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Fiction Sad

Two kinds of people make apiaries. Bee farms, honeyholes, whatever people called them they stayed the same, and their founding. Either the founder loved bees, or he loved money. 

My father was the first kind.

As a young child in the country, he was obsessed with the creatures. On chubby hands and knees he would crawl across the grass and sit in silence, peering at a flowered bush covered in the singing bees. Clint Denvers watched them dance and sing for as long as his parents would allow, as sooner than later they would swoop him up and go on to more important things. Older, he would fill his sketchbook with drawings of honeybees, and got quite good at it. He wanted to be an illustrator for a scientific magazine. Detailed sketches sprang from his hands; he labeled each part, and knew them by heart and every species to date. He planned out his life between the drawings of hands and the needs of his family.

Even my mom he had called his honeybee till he forgot who she was.

My father picked my young self up, throwing me over his shoulders and stumbling forward with a kind of grace only found with long legs and a lifetime of practice. I, at the ripe age of five, squealed and wrapped my sticky hands around his head. He anchored his hands on my legs, steadying me.

“Louisa,” he told me, “every bee has a working song. If you listen closely enough, you can find it.” He gently set me down on the spongy new grass and sat down next to me, drinking in the sunlight and the song.

I shut my eyes and listened. Sure enough, between the slight breeze waving through the flowers, the rustle of grass, and cool rainy air settling, a hum filled the air. It seemed random at first, but the more I listened I could hear the definitive highs and lows, settling on a rhythm filling the air like the rich pollen. “I can hear it,” I said, breathless.

He smiled, and we sat there in silence, listening to the worker bee’s song.

He’d bought the apiary as a piece of land, with nothing growing on it but sparse trees without the good sense to grow somewhere else. The air was dry, the ground hard, and the grass brittle and dying. My father, with his gentle hands, nursed it back to health and further. He’d built rows of beehives, artwork in shape, each painted by him or my mother in a beautifully aesthetic way. 

Some were glass. I remembered the day he had so excitedly taken me from playing on the trailer floor, dragging me outside to show me the see-through case that illustrated the bees working over their hives. One stood on the comb, fluffing its wings in vivid detail. My father hummed with excitement, beaming and kindly watching them as if they were the most fascinating thing to be seen on this side of paradise.

He got more boxes, and built a cabin for us to live in. I remember my mother, glowing, and setting a handful of flowers into a vase on the table at the home that was finally hers. We were so proud then. My small family stood in our log cabin, breathing in the rich air full of the sweet, flower-honey scent.

Bushes and pollinator plants soon lined the path to the small apiary. Winding paths grew through the forest, flora planted everywhere and neatly labeled. Lavender, milkweed, and sunflowers filled the grounds. The stand grew to a shop, and soon, our hives and notoriety grew.

My father stuck a sign in front of the road, advertising fresh honey for sale. Soon he built a stand, and added fresh bouquets of flowers to the mix. Then the stand grew to accommodate the advance of more products, such as lip balm and wax candles.

The worker bee song soon infiltrated my dreams, it was so loud. Even now, I could shut my eyes, and hear it humming through my ears.

Soon tourists stopped by, and the sign got a new coat of paint. My father got a new set of beehives, but soon, he also got a forgetting disease.

Early-onset dementia. It started with little things. First, he couldn’t remember the date. Then whether he’d watered that morning, or if my mom had kissed him goodbye. He checked on the bees three times in one hour. He started to forget the names of customers, and the reasons why he was standing outside at that particular moment.

The issues started to build. He'd set a pot of water on the stove to boil, then forget about it, leaving a soupy mess on the stove. He left the lid off of the hive, or tended to the bees multiple times in an hour, or eventually, forgot to do it at all.

Thankfully, my mother had taken care of him until she passed away with cancer. Every morning she’d set him out on the porch with a glass of iced tea. The glass clinked in his hands, but he’d sit and rock, watching the hives and humming along with them. 

After she passed, I tried to emulate her. I got him ready and took care of him. My husband helped as much as he could, but he had a job in the city. My days became a blur of the weight of finances, cooking, and tending. I took care of the farm. My siblings had left, fleeing to law or good living, and I was alone in the apiary with my father --and when he was home, my husband-- listening to the musical hum of the bees every day and selling honey in the front shop.

Every day, seated on the front porch, my father would ask me the same question. 

“Louisa?” He looked up at me with small, wondering eyes. “When’s Honeybee getting home?”

“In a while, dad,” I’d say, and then quickly turn before he could see the truth.

Even so, he was joyful, even if small and quiet, and he never lost his love of bees. He lost names and places, memories and words, but he remembered the fuzzy creatures and his love for them.

Today was a special day. It was his birthday.

I sat him down on the porch, and went into the house to fetch an iced tea. 

Swallowed up in his chair, he looked small, and folded his hands together in his lap.  His eyes lingered on the apiaries and he watched them blankly. Something flickered across his face.

From there he could vaguely see the rows of beehives, and a sign out front that said plain as the fading day DENVER’S APIARY in yellow bubble letters. It had been repainted three times, but the message stayed the same. Behind us was a gift shop stocked to the brim with honey, potholders, and canned goods: homemade and country.

In the kitchen, my hand was steady, and I poured a tall drink into the glass, then plunked a lemon into the top. I wiped my hand on a dishtowel. Stepping back outside, I held one glass in a hand and the other the crook of my arm, nudging the door open with my hip. The sunlight was a kiss over my tired features, and welcome in the crisp morning.

I set the glass down next to my father. 

He gazed in front of himself vacantly.

A low sound came from his chest. Then another one. I knelt, looking to him, but he was gazing off towards the bees. A low sound in his throat echoed again, high and low. My heart stilled, joy and sadness mingling through it, and I knew.

My father was singing a worker bee’s song.

December 03, 2022 04:18

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3 comments

AnneMarie Miles
14:21 Dec 09, 2022

Hi Violet! Your story was in my critique circle so I gave it a read this morning! What a sweet premise you have, about your MC's beekeeping business and his memory loss. I don't know anyone with dementia personally, but from what I know about it, they do go in and out of remembering, so I like how you ended with the father humming the worker bee song. That was a sweet and satisfying way to tug on the heart strings of us all! A bit of critique, I found this sentence a bit confusing from your first paragraph: "Bee farms, honeyholes, whatever...

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Violet Waters
00:39 Dec 10, 2022

Hello! Thank you so much for the read and commenting so sincerely. To provide some context, this story was mostly inspired by my grandfather. He has dementia, and surprisingly one of the very few things he remembers is music. Somehow he can still sing/hum along to the lyrics of old songs, while not remembering much else now like names or people. So I definitely wove that into this story. Thank you for the critique, I will be more intentional and clear in my introduction in the future! I greatly appreciate the read and the comment, and am ...

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AnneMarie Miles
03:27 Dec 10, 2022

Hi Violet! I'm sorry to hear about your grandfathers dementia. I am not surprised that music is what he remembers. Music is a powerful stimulant for the brain, and it lights up everything. I've heard of patients with traumatic brain injuries who have lost the ability to speak, but can still sing. It's fascinating. I wonder if that's a way for you and your family to connect with him from now on... Thank you for sharing the context as it has brought much more meaning to the story.

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