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Honey as Blood by Jessica Bryant Klagmann

Honey as Blood by Jessica Bryant Klagmann

Fiction, Vol. 7.4, Dec. 2013

He tells himself he is not, but he is waiting. Ten years and everything he has done since he heard she was back—everything—has been to keep his hands busy. Because when his hands are busy, his mind is busy. And then he can pretend that he isn’t doing exactly the thing that he shouldn’t be doing after so long. Waiting.

The bees are waiting too of course, but for something else. Their agitated behavior mimics thoughts of Isla, flitting back and forth.

Clark begins with a screwdriver. The motion assumes a familiar rhythm: the twist of fingers and the slide of his palm on the handle. Screws spin from holes and fall to the floor, the sound of them bouncing on the concrete high-pitched and light. They roll away and he doesn’t stop them.

He pulls the lid of the chest from the rest of the frame and flips it over in his hands like it doesn’t weigh a thing and looks at the inside, rough and painted a bright grassy green. He thinks of himself ten years ago, choosing to buy this for her, rather than craft it. He remembers how silly he felt dreaming of the things he would eventually build. Things that would be useful.

Clark places the top of the hope chest on the ground and the screws beneath it screech as they’re dragged along the floor. Now that it’s open and the inside is exposed, it only seems right to continue. He tugs at the sides to see how much effort might be involved in separating them. Somewhere he has a crowbar. Even a hammer would do. Anything that could pry that he might wedge between each board to push and pull. But instead he tries his own hands because it is always more satisfying to finish a battle barehanded.

His fingers slide and feel the rough grain of the boards. When the sides hardly budge, he puts a foot inside on the opposite end and pushes away. His sneaker slips. His hands drag. Splinters sting his fingertips.

The sides loosen with a hammer and a few minutes of banging. Sweat forms on his forehead and neck. His hair needs washing so the blond curls hang a little lower than usual, falling into his eyes as he works. He tries to ignore it, but their presence in his line of vision throws off his perspective. He focuses too closely on what is just in front of him instead of what is, even just a little, more distant and abstract.

When the boards finally give and break apart, they do not separate evenly. One side cracks and a split runs up the length of it. But all six pieces of the chest now lie flat on the floor. Clark sits on a cinderblock and feels like he is looking at a skeleton of something that once was.

An antique. Gray-stained, recycled wood that once formed a complete structure—three and a half feet long, a foot and a half tall. A wooden latch that hung over the front like an overbite; a round yellow knob at the center that served no real purpose.

Outside the birds have quieted and he knows morning is coming to an end, the sky turning that crisp blue she always talked about not being able to find in Georgia. The floor of the shed suddenly seems dirty, littered with sawdust and wood chips, rusty nails, and everything else that has accumulated from his various projects. His tools spill out of unmarked containers and boxes labeled “bee stuff” stacked in a corner. His work table is covered with old newspapers and chunks of beeswax.

Outside, leaves fall. They pass through the small frame of the shed window so thickly that he can’t imagine how any remain on the trees.

*

It was only some months, some years ago.

Isla pulled a branch down to her eye level and examined an apple. With one hand she held the gnarled branch and with the other she twisted the fruit until the stem snapped. Clark imagined that it was because she had not grown up in New England that the novelty of things like paying for a paper bag and frolicking in someone else’s orchard had not worn off.

“Well, it’s not Georgia. That’s for sure. Georgia just moved so slowly. The pace here suits me. It suits you too. Did you used to climb trees when you were younger?” she asked, reaching up for a branch and lifting her feet off the ground. Her brown clogs slipped off, revealing red and orange-striped socks, and Clark reached down to grab the shoes. Isla kicked her legs.

“Go ahead. I want to see you climb up there,” he said. “I want to see you do it.”

She did of course, without trouble. Swung one leg up over the branch like she was mounting a horse, wobbled and then balanced her weight. She brushed hair from her eyes.

“There,” she said, taking a deep breath. “But you didn’t answer my question.”

“Yes,” Clark said. “Of course I did. Who didn’t climb trees when they were younger?”

