Emma’s beehives were at the very back of her property. She’d bought this house specifically because it landed strategically outside of relevant county lines and there were no notable restrictions for an aspiring apiarist. The hives and the house predated her relationship with Tom and Emma hadn’t budged when, after the wedding, Tom suggested they look for something closer to town.
“I don’t want to drive so far to work,” he complained. “Your job is remote, it’s easier for you.”
“I can’t leave my bees,” Emma replied.
Eventually, they settled into a comfortable routine and Tom set up a woodshop where he created noise and sawdust and Emma never said a word about it. Likewise, he turned a blind eye when she left the house in her garish white beekeeping garb like a post-apocalyptic fashion icon.
Over a year into their marital cohabitation, everything seemed fairly perfect. Emma had just scored a prestigious graphic design job that required some traveling back and forth to Los Angeles. Tom, meanwhile, had learned how to make chairs.
The positive pregnancy test came as no surprise to Emma, they hadn’t been using birth control for a while. She made a luscious pasta dinner, using vegetables from their garden, but declined a glass of white wine when Tom offered.
“Really?” he asked, his face lighting up.
“Really,” she replied.
He stood and rushed toward her, knocking over one of his creations in the process, he knelt down and laid his head in her lap.
“I can’t believe we’re pregnant.”
“Well, me more than you,” Emma joked.
“We are going to experience every moment of this together,” he persisted, his eyes wet and glazed and peering deeply into her own.
“Of course we are,” she mollified him.
For the rest of the evening, Emma tolerated his wistful stares. When they went to bed, Tom insisted on taking her arm to help her upstairs.
“Tom, there is a handrail. I’m pregnant, not an invalid.”
“I just want you to be careful.”
“I’ve lived here for ten years, I could find these stairs with my eyes closed, walk down them in the dark.”
He looked visibly alarmed, “Maybe we should relocate the bedroom to downstairs.”
Emma just sighed and kissed his head, “That’s very sweet, but you’re worrying too much.”
The next morning, Emma woke in their sun-kissed bed alone. She pulled her laptop across the dark blue blanket and checked emails — nothing pressing. Then, she went downstairs in her robe to make breakfast, absently opening the door to their dishes cabinet.
The door sprang back from her hand and slapped hard against the cabinet’s exterior. A loud rattling echoed from within and Emma jumped back, her finger smarting — she’d broken her thumb nail.
“Fuck,” she shouted, pulling on the cabinet again. It sprang back a second time. “What the fuck!” Emma was not a morning person.
Leaning forward to investigate, it appeared the doors had been secured with some sort of rubber band system. Upon further inspection, all of the kitchen cabinets had similar contraptions hindering her access.
She called Tom, he immediately began speaking.
“Hi honey, I was just thinking…”
“Tom, what the fuck did you do to the cabinets?”
“I baby-proofed them.”
“I am nine weeks pregnant, at most, why are you baby proofing anything?”
“To be safe, you never know what he’ll be able to reach.”
She ignored the gendered pronoun, his presumption of an heir apparent, and persisted, “How the fuck is an immobile infant, let alone a fetus, going to reach the top cabinets of our kitchen? Your pregnant wife, on the other hand, would love to make her coffee without breaking her damn nails.”
“Emma, I wish you wouldn’t curse in front of the baby, and you shouldn’t be drinking coffee anyway.”
A pause, then the sound of Emma inhaling slowly, deeply.
“It’s decaf,” she enunciated. “I am dismantling your boobytraps and you need to calm down with this controlling, patriarchal bullshit.”
She could feel him cringe through the phone as she uttered the last syllable.
He didn’t answer.
“Did you stay up all night doing this? When did you even sleep?”
“I went to the 24-hour Wal-Mart in town.”
“Tom, that’s insane.”
“I just think…”
“No, we can talk about this later.” Exasperated, Emma ended the call.
She meticulously dismantled each of the ‘Cabinet Keepers,’ that’s what they were called. It took at least an hour and she spent the rest of her morning working to catch up on her project in an ill-tempered haze and without coffee.
That afternoon, she set aside her laptop and, for the first time since waking, noticed the sun. She decided to check on her bees. Emma pulled on her boots, forgoing the protective clothing as she wasn’t planning to open the hives. She walked along a well-trod path, lined with bee-friendly flowering plants, to the small, tree laden grove at the back of her acreage. The gentle smells of honeysuckle and night jasmine filled her senses and immediately elevated her mood.
