He woke to a loud and insistent hum. External, although the constant clamour of anger and loss still shouted in his head. Garden machinery probably. It filled the room and rattled through the cavity wall behind his bed. He turned his back on the window, where sunlight was invading through the curtains, and pulled the duvet over his head. He wasn’t ready for the day yet, even though it was midmorning.
The hum settled into a buzz, deep and resonant. On, off, on, off, just irregular enough to be intrusive. Not machinery. Definitely an insect. Impossible to ignore, like his thoughts. He turned on his back to listen. It was hard to place, seemed to be above him. It sounded huge. Damn.
Wasps nest in the loft? Hornets?
He rose, cursing. Cursing the insect, cursing the day, cursing his insomnia, cursing her and the hole she had left. The pain was as persistent as the buzzing but it was easier to turn it to anger than deal with it.
That had been the problem. It was what he’d always done. She’d tried, he had to admit that. Tried to help, to understand, tried to make him happy. She’d realised though that his happiness was not her responsibility, just as her happiness was not his.
He could not pinpoint the sound, no matter how many times he paced round the room. Eventually he got dressed and ventured into the loft with a torch and some trepidation.
She’d taken responsibility for herself. She’d tried harder. Tried even, to take responsibility for him. It didn’t work; how could it? And then she’d left him.
He made coffee, took it outside in search of the continuing noise. There, trapped in a spider’s web by the bedroom window, a honey bee was fighting for its life.
He knew how it felt.
He retrieved a short ladder and carefully freed the bee from its hell. It fell onto the windowsill and lay there for a while. He was just beginning to worry when it took off and flew down the garden.
He wished he could disentangle himself from his misery that easily.
Later, as he was clearing brambles by the shed, the hum returned, much louder this time. He watched the swarm come in, settle in the cherry tree in an ordered buzzing bundle. He wondered if it was the same bee, whether she had brought her friends because she knew he wouldn’t hurt them.
He wouldn’t hurt anything, anyone, not on purpose. But that hadn’t stopped him.
They were still there the following day. The beekeeping friend who came to collect them was cheery. He captured most of them and took them away.
“There’ll be a few left,” he said, “but they’ll go within twenty four hours, probably back to where they came from.”
The little cluster still hung from the branch when he returned from work the next evening. And the next. And the one after that. He was happy to see them. He found himself talking to them, telling them about his day. His friend was surprised that they were still there a week later.
“They’ll go eventually,” he said.
But days became weeks and still the bees stayed. He found himself becoming strangely fond of them, crossing his fingers each evening as he walked up the garden, hoping they would still be there, dreading that the branch would be empty. The relief that flooded through him each time he saw them made him almost lightheaded.
He talked more and more to them about all sorts of things, from the mundane events of everyday to the sadness and guilt that he hadn’t even been able to voice to himself.
He told them about her. About how it had been wonderful. How it had gone so horribly wrong. As summer turned to autumn and then to winter he talked it out and the bees, against all that was normal, continued to buzz and cluster on the branch.
Come Christmas he started to go out a bit more. In early spring he saw her in the street and it didn’t hurt as much. At the beginning of summer he met someone new.
He told it all to the bees. He didn’t know that he was following an age old tradition. He just felt that they should know.
He told his new girlfriend about them, showed her pictures. When she came over to his house for the first time, he took her to see them so that she could speak to them too.
The next morning, they took their coffee into the garden. The bees had flown but hanging from the empty branch was a honeycomb, the cells wax plugged in the shape of a heart.
** ** ** **
Note: Last summer we ‘woke to a loud and insistent hum’ and my husband rescued a bee from a web. Later that day, it did indeed return with its friends to rest in our cherry tree for a few days. It seemed an almost mythic occurrence. How lucky were we?