“Me.” She shrugged. “What else did you do? Hunt the clover fields for bees, try to catch them in sand pails?”

She liked his calm. She liked his contentment in this fast world. He was much like the hives in winter, she had told him once. After, he had taken her out into the yard and shown her the bees.

How might a state move too slowly? he wondered. Funny how the things that attract us can so easily become what drives us away. The pace of the state, the pace of him. It had taken her less than a year to return to the comforts of her southern lethargy.

*

The chest is completely dismantled. Clark’s hands are dry and red from scraping against the boards. He tries to think of some work he should be doing in the house—something to take him away from this unnecessary project, because he doesn’t believe in doing unnecessary things—but he is already caught up with harvesting and canning. He sees the floor of the shed strewn with pieces of wood and something feels unfinished.

There is a broom propped against his workbench and he thinks about sweeping up the wood chips and dirt, or at least clearing the broken chest from the middle of the floor, but before he has a chance there is a knock at the door of the shed. The door is open and Mike—a neighbor—is framed by a rectangle of light behind him.

“How’s it going?” he says.

Clark stands up, walks to the door, and shakes Mike’s hand. “Things are good,” he says. “Things are good. How about yourself?”

“Fine. Allison’s been out with the girls all morning, so I finally got to finish that bookshelf.”

Mike hands him the saw he had borrowed and moves into the shed, standing over the boards on the floor.

“Looks nice,” he says, putting his hands in the back pockets of his jeans and hunching his shoulders. “Whatever it used to be.” He has a slightly untidy appearance and is wearing a baseball cap covered in sawdust and streaked with lines of sweat. The collar of his shirt looks damp and Clark imagines he has been working on the bookshelf for the past few hours.

“Yeah,” Clark says, using his foot to flip a piece of the chest so the green side faces up. “It’s pretty old though. Not really worth anything.”

Mike is, at forty-five, just now becoming handy around his house and learning to build things. He borrows tools from Clark to work on projects while his wife goes out with his two daughters because he likes to surprise them with his creations when they get back. He likes to surprise them with anything. When Clark first met him, he had a thick beard. A few weeks later he shaved it off while the ladies of the house were shopping for new school clothes. They came home and he returned from the garage with a bandana tied across his face like a bandit. Their squeals then outdid any they had produced for the desks or coffee tables he had made. It was a little disappointing, if he read too much into it, but he understood. They had never seen his face before.

“Wood looks good though,” Mike says. “Are you just going to get rid of it?”

Clark hesitates. He hasn’t thought past the demolishing stage, but at the suggestion of leaving it in someone else’s hands, he says, “No. I’m going to build something else with it.”

“Alright. Well I’d like to see it,” Mike says, stepping backward toward the door and surveying the room. “We’ll have to have you over one of these nights for dinner. Allison likes cooking for you, she says. We never have leftovers. Maybe this weekend? Then I can show you the next project I have planned. And we can talk bees.”

The shed is still pretty dark in comparison to the full sun outside. Clark looks past Mike to the white light in the doorway. He realizes he has left his watch inside and wonders at the time but doesn’t ask. Talk bees. Mike wants to learn to keep them and Clark has agreed to help.

“I’ll let you know,” he says. “I have to check a few things and make sure, but that sounds good.”

“Okay,” Mike says. “We’re flexible. Just let us know. Good luck with that.” He points to the floor and steps out into the sun.

*

He began trying to build things. Clark had always been good with his hands, which is why he decided not to go to college after high school and why he spent the next few years before meeting Isla establishing himself as a local farmer. By the time she moved to their small New Hampshire town, he was already selling at farmers’ markets every weekend and in shops around the state. Fresh vegetables, fruit, and honey. In the winter months he would can tomato sauce, pears, cucumbers. He made pickled garlic and onions, jams from the strawberries and raspberries he had grown. Then he holed up and planned for spring.

He could build the frame of a garden bed. But he hadn’t been artistically inclined. The aesthetics of farming, of cooking, of twisting honey from the comb, were different. He tried. He tried hard.