The gentle buzzing and busyness of the hive always quieted her mind. The bees’ determined and near constant work felt meditative.
Emma bent and knelt to inspect her three-hive development. She’d experienced one hive collapse in her time as a beekeeper, a complete vanishing, leaving behind their hive’s husk. She’d rebuilt, improved, and harmony had prevailed for several years. Her new hives looked like outsized birdhouses on stilts, spaced at five foot intervals. She’d painted the facades with trailing vines and peonies.
A single bee landed on her arm and the small mammalian hairs stood at attention like tiny, blonde antennae. Emma didn’t move, she simply watched him, for it was certainly a male and lacked the stinger most people are quick to fear. Determining she was neither threat nor flower, he disappeared. Emma smiled.
Her reverie was broken by shouting. The sun had begun to set and a lavender light crept slowly across the yard. But who on earth was shouting?
Oh god, she thought, Tom.
She watched her husband rush toward her up the path, his thin body gangly and absurd to her in its confusion. He looked like a stick bug, a praying mantis.
“Emma! What are you doing?!”
He reached her, panting heavily and clutched her hands in his, checking for wounds of some kind.
“I’m looking after my bees.”
“It’s dangerous!” he cried.
“It will be if you rile them up with your yelling. Come on, let’s go back to the house.”
She disentangled herself and turned away from him, considering the ingredients for a salad, something with grilled zucchini maybe. She hadn’t walked but a few yards when Tom stepped in front of her, barring her path.
Emma laughed, “Move, weirdo.”
“I cannot allow you to work with the bees any longer, for your own safety.”
She laughed harder, “The bees are perfectly safe. They know me, I know them, we have an equilibrium.”
“What if they go manic?”
“Bees don’t get rabies.”
“What if they sting you?”
“What if they do? I’m not allergic.”
“The baby might be.”
She took his hands gently in hers, “Honey, I know you’re scared. I am too. But I can’t, I won’t, put my life on hold and stop doing things I enjoy. Now, let’s go have dinner.”
“I won’t allow it,” he persisted.
Emma wheeled around to face him. “I am trying to be understanding, this is a big change, I get it, but if you don’t stop with this crazy controlling bullshit, I am going to stay with my mother.”
Anger crackled inside of her as she strode toward the house.
A silent truce was reached in the intervening days and Emma began to relax again, to try and relish her new state of being, the host to a watery thing flowering inside of her.
Tom seemed put out, often escaping to his woodworking shop, where he made tiny chairs in anticipation of a tiny human.
Emma cooked homemade gnocchi and pesto for dinner one evening, poured them both tall glasses of ice water when she would have preferred a chilled white wine, and seduced Tom inside with the smell of fresh bread.
“This looks good,” he muttered.
“Thank you,” she smiled at him. “I wanted you to have a home-cooked meal before I leave for Los Angeles tomorrow.”
His head snapped up, “What?”
“I am going to meet with the design client and agreed to work on site for the week. I told you about this,” she laughed a little to ease the tension.
“I didn’t think you were still going to go.”
“Of course I’m still going.”
“It’s not safe,” he persisted.
“I checked with Dr. Phillips and it’s perfectly safe. No less safe than my walking down the street and potentially getting hit by a car.”
Tom frowned, “I really don’t think it’s fair you and the baby are going on a trip without me.”
“It’s a work trip, not a vacation. And it’s not as though I can leave the fetus on the bedside table for you to look after while I’m gone.”
She could feel the anger burning again in the pit of her stomach, the carefully prepared food in her mouth turned to sawdust. She reached for her water and took several long, steadying gulps.
“I just thought you’d give all that up after we got pregnant,” he continued.
“Give what up?”
“Work, travel, all of that.”
“And do what instead?”
“Be a real mom to our child.”
“My mom was a single mom, she worked every day of her life so that I could go to college and achieve my dreams. And I have. I bought this house, my bees, and I have gotten consistent enough design work through my firm that I don’t worry much about money. I’ve worked hard to be this person, so don’t tell me a real mom is only someone who gives up their sense of self. I can be both woman and mother, and if you can’t see that, then you don’t know me at all.”
Emma stood abruptly, knocking her water glass to the floor where it broke into a thousand tiny, shimmering stars like a beautiful wound.
She didn’t acknowledge the accident, but instead strode upstairs without another word, leaving Tom to deal with the mess.
