On the August night her husband died Marie, too, had slept like the dead. “How ironic?” mourners said at the funeral, but John wasn’t one to wake her, even when he rose before dawn to tend to his bees before work. John slipped from under the bedsheets as lightly as a summer breeze. With a flashlight, cigar and jacket, he’d walk—no matter the weather—to his hives following a worn path through the woods behind their home. By the time he returned, they’d have coffee and he’d leave, bringing small canning jars of honey with him for each sales call. “Everyone likes a little gift,” he’d say, although Marie was sure some were too polite to say no.
As a boy, he’d learned from his maternal grandparents how to keep bees, and he’d never grown tired of it, no matter mosquito bites, bee stings, rain or heavy snow. He’d make the trip outdoors twice a day, the second one at dusk, fresh cigar in hand. John held no sentimentality for keeping the bees; it had nothing to do with their industriousness, communing with nature or selling honey, which he refused to do. “Brings peace of mind,” he’d say.
The morning’s brightness woke Marie, and having John by her side confused her. She wondered if he were ill, but her years as a nurse instantly sensed the cold of his body. He was gone. Marie phoned for medical assistance and then sat by the bed, her head resting on his shoulder. “Oh, John. What now?”
It wasn’t until later in the day, after his death was confirmed, her sons were told, and she’d returned home, did she weep. John planned for retirement, and they’d spoken of trips—he’d arrange for someone to check on the hives—but now all the travel brochures by his chair in the den lay idle. The bees, too, she thought, could fend for themselves.
Marie had little taste for honey, but did bake with it for John’s sake. As the quiet months stretched on after his death, she let dust and cobwebs collect on the small glass containers in the basement. When her sons visited, they’d take some honey to their faraway homes, but not before looking at the jars held in their hands, thoughts all their own. As the days continued, she’d find an excuse to run an errand, or maybe have a nice—but awkward—lunch date with a friend, only to return to a noiseless, empty home waiting for her like a stranger. In March, and in need of something to do, Marie set John’s folding table on the sidewalk with jars of honey and a sign, “FREE” that fluttered in the breeze.
“You should at least ask for a donation,” Marie had said to him, “those jars get expensive,” but John would only smile.
“Oh, thank you,” Mrs. Hudson said, walking across her lawn. “Can I take two jars?”
“We, uh, the neighbors, wondered if you’d keep the bees,” Mrs. Hudson said, “but didn’t want to ask… We do love the honey.”
“I’ve got plenty more,” Marie said, thinking of John’s folded clothes still sitting in bureau drawers and of his suits hanging in the closet. She could no sooner abandon the bees than she could the jacket John had kept in the garage smelling of stale cigar smoke.
So, Marie became a beekeeper.
She’d occasionally helped her husband maintain the hives, and knew the routine. Marie made the twice a day trek—although there was no need to—but it’s what John had done, and she couldn’t do otherwise: They’d shared one life, and walked one path, so she kept the bees. Each hive stood in its own wooded clearing, shaded from the sun and alive with darting black and yellow insects, who patiently lined up to enter the narrow wooden opening, or to fly off. Marie bought more jars, harvested the golden honey, and set them outside on the table. Sitting by the front window, she’d watch passersby grab jars, chat, come and go. Some were neighbors, some were strangers, maybe former associates of John’s, but all would wave thanks and a few would occasionally knock on the door to ask how she was. The faces became familiar, except for one older gent who stopped, read the sign, but didn’t take a jar. He returned the next day.
“Would you like some?” Marie asked, standing in the driveway, broom in hand.
“If that’s okay,” he said, his eyes hopeful. “My wife loved honey…”
“Oh? So did my husband.”
Later, standing in the cool evening air, Marie watched as bees returned to rest in the warmth of the hive. By her feet lay cigar stubs slowly decaying into the loamy soil. Little gifts, she thought. In the morning, Marie would take John’s suits from the closet.
# # #
Dennis J. Kafalas is the author of “Mistaken Impression,” (The Shallows, Cold Creek Literary Review, July, 2017); “When The Train Stops,” (Edify Fiction, May, 2017) “Spending A Day,” Shoreline Anthology (Stillwater River Press, 2016), An Obvious Life (Dare Empire E-Media e-book, 2012), Whale Pirates, (Debut Press trade paperback, 2003; e-book, 2012) and Inspired Learners, Active Minds: A Guide for The English Classroom (Rowman&Littlefield Educational Publishers, 2009).
To learn more, please visit denniskafalas.com
Photo: Chinh Le Duc