Telling the Bees – Chapter 15
Comings and Goings
‘After three days, she comes round, sits up in bed bright as you like, turns to me and says: “Tommy dear, would you go and make Mummy a nice cup of tea? I’m parched!”’ Tom yawned, stretched. ‘So I reckoned I was safe to come home.’
‘What’s the outlook?’
‘The doc says she could be in remission for days, weeks or months. But you know how they are, doctors …’
‘Well, it’s lovely to have you home, chéri.’
Behind such platitudes she tried to conceal how desperately she had missed him, how she had hated being parted. She didn’t want him to feel guilty, or that he couldn’t go again, when it became necessary.
That afternoon she took her hiking pole, a water bottle and the old Zeiss binoculars, and set off up the Hill, stopping off mid-slope at the Glade to catch her breath and spend a little time with the bees.
It was a warm day and she sat among the hives, body and mind attuned to their constant deep thrum. Hundreds of burly drones were emerging from the dark entrance slits and soaring into the vast sky, whose blue was softened by a thin gauze of high cloud.
The air was still and close in the shelter of the trees. She felt perspiration gather at the base of her skull, trickle down the nape of her neck, her spine and into the small of her back.
These bulky males would head off to fulfil their biological destiny and seek a virgin queen to mate with. Only the unsuccessful would return, as copulation meant inevitable death.
She always imagined the infertile females, the workers, being fondly exasperated with these male theatrics, which congested the hive entrance and impeded the important female business of gathering nectar and pollen, then stowing them in the neat hexagonal cells of the comb against hard times.
At length, she bade the bees farewell and continued on her way, willing the ache of stiffened calf and thigh muscles to disperse.
The heavy binoculars were a necessary bother. It wasn’t birds that she intended to observe.
The slope of bush descending from the public walking trail to the Homestead’s upper boundary was choked with fallen timber, awash in a sea of bracken fern. Tree ferns towered above her, their filigree fans filling the gaps in the canopy of blackwood and wattle.
The fence – or as they called it now, The Fence – truly was an eyesore. That razor wire was dreadful. So ugly, so out-of-place. She settled herself on a fallen trunk, with a clear field of vision but hopefully well concealed by the greenery, and adjusted her binoculars.
There was disappointingly little to see. The Homestead lay quiet under the dome of heat which pressed down on the valley. The image in her lenses flimmered.
Outside the main house she recognised Jason’s white RAM. A contractor’s van was parked over by the barn, where two men laboured through the heat on the rusty iron roof. Faint hammering sounds drifted across the paddock on the drowsy air.
Otherwise, nobody stirred.
She tried to make out the name of the company on the side of the van, but the image was too unsteady: a combination of heat haze and muscle tremor. In the end she gave up in exasperation. Nothing of note was happening anyway.
After a while, the men descended their ladders, packed up their tools, departed. When they had gone, her head fell forward and she dozed, lulled by the hot breeze and the din of crickets.
She awoke to an ear-splitting clatter and a downdraft that set the forest all around her in motion. In panic and dismay she let herself slip from the log onto the forest floor, curled in a ball with hands pressed over her ears to ward off this aural assault.
As she opened her eyes and looked up, a shadow passed over her. Against the light the chopper resembled a giant black insect: a dragonfly skimming the highest treetops in the hunt for prey. She shrank back against the bulk of the fallen tree, making herself as small as possible.
Had she been spotted? The vegetation was mercifully thick …
The helicopter approached the buildings of the Homestead, spun around – the bulbous cockpit windscreen seeming to fix her in its blank stare – hovered, then descended until its slender skids were resting on the neat, green lawn, half a kilometre downslope of her vantage point.
Fumbling for the binoculars, she raised them in time to see Jason and another, smaller individual duck below the lethal spinning rotor blades. Jason had his arm around the person’s shoulders, ushering, guiding towards the house. It was difficult to tell whether he was assisting or coercing. She could make out nothing of the other person other than their small stature.
Two men in military-style fatigues emerged from the chopper and moved away – one to the left, one to the right – agile and alert, scanning the area with quick sweeps of the head.
She thought to have caught a glimpse of a weapon, possibly a submachine gun – over one man’s shoulder, before the shaking in her hands became too bad and she had to lower the glasses. So frustrating.
By the time she had regained control of her hands, there was nobody outside, and the chopper stood motionless on the lawn.
The shadows were growing long and it was time to go home. Tom would begin to worry.
Only when she turned to leave did she see the security camera, its unblinking eye aimed along the fence line, past her position. Was the lens angle wide enough to have caught her, sitting there, spying on her neighbours?
Her first thought was to slink away, but if the damage was done, it was done. Might as well face the fact with panache.
She gave the camera a curtsy and a cheery wave, then turned to go.
Next week in Telling the Bees:
Chapter 16: Rewind
Amélie becomes increasingly frustrated with her husband.
Acknowledgement of Country: The Woiwurrung people of the Kulin alliance are the Traditional Owners of the land on which this story is set. I pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.
Disclaimer: The people and events described in this story are entirely the product of the author’s imagination; they bear no intentional resemblance to real-life people and events. The locations are based on real places.