Emma took a taxi to the airport early the next morning. Tom hadn’t come to bed after dinner and she worried perhaps she’d overreacted. She thought about apologizing, capitulating, but he wasn’t on the couch either, and she left in a huff of irritation instead. Now, she was settled in the backseat of a yellow cab hurtling toward the airport and the excitement of the trip overtook her concerns about her husband.
She fired off a quick text to Reif, her apiarist friend who had promised to check on her bees that week.
On my way to the airport, thanks again for checking on my babies!
He responded, No worries! I will even send you pictures. 🙂
She smiled. She’d met Reif through the local farmer’s supply store. They were both ordering lavender seeds and struck up a conversation about bee-friendly flowers. As it turned out, his father was a beekeeper and had raised him around the insects. Reif had somewhere around twenty hives, some that his father had bequeathed and some he had set up on his own.
Emma was impressed. Together they’d formed a little coalition and now there were ten fairly regular members of their beekeeper’s community. They mostly kept in touch via a Facebook group, meeting once every six weeks or so to chat in person. One of them had started making mead, and even let them sample it at a meeting — that had become a rowdier occasion.
The flight was short and Los Angeles was shiny and full of sunshine. Emma’s temporary workspace was in an all-glass office that overlooked the ocean. Everyone greeted her warmly and the day melted into meetings, planning sessions, and design work. It felt good to be around other creative people.
Still, she checked her phone periodically, no texts from Tom, one picture of her beehives from Reif. She sighed and tried to enjoy the novelty and freedom of her trip.
That night, her employer took the staff out for tacos. She politely declined a margarita, then went back to her hotel room where she finally called Tom.
“I made it to LA,” she told his voicemail, “And I think it’s pretty petty of you to still be upset with me for doing my job. I never told you I was going to quit work if I got pregnant, it’s not what I want and I hope you can understand that.”
She clicked the red icon on her phone, the line went dead, she fell asleep with her hand cupped over her abdomen.
Emma woke late, her travel day had exhausted her, even though California time gave her several bonus hours. For the first moment, ensconced in the fluffy duvet and bright white pillows, Emma forgot where she was, the absence of Tom panicked her, then she remembered.
She checked her phone.
Two voicemails, both from Reif, and several text messages.
Emma, did you move the beehives? Or ask Tom to?
I can’t find them.
I saw Tom. He did not seem happy I was here. He yelled at me to leave.
Emma, I think they’re gone.
She immediately called him back.
Reif answered, sounding slightly hysterical, “Emma, oh my god, I am so sorry!”
“Calm down, take a breath. What happened?”
“I came over this morning, just to double-check because one hive seemed a little lethargic yesterday, and, you know me, I’m a hypochondriac.”
Emma nodded to herself.
“Well, I couldn’t find the hives. There were these sad, blank patches of grass where you could tell they had been, and I knew they were there yesterday.”
“I didn’t move them,” Emma offered, her skin prickling uncomfortably with goosebumps.
“Oh, I know that now. Your husband came out and ran me off the property. He said I didn’t need to come back because, and I quote, ‘the goddamn bees were gone.’”
Emma gulped panicked mouthfuls of stale hotel air, felt it ballooning inside of her, surrounding the pulse of life inside her.
“He didn’t… he couldn’t have…”
“Honey, he definitely did. I am so, so sorry.”
“But, what did he do with them?”
“He said he donated them to some farm, but he may have burned them, I smelled ash.”
Emma began to cry, she didn’t mean to, but the hiccups of tears just began without asking. Reif listened, his distant presence soothed her.
“I knew he was mad, but I didn’t think he’d try to hurt me like that.”
“Do you think it was on purpose? To hurt you?”
“Then you should get somewhere safe. That man had fire in his eyes, he chased me with a shovel even after I got in my car and pulled back onto the main road.”
“I have to go to work. Thank you, Reif,” she muttered.
“Call me if you need anything else, please.”
The phone went dead again. Emma opened the text message thread from Reif and looked at the last picture of her hives. She zoomed in with her two fingers, closer, closer, hoping to make out a single bee, hoping it wasn’t true, just hoping.
She called Tom, took a breath to steel herself. Her stomach had begun to flutter uncomfortably, tiny pinpricks under her skin. She closed her eyes.
“I have one question to ask you, and I really need you to answer truthfully.”
“Did you kill my bees?”
