BB was a beekeeper. An advocate of the apiary arts. He wrote several tomes on the subject. It was not how he made a living, but how he loved living. Everyone called him “BB.” BB had six sons. Each of BB’s sons, known as GBs, had six sons, known as FBs. And each one of the FBs had six sons. Well, almost. She should have been GG216. To be fair, everyone still called her GG216. Except BB. BB called her QB. She was the only one of his progeny interested in beekeeping. The rest of them were only interested in building and buying things.
BB was an ancient man by the time QB was born. He spent his days walking away from the buildings and barns and boardwalks that his sons and grandsons and great-grandsons were constantly adding to the property. They filled them with bobbles and bling and when they broke they bought new ones. Each thing had a use. Each thing had a space. Each thing had a purpose. Each thing except BB and QB.
BB had fulfilled his purpose. He’d had his sons. He was no longer able to make money, to buy things, to fill space. He was surrounded by the noise of his success as they awaited his death.
QB was QB.
BB started with one hive. It actually started on the house. A gathering of wax and honey, of legs and wings, tucked under the eves. BB was a young man, not more than a child. He read a book on how to relocate the bees and built his first bee box, which he called BB1. He carried it through the orchard to a small rise, not really a hill, and placed the hive upon it. Then he walked away and let the bees be bees. Each year, the hive on the house appeared in spring. Each year, BB walked to a new part of the property and set up a new bee box.
The GBs built their homes in a circle between BB1 and BB’s house (as the bees fly) with BB’s house at the center. There was plenty of space for their structures. As their families grew, they added barns and garages, playhouses and storage sheds. They filled the space. They made money. They bought things and had sons.
The FBs built their homes around their fathers’ houses between BB36 and BB1 (as the bees fly) with a GB’s house at the center. They built multi-story homes for their broods and even more garages. They took out the orchard and filled it with trucks and wagons. They filled in the streams and paved the footpaths so GGs could drive ATVs between the GBs houses and their own.
GG216 was largely ignored, which suited her just fine. Her father (FB36) was too busy filling space with success and sons (GGs 210, 212-215) that he chose to ignore that GG216 was neither. They didn’t talk to her, but about her, which is why she never talked back. Which suited them just fine.
“GG216 broke her window, again.” reported GG213 after he broke the window in her room. GG216 listened.
“GG216 was late for dinner, again.” reported GG210 after he’d forgotten to pick her up from BB’s. GG216 listened.
“GG216 will need new clothes, again,” reported FB36 as he pulled at the sleeves of her jacket trying to close the gap between cuff and wrist. A jacket that was once FB36’s, then GG6,27,64,92,103,167… GG216 listened.
GG216 was dropped off at BB’s house, every day, presumably to be watched by BB’s nurse.
“I’m a nurse, not a nurse maid! You’ll have to fend for yourself.” At least he spoke directly to GG216 and GG216 listened. The nurse only made it to spring, when the bees arrived. Then he resigned without notice. Leaving the toddler and the old man to fend for themselves. Which was fine by them.
GG216 was 4 when she followed BB to the hives the first time. He was old and didn’t move very fast. GG216 was a toddler and only moved fast unintentionally and generally in the direction of the ground. Their paces matched without effort. BB knew that hives were healthier when he talked to the bees. Which is perhaps why he began talking to GG216. Not really good with humans, BB talked about bees. GG216 listened.
In the fall, GG216 carried the hive in a bag while BB pulled the wagon with BB97. They passed the diminishing hum of the GBs’ houses. Stopping briefly at BB1 still nestled on its rise, not really a hill. They followed the FB’s asphalt path through what was once an orchard. BB told QB of the blossoms that once filled the air as GGs 200, 197, and 209 roared past them. Their wake left BB, QB, and the sack of bees coated with dust and anxiety. They reached the edge of FB12’s circle and took the trail west into the woods.
“Bees prefer quiet.” BB looked at his youngest great-grandchild. Just over four years old and silent as the bees in her hands. They were silent. The entire hive. “I think they prefer you, to be honest.” QB had her first smile. “We need to walk for twenty more minutes. Bees don’t like to be crowded.” They passed BB53, BB60, BB88, and what BB told her was BB4. BB4 was a pile of sticks and mushrooms. Only BB53 had an active hive. The hive in her hands buzzed anxiously to their fellows. QB brought the bag to her chest and started to hum. BB listened. The bees settled. “All hives have a queen, just one.” BB patted the top of her head, “When the queen leaves, the hive leaves.” They installed BB97 near a hollow tree. BB called GG216 “QB“ and QB listened.
BB and QB walked to the hives and back everyday. They collected honey in the wagon. QB pulled it until it became too heavy. Then BB pulled it home. That winter, GB1 died.
The general concern immediately following his death was what to do with his stuff. His sons (FB1,2,5,7,8 and 10) and brothers (GB2,3,4,5,and 6) gathered in the parlor of GB1’s house and began to argue over a table filled with paper.
“We should split the estate six ways,” FB1 began.
“He always wanted GG26 to have his laptop,” FB2 interrupted.
“And for GG65 to have his car. The one that’s paid off and still runs pretty good,” FB10 added.
“GG1 was always his favorite and should get the boat,” FB7 put in.
GB5 fuffed and shuffled in his chair. “The back gate is on my side and is a full six inches over the property line!” the elderly man exclaimed to the room in general.
