The bees began to buzz around the chimney the day you went away. They took you away, in the back of an ambulance, and I watched you disappear. And then it was just me, alone in that huge rambling house, wondering where I went wrong and what I could have done differently. It is the height of the summer and the heat unusually relentless for this time of year. Everything is more extreme and it makes me uncomfortable.
Then the bees came. It was as if they sensed your departure, and arrived, an army of black and yellow. I watched as the sky became thick with black dots.
The house was under attack, from an alien force. They settled on the chimney. I watched them move in, and before long the top of the chimney was black, the red brick hidden under the mass of heaving bodies that sat piled up on one another.
It has been two days, and there are more. I have ventured outside, barefoot, at the call of the postman, and the summon of the door bell.
Now I stand by the back door, clutching the parcel the postman handed to me before he shot off up the lane, with nothing but a gruff ‘good morning’, leaving me once again alone. It is the first time that I have spoken aloud since they took you, and my throat is prickly, and my mouth dry.
There is a note taped to the garden gate: ‘KEEP GATE SHUT. BEES!’ There are similar signs inside the house, in varying states, the sellotape already peeling away from the wood. The kitchen door, normally open all day, is bolted shut, a note stuck there, the pen marks fierce.
I shield my face as I look up, inspecting their progress for the day. I shudder, my toes curling on the warm tarmac at the thought of all those tiny bees buzzing around in the sky. I can feel them crawling on my skin, and I rub my arms furiously, shivering despite the heat.
I am clueless about how to deal with a swarm of bees. I had spent the best part of that morning researching bee hives and swarms, clicking link after link, trying to understand why they had decided to swarm like that. Why they had chosen my chimney to call their home.
The bees were dopy, many of them crawling around on the patio, disorientated, and I had to tiptoe round them, watching where I trod and avoiding the outside areas closest to the chimney. They trickled down the chimney itself too, and lay on the carpet like fallen warriors.
I am smaller than ever, there by the house, with hundreds – thousands, I’d read on that bee keeping website – of bees for company. Except, I didn’t want to keep any bees, and wasn’t it impractical to have honey bees in the chimney? You couldn’t do much with that. Sunlight rests on my cheek, but the delight of the overdue summer that is upon us means nothing today. My shoulders are tight, and my mind skips ahead to what could happen, if the bees are to stay. I clasp the parcel across my body, like a shield, my fingers gripping the cardboard.
Nothing has trained for me this moment in my life. I long for simpler times, before everything changed. ‘I’ll always be there,’ you had said, but that was before they took you away, before the bees came. People make promises they can’t keep all the time, I know that. But I still – I hoped you were right. Even though you were long gone, I still believed. I had to have that belief or what else did I have?
And now, nature was moving in, taking over, leaving me a prisoner in my own home.
The note on the gate flaps in the light breeze. Overhead an aeroplane meanders by, leaving a trail behind it in the sky. You left a trail too, of clues that mean nothing. Yours remain, unlike the smoke that has faded into the bright blue of the sky, scattered throughout the house and garden. My eyes fall on the overflowing wheelbarrow of rubbish to be burnt.
Unable to stand out there a minute longer, my skin crawling at the mere thought of all those bugs on me, I turn and head inside, careful to check the bricks for fallen bees.
I put the parcel on the kitchen table, and listen out for any signs of life. There is silence though, and I know I am still alone. The parcel stares at me. It isn’t addressed to me, and so there is nothing I can do, but leave it there, on the table, glaring at me, as if accusing me of something – I don’t know what. It’s not like I wanted you go to away. I daren’t open it – it seems evasive, but I can’t explain why.
Before you went, I was desperate to be alone – to have the space and the free run of the house. But now, I wasn’t so sure. It wasn’t all that I thought it would be.
If you came back, then the bees would leave. I was sure of that. But you weren’t coming back, and the buzz only got louder and louder, until I could bear it no more. You didn’t always have the answers, but in that moment, I believed that you did. In fact, I believe so strongly that you did, that I knew you would be able to sole this.
Except you weren’t here.
I switch the radio on to distract myself from the ache in my head.