Clark never tired of working the land and he hadn’t thought he needed anything else until he met Isla and found out that she needed something else too. She needed to settle down and to discover stillness.

She was downstairs flipping through a cookbook. He found it funny that she could just turn the pages, look at pictures, and move on, never committing. She would scan the instructions and at the first sight of an ingredient she’d never heard of, or a technique she was unfamiliar with, she would continue on.

He stood at the top of the stairs and made a joke about her impatience, her lack of willingness to learn, and she got frustrated with him for the first time and promised that she would make dinner that night—something she had never made before. Something complicated.

In her bedroom, Clark laid on his back on the floor and drove a few last screws into the desk he had been building for her. Since moving, Isla’s main complaint was that she didn’t have a space to do her artwork. Her easel was something she would never give up. That had come up from Georgia with her. But a flat surface, a place to lay things down and put imagination to paper, was the kind of replaceable thing she could find anywhere.

The desk was wobbly and needed more support, and he pressed his hand up against the underside of the writing surface above him. It was rough and though it was winter, his hand still looked dark compared to the light color of the wood. He didn’t hear her come up the stairs.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Clark said, embarrassed by the instability. “I’m almost finished.”

Isla knelt down and he stayed on his back, tilting his head so he could see her thighs and her knees on the wood floor. She wore jeans with patches sewn onto the places where holes had formed. Everything above her waist was hidden by the top of the desk and from underneath, he could hear her scratching something onto the surface. He knew it was probably her fingers or a capped pen, testing it out.

“What are you making for dinner?” he asked.

Isla bent down so her face came into view. Her straight black hair framed her face. She smiled and crawled on top of him.

“This’ll do just fine,” she said.

*

He remembers what he said to Mike and feels he should fulfill some kind of promise—to build something new with these broken pieces—though at the time he said it, the intention was not there.

Clark tries imagining what she might have put inside a hope chest. Books? She didn’t read much, but above her desk she had kept her favorites. Ones she would read over and over. Her painting supplies? The women he had known kept only the kinds of things that Isla wouldn’t know what to do with. Aprons, linens, children’s keepsakes. The more he thought about it, the more it came back to him. She didn’t actually own much at all. What had he been expecting her to do with this?

Again, he makes an effort to focus on something further away. Not what it is, but what it could be. Spare beehive frames are stacked against the wall. He measures them, across the artificial comb that spans the inside, light yellow and waxy. He goes back to the broken chest, tape measure in hand.

The largest and flattest piece—the bottom of the chest—he sets on the floor as the bottom board. The other pieces he saws in half, the long way, to become the sides of the supers. One shallow super stacked on top of a deeper one. He cuts one more piece in thirds, positioning one third as the front of the hive and folding the other two back like wooden wings to form sides.

It is an unusual hive, and ugly, but it will work. It will be useful.

*

He explained each part of the hive as a body part. The supers, much like skin. The frames, ribs. The comb, flesh. Throughout, honey as blood.

Isla had leaned forward, unafraid of the buzzing insects surrounding her head. Clark pumped smoke into the hive and she placed a hand on either side of it and pressed, like she could crush it between her palms. A movie villain.

She looked up at the sun and closed one eye.

“This,” she said. “I don’t know anything like this.”

It was true. She didn’t know this kind of natural world, coming from park benches and community tennis courts. Clark’s land—land he had earned and worked—was the kind of thing she read about in college writing courses. The stuff of Wendell Berry. Man and nature and work. But that was all it was—something to read about. Not a way of life that she could wrap her hands around.

He watched then, trying to wrap her fingers around this structural anomaly, this foreign thing. She pressed and moved her hands and pressed again, as if trying to gauge the perimeter of him and all the corresponding parts. To feel his pulse.

Some evenings, he would come back in from the field with a tractor bed full of harvested greens, strawberries, rhubarb. And he would see her in the bee yard, fully dressed in his too-big bee suit. He would keep the tractor moving, afraid that if he stopped, she would feel the disruption in the airflow somehow, without realizing it, and release her grip.

