Hum if You Don’t Know the Words
She could hear their buzzing before she could see them. Flying parcels of white noise, their doppler effects meandering through the resplendent greenery about her. Blooms polka-dotted the landscape, confetti tossed by a celestial body. The scents of a thousand different flowers whispered through the air.
The gorgeousness of late spring lifted her spirits. She closed her eyes and lifted her chin to let the eddying breeze into the space between her ears and her hair.
It was a welcome respite. That house had become so full of microaggressions, so heavily weighted with unnecessary political intrigues. Her skin still smarted with the reception of so many deliberately hurled hurts.
The city, its buildings and its people lay only on the other side of the fence. They felt hundreds of miles from this sun-draped space.
The small white and brown buildings were a few metres away with their tiered, jagged sides. A beckoning village amongst the meadow flowers.
She paused and removed a white boiler suit and hood from her bag. She hummed to herself as she pulled it on, checking her wrists and neck fasteners for any gaps. The veil over the face smelled musty, but she was glad of it.
Inside the suit, the disagreement felt further away. It shielded her from more than just what she was about to do. She felt separate and protected, in more ways than just the physical. At least these stingers could be avoided.
She walked towards the hives, and with each step felt herself fall into her usual, comfortable joy at being with her apiary. She laughed to and at herself as she greeted each bee in her approach.
"Good morning! Good morning. And good morning to you. And good morning!"
The density of bees in the air increased as she got closer. Their flight paths seemed random, corkscrewing around perfume, the breeze and each other on their way home with news and treasure. Their fuzzy bodies were bright in cheerful yellow and black, occasional flashes of white. The air vibrated above them, their wings beating so fast she couldn't see them.
With a few more greetings to her bees, she fumbled with the lid latch. She fancied she heard them answer, and relaxed into their cumulative buzzing chorus. The sound always seemed to her like voices from another place, obscured behind a screening veil.
But then the united hum coalesced into something more, and she heard some accented words float to the surface of the murmuration. "
Good morning, Bea."
She paused for a micro-moment and then decided that on this day of so many flung judgements and disorder, of arguments and ancient history, maybe hearing words in her bees was far more preferable to the reverberating words in her head.
"So, you answered today?" she said.
"Today we thought we would, yes," they answered.
The words dissolved into the background hum, and Bea lost herself in her tasks. The hypnotic movement of the bees, orbiting her and the hives, lulled her into a flow of concentration. The rituals in checking for pests and for honey, finding the queen, and the whispering to herself as she counted her way through their bounty. She marvelled at nature's treasures within the hive, pollen, honey, wax, and royal jelly.
It wasn't long, though, before her sighs combined with the pumps of the smoker, and the arguments were retrodden and rehung in her mind. By turns, she felt indignation, anger and outrage, or self-loathing, even wondering if she should beg for forgiveness, and wishing for it all to be forgotten.
Her clenched jaw and frown were hidden behind her hood, she felt safe with her bees. The collaboration of the apiary was a solace. No one would judge her for words said or unsaid. But the tang of dispute pervaded her.
"Why do you always have to be like this, Beatrix? We don’t have time for one of your moods." Bea felt sad anger rise as she remembered the back-and-forth.
She was reciting various retorts in her mind, even mouthing the ones she really wished she'd said, when she was interrupted.
"Tell us a story," the bees asked.
"What kind of story?" she answered, grateful to embrace the madness of imagination amidst her fragile state. Her mind felt so preoccupied, her body may as well be made of flower petals, easy to flutter and bruise, transient and loose.
"One about bees and beginnings," they hummed.
"Alright." She took a deep breath and began her story. Her voice aligned with the rhythm of their industrious white noise.
"In the beginning, the very beginning, before the Earth was inhabited and before even the greatest trees were seeds, the stars looked down and felt sorrow at its emptiness. The planet was smooth, not even worthy of a desert; it lay dormant.
"The stars wished to fill it. So, they sent a god. His purpose was to sculpt it, to cover it and decorate it. He created jungles and woodlands, meadows and scrublands, tundra and coral reefs, deserts with all their bespoke, hardy plantlife and temperate landscapes with all their lushness. He moulded the world how he pleased, as per his own design. It was glorious.
“But he realised that there was only so far he could take it.”
“This doesn’t sound like it’s about bees,” the bees interjected.
“You asked about beginnings,” Bea replied.
