Telling the Bees – Chapter 5
‘Holy fuck, love,’ said Tom, his voice faint through the ringing in her ears. ‘What’s going on? You scared the bejesus out of me.’
He stood in his pyjamas, barefoot on the boards of the veranda, one hand gripping Harris by the collar. The veranda lamp threw a broad splash of light across the garden, deepening the shadows.
Dogs on neighbouring farms were barking. Magpies and frogs had fallen silent.
Amélie broke the shotgun and removed the spent cartridge. She looked down at her moccasins, soaked from the dewy grass.
‘Someone here. Watching the house.’
‘Are they still there?’
‘No, they’re gone. I think.’
‘You didn’t shoot ’em?’
‘Of course not! I fired in the air – a warning.’
‘Thank Christ for that … Hold on, I’ll get me boots.’
‘Bring the rubber torch.’
The soft mulch beneath the oak was disturbed, but that could have been any number of nocturnal visitors snuffling and scratching, from rabbits to wallabies. There were no clear footprints. Nor on the grass.
‘Are you sure, love? It couldn’t have been a deer? Or a roo?’
‘It was a person, a man. Harris knew. He growled.’
‘He might have been picking up on your tension. You know what it’s like, the moonlight. It plays tricks.’
‘Tom! There was someone. Right – here.’ She pointed at the dew-damp lawn. Its pristine filigree of interlocking tiny blades gave her the lie. Nobody had stood here. Their own footprints were clear as black ink on paper.
‘We’ll have a better look in the morning, love. Come in now, you’ll catch your death.’ She let him take the gun gingerly from her hands, holding it upright at arm’s length, as if it might go off by itself.
‘Shouldn’t we call the police?’
‘It’ll take ’em hours to get around to us, out here, on a Friday night, they couldn’t find their arse with a map, and … maybe we don’t want awkward questions being asked.’ He eyed the long barrel of the weapon doubtfully.
She realised that she was shivering violently. Or was it the tremor returning?
Tom offered to sit up with her, but she sent the yawning man back to bed. Soon his snores issued from the bedroom.
Sitting in her armchair, moccasins steaming in front of the blazing stove, a cup of hot, sweet cocoa in her chilled hands, she tried to piece it all back together.
What concerned her more than the blank lawn: she had no recollection of going to the gun safe, unlocking it, taking her shotgun, loading it and going out to confront the intruder.
The gun had suddenly been in her hands, and she in her slippers on the lawn. Then the deafening report, the recoil against her shoulder, the waft of gunpowder.
She reviewed the scene countless times but got no further back than the first.
Best keep that to yourself, Amélie.
How much could one person keep to herself?
The sun was in the treetops when she woke, swaddled in a thick blanket that hadn’t been there when she finally fell asleep. She could hear Tom clattering in the kitchen. His kindly, bearded face appeared around the door jamb.
She joined him in the kitchen, looked out across the garden. The dew had evaporated in the warmth of the morning sun.
‘Yeah. Couldn’t see anything. Had a good old look around.’
He thought she’d imagined it. She could tell it by the way he avoided her gaze, then held it too long.
‘I put your gun away. Best check it’s all … ah … satisfactory.’
Tom’s hands-on practicality didn’t extend to firearms. He was timid around them and therefore dangerous. For her a shotgun or rifle was simply a tool of rural life, so pest control had automatically become her task.
She loved patrolling her land at first and last light with the familiar weight in the crook of her arm.
Another thing they’ll take from you.
Tomorrow would be market day, the first farmers’ market of the spring. It promised to be a fine day, so hopefully the turnout would be good.
There was plenty to prepare for the stall: jams and chutneys from their fruit, honey from their bees, beeswax products, citrus. After the late start, it kept her gratefully busy for the rest of the day, checking inventory and filling boxes.
Market day was also a social occasion, an opportunity to catch up with old friends after the quiet winter months and make acquaintance with folk newly moved to the area.
Would the new neighbours be there, she wondered.
Next week in Telling the Bees:
Chapter 6: Market Day
Amélie worries that people are talking behind her back.
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.