Queen Bee Trilogy I - Proboscis
"What are the bees doing, daddy?" his daughter asks, poking a small yellow and black carcass with a L-shaped twig. On the concrete slab by the kitchen sliding door, there are about six dead bees lying around. The father guesses that they must have spent the night smashing into the glass, feebly exhausting themselves in attempt to get to the kitchen night light.
Weighing the options of his answer, the father says, "They're sleeping, love, but be careful because they still have stingers." He is not really sure if the stinger can actually work after death, but one never knows.
"Oh," the child replies, still poking the insect, really unconvinced by the explanation. She knows that there is something wrong with it, that there is a problem with the word "sleeping." A person can be roused from sleep, shaken awake from their dreams. The father knows that his answer is tricky, too. "She's too young for the big D conversation," he thinks, looking at his child of three, whose braid is coming undone as nap time approaches.
The father himself didn't really comprehend death until he was about thirteen when his grandfather passed. He remembers it is a string of events, like pearls stained yellow with time. First a series of hospital visits that metamorphosed into a series to hospital stays. On the day his grandfather died, his mother picked him up early from school. Once in the car, she told him what had happened, sternly and directly, without the false folds of metaphor. They didn't say anything else for the rest of the drive home, only the glare of her white knuckles punctuated the silence.
The father looks back to his child, who still senses that something is not right with the bees. She is still anchored in the world of the literal while her father navigates the figurative, a cheap and unfair trick of adults. Maybe this is how children learn to negotiate the real from the symbolic; her dad has not lied, in the metaphorical sense, but all the while he had not really told the whole truth.
"Their tongues are sticking out," she observes. The father looks closely and sees that the other bees also have their tongues, technically the proboscis, out, too. He wonders why they would do this. Why this final gesture? Did all bees do this, as a death rattle of sorts?
"Come on, love, leave them alone," he says, and the daughter edges away, dropping the stick on the slab. She finds her little pink shovel and begins to dig a hole between two square patches of grass. As she scoops the earth from the ground, the father watches in wonder. She has no concept of burial, no framework for the placing of the body in the earth. But still, there she is, piling the dirt onto the deceased bee.
"What are you doing, love?" the father asks as the daughter places the brown dirt on top of one of the bees and shapes it into a mound.
Without looking at him, taking all the care in the world, she gently pats the top of the mound, leveling it neatly, and replies, "I'm keeping them safe."