On both sides of the supers, her hands moved up and down, applying the pressure.

It didn’t happen the way he had thought it might. Her fleeing. It turned out to be something small, something simple and trivial that led to something so destructive. But then what he called destruction, she called opportunity.

There was a study being done. She had found out about it from a friend, a biology student. He didn’t know when he told her that she would become so enthralled, so moved. But she did. It was to track a pair of ospreys—an adult roosting behind a department store in Tilton and a chick that was nesting twenty miles north on Newfound Lake.

Each fall, these birds attempted to travel 6,000 miles to South America, but often didn’t make it. Fitting them with a tiny tracking device, they hoped to learn more about why. This friend offered her a spot on the team as a volunteer. She’d have to pay her way to South America, but otherwise she’d be gaining good hands-on experience for when she started training to become a rehabilitator in the spring.

It was the first Clark had heard of this training, of wanting to become a bird rehabilitator, but she let it slip from her mouth so casually, as if it was something that had been on their horizon all along.

“The trackers are just this big,” Isla said, holding her thumb and forefinger two inches apart. They don’t weigh anything, really. Every three days they send a transmission of data so the scientists know what’s happening.”

“You’ve never been interested in birds before,” Clark had said.

“That’s not true,” Isla argued. Then she looked at her hands and spread her fingers as if she had written the answers there. “I’ve never really been interested in anything before. But I need something. You have your bees. Your farm. I don’t have anything.”

She told him she would never have found her path if it wasn’t for him, the appreciation for wildness he’d brought to her.

“You could have the bees too,” he said, putting his hands on top of hers. “And the farm.”

“They’re already yours.” She took her hands back. “This is a good thing to do. One out of three birds makes it down there. They get driven into the sea.”

“So what do these scientists do then,” Clark asked. “Once they find out what happens to them. How do they plan to fix the problem?”

Isla shrugged. “You can’t fix a problem until you know the problem.”

He knew he should have said something nice to her just then. Something to make her smile and better his chances that this was just a passing interest.

“You could have something else,” he said. “Something here.”

*

He takes pieces of what had once been the hope chest’s framing—thin, decorative pieces—and adds extra support to the super he is building. It is a deep, cavernous hive.

Knowing or not knowing.

I’ve never known anything like this, she had said. It seems silly to him now, to think that because she hadn’t known a feeling—because when she first learned it, hehad been the teacher—that she would be interested forever. Perhaps there are only so many lessons we have inside us to teach, he has considered since she left, but we have an inexhaustible capacity for learning. And Isla especially, was hungry: new things, quiet things, loud things, delicious things, strange things. Hungry for all of it.

*

The bees are minding their own business, but they are also frantic and nervous. Clark has learned the difference between their usual zigzagging behavior and true uneasiness. Their worry now makes him worry—he can feel what they’re feeling. A storm is coming and the bees know it first. Before the weathermen and before his eighty-year-old neighbor, who would have surely said he could feel it in his aching knees.

A real hurricane hasn’t come through this part of the state in years. They usually only see the leftovers of them. Final twitches. The largest storm he could remember had been the summer before she left and that was the time when he knew. The time when he changed from the man who always wanted settle on some land, to the man who wanted to settle on his land with her.

She came with him to a farm across town where he worked. She sat outside with a bowl of fruit and a book about orchid obsession she hinted he might want to borrow. He had never been all that interested in horticulture, but the gesture was charming.

He gathered up his shovel and buckets in the field when he saw the dark clouds hovering, reattached the tractor bed, and drove to the table where she was sitting. Her hair was pulled back messier than she’d ever worn it, and as he got closer he noticed the sweat on her temples and the way it twisted the loose hairs around her face. Her cheeks and neck were red and he liked this look on her, this untamed one. He felt like repeating word for word her reaction to the bees: I don’t know anything like this.

He wanted to know it.

