of one of my books you’ll know the full story.