The Making of a Hive by Amy Wallen
I hear a tiny tap, the smallest of sounds like a thumbtack has fallen on the tile. Or, someone very small is tapping on the window asking permission to come in. I hear another tap making me glance toward the stove. But I see nothing. I turn back to rinse off my one plate, my one glass.
I stand at our kitchen’s corner sink, the intersection of cracked black and yellow honeycomb-tiled counters. I adore this old house and its funkiness. The dishwasher serves as an island, sitting in the middle of the big open empty room. Dishwashers didn’t exist when this kitchen was built in 1928, but in 1994, we have a dishwasher on casters we roll over to the sink, attach a hose to the faucet and, reminiscent of an I Love Lucy episode, the dishwasher jiggles around the black and white linoleum kitchen floor until the cycle is done. This is why I am washing dishes by hand.
A bee buzzes over my head. I freeze.
Two words exist for the fear of honeybees: melissophobia and apiphobia.
Bees, I know, can sting. I have never been stung, but I know the little critter can sting and a sting will hurt. How much? I don’t want to find out. I imagine it agonizing. I picture myself wailing in pain. I fear I will be allergic. That my throat will close up, my breathing will stop. That I will suffocate.
If alone, I could die.
I am alone. Fear of being alone: Isolophobia.
I’ve been afraid of bees since I was little girl playing barefoot in the clover. Clover that hid the prickly burrs that snatched onto my little toes. Clover that bees bounced around inside of. Clover, and all it symbolizes, is a lie.
I hear another tap on the metal stovetop. Another bee flies overhead. Above the stove’s vent opening. This old house still has its original curved vent through the roof which opens to the sky. In our temperate climate we don’t need a screen over the vent opening on either side, top or bottom. Nothing has ever come in before.
Another tap, another bee, another tap, another bee. More and more drop through the opening. They just keep coming. Is my throat already closing? Is my heart able to beat that fast and not explode?
Remaining as quiet as possible, in case bees have ears, I scream to myself, Get the hell out! I scramble out of the kitchen, pulling the swinging door to the dining room closed behind me. The wood door has a small decoupage of a bouquet someone had varnished eye-height probably 70 years ago. My ear pressed against it, I can hear the tap, tap of the bees still dropping into my kitchen. And I can hear the flash flood of blood through my heart. Boom, baboom, trying to outdo the tap, tap, tap.
I am alone. My husband is out of town. Again. “Business.”
“I will always be there for you,” he said once, a long time ago when we were first married. He lies like clover.
What should I do?
He is not here to ask.
A friend and her husband down the street told me about bees building a hive in the wall of their closet.
Between the drywall and the redwood siding, their hive hummed. “It was warm to the touch,” she said. I pictured her hand on the pulsating wall. I wondered if I could get so close to bees. “It throbbed,” she said.
“Like a heart?” I had asked. I wanted to feel that.
I call this friend. She will know what to do. She has a “Bee Guy” who removed the hive from their closet. The Bee Guy will help me.
I peek in the kitchen, peer around the wooden swinging door.
A swarm! Hundreds of bees circle the air of my kitchen above the Lucille Ball dishwasher. Above the honeycomb tile. Filling the empty room.
I imagine my kitchen walls pulsating like a giant heart. Like a bad horror movie scene. Blood dripping down the walls.
Bee Guy can’t come until tomorrow.
Tomorrow?! By tomorrow my whole house will be filled. I will be stung. Or worse, I’ll be devoured. It’ll be Death-by-Bee for me.
“They are looking for a new home,” Bee Guy says.
“A new home? My home?”
“They look for an opening. They follow the light. They come inside to see if it’s empty. If it’s suitable.”
Yes, my kitchen is bright, airy. Suitable?
But the honeycomb tile is cracked. The dishwasher old and loud. My kitchen is empty. My house is not a good home.
Can’t they go find a tree trunk somewhere? A hollow log?
“There are hundreds of them,” I say.
“They won’t hurt you.” Can he hear my heart beat through the phone? Is my nervousness that loud, that detectable? “Won’t hurt you”—another lie. I know bees sting. Bees can hurt me. I avoid hurt at all costs.
My husband said, “I will never hurt you.” That was at the beginning.
“You can take care of the situation on your own,” the Bee Guy says.
I don’t want to ask, but I have to. I take a deep breath. “How do I do that?”
“You probably already have everything it takes.”
I doubt that.
“An old piece of cardboard will do.”
I picture the moving boxes in the garage. Still folded and waiting for the next move.
Next to the boxes.
Climbing a ladder in a swarm of bees? Climaco-melisso-phobia. A double-dog-dare of fear.