Like this, he could imagine her with a shovel in her hands. With blisters on her fingers and dirt in every crack of her knuckles. This was his fantasy: they ran each other’s hands under the spigot and worked out some, but not all, of the soil. They rubbed salve into skin and kissed sweat from behind ears. In this fantasy, no one else existed. In the unfinished attic of the garden barn, he traced winding paths on her stomach and tasted the soil and Isla as one being. Her hands were rough, everything about their bodies gritty and sunburned.

The storm came quickly, snuck up on him while he was distracted. He rushed them into the garden barn and they watched from a window as the wind whipped through the aspens and poplars, tearing the bean posts to the ground and pulling the grape vines from the lattice they clung to.

Then the rain came and he put his hand on the back of her neck, her sweat dampening his fingers and leaving smudges of dirt on her skin. She didn’t seem to care.

They waited the storm out there and read from her book about consuming fascinations with fragile things, temporary things. How it made the obsessing that much easier. That much more urgent. Dire.

When it was over, they drove back to his house together. Trees were down all over the back roads and they had to stop every half mile and drag them out of the way. Isla didn’t stay in the car. She was stronger than he had ever seen her, grasping wet branches with both hands and hauling them into ditches. When the road dipped, the water flooded inches from the tops of their tires. Roads were closed and more than a few times, they had to turn around because it was too deep. Dark, muddy, and deep.

A mile from Clark’s house a man was in the road, up to his knees, pushing back earth with a shovel. The running water had eroded and broken off chunks of the land and left them in the middle of the street. He redirected them, told them which roads to take back, but they were too tired of driving in circles.

They left the car and walked the flooded mile, knee-deep, until they were home, dripping water from their hair and soaked in a closeness they hadn’t known before.

“You’re tough,” he said, knowing with all certainty that this was the beginning. He saw her becoming exactly what he thought she would become. What he wanted her to become. He didn’t realize that for her it marked the birth of a new spirit inside.

“You think I’m tough?” she asked, twisting her hair in her hands and wringing water into the kitchen sink.

“Sure,” he said, putting a blanket over her shivering shoulders. “I think you’re real tough.”

*

He’s standing by the bees, watching them try to figure out what to do with what’s coming—this phenomenon they can’t control. The advent of something great.

He’s standing by the bees when she pulls up in a truck, a black Ranger that used to belong to her father. The bed of the truck is scratched, dented, rusty, the windshield cracked. Isla drives it to the edge of the driveway, letting the tires come close to the grass.

The doors open, two wings unfolding. A young girl, maybe four or five years old, jumps out of the truck with her. A brown dog follows. Clark is taken aback. The little girl is blonde and wearing pink heart-shaped sunglasses.

He bends down, rests one palm on his knee, and holds the other hand out. “I’m Clark. An old friend of your—”

“Aunt,” Isla finishes.

“An old friend of your aunt’s,” he repeats.

The girl takes his hand and he’s suddenly aware of how rough it must feel.

“June.”

“We’re in for a pretty big storm, you know. It’s going to get awfully dark for those.”

She lifts the sunglasses from her nose—a movie star—with two fingers and pushes them back onto her head.

“And this guy?” Clark asks, pointing to the dog. “Is he yours, June?”

“That one’s mine,” Isla says. “Paz.” She shrugs and smiles awkwardly, rolls her eyes, and gently punches him in the arm.

Her hair is a disaster of a French braid, loose hairs swinging freely by her ears. Her face is tan and freckled and when he shakes her hand—holding it in both of his—he isn’t aware of how rough his own are anymore. There is dirt on hers too and a white strip on her wrist where her watch must usually be strapped. She is driving a truck. She has a dog.

Clark doesn’t know what to say. She is standing in front of him. She is that day of the storm, but real this time. Permanent and on her terms.

“We can’t stay long,” Isla tells him. “I want to get her back to my brother before the storm comes.”

“Well that doesn’t sound like any fun,” Clark says.

“I’m scared,” June says, unembarrassed.

“Let me tell you something, June. We have seen some pretty big ones around here. Seriously big rain. Your aunt can tell you. Trees in the road and flooding and ditches breaking down and everything. You’ve got nothing to worry about.”

