SOMEWHERE, A HONEYBEE
by Andrew Browers
I kind of really love bees. While most kids were taught, through hilarious example by terrified adults, the various dance-like moves that help one evade these fuzzy little stingers, I learned to watch them buzz on by as they made their eponymous line toward a flower or fellow worker. I liked to watch them nestle into our rosebush to get at nectar and pollen. I liked it when they’d land on my shoe as I sprawled on my back to cloud gaze or read or while away my summertime days. I felt, I don’t know, like it was a little blessing. Bees be with you. And also with you.
It might be an invention of mine, but I seem to remember there being way more bees around in those days. You could hardly walk from your door to the door of your best friend without crossing paths with a few. I remember one day when a neighbor kid named Eric told us that he had once eaten a dead bee. The fact that he was comparatively already a very adult-sounding eleven years old, we couldn’t help but take him at his word. It tasted, he said, like all the other dead things in his (what I now understand to have been fabricated) catalog of gastronomical bad choices. It tasted “like pizza.” What was this, but one more reason to love bees? They tasted, when dead, like the staple of my diet. I was maybe downright in love.
Do you remember a few years ago when scientists started buzzing about the sudden vanishing of bees? There were dark theories about cell phones interfering with their innate navigation equipment. There was fear that without their busy little bodies to pollinate flowers, the plant world would suffer enormously. And once, at a beer tent in college, a friend told me in a hushed and horrified voice that Einstein had once speculated just how long humanity could limp onward without bees.
“How long?” I asked, also duly horrified.
“Five years,” he said scientifically, and finished the Michelob Golden Light that cost him three tokens.
In the split second of shared silence, before the band started rocking and rolling again or some reeling friend crashed into us, I think we played out the gravity of a beeless world. The conclusion was never said aloud, but we both knew it to be true: we need bees.
I’m happy to say that bees are still with us, though maybe they’re just better at population control than we are (I have a theory on bees as stewards that I’ll get to in a just a minute). You know when a bee is within a mile radius of you sometimes by the telltale boogie-woogie that some less entomologically inclined folks are prone to busting out. It is unmistakable, and unfakeable in the way all instinctive responses to the world are. My own grandmother had a very specific sound she would make in the event of a bee sighting—sort of a hybrid of yodeling, gobbling, and shuddering with one’s vocal chords, if there is distinction between any them, and I think there is. There is a famous story in my family of an outdoor wedding reception that was gate crashed by a veritable community of hornets. I’ll admit hornets are definitely more cantankerous than their honeycombing cousins, and they probably react more antagonistically to sudden movements and shrill yodel-gobbling, and as they convened for the mother of all buffet lunches, allegedly covering entire dinner plates in small war parties, I only suspect that fire was exchanged from both sides, and casualties were somewhere in the dozens. Hornet Old Timers probably still gather groups of their great-great-grand-pupae and engross them with the horrors of the lunch outing that had gone so grievously wrong. A few can probably point to the blank spaces where several legs used to be, or to a wing that had tasted the edge of someone’s folded napkin which, had they learned their letters, the hornets would have known to say CONGATS DANNY AND SONJA. And the young ones probably shudder, preparing to have that night the kind of horrible dreams little hornets hate.
But hornets are hornets and bees are bees, and I openly admit my bias. It goes so far as admiration, really. We could do worse than to try to be a little beelike.
Bees love the earth with a rare breed of stewardship. And they’re not in it for the hipness of caring, or the fashion and posturing. Bees transcend trends.
They have parrot tongues that have learned, over time, the speech of flowers, and when one takes the time to talk to others in their own words, great secrets are revealed; it is among the rarest joys of friendship. They understand that their greatness comes from each other—they share a vision, and a dream dreamed together yields a people with fearsome and unshakable unity.
They are not without their art, either. They are architects and I wager they are gifted, though sometimes bashful, singers. But a celebration thrown by honeybees is the envy of all other creatures, and they have been known to dance and sing with the healthiest sort of violence there is.
When summer wanes and winter waxes, they secure their doors and windows and settle in for a period of quietude, of reflection, of food and storytelling. They remember their fallen friends by name, and sometimes pass those names on to the little ones in the nursery, just learning to hum. I imagine them loving their children—and in that, they are immortal. They pass along lore and knowledge and all the things they have collected in their innumerable summers. They are natural teachers, you see, because they are also students of everything they encounter.
They are kind, they are generous, they are patient. But they also have a little fight in them, and if cornered, you will taste venom. But take heart—they are slow to anger, and strike as a last line of defense because sometimes, that sting is fatal in several significant and invisible ways. Though honeybees are not, by their nature, killers.
You probably know what I’m talking about, really. Among the swarms of people on the street, on the bus, in your office, around your supper table, there are probably honeybees. Aren’t they just the best?