“We just wished to remind you,” the bees said. Bea smiled and continued.
"So the stars sent a goddess with her own purpose. She shot to Earth, a refulgent, gleaming shooting star. When she awoke on landing she was astonished by the intricacy and variety of plantlife and climates around her. She spent days exploring the Earth, marvelling at its splendour, and contemplating her own existence and purpose.
"When she met the god she told him how beautiful she found his creations. He beamed, proud that such a creature should admire it. She watched him work and felt the creeping sourness of impotence and inability. She couldn't find her place. Everything seemed so perfect already. The trees were nurtured from shoots to skyscrapers, and every flower was brought from bud to wide with his effort and attention.”
“We like the flowers,” said the bees. Bea laughed but felt the goddess’ sourness as if it were her own.
"She asked him how she could possibly fit in,” Bea continued, “He told her all it would take is attentiveness and patience. He had to attend to all the land and flora, but he was glad to. That way he’d been able to practise his craft many thousands of times, for every tree that needed fostering, and every flower's pollinating needed to be tended to individually, every time.
"As she watched him, the seasons flying past like thrown silk, she saw the depth of his lack of assistance. He shepherded each growth, each development, each adaptation himself. And she saw, that though he had applied himself with such strength and conscientiousness, that he was tiring. His brow furrowed deeper with effort, his eyes grew weary, the rest he had was insufficient, and his hands trembled with the speed at which he had to work. Replenishment, fruition and growth were hard taskmasters just for one.
"And as she watched with pity, wishing she could make his life easier, she felt something in her own body.
"It began within the feeling of helplessness, like a tiny seed amongst cold loam. Her desire to help budded into a feeling of potential, of capability, of ability. Her uncertainty cleared, and she felt as if she stood at the edge of a precipice.
"Her fingers went numb and she shook out her hands, balling her fists and stretching her fingers.
"And between one wide deep stretch of her hands and the next, in a moment dense with anticipation and potential, she felt the certainty of imminent change. The palm of her hand within her fist felt heavy, like a promise made solid.
"She opened her fist, and a single bee lay on her palm, buzzing and dancing, crawling and vibrating.”
“That’s us!” the bees exclaimed, “The first one!”
“Exactly!” Bea answered, “It danced, much like some of you are doing now, and flew out of her hand and into the air. She watched it fly to her colleague, her friend, and it looped around his head and hands once and then flew into the carpet of flowers before him.
“The goddess was so astonished and distracted she didn't notice her other palm tingling until the building pressure became too much. She looked at her opening hand, and a streaming cloud of bees flew out.
“Thousands of bees erupted from both her hands and disappeared into the flowered field around them.”
“It’s us! It’s us!” the bees hummed.
“The god looked at the goddess with admiration and amazement,” Bea said. “What are they, he asked her. And she smiled and laughed as she watched them bob between the flowers. I don't know, she answered, but I think they will help you with the flowers.”
Bea smiled at the bees around her and was quiet for a few moments as she continued her tending.
“It’s about teamwork, really,” said a bee. Bea watched the worker bee amongst all the others, navigating around each other in a meandering route through their home.
“Yes, I suppose so. And consideration too,” Bea answered.
“Thank you for telling us,” said another.
And their voices mingled back into the sounds of their wings. Bea watched their flight paths around her. They weren’t individuals, but integrated together into a whole, into their hive family. Their common goal and common aim didn’t allow for petty disagreements. She felt the weight of the vitriolic, hostile words thrown at her anew, their landings flayed raw, and she cried behind her hood. Her hot breath made the space within the hood clammy.
After her tears were spent, she felt a little better.
She finished her task and looked back towards the way she had come. Her thoughts had settled from their seething maelstrom into something vaguely resembling a sea after a storm, small churning eddies amongst a broader horizon of emerging clarity.
She focused on the more positive feelings, and as she walked away from her humming bees, she felt some more productive words of her own coalesce.
JM Cyrus is a speculative fiction writer living in London, England. She writes whenever there is a chance, and reads even when there isn’t one. She holds a master’s degree in Reception Theory, and wrote her thesis on the reader’s journey. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in anthologies from Improbable Press and Patchwork Raven, the magazines Flint and All Worlds Wayfarer, and online on AntipodeanSF, Medusa's Kitchen, Sci-Fi Shorts, and Orion's Beau. Say hello at jmcyrus.writer [at] gmail.com