GB2 banged his stick on the ancient hardwood several times. Hard enough to pop an old knot out. The buzz settled. “What does the will say?”
GB6 scoffed. “The will says what all our wills say.” And it did. GB1’s estate (any money and stuff) was split between his six sons with a special bequest of three items to each of his 36 grandsons, two items to each of his 6 brothers, and one item to each of his 179 nephews. They had to be able to carry it away on their own. The property was BB’s and always had been. There was no provision for GG216. She was only 5. They didn’t really think about it. QB didn’t really think about it either, but she listened as BB read the will.
There was a great frenzy of activity at GB1’s for several weeks that spring as the GBs, the FBs and the GGs (1-215) claimed (argued and fought over) their birthright. BB lead QB away from it. Something about watching them scurry and hurry through GB1’s house made him ill at ease. He didn’t want QB to see it. He had a twinge of something akin to regret. He liked to talk things through, especially now. (His memory not being what it once was.) QB listened.
“GB1 was my first child. My first son. He worked hard and built things and bought stuff and had sons of his own. There was a tree, where his barn is now. When he was a child, it was his favorite place.” BB remembered the year they discovered a hive in this tree. It was the year GB1 left for college. BB left the hive and decided to offer GB1 the space for his home upon graduation. The first thing GB1 did was cut down the tree.
BB watched QB set up BB98 all the while gently humming. The sack already empty. The bees circling her in anticipation of their new home. “I never knew if he was happy. I never knew what brought him joy.” QB took his ancient withered hand in her plump young one. She looked up at him and spoke her first words.
“He was a cranky bastard, BB. He was happiest when he was tearing things down, like BB4.” She stuck a corner of honey filled wax in her mouth and sucked at it. BB laughed. Wondering if the moment really happened or if he was experiencing dementia. “What kind of tree was it?” a golden thread dripping from her chin.
“An oak, I think?”
His great grand-daughter smiled around her honeycomb. “Let’s plant an acorn in the living room and poke a hole in the roof so it has a place to grow!” They laughed together. Poke a hole in the roof! What a ridiculous and delightful thought.
The crown of the oak tree rustled against the hole in the roof of GB1’s old house. There was an active hive in the east corner of the porch, facing BB’s house. QB and BB were delighted to find the hive there the year after GB1 passed. They did not relocate it. BB and QB hoped they would someday inhabit the tree. The last of the GBs (GB6) died during winter solstice. GG216 was not included in his will. Since none of the FBs or GGs inherited the property or houses, they left them alone and refused to maintain them. QB and BB planted trees in the living rooms and poked holes in their roofs. The day her father, brothers, uncles and cousins claimed their birthright, BB and QB gathered honey.
“BB, what will happen when FB36 dies?” Her hands covered in a thin layer of gold as she scraped honey from the screen of BB38.
“Same thing that happens when we all die. He’ll be dead.” BB was too old to sugar-coat things.
“And the other GGs will clear out all his things?”
“What will happen to me?”
“QB, your father is still quite young. You’ll have a home of your own by the time he dies.”
“How will I? I am like this hive.” QB looked directly at her ancestor. “They tolerate me as long as I remain silent and sweet, and prefer when I am somewhere else.”
BB, usually soothed by spending time with QB, was decidedly discomfited. The honey turned bitter in his mouth as she spoke. QB was quiet the rest of the day. They passed FB20’s house as the ambulance pulled away. He’d had a heart attack while yelling at his lawyer over his share of GB3’s estate. His six sons cleared the house of possessions, stripped it bare to the framework, within 24 hours. Then they left.
FB36 gathered his brood for a meeting. “I have inherited one sixth of GB6’s estate. My estate will be split between the five of you. GG210, you will receive an additional stipend until GG216 marries.” QB listened to her brothers’ disappointment.
“Why does he get more!? How is that fair?” whined GG213
“What do I do with a girl?” GG210 wondered.
“Can we send her away now? Will a school take her?” GG212 suggested.
“Does he really need extra? GG216 spends all their time at BB’s anyway…” GG214 speculated.
“GG216 is still alive? I thought she died, which is why GG213 took over her room.” GG215 dismissed.
“Silence.” FB36 shouted. “BB called me and asked that I make provisions for GG216. So I am.”
“FB36, could I just have an equal share? One sixth, like all the other GGs?” QB asked reasonably.
“Don’t be ridiculous. You will marry and have sons of your own. They will make money and build things. They will care for you.” FB36 reassured her with a pat on the head. Her brothers each patted her head. QB listened to them squabble for several minutes. Then she was done listening.
“Split it five ways, I will care for myself.” Then she left.
QB lived at BB’s from then on. As the FBs died, the GGs stripped their homes to the framework and eventually left. In every husk, QB and BB planted seeds and established hives. There was plenty of room. The area around BB’s grew silent. His sons were dead. His grandsons were dying. His great-grandsons were building and buying and having sons elsewhere. Which suited him just fine. On the last day of his exceptionally long life, he sat on his porch with QB and drank tea sweetened with honey. Cherry and plum blossoms floated lazily through the air.
“QB, what brings you joy?” BB knew hives were healthier when you talked to them.
“Bees,” QB replied.
Desiree Ducharme is a writer and dormant dragon who makes a living as an Inventory Manager at Powell’s City of Books. She spends her non-work time pretending she won’t buy every random mid-century mass market with a ridiculous cover she comes across. You can read more of her writing at desireeducharme.com.