The sun beats on the windows and I feel trapped inside this heat box that is already warming up. It wouldn’t be long before I would be roasting in there, but I had nowhere else to go. The radio presenter talks about flooding, far away, on the other side of the world, and I can’t connect with it at all, can’t make it make any sense. It’s a world I’m not a part of – it’s not mine.
My attention returns to my open laptop, which I had abandoned with the knock of the postman. The facts and statistics stare at me from the screen. The numbers blur in front of me and I snap the screen shut.
I scratch at my arms again, as if the bees are there, crawling over my skin. I shudder.
From where I stand, outside looks perfectly normal. As if there is no waiting, ticking explosion up in the chimney. The sky is stretched out, clear blue. I stare out, in a dreamy haze.
I jump as the phone rings.
My first thoughts flick to you. But of course it cannot – will not – be you. You are lying in a dark, cold room somewhere, unable to move. You are dead. And I am alive. I listen to the unfamiliar sound of the ring, the shrill sound digging right into me, like a thorn picking at my skin. I hesitate, before answering it. ‘Hello?’
There is no one there, just silence, and although I hold the phone, waiting for a reply, I am waiting in vain. I put the phone back in its cradle, wondering if I’d imagined it all. Had the phone even rung? But yes it had, I was sure of it. I had heard it. Then why had there been no one there?
I wasn’t prepared for any of this.
I wished I was older – that I was thirty and an adult, rather than eighteen, and utterly stuck. After they took you, I hadn’t expected to be trapped indoors, a prisoner in my own home. It was silly to let nature take over and control me so much, but it was like time had frozen. I hadn’t expected life to stop. But how could I carry on? With you gone, there was no point to this life. What had I expected?
I stand at the window and stare out. Moving closer to the glass, I peer up at the chimney, where the black blur of bees is still visible.
From this distance it looked perfectly harmless, but I imagine the bees attacking and swarming around me, and I, unable to get away. I had seen a film like that once, where nature had ganged up on the humans. It had haunted my nightmares for weeks. Those images came flooding back to me now, making me flinch at the memory. I considered those bees again, and how they were so tiny in size. One alone was harmless, but I reckoned they had strength in the sheer volume. There had to be thousands of them there. Easily. Against me, a measly human, with no way of defending myself. They had all the advantages, and I had none.
If they wanted, I was sure they could kill me. I wrapped my arms around my body and wrinkled my nose. As I thought that, I couldn’t help but imagine them swooping in, and completely covering me, until I disappeared completely. And who would find me?
Only the postman came now, and even he didn’t linger. It was as if he knew that this wasn’t a place that he should want to hang around. It was tainted, stained in some way and I couldn’t shake that.
It was no good however, just standing there, staring at them. If anything I would only terrify myself into a stupor and there would be no one there to rescue me when I did eventually fall.
My attention was taken away by a small buzzing sound. In my nervous state, everything was heightened, and I was instantly drawn to the noise. A bee had somehow found its way into the house, a lone warrior, dispatched from the troops, despite the closed windows and doors that I hadn’t dared crank open for over a day. I watch the progress of the small thing as it weaves its way down the window, clearly trying to find a way back out into the bright sunlight.
The buzzing sound fills the room and I shiver. I watch it move around, content in its desperation to get outside again. Even that did not make me feel easy. I was still convinced that it was after me, and me alone. As if it knew I was alone and waiting for them to come for me. As if it knew I had no choice.
I move away from the window then, desperate to seek something else to occupy my mind, and take me away from the stifling heat and panic that was flooding through me.
Was it really only yesterday that they took you away? It was hard to believe that was possible.
My eyes once again fall on the parcel on the table. I pick it up, wondering what it was, what you had ordered and why. It is heavy, oddly heavy, although it’s perfectly book shaped, and could be nothing but a book. The name and address on the label taunt me. You would never open it now. Never know what it was. Was it a sign – left by you?
I wrap my arms around the parcel again, enjoying the feeling that it was something solid – something of you. I wished you had never gone away because it was the day the bees came and I didn’t like it at all.