BEE by Lynn Crounse
by Gail Sulmers
In the summer, Sadie doesn't need money. She has her tent and sleeping bag, and she's never alone: she has her friends and companions, the bees. Sadie eats berries and mushrooms, and when she needs more than that, she sneaks into town, to the dumpster behind the grocery store where no one sees her in the bin, sorting apples and pears, unwanted because they aren't perfect. Sometimes she finds whole loaves of bread that crack sharply and melt on her tongue. The wastefulness of humans is sad and in the summer, food is easy to find. Sadie doesn't need money.
Her home is deep in the woods, at the edge of a clearing filled with bluebells and violets. The open field was once ugly and robbed of trees, but now it's covered with a blanket of clover. All the colors are brighter and the smells are sweeter because the summer before, Sadie fertilized it all with organic manure and lime. Her bees buzz about, enjoying their home.
This land used to belong to Indians. You can still hear chanting and dancing at night. Grandma Bella told her they have some Cherokee blood in them. Some grandfather once befriended The People. Some grandmother once lived here among these trees. Her brother, Roger, told her she made that up, but she didn't. Now it's too late to ask Grandma, because she's dead.
Sadie should have been the one to inherit The Land, but it went to Roger. She's the one who camped here every summer since she was a kid. Roger never even visited. Now he lives in New York, in a condominium he bought after he sold the timber. He can do whatever he wants to, because the land is his.
Two years ago, when Grandma died, Roger gave her a lot of money. That's when she bought her first bee colony. She used to be afraid of bees, because she's allergic to them. When she was a kid and got stung, they had to take her to the hospital, so when she bought the bees, she also bought a mask and hat and gloves. She put that first colony where there weren't any flowers and it broke her heart when all the bees died.
That was the summer that her brother murdered the trees. He cut his timber deep in the woods where he thought no one would notice, because even he was ashamed of what he was doing. Sweaty men in trucks came and for weeks the woods were filled with the shrieks of the dying. When they were done this clearing was a muddy scar and Sadie cried and then nursed it back to health. She planted flowers that bees love over the graves of all those maples and poplars. Then she bought a second colony of bees. Then she started living in the woods.
In the beginning she carried an EpiPen with her all the time, so if she got stung she could give herself a shot. She laughs when she remembers that EpiPen. Her bees love her and would never hurt her.
Mornings now, there's ice on her tent, and last night she had the bad dream. She was in the hospital and a nurse was holding her down to give her a shot and telling her it was for her own good. Then everything started to smell like acid and she couldn't see. She woke up screaming, thinking she heard them coming, so she did the drill. She sat by the stream and breathed in, inhaling the Om. Then she breathed out all the bad thoughts, and did it again.
Last winter, when it snowed, she went into town. That didn't go well. Someone called the police just because she wasn't wearing shoes, and Roger came all the way from New York to put her in a hospital where they filled her with poison until they decided she was normal so she could go home. He said he did it because he loved her, and maybe he did, but now it isn't safe to let him know where she is. He wants to give her a place to stay and food and stuff, but he wants her to see a psychiatrist and take more poison.
Sadie sits under her tree in the shade, watching her best friend Gavinda as she samples the nectar of a flower. In the spring, all the bees looked alike, but now they are her friends and she speaks to them and they understand her.
Maybe she will come back as a bee. Given the choice, it would be right here, by this stream. At first, it's just a thought, but then it becomes more. Her bees look so happy. They have flowers and sunlight and they live so far back in the woods that it will be a long time before anyone is likely to disturb them. Surely they would welcome her. They would love her like she loves them and when winter comes she could live in the hive with all of her fellow bees, beating their wings only just enough to keep the queen warm until spring.
She reaches over to stroke the soft fuzz on Gavinda's back, and to feel the beating of her wings. The bee continues her work, collecting pollen.
"If you sting me, we will both die. Perhaps it is meant to be."
She closes her eyes and she feels her body start to swell, tingling as she grows a thick yellow fur coat. A knife seems to cleave her back as wings emerge. She opens her eyes, to soar up towards the light, but she is still sitting under the tree. Gavinda looks at her, and flies away.
"Perhaps it is not meant to be."
Sadie can feel her stomach rumbling, and she knows she is getting weak. She hasn't eaten in days.
Maybe she will go to the town tonight. Maybe.