We Watch and Wait – Lydia Gwyn

We’ve suited up into our white coveralls, gloves, hard hats, elasticized netting. Tom says he feels like a volunteer firefighter on a last-minute call, pulling on equipment, rushing out the door. My suit is stained with splotches of honey and propolis and old smoker residue. In three years, I’ve never bothered to
wash it.

The swarm of bees is in our easement this time, just a few feet off the ground in a tangle of honeysuckle vines and dead elephant ear branches. We caught this same swarm last week when it was twenty feet up a pine tree. We’d had to pull out the ladder we use for cleaning the second-floor gutters of our home to reach them then. We shook the bees into their new hive that day, but they didn’t stay.
This time we watch and wait. Thousands of the bees still fill the air and their buzzing is intoxicating like the white noise machines we used to put our children to sleep when they were babies. Static like puffy pillows filling the air behind a closed door.

The swarm is forming a bearded ball when a red truck drives up and pulls into our easement. The window is down, and I recognize the driver. He’s introduced himself twice before.

“I’m Seth Campbell,” the man says. “I own the farm behind your house.” He has white hair and aviator glasses. He wears overalls. His farm is hundreds of acres, and his house is nestled somewhere in the woods where we can’t see. Sometimes my son crosses the barbed wire and hikes around his land looking for morels and shadows hiding behind trees. Seth asks about the swarm, says he’s seen a few before, knows the queen is in there in the center of everything.

“If you see a cow wandering around here, let me know,” he says, “I’ve got a loose one.”

I tell him I see his cows all the time but none outside his pasture. I tell him they come up to the fence and watch our kids play in the yard, my daughter swinging high on the tire swing. “They’re beautiful,” I say, “especially the ones with the long horns.”

We exchange more pleasantries. Seth watches for a while as the swarm tightens, and when the bees have clustered completely, he leaves and we get to work.

I hold back branches while Tom clips the honeysuckle. We move slowly, nothing sudden. We grab vines before they hit the ground. We whisper. Tom clips. This branch, that. “It’s like dismantling a bomb,” he says.

When all the honeysuckle is cleared away, I hold the main branch containing the swarm, while Tom saws. He uses a Japanese rasp saw with teeth as fine as sand. He makes smooth, almost soundless motions, and I think of him then pressing me against our bedroom wall the night before. Kissing the back of my neck, hands fitted into the frames of my hips.

We have loved each other for twenty years this year. A few bees walk over my hand and the swarm sways with Tom’s movement. When the cut is clean, we lower the branch—Tom holding one end and I holding the other—and place the swarm on top of a nuc box fitted with four frames of wax foundation.

We hope this time the bees will crawl inside the box on their own. We hope they’ll think it’s their idea—this new home—and they’ll stay this time. We leave everything as it is and decide to return at night.

Back in the house, I strip off my suit and gear and step into my writing studio, into a sound bath of binaural beats and subliminal flow states. I write for a while about hexagons and the waxy, sweet smell that bees infuse into everything they touch.

My children go in and out of the kitchen for snacks. A movie begins and ends on the living room TV. For dinner, I make veggie burgers piled high with sliced avocado, tomatoes, olives, lettuce, cucumbers. The burgers are too thick for the kids’ mouths. Before they eat, they smash them with the palms of their hands to thin them out.

At my daughter’s bedtime, the two of us watch the old Steel Magnolias trailer on my phone. My daughter had wanted to know who Julia Roberts was. My son comes into the room and tells us there’s a black cat with green eyes sitting in my garden. “It’s covered in mud,” he says, “and it doesn’t have a collar.”
I tell him I’ve seen that cat many times before. I tell him the cat is feral and won’t let anyone approach it. Both children now want to catch the cat. My daughter devises a plan for the morning that involves shaking a plastic container of Pounce cat treats. She names the cat Shadow. I put her to bed. I smoothe her hair. There are curls around her forehead that have been there since she was born. She stares into space, a thousand miles away, while I sing a song about mockingbirds.

Late that night once both children are sleeping, Tom and I return to the easement. The swarm has regrouped inside the nuc and turned off their collective minds for the night. I remove the empty branch and shut the lid, latch it in place, and Tom carries the nuc up to the hive stand in our yard. The new hive is right next to the old hive, which sleeps now with a new queen.

Lydia Gwyn’s stories, poems, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in F(r)iction, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, The Florida Review, Elm Leaves Journal, and others. She is the author of the flash fiction collections Tiny Doors (2018, Another New Calligraphy) and You’ll Never Find Another (2021, Matter Press). She lives with her family in Tennessee, where she works as an instruction librarian at East Tennessee State University.

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