It was high summer the day the bees came. The black and white sunflower seeds we had planted a few months before, now towered above the lattice fence, green stalks topped with wide faces, turned upwards to sip the sunshine. Cracked earth crumbled between the flagstones and arid patches of scrub mottled the lawn where the tented roof of the climbing frame stood in the scorching heat.
Inside the faded blue canvas that stretched across its structure like a taut sail, my brother sat happily, knees patterned by its weave, inhaling the sticky sweet smell of warm metal exposed to too much sun and the hot sweaty hands of three small children.
The house beyond was warm and still, and in the distance a motorbike revved, angrily disturbing the languid pace of day. In the quiet shadowy rooms sudden shafts of light threw lace patterns onto antique rugs, dividing the landing with bright beams, making dust particles dance in their spotlight.
Curious, my sister and I stood with noses smudged against the window in the refuge of our candy floss bedroom, watching the pacing figures of our parents in the garden. The distant motorbike sputtered intrusively. I turned my sister’s face away.
Now, the haphazard architecture of a child’s recollections – memories of moments, of hurt and happiness, tessellate like honeycomb in my mind… An invisible puppeteer had contorted the soft shapes of my parents into angular juxtapositions. Dad was poised and rigid, his face twisted with contempt. My mother, hands in the air, her face, her hips – moved quickly at first, then in an agony of slowness as though waves of pain were ricocheting through her body. Their voices buzzed ever more angrily. I took a breath.
It started as a distant doubt. A murmur under breath. Low voices colliding in crossfire behind closed doors. Slowly it grew in volume to become the defiant droning that deafened with its desperation.
The spare room beneath my bedroom filled with busy white noise. Its sparse furniture creaked under the weight of it, its door cracked at the force of it, and the spaces that were once reserved for sewing repairs and neglected clutter were taken up by unanswered questions, barbed, spiteful words that stung as the syrupy sap of resentment seeped through the walls like venom.
The pink shell of my room felt suddenly darkened. I watched, pale and nervous, my tongue a desiccated fish, useless and silent in my mouth. Outside, an inky swarm of bees eclipsed and circled my thrashing parents. The chaotic black cloud hid their bodies from view before soaring in unison to the top of the apple trees that had long since blossomed, and were now suppurating the sickly stench of wasp riddled fruit.
Rising in a buzzing plume, the displaced hive changed direction – my parents looked up at me with red faces, mouths hanging open. Behind me the chimney vibrated as the smog of hundreds of angry bees plunged into its cavity, in search of their queen.
As though in slow motion, my parents ran suddenly synchronised in perfect harmony, across the garden and thundered up stairs, arriving like ridiculous cartoons, to scoop each of us up and cover us in blankets, as all the while the ominous sound of the roaring swarm throbbed like an overheated engine. Possessions, old books, photographs, nostalgia and crumpled memories, were gathered into plastic tubs and scuffed cardboard boxes to be thrown into the boot. A frantic phone call later and the five of us found ourselves in the car, hearts pounding with the same blood bond, sat together for the last time.
After the bee keepers came, with smoke cans that drove the swarm from the spare room to the white sheet on the lawn, and after they’d heaved the dead weight of their sedentary, disorientated bodies to a wide lidded laundry basket, we returned home with trepidation.
Fuzzy black carcasses were scattered across the house. The spare room dripped with smears of honey and the carpet was blotted with spilt nectar.
A sweet sadness hung in the air and clung to the fibres of the furnishings, the linings of the curtains. Disembodied wings twinkled amongst the soot of the fireplace and the once animated bees lay twisted and twitching, lack-lustre limbs flailing hopelessly like the embers of a dying marriage.
Honeycomb pieces of perfect family memories lay like shrapnel along the window sills. The waxy fragments of an abandoned home left a lasting impression on my six year old self. Even now, long after the scrubbing that followed, and the inevitable division of the spoils, memories of that decisive day remain. And, as summer reaches its sticky climax, I return to that scene, like a bee to honey.
by Ursula Dewey
This was part of my entry to Vogue’s Talent Contest where I was a finalist.