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*Trigger warning: mentions of physical and emotional abuse

Bees Breathe

Without Lungs



       I’m woken by the warmth of a ray of light.
       It splashes across my pillow and presses against my right eyelid. While I try and fail to swim myself back into sleep, it does the sunbeam equivalent of bouncing on my bed, hollering for attention.

       Since reaching home three weeks ago, I haven’t ventured outside.

       I shouldn’t think the neighbors have noticed I’m here.
       On the shelves above my bed sit the books I spent half my life inside before you and I met. When I packed up, you convinced me to leave them behind.
       “You’ll have no time for reading!” you told me, beaming as though that was a good thing.
       I swallowed my unease, took only the essentials, and followed you out of my home. When I locked the door, my hand gripped the key tight, unwilling to let go.

       I should have trusted my instincts.
       It’s been a relief, returning to my books. They hum to me of mythology, folk tales and field guides to solitary and social insects. Retreating into their pages has given me time to heal.

       Ancient Egyptians believed bees sprang from the tears of the sun god Ra.

       I shuffle my bare feet into loosely knotted sneakers, totter downstairs and drag back the bolt of the damp-swollen backdoor.

       Heaving the door ajar takes effort, as if I need to prove I’m ready.

       I’m not certain that I am. But the air is cool and sweet with the fragrance of green leaves, of earth and lavender. I tread through long fringed grasses that tickle my shins.

       Threats to bees include the climate crisis, habitat loss and pesticides.

       The last time I was touched, I ended up with a split eyebrow and defensive bruises on my forearms.

       The woman you saw me with is a friend, a faculty colleague, no threat to you, but you saw something in the way we laughed together, how we listened to one another, the scrap of paper she passed me.

       A list of books she thinks will interest me. No more than that, just more, I suppose, than you have ever given me.
In Hindu mythology, bees emerge from a goddess’ body to murder a demon, yet bees and honey also deliver love.

       Your boot-print has almost faded from my side.
       A white-tailed bumblebee rests on the fence top, rubbing her tiny feet across her face; up her antennae; down her body; over her rump. She cleans herself with impatient caresses, as though eager to return to the work that absorbs me.

        I’m intrigued and shamed by her fastidiousness. My teeth feel oddly textured beneath my tongue. I can’t be sure when I last brushed them. My hair hangs heavy around my face—it could do with a wash and comb, perhaps scissors.

        Bees breathe without lungs.

       I close my eyes, drawing in air sweet with the roses’ sherbet- sweet fragrance.

       My fractured ribs ache, but less so than yesterday.

       While I’ve sought refuge in the leaves of books, the year has crept onwards. Dragonheads of honeysuckle have slithered over my fence from next door. I consider unwinding the tendrils, but my roses shrug; they don’t object. Bees who plunder honeysuckle anthers harvest from rose cups too.

       Male honeybee penises break off during sex, ensuring other drones can’t mate with their queen, but killing themselves in the process.

       When I blink my eyes open, the whitetail has gone.

       Disappointment wells inside me. I’d hoped to see her take flight.

       The sun is bright enough to spin rainbows between my half- closed lashes.

       And wait, here she is, the whitetail, alighting on honeysuckle: searching, nuzzling. Her efforts seem patient; exploratory. I settle down in the clover-laced grass of my overgrown lawn and decide I’ll watch for as long as it takes.

Judy Darley can't stop writing about the infinite possibilities of the human psyche. Her fiction and non-fiction has been published in the UK, US, New Zealand, Canada and India. Judy is the author of short fiction collections Sky Light Rain (Valley Press) and Remember Me to the Bees (Tangent Books). Her third collection, The Stairs are a Snowcapped Mountain, is out from Reflex Press now. You can find Judy at and Twitter@JudyDarley.

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