“Tom, please…” her voice broke.
“They weren’t safe for the baby and your focus was divided. You weren’t thinking, you weren’t being safe,” his accusations tumbled forth in one angry, hot breath.
“Thank you for being honest.”
Emma hung up the phone, curled herself into a fetal position, and moaned in pain until she was forced to get up and vomit. Then, she went to work.
The sun gleamed through the window panes like a prism and Emma wondered to herself how anyone could ever be sad in California, all this sun. And yet, she felt broken into shards, sharp and uneven, cutting her up from inside. Her puffy eyes gave her away and the other designers kept their distance.
The week slid by, she walked on the beach, she didn’t answer Tom’s phone calls, she finished the work for her client’s new website, she celebrated with a margarita.
It was finally Emma’s mother who offered a safe haven for her grief and when she packed her things, it wasn’t to go home, it was to go to Florida.
The Central Florida heat made everything sticky, her clothes clung to her like a second skin, and Emma relished the cleansing nature of her own sweat. She licked her upper lip, tasting salt and herself, feeling somehow purified.
At night, the incessant buzzing of her body matched the sounds of the insects outside. Emma felt a kinship with the cicadas that superseded the connection she felt to any humans. She turned on a small lamp, opened the window, and invited them in.
Her mother was a Southern Christian widow who didn’t know what to do about her odd daughter’s grief over a bunch of bugs, but she tried. She made herbal tea, Emma refused to take any honey, and peanut butter toast, and encouraged her broken child to eat.
They sat on the porch in the evenings, silent except for the creak of her mother’s antique rocking chairs, and waited for something to happen.
Emma came downstairs one morning in a ratty old nightshirt she’d found in the spare closet, her feet were bare and covered in mosquito bites.
“I have to leave him, Mama,” she said.
And that was that.
Her mother hired the best lawyer in Tampa, a bulldog of a man who convinced Tom not to put up a fight, and three months later Emma had a notarized divorce. She blocked Tom’s number, disappeared from social media, even from her beekeeper group, though Reif did keep her apprised of the goings on. Apparently, Tom had written a lengthy Facebook status that said he had no wife, only a “thief and a whore” and he had no child, he was only a “sperm donor.” Emma remotely negotiated the sale of her house and land, the site of a crime she could never return to.
The watery creature in her stomach continued to develop, the buzzing in her ears grew ever louder.
Precisely on her due date, Emma’s water broke. She didn’t react to the effusion of fluid and let her mother fuss over her and get her to the hospital.
The nurses wheeled her into an examination room and Emma complacently endured their pokes and prods.
“She’s dilated and ready to pop,” a nurse informed the doctor.
“Well, let’s get her into the delivery room.”
“I’ll be just outside the door,” her mother called.
The delivery room was crowded with too many humans and their invasive hands, it smelled both stuffy and sterile.
In a pale blue paper gown, with her legs splayed open, Emma felt a vibration inside of her. It began in her ears, the buzzing she’d grown accustomed to, then traveled to her chest, her stomach. It wasn’t painful, just a steady hum.
She began to laugh.
The doctors and nurses looked at her, then each other, and Emma kept laughing — louder and louder until her voice climbed up the walls.
They’d seen an array of birth reactions, and the nurses struggled not to show a facial reaction to a clearly distressed patient. To steady her, the doctor firmly gripped both ankles and said, “Okay, Emma, it’s time to push.”
She didn’t hear him over the thrumming of her own body, the laughter that purged everything like sweat, like holy water. She was born again.
“What’s that noise?” one of the nurses asked.
“She’s laughing like a lunatic, I can’t hear a thing,” the other stage whispered back.
“It sounds like, a cell phone vibrating…”
“Oh, I hear it, almost like an electric toothbrush.”
“It sounds like…”
“BEES!” the doctor suddenly screamed.
The nurses looked at him in confusion.
“FUCKING BEES!” he screamed again.
From underneath the pale blue gown, a swarm of yellow and black bees emerged. They clung to the doctor’s face, the nurse’s scrubs, who now realized what he was shouting about and, panicking, they dropped their sterilized instruments to the floor, a glass tube shattered violently. The insects came in undulating waves until the room’s beige walls were covered in a thick, living wallpaper.
At some point, Emma’s laugh calmed to a light chuckle, but by then there was no one left alive to hear her.
She closed her legs and let the hive worship its new queen.