The Beekeeper – Emmy Clarke

Ronnie’s hair had grown flaxen in her old age. It blew and tangled in the breeze as she made it up the hill, wicker basket in one hand as she cupped the space above her brow with the other. One of her bees, a long way from home, crawled along her neck, kicked off her jaw, then buzzed up and around past her ear. Bumbling south; returning to the garden and the safety of the hive.
Geese honked noisily overhead, also heading south. Ronnie smiled at the sound of them. The geese had been flying south then, too. Funny how she had never noticed them before, but ever since that year – that day – when she had heard them holler overhead precisely as a final sigh exited the ancient lips of the woman she loved so dearly… she had been forced to stop and pause.
Ronnie did so now. Atop the hill she spread her arms wide, feeling the strong wind billow her skirts and her woollen cape. It knocked her bonnet askew. All black. She had worn black ensembles for over a century, and the children in town had started calling her “the beekeeper in black” some decades ago. She found it rather funny.
She would have found it funny, too. Her wife. Lassan.
Ronnie could feel Lassan in every room of her cottage, even now. The tread of her feet, the shift of her weight on the floorboards. The bells tinkling on the ends of her braids as she laughed. Her laugh! Her sighs, her exclamations, her whispers, her everything.
Turning, Ronnie glanced back down the hill to where her cottage and its garden lay sprawled below. It was still full, that cottage. Memories never faded, and even on the quietest of days it took very little energy to imagine the voices of her old friends. Their laughter. So much singing, music, dancing, as they lived and celebrated together.
Ronnie would have been dreadfully lonely if it weren’t for her memories. Each night she still kept her hand splayed on the pillow on Lassan’s side of the bed, and each night she could almost feel the ghost of her wife’s fingers between hers.
She wasn’t sad. How could she be, when she had known such happiness?
With her thumb Ronnie traced the engravings on the ring that hugged her finger. She turned and left her cottage behind. She continued her trek to the grove, the one she and her friends had started when the first of them had passed, so long ago now. It was a pretty place. Flowers dotted about, strung from trees in chains, and curled around headstones. The headstones themselves were lovingly carved, the graves lovingly tended.
“Hello, you,” she murmured, placing a hand on a stone situated near a sapling. “My love. My Lass.”
Ronnie possessed an earthy sort of magic born from the soil itself. Ever since she, as a young child, had nursed a weary bee back to life with sugar water, she had been blessed to hear the heartbeat of the world. Her earthy magic – or love, as they had often joked – had kept Ronnie’s wife alive for a great deal longer than was natural. Longer, too, than any of their friends, who also had their lives extended. And even when Lassan eventually did pass, Ronnie’s love for her kept burning. For love, when true, is not something that can be simply discarded, as the flesh can. Love is truer than bone.
Ronnie took down the old, wilting flower chains and replaced them with new, bright, many-hued ones she had made at home by the fireplace. As she did, she felt youth return to her ageing bones, and she sang as she had as a young woman, pinning the laundry up to dry with Lassan holding the hamper for her.
She sang songs that weren’t truly songs, but words and noises that sounded pleasing in her simple voice. She sang of the constant stability of change that came with living. Of geese. Fresh yellow chicks, and summer blooms. Brisk winds. Cold drinks in summer. Ice cubes. Warm drinks on winter evenings. Cycles of seasons and people. New generations of children. Weddings. New recipes – yes, new ones, there was no end to the bloody things – and the smell of honey and bees that droned and would continue droning forever, and ever.
She sang, too, of the constant stability of the unchanging dead. Shirts that still smelled of their owners long after they had vacated them for good. Rooms dusted daily. Possessions left precisely as they were liked best. Looped handwriting in journals open on desks. Umbrellas in stands. Coats on racks. Keys in bowls. Books on shelves. Ink in wells. Half finished knitting. Names scratched into table legs, and mugs that could only belong to so-and-so. Milk that went unconsumed; there was too much of it for just one person. A house that had become a home and in turn a capsule, a monument to a family found and cherished.
Walking slowly through the stones, Ronnie trailed her hands across the tops of them, rough against her fingertips, singing all the while. Her singing petered out, became a soft hum. A drone. And eventually she stopped again by Lassan’s stone. There Ronnie sat down in front of it, skirts ballooning around her. She traced the shapes that made up her wife’s name.
They had lived well together. She and all her friends. She and her family. They had built something beautiful. They had spread many kindnesses. In the grand scheme of things, their intertwined lives had been just a flicker, a single shooting star in a night hosting a whole shower of them. But that did not make what they had experienced on this rock any less spectacular. Any less meaningful. Someday, they would all be remembered. In another time.
The grove was empty, apart from her and the dead far below. In the silence, a bee – the same as earlier, returned to keep her company – alighted gently on her neck. It wearily wandered up, behind her ear, and settled there to sleep.
A sense of calm, of tiredness, washed over her. It was her time. She was ready.
Removing her bonnet, Ronnie lay upon the earth, placing her head on the soft grass beside Lass’s stone. She could hear the thrum of life below ground.
Her ringed hand lay palm up on the grass next to her. And, as she closed her eyes, she felt warm, familiar fingers sliding between hers.

I am an autistic, lesbian writer and poet from Manchester. I live in Shropshire with my partner, our smelly black cat, and three rescue chickens. In 2021, I secured a place on Sophie Willan’s Stories of Care writing development programme. In February 2022, I was welcomed into the Manchester Rainbow Library Project, headed by poet Jay Hulme and illustrator David Roberts.
Currently I’m studying a part-time BA in English Literature and Creative Writing, and work part-time as a Bookseller at Booka Bookshop in Oswestry, Shropshire, where I become mysteriously misty-eyed every time an anxious queer teen requests a copy of Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper.
My work has also been featured in: UNBURIED FABLES anthology (2016)
WOMEN OF THE WILD anthology (2017), Outbox Theatre’s BRIGHTER collection (2021), TALES OF THE BOLD, THE BRAVE AND THE BEAUTIFUL anthology (June 2022).

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