“They don’t care about you,” Bee Guy says before he hangs up. The bees, he means.
In a way, I wish the bees did care. I wish they knew how hard I try to make that kitchen warm and inviting, for the two-legged, not six-legged. I wish they considered that I lived here first and I don’t appreciate that they think they can take away what is mine. I wish they understood how I am afraid they will sting and sting and never quit stinging. I wish they cared that I want to make this a good home, that I keep trying and trying.
I wish I could just wake up and not be going through this.
I peek again through the swinging door. Thousands. A black cloud. The buzz is ominous. The buzzing catches in my throat and stifles my breathing. I shut the door, listen to the moan of deep buzz in the other room, while I try to restart my lungs.
“They don’t care about you,” I repeat. It becomes my mantra. “They don’t care.”
And, I set to work.
In the garage, I find box cutters and slice off a piece of cardboard to a square bigger than the air vent opening in the kitchen ceiling. I find a roll of masking tape in the paint supply bucket. I wipe the cobwebs off the ladder. I tote all the bee eradication supplies upstairs to the kitchen.
The hum of bees thick in my yellow and black kitchen can be heard outside the wooden door. The decoupage bouquet and I stare at one another. They won’t just go away on their own, bouquet seems to say. You have to do it, no matter how scary. I cannot spend this night in this house with them.
My head down, I push the swinging door open and focus on the job. My subconscious says under its breath, “You’ll be stung for sure. For sure!” But I march up to the stove, open up the ladder, put my supplies on the stove top, and begin to climb.
I climb the ladder one slow rung at a time. It occurs to me the bees could be waiting for me to get higher, to enter their airspace, then they will have the right to sting. Bee helicopters come in close range, but no one lands. A few lookouts circle, but they all seem to be talking among themselves.
You’re going to piss them off! My subconscious fear voice yells. They are planning their attack. Hurry!
My breathing shallow and my heart may have stopped altogether because I hear nothing now except the buzz of the swarm and feel only the occasional blind bee bump against me, making my heart drop.
Slowly, I peel off a strip of masking tape, stick it around the cardboard’s edges.
As I reach to place the cardboard over the opening I know this could be the moment I will piss them off. Cutting off their entry point can’t be a good idea. If the rest of the swarm isn’t inside yet, if I keep them from one another will they become volatile? My ears ring. I imagine the buzzing increases as their tiny asses drop their stingers out their back hatches, gunning to eradicate me.
The cardboard stuck to the ceiling, they are now trapped. Inside. With me.
“Open the windows and they will follow the light,” I remember Bee Guy told me. Yes, they are already at the windows. Clambering to get out.
One problem. A big problem. Our windows are casement windows that have to be cranked open toward the outside. The screens are on the inside of the windows. The bees, they have congregated on the screens.
Their tiny bee claws cling to the screens.
I crank open the windows and know what I will have to do next. This will surely be the moment of attack: I have to remove the screens.
A few loose screws later, I lift the screens out of their tracks. No bee comes screaming at me with daggers bared.
The bees have been patient with me so far. Maybe they really don’t care about me. Maybe they aren’t mad I am not giving them the keys to my house. Not one single bee budges from their clingy screen pose. Not one. Like a beekeeper, I hold the screen out in front of me, albeit out the window. I wave it gently, hoping the wind will catch their wings and they’ll lift off. Nobody even so much as changes seats. I wave a little harder. They crawl over each other to get a better grip.
The Bee Guy said nothing about this. The Bee Guy said they would just follow the light.
I have one more thing I can try. One last hope. I haven’t been stung so far. A thousand and one bees and not even so much as a prick. I’m feeling strong. I can do this.
I flip the screen on its side and give the metal frame first a gentle whack on the windowsill, then, when still no bees fly off, I try once more. This time, I feel I have a say in this, so I give it a big whack. A whack that registers a 9.1 on the Bee Richter.
The swarm, as though a ballet of gray gossamer, let go, lift up, then veer to the right so as not to crash into the tree outside the window.
“Go on now. Find a home. One with better light,” I say to them. “One where you can make the walls pulsate, where your honey will warm the hive.” Like I am composing the Bhagavad Gita for bees.
The gray cloud weaves off in the distance. My fear goes with it.
I turn back to the quiet and empty kitchen.
A suitable home, yes, I must find me one of those.
Amy Wallen MFA, is LA Times bestselling author of MoonPies and Movie Stars. Senior writer-in-residence at New York State Summer Writers Institute, she also teaches novel writing at UCSD Extension and private workshops across the country. She writes a regular humor article about death for San Diego’s alternative magazine City Beat.