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A Bee Story

Story by Nicole VanderLinden (Read author interview) November 23, 2020

Art by Jez Timms

This queen bee is old news. Slowing down and running out, her egg output too low—service to the hive complete. She’s eaten all the royal jelly; she’s taken her lone mating flight. Once upon a time, she hunted down her sisters, and she killed them one by one.

Time to fly, your majesty, I say, waving my smoker to the box as the hive settles into a hum. I single her out on the comb, her smooth and slender abdomen. I was wrong to tell her she’ll fly. That’s not what the old queens do, escape to some flowered future. Instead, I pinch her wings in my fingers and I take that smooth and slender abdomen and I press it, hard, into the frame. Her legs, they barely twitch. And I’ll leave her there, smeared like that, for the workers and drones to see, to have their pheromonal goodbye.

Enter the new queen, the queen ascendant, today her supersedure. If all goes well, the workers will hail her as they would the old, reborn and reinvented. If it doesn’t, they’ll form a ball around her and make her hot enough to die.

The story of bees is not a human story, a beekeeper told me once.

No shit, I said, but even so, I was sad to learn that worker bees, those good girlfriends, will sometimes starve their queen, to help her get fit to fly. The beekeeper wasn’t wearing his hat or his veil as he talked, and a worker clung lazily to the end of his beard while another caressed his cheek. Half the sky was sunny and half was threatening rain. A bee can’t have ambition, my beekeeper then said.

But have you ever asked one? I thought.

The beekeeper and I ended up married for a while. Once, he pressed a honeycomb to my lips and whispered chew, and I laughed so hard I thought he might hit me, which was the opposite of his vibe, the whole bearded beekeeper thing. Later, toward the end of us being married, he took all my underwear and lit it on fire in the yard. Those beekeepers, I said, laughing and dumping a beer out onto one of our hives, they have imagination.

It isn’t easy, being social—more than bees know that. Harder still to have ambition that’s not weighted by who you’ve been, that doesn’t keep you close to ground. But even so, I kept those bees, and then I was someone new.

After the beekeeper there was a physical therapist. I, reinvented, told him I was a poet and he said my body was the only poem that mattered. After that, the dispatcher who colored my hair when it started turning gray, who later threw a bottle at my arm. All of us stinging, all of us leaving, smashing ourselves against the frame and then joining again anew.

But look at me, spinning a human story.

Our new queen comes, unceremoniously, in a plastic box. Her escape is plugged with candy, and when she eats through it she’ll be free. And then she’ll have a choice; it’s theoretical, but still. She can join the hive and keep to the cycle, or she can choose to fly. Fly off toward her own irrelevance, off toward that brand of luck.

About the Author

Nicole VanderLinden’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Shenandoah, Pithead Chapel, Jellyfish Review, and elsewhere. She’s an associate editor at Colorado Review as well as a reader for Ploughshares and The Masters Review. Her book reviews have appeared in Colorado Review, The Masters Review, and The Denver Post.

About the Artist

Jez Timms is a graphic and web designer/developer from Turnbridge Wells, UK.

This story appeared in Issue Sixty-Nine of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty-Nine
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