It is 3:05 in the afternoon and I am restless. My mother has collapsed on her bed and fallen asleep. My father sits in the front room with his legs crossed on the rigid ottoman, reading quietly as Katie does the same a few feet away. I have managed to position myself in a rickety armchair, the cushion tired, the wood starting to show signs of wear and corrosion from all the salt floating around here. Had I not pushed the chair as close to the card table as its arms would permit, I doubt I would have much restraint at all. I cannot seem to sit still. Surely I am sitting but I feel the need to move my fingers, to wiggle my toes in my rubber slip-ons, the black patterned flesh gnawing against the worn soles of summer feet. This house is hot and within it I am warmer. Thoughts ricochet about my head, tangling with my hair, unkempt and puffy in the weighted air. The breezes that pass through the patchworked screen door are disruptive, sending each crinkly strand of hair in a different direction. I am calm in the least calm of ways.
Two feet from the deck stairs there is a large bundle of orange flowers. They look sort of like those white weeds that grow in the woods, the ones that you can place in a glass filled with food coloring and then come back in a few days to rainbow flowers. My mum used to call them "Lace" something or other, but I cannot remember now. But the orange flowers here are almost burnt in their coloring. They are bright but also extremely dull. Every time I walk by them, half a dozen bees or so swarm from the underneaths of the flowers, up, up to meet my swinging arms and clumsy feet. The bees here have tangerine fur, tiny strips of orange hair banded by black on both ends. They are larger than most bees I have seen but for some reason do not intimidate me the way wasps and hornets do. They are almost like bumblebees, fuzzy and diligent in their tasks, but with a longer thorax and therefore not quite so fat. Regardless they seem always to hover around the orange plants, a little collage of orange that seems to change only in composition, never in appearance.
It amazes me that any living creature could be so meticulous about one single thing. I think constant repetition would drive me mad. A bee's greatest job is to collect the pollen and nectar from plants, return its sticky bounty to the hive, then leave once more to repeat the process all over again. When I was younger I never understood that bees were doing anything but terrifying me with their presence. I would run away from one, whimpering, if it came within even a few feet of me. Every summer until I was 8, I managed to be on the receiving end of a bee stinger. Usually it was my own fault: the house I lived in when I was little had wooden benches that my dad had built into the deck, and hornets liked to build their nests underneath the seats. I would come along, sit down and begin swinging my legs, end up kicking the nest, irritating its inhabitants and leading to screams from me as I ran away, never quite able to escape their wrath completely.
A bee has not stung me in years and I admit that I still walk a little faster when I see one swooping near me. But as I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate the space they occupy. Every bee, whether it be a hornet, a wasp, a bumblebee, surely even the orange bees, instinctively protects its hive. A bee will risk its life protecting its home and its fellow residents. In a way, the structure of a bee hive is a microcosm for the way humans function. We go about our daily business with generally no other intentions but to complete our tasks thoroughly and efficiently. But if something we hold in high regard is threatened, we fight: some of us with words, some of us physically, but all of us instinctively.
My old neighbors, the Scotts, were bee farmers, and when we moved away they gave us a book that Mr. Scott had written, entitled Bee Lessons. Somewhere in the middle of the book lies a beautiful truth.
Dulcet et decorum est pro patria Mori.
"Sweet and beautiful it is to die for one's country."