Bees need three things: sun, water, and shelter. Not so different from people. I keep my hives on wooden pallets, facing south like the manuals tell you. They sip water from a saucer on the stump. I name the queens Elizabeth I and II.
My landlord says, You better not be digging things up back there, as if the yard behind this dump I rent is some kind of Garden of Eden.
I’m not, I tell him. Can you fix the toilet while you’re here? My water bill is out of sight. He laughs and puts the lawn mower in his truck. He’s got a bunch of these one-bedroom shacks, and none of them are the Taj Mahal.
I keep the brood boxes clean and the landing board clear. When ants attack, I set the hive stand legs in pails of water. I’m hoping for honey by July. I almost call Terry – she’d get a kick out of the bees – and then I remember. It still comes like that, the urge to talk to her.
The landlord shows up again to mow. I tell him, Don’t bump the bees.
He says, Worry about your rent. You’re three months late.
I’m good for it, I tell him. My toilet is still running, but now’s not the time. Later I hear the mower groaning, tall grass wrapping around blades.
Each week, I smoke the bees to calm them and open up the hives. I check for larvae in the honeycomb, scrape propolis from the frames. Bees are more social than almost any other creature: they build nests together and look after brood that aren’t their own.
At the gas station where I work nights, they tell me they don’t need me anymore, say they’ll be closing now at ten. Some kid got robbed the week before. I’m not a kid, I tell them. I don’t mind a little danger. I have bee stings up and down my arms to prove it, but they still take my badge.
My hives are humming, filled with drones. My bank account is empty. The landlord says, I need the rent. Says, Get it from a friend. My situation hasn’t changed: still me and my bees here. There’s no one else.
On Wednesday, he knocks on my back door. Your hives violate the lease, he tells me, waving paper and a cigarette. A sheriff is coming.
If a bee head-butts you, it’s saying, step away, but most people don’t understand. When bees attack, never flail your arms and swat. That’s bee speak for I’m a threat. It makes them want to swarm.
I walk out back and zip up my bee suit: long pants and sleeves, white hat and veil. The landlord and the sheriff are yelling in the yard, but all I hear is humming.
Minette Cummings studied English Literature and Creative Writing at Rice University and the SUNY Writers Institute. Currently, Minette lives in upstate New York, where she spends her days as a librarian surrounded by stories and her nights writing her own. You can read more of her work in Flash: The International Short Story Magazine, The Atticus Review, Pithead Chapel, the Running With Water literary anthology, and Flash Fiction Magazine.