I sometimes will flatter myself by looking for the bee in me. Sometimes, I do see little snippets—a stripe here or there—but then I’m never sure. The life of a bee, secret or otherwise, is about the most appealing one this imagination can summon. I can see it now.
Somewhere it’s Thanksgiving. Only I’m not alone. Instead, I’m someplace between a small town and the woods—not so far away that a trip for bread and milk is a chore, but just far away enough that the stars are not strangled by city lights at night, and they can be seen with magnificence.
Somewhere, in that house, there are people crowded in a kitchen. As the so-called king of this little castle, the power and responsibility of preparing the turkey falls to me.
Somewhere, in that house, there are kids being rambunctious. Siblings and cousins have endured about all a human can endure of delicious smells, and their only recourse to imploding with hunger is to explode the cushions of the couch into a fort.
Somewhere, probably very near me, is my counterpart, by lovebird, my wife. The combined efforts of our families to fill the walls to capacity with noise and with joy is insurmountable. We smile, we kiss, we choreograph an elaborate dance between stovetop, oven, and conversation. We’ve done this before, I think. We’re still getting the kinks out, but we’re not bad.
Somewhere, in this honeybee life, my dreams are understated but rich; I’m just another worker in the hive, and I’m satisfied. Simplicity is my nectar. I am drawn to it madly. The arrogance that is required to chase ambitions isn’t there, because there is not room for it around the table or in bed.
Somewhere, I have committed to a life. I am sometimes unsure but I am unafraid, because whenever I feel the sting of fear or doubt, there is a calm voice and loving hand to quiet it, to pull it free, and to kiss the little wound it left.
Somewhere, that makes it all better.
Somewhere, I’m not alone. Not ever. Because bees stick together.
I’m a believer in other worlds, other universes, even, where possibilities play themselves out. When I was maybe eight years old, my Dad tried to explain the theory through a simple but dramatic example. He picked up a blue Bic pen from the table and rested it on its tip.
“This pen can fall in how many possible degrees?”
“Three hundred sixty, right?”
“Right,” I assured him.
“Until it falls, every one of those degrees already exist as the final outcome of where the pen landed. And only when I let the pen fall,” and he did, “do we know in which outcome we are actually living.”
“Oh,” I said, to assure him that I understood, which was a lie.
“But in another universe, we’re living in the one where it fell another way. And they might be having this same talk right now.”
True to form with all these discussions, I felt the immensity of the idea, feeling the truth of it but not the scope. Not really. How could I, little eight year-old me, think that in another universe, I was not chubby, or I was not obsessed with Legos, or, most incredible and unfathomable of all, I was not even alive. Twenty years down the timeline, I am still at that table, in a way, trying to work out the implications of a pen that fell a different way.
In my devoted study of comic books, I eventually encountered the convention of the “multiverse.” Though each major publisher has its own slant on it, the basic suggestion is that on Earth 1 or Earth 616, things are pretty much as we know them, because that’s our Earth. But somewhere, somewhere else, there is an Earth 96, and on that Earth, things panned out a little differently. It was a way to sort through problems with bloated continuity. The strange adventures during the Golden Age? Oh, that was all on Earth 2, so pay them no heed, and read onward, unmolested by contradictions and quandaries. That was the idea. It helped me, with its primary color visual aids, to more fully realize the possibilities of a You or a Me or a Dr. Fate or Zatanna happening Somewhere that is not Here.
A former girlfriend of mine is fond of spouting out the attractive phrase coined by Gottfried Leibniz: we live in the best of all possible worlds. I like that phrase, and I like that idea, but I confess there are some days I don’t wholly believe it. And maybe there isn’t a Best among all those Possible Worlds. I mean, maybe, in that same somewhere in which I’m sweater-clad and carving up a holiday bird, maybe some cured disease went uncured. Maybe some act of love or revolution or revelation never occurred. Maybe Hitler won the war. Maybe, in that somewhere, I’m actually not all that happy.
I can’t help but dream about the place now and then. Though it pains me, sometimes, to think about all the things I did not or could not or would not commit myself to in this world, but there’s nothing to be done about it, aside from choosing to commit now to something, to somewhere—to try to better the chances of this really being maybe the best of all possible somewheres.
I guess what I’m saying is, it might not be too late to start living like the honeybee I dream of. But am I a honeybee? Can I devote myself laboriously, industriously, remorselessly to making the world a little sweeter for someone else? Can I be that bee? The sting of uncertainty is sharp, its poison terrible, but I carry a fearsome anti-venom, always in my pocket. I carry hope.
Andrew Browers is a freelance writer, theatre artist, and storyteller. Born in Cloquet, Minnesota, he holds a BFA from Bemidji State University, where he learned how to write, perform, fall in love, and keep warm amid life-threatening winters. He is the founding Artistic Director of the Ghost Light Theatre Company, dreams of writing comic books, and will often pump his fists to rock and roll. He currently lives in Minneapolis.