June turns her toes inward. She is wearing white shorts and a green tank top and her skin has barely been touched by the sun. Her hand searches for Isla’s. He is suddenly aware of how awkward it has become for him to talk to new people.

“That sounds…awful,” June says dramatically, dropping her head forward and letting the sunglasses drop to her nose. She peers over them. “What’s that?” she nods behind him.

She is looking at his old lawn mower, the push kind. It’s propped up against the side of the house, and looks like a broken and forgotten robot from a science fiction movie. I can’t go on, it seems to be saying, leaning on the wall for support.

“Well, now I feel old,” Clark says, looking at his house, the screen door swinging open, the beehives across the field in the back yard, the rows of plants in the ground, heavy with sustenance.

June asks if she can go into the shed and look around, and he says she’s welcome to. Isla stays and they agree that they can skip any more awkwardness and just hug already.

He asks her about her work and birds in general and she asks him about bees and his root cellar. She asks if he has built anything new lately. He says no. He thinks of Mike, at home with his wife and daughter, making dinner. Awkwardly and lovingly learning to put things together for them. And them, giggling at subtle changes in his appearance.

“She’s using my old desk,” Isla says, bending each finger under her thumbs. Small pops follow, one at a time. “She’s always writing these stories.”

He glances again at the hives. They are distant but he still hears a buzzing, as if it’s been permanently recorded in his brain. He thinks sometimes he can feel their movement in his veins.

“I read an article about this miracle plant,” she says. She rubs the tip of her nose and averts her eyes, something she always used to do when he told her she looked pretty. “It’s supposed to change the world. I forget what it’s called, but I guess I could just send you the article.”

“How’s it supposed to change the world?” he asks.

“Oxygen,” she says firmly. “That and also shelter and food. It’s in the hibiscus family, I guess. That’s about all I can remember. They’re calling it a miracle plant,” she repeats.

“Did you really leave because of a bird? I mean, I know it wasn’t just one bird, but, you know what I mean.”

“You thought she was my daughter didn’t you?” Isla stares down the length of the field. “I figured you would but I didn’t think of it until we were on our way over here and then I couldn’t just turn around. She’s great. Zach’s wife left about three months ago and he’s totally losing it. So he calls me. Funny, right? Like I’m going to know what to do.”

“Well at least you’re trying. How long do you think you’ll be here?”

“Actually, I don’t think I’m leaving. I’ll probably stay for good. I want to treat birds from my house. I’m buying a house.”

“You’ll just leave your work down there?”

Isla twists the end of her braid between her fingers. “There are birds everywhere, Clark. You know there are birds…right up there.”

He shrugs, then nods, but doesn’t ask why she hadn’t had that philosophy when he wanted her to. When it counted. “Yeah, I get that. Just in time for fall. Alright, let’s be fair. I want to show you something, before you run off on me,” he says, holding out a hand instinctively.

She doesn’t take his hand, but follows and they cross the field and stand in front of the hives, the bees flying their questioning circles around them but ignoring them also, busy with their own important matters. June comes out from behind the shed and starts toward them, but stops. The wind makes mini tornados of her hair. She swats a bee from in front of her face.

“I’ll be right there,” Isla calls to her. “Go stay by the car if you want.”

The little girl turns to the driveway and jogs away. Isla turns back to the hives, looks at the new one, and says, “It’s really beautiful. It looks like an antique. Where did you get it?”

“I made it,” he says.

“I thought you said you weren’t making anything these days?”

He slouches. “It was a while ago. Not really, it was just this afternoon. I lied.”

Isla squints and holds her hand flat like a visor at her forehead. “It’s okay,” she laughs. “I probably deserve a little of that. You probably deserve to be a little mysterious. It’s still beautiful.”

“Thank you,” he says. “I had some old wood lying around and I was cleaning out the shed.”

She bends forward and puts her hands on both sides of the box. “It wasn’t just because of a bird. Or any number of birds. You know?”

“I figured.” Inside the pocket of his jeans, he squeezes a pumpkin seed between his fingertips.

When she leaves, Clark stands in the driveway and waves.

“What are you going to do now?” she asks.

