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Contemporary

            Being Martha

           Martha Evans knew she shouldn’t have made the second pecan pie. Louella Davis being dead only required one pie for the visitation. The only reason for the second one was her own sweet tooth. Dr. Watson was going to have a blue blazes fit when she saw Martha’s blood sugar numbers next week. Eighty seven years might be enough time on this earth and if pecan pie was going to kill her, so be it.

           This morning the Louisiana sun was powerful. Martha had work to do in her garden and powerful sun or not, she was going to do it. She tied on her pink ruffled gardening apron and made sure all her tools were in their places in each pocket. The screen door to the back yard groaned with the July humidity. It took Martha a good while to get down the three steps from the back porch to the yard this morning. Neither one of her hips was in any kind of mood for steps, her knees didn’t really want to bend, but she made it. Her roses were thirsty and needed deadheading,

            Mr. Lincoln greeted her first. He was the closest to the house. The deep red flowers, sweet fragrance and long stems had made this rose her favorite since she had planted it twenty years ago. “Here you go, sir,” she said as she gently placed the hose next to the stem and turned on the water. “Just a little stream. Don’t want you getting no black spot fungus to make your leaves fall off. Next she moved the hose the John F. Kennedy bush. It was a lovely white rose. The fragrance wasn’t strong, but because he had been her favorite president, she didn’t mind. Little Judy Garland’s leaves had curled up a bit from dryness so she got an extra long drink. The two no name pink roses her granddaughter Shaquira gave her were next. Just because they were nobodies, didn’t mean they didn’t deserve a drink. Princess Diana’s pretty pink blooms were late this year, but she got her drink event though it might be days until those little pink blooms opened. Last but hardly least was Christopher Marlowe. He was an old style English rose with so many round deep pink petals it looked more like a dahlia than a rose. She inhaled deeply as the water soaked in around the bush. The sent was heavenly.

           Finally, with all her roses properly watered, Martha walked over to her bee hives.  She walked right up to the hive box and traced HELLO on the top of the hive. “Hello,” she repeated. Her daughter Rosie said it was crazy to try to communicate with and insects. But Martha knew how smart her bees were.

            It was nearly noon. She should have gotten out earlier, but her story had been on. Martha knew the bees were dependent on the temperature and it was warm enough this morning for them to be up and out collecting pollen at first light. She stood watching them come and go from the little round holes in the bottom of the three foot tall wooden box that sat on a metal stand. She traced the letters once more HELLO. Then Martha raised her hand and extended her index finger. A bee that had just emerged landed on her finger nail. Slowly Martha moved her finger nearer her eyes for a good look.

           “Hello there, dear. You came out to say hello, didn’t you. There are a lot of flowers opening this morning and I know your babies need that yellow dust to survive.”  F LY Martha traced on the box. “The bee scraped its abdomen with its back legs and took off to the west. This bee hive had been the last thing her Henry made for her before he died almost twenty years ago. He had sent off for a queen all the way from Ireland to get the hive started. His friend Otis had a hive whose queen had died and all the bees had been orphans. Otis was happy to relocate them to Henry and Martha’s yard when the queen arrived. Without a queen, the hive was in chaos and half of the bees would die or fly off who knows where. All these years later, the hive was buzzing with life and in the fall, Martha would harvest ten jars of rich delicious honey.

           After she had filled the four shallow dishes of pebbles with water for the bees, she sat down on the white wicker chair next to the hive. People didn’t realize how much water a healthy hive would need in a day. Fanning herself with the fan made out of folded wallpaper that she usually took to church, Martha looked over her yard. She was glad the weeds were not growing as fast in this July heat. Next door she could hear the sound of Mrs. Johnson’s house being demolished. Her white wooden fence was too tall to see much except the tops of some digger or another, but the sound of twisting wood and falling brick was unmistakable. Ethel Johnson had been dead for three years and some fools had taken to squatting there since. The new Mayor had a zero tolerance for abandoned houses. She was glad of the demolition since Ethel didn’t need the house anymore and the squatters were loud late into the night. By the smell of it, their garbage had stayed behind when the squatters left.

           As Martha sat fanning, she heard banging on her side gate. She had no one coming to visit. Few of the original neighborhood houses remained anymore. Since the housing project went up across the street, the neighborhood had changed. She no longer felt safe leaving anything unlocked. The lock on the gate was new, but after a couple of minutes of banging, the gate gave way and two young men stood in her yard looking at her.

           “Hello grandma,” said a skinny man dressed all in black and wearing a knit cap over his long braids.

           “Do I look like your grandmother? What kind of idiot wears a stocking cap in July?” Martha stayed seated and continued her fanning.

           The other man, who wore dark jeans and a dirty-white tank top burst out laughing and cackled loud enough to drown out the sound of the demolition next door. “Burn !She got you Jamal.” This one had red hair and wore an old bent cowboy hat with a hole in the top.

           “Get on out of my yard,” said Martha. ”Which one of you is going to pay to fix my fence?”

           “We ain’t got no money, grandma. I bet you’ve got a fat old purse with some kind of money in it.” The one in the sock hat took a step toward the old lady.

           “I told you I am not your grandmother. Now get on outta here, you hear me.” Martha struggled to stand up.

           “What chu gonna do about it. We’re going in that house, take your Television and anything we want.” The red head was now standing with his bare freckled arms crossed as he laughed.

           “I am telling you, unless you want to be in a serious world of hurt, you’d better go back through that gate the way you came.” Martha had raised herself up to her full five foot three inches and had her fists balled up at her sides.

           The red head reached into the waistband at the back of his pants, pulled out a large black gun and pointed it in her direction. Martha laughed. “I warned you.” She reached over and traced four letters, this time on the side of the hive. H E L P. There was a loud buzzing and cloud of bees burst out of the hive and headed toward the two men. The man holding the gun dropped it as bees covered his hands and face.  He screamed as the bees began to sting. Some of the bees now flew toward the man in black man, filling his open mouth as he screamed. The two ran back through the gate and when they had gotten far enough away, the cloud of bees returned.

           “Thank you friends,” said Martha to the bees .They no longer flew in an organized formation. Some reentered the hive through the holes in the bottom. Others flew off about their business gathering pollen.

           “I’m sorry some of you had to give up your lives, but I do appreciate your help.” T H A N K S, she traced. It took Martha several minutes to lean the boards of the gate back up so the gate appeared to be intact. She would ask Robert, Shiquira’s husband to come and fix it permanent. He loved pecan pie.

August 28, 2022 23:26

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2 comments

Andrea Bemis
17:31 Oct 03, 2022

This is the second story I have read from you and I can not get enough. If I can do anything to further encourage your writing I will. Well, maybe not send you a pecan pie, but you are great at what you do and I want so much to read more.

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Michał Przywara
21:16 Sep 07, 2022

That's a neat twist! I assumed the communicating with bees was more of a ritual thing, but it turned out there was much more to it. The opening to this was nice, since we had death and pie, and it was interesting enough to draw me in further. Much of the story is introspective, so when the burglars arrive, and considering the previous talk of death and change in the neighbourhood, the tension rose significantly. Particularly when she decided to stand her ground, even though physically standing was an exertion. I expected things to end poorl...

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