Telling the Bees – Chapter 4
‘… Oui oui, bien sûr, je sais,’ Amélie continued. ‘Ce n’est pas juste. It’s not fair to keep it from him. He’ll have to make decisions. We’ll have to make decisions together.’
She shifted her seat. The hive stand was a broad, sturdy bench of rough-sawn timber. There was ample room for a beekeeper to stack boxes next to the hive she was working on – or park her bottom and ‘commune with the bees’, as Tom liked to call it, making gentle fun of her habit.
It was a comfort to her, a reminder of her childhood in the green hills and secret, wooded valleys of the Limousin. Closing the circle.
When she sat with her bees she felt that she had come home, though in truth home was a lifetime and half a world away. These hills, these forests of Wurundjeri country were grander, more austere, less benign.
‘Am I being so terribly selfish?’
The morning drizzle had made way to a bright, clear afternoon, almost warm.
She watched the insects spiralling upward, growing smaller and finally disappearing into that impossible, perfect blue. Returning foragers appeared as dots, came in on a steep, straight descent.
Nectar foragers rushed into the dark slit of the entrance, eager for their sisters’ caressing antennae, urgent mouths to relieve the burden of a full crop. Pollen foragers swaggered into the darkness, bulging baskets on their hind legs, orange, red and golden.
So much appetite for pollen was a sure sign that the queen was laying well. A new generation of brood was plentiful and hungry: the colony would swarm within the month unless she intervened.
‘It’s so … irrevocable.’
She had insisted that he drive around to greet the new neighbours.
‘You can’t just wander across their paddock and turn up at the back door.’
‘But we’ve been keeping an eye on the place for old Steiner for years. Only thanks to us it didn’t burn down when those little sods lit that fire in the barn and not to mention …’
‘That’s all in the past now. You have to respect the new people’s privacy.’
‘But it’s six bloody kays down to the Yarra, across the bridge and up that shitty potholed track and I could just …’
It was already dark when she heard the ute toil up the hill, followed by a crunch of tyres on gravel and the hollow thud of the driver’s door. A creak as the passenger-side door opened. In her mind’s eye she could see Tom coax Harris from his bed in the footwell. ‘Out you come, boy.’
A gust of cold air whipped around her calves as the kitchen door opened. There were always draughts in this old place, despite his determination to track them down and eradicate them. She adjusted the blanket across her lap and leaned closer to the wood stove.
‘Well, that was interesting.’
‘Oh, yes?’ Harris shoved a wet nose under her elbow and she put her arm around his neck.
Tom was triumphant.
‘Half-A-Story Gallinari got it wrong, as usual … Nice couple. Youngish. Early forties, I’d say.’
They could be anywhere between thirty and fifty, then. He was a hopeless judge of age.
‘Done well for themselves?’ The Homestead was rumoured to be worth tens of millions.
‘Oh, they’re not the owners. No. They’ve been taken on as caretakers, property managers. They’ll live on site, oversee the tradies.’
‘Just renovations. Not redevelopment. Get the old place fully habitable again, but tread lightly, respect the history. Going to be some sort of luxury retreat. No conference centre, nothing like that.’
‘And the Singapore connection?’
‘The owners live there, apparently.’
‘So Rita didn’t get it entirely wrong, then.’
He shrugged, unwilling to concede ground to ‘that woman’.
‘Going to fix up their fence, too.’
‘They were very interested to hear about what we’re doing here. Asked a lot of questions about the whole off-grid, self-sufficiency thing. I said they’re welcome to come round, any time.’
Any time? Hopefully they took that as a figure of speech.
‘And their names are …?’
‘Jason and … something. Maybe Laura?’ He frowned.
The renovation reality show was on again after tea. They snuggled on the sofa and played their own little game: inappropriate use of the first person singular. It was amazing how often people on TV revealed their egocentricity through blatant ‘my’s instead of ‘our’s, ‘I’s instead of ‘we’s, while their hapless other half stood by, blank-faced.
‘“I’m missing my babies …” Surely they’re his kids as well? I wonder what he’s thinking,’ she said at length. ‘It’s like he’s of no account at all. But he probably loves those children, misses them as much as she does.’
‘Should think he’s used to it. Probably resigned to a walk-on role in the family drama. Doubt he notices.’
‘The men do it too, you know.’
‘Do they really now? Well, we’ll see.’
Just look at us, she thought. A childless retired couple sitting in our big house, looking down our smug noses at the dramas of the young, busy and fertile, played out for us on screen.
Finding herself suddenly awake in the middle of the night, she fumbled for the alarm: three seventeen a.m. She made out the dim form of Harris standing at the door.
His bladder woke him often these days. It was only a matter of time until there was an accident, but they couldn’t banish the faithful old boy from the bedroom.
A heavy sleeper, Tom barely stirred as she slid out of bed, shuffled into her moccasins, draped the gown over her shoulders and opened the door. Harris padded out into the living room, crescent tail stiffly wagging. The stove was nearly out: there was just a faint glow of embers through the sooty door. She’d stoke it before returning to bed.
Quietly she pulled back the heavy curtains, looked out across the veranda to the moonlit garden.
It was a clear, still night. The giant moon hung heavy and full in the western sky, framed by treetops. A nearby magpie warbled and was answered by a rival down in the valley.
Frogs called from the dams, a constant click and pop. Amélie imagined the water seething with little bodies.
She was about to open the French doors out onto the veranda when she noticed movement. Under the giant oak tree a figure detached itself from the black of the trunk, strode out into the net of moonlight under the leafless boughs and turned to face the house.
Harris growled, a rumble deep in his chest, more felt than heard.
Next week in Telling the Bees:
Chapter 5: Nocturne
Amélie takes matters into her own hands.
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.