“I don’t know. Probably just drink some beer and watch the storm. Put on some sad bastard music and make it really cliché. I like to live up to a good cliché now and again.”

Isla gives him a thumbs up and turns to go.

“Oh, I forgot,” he says. “I saw this pretty good documentary about birds and it made me think of you. Showed something like four hundred different birds. You’ve probably already seen it.”

She looks at him over her shoulder. “What was it called?” she asks.

He breathes deep and releases the air all at once, a forced sigh. He shakes his head. “I have no idea. I only watched the first fifteen.”

She holds up both her hands, palms flat and facing the sky—a tipping scale. She smiles and looks up toward the darkening clouds.

*

This is not just a storm. Not like the ones he’s seen before.

Clark stands with his back to it. The leaves on the aspens behind the hives are turning their backs as well. Silvery-white, they flap madly in the wind. He is unsure if the bees will be safe here. What they have going for them: they weigh a lot and there is less surface space than, say, his house, so he debates which is better—move the hives closer together or leave them where they are and let the wind weave through them.

They should be okay—he should be okay—but he is unconvinced.

Clark returns to the shed once more for a hand cart. He drags it across the field and uses his heel to jam it underneath the first hive. The rain starts, slowly at first but becoming steadily heavier and harder. It pelts his bare arms and he unrolls the sleeves of his flannel shirt to protect them. He tips the cart back and pulls the first hive carefully to the front of the house, leaving it by the mud-room door.

He pulls two-by-fours and plywood from the basement and assembles a ramp and hauls the hive into the house’s entryway. The bees swirl, dizzy in this new environment.

Leaving the door open, he does the same with the next four. Each one probably holds a hundred pounds of honey. The cart’s wheels carve deep grooves in the grass and churn it to mud. It’s harder each time to keep control. Water begins to soak into the bottom of his jeans and creep up toward his knees.

Five beehives in his house.

The last hive is the new one. The empty one. The one that used to be Isla’s hope chest. But who would know the difference now? Clark takes this one in his arms, the mud squishing beneath his shoes. Bulky and awkward, he sets the hive down next to the others. The other bees confusedly circle it.

His mud-room now harbors an archipelago of blue and green hives. Mismatched colors against the gray tile floor and the unstained, cedar walls.

The door leading into the kitchen is open and Clark realizes it’s too late to close it—they’ve invaded—so he walks through them to the round table and pulls out a chair. Bees land on his shoulders and neck. He snaps a beer cap off on the refrigerator handle and sits down, reaching across the kitchen table and turning the radio knob. Patsy Cline drawls a few last words and a new song begins. He basks in it, feeling wholeheartedly the pangs, savoring the pit in his gut.

A single bee is scaling the back of his hand, cresting his knuckle.

Outside, set in a narrow rectangle of screen-door vision, the wind rips limbs from the trees and sends them tumbling through the grass. It batters the shed and his truck and the plants in his garden. A blue and yellow deck umbrella rolls across the lawn. Rain beats the kitchen windows.

Clark drinks his beer. He stretches his legs out and uses the toes of one foot against the heel of the other to drag off his boots.

The bees dot the cabinets and the refrigerator, gathering on dinner plates left in the sink, hovering by the bare light bulbs above him. A fleet of buzzing insects circles him, a careful dance. A choreography of orange bodies and translucent wings. They are crawling through his hair and the inside of his collar. A shiver moves like a wave over his skin. They climb his limbs and raise the hairs on his arms and give him goose bumps. When Clark opens his mouth and breathes in, he imagines inhaling them, swallowing them. And the longer he sits there, the more the bees cling to his body, and the more he feels like they need him for something. Something, but he doesn’t know what.

He watches them, their tiny tentative steps. Their quivering wings. Their ability to swarm together and work together, but to remain so solitary in the process. Outside, the wind takes over. Inside, the bees.

Clark wonders if he will be able to convince them to move into the new hive. He wonders if time, for every creature, brings a sense of control.

The Birthday Cake by Mary Julia Klimenko

Night Forest by Lydia Copeland Gwyn

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