Sunday, 22 April 2012

Bees

Weekends bring many pleasures, not least a long soak in the bath with a good book.  Since most of my current reading is either study- or Kindle-based, I opt instead for Sarah Hall's collection of short stories The Beautiful Indifference.


'Bees' opens with a middle-aged woman finding her house-mate's garden littered with dead bees.  At first, I'm not sure why this story should work so well.  It's written in the tricky second person and has no dialogue at all, but then the prose is beautiful, compact but richly descriptive.  The bees are 'black-capped, like aristocrats at a funeral, their antennae folded, with mortuary formality, across their eyes'.  The woman reflects on her move to London after her failed marriage to a Cumbrian farmer.  I can't help thinking I've met this farmer, or someone just like him, in a village pub on the fells.  Until, at the end, she discovers the reason for the bees' demise.  And like the best short stories, it makes an impression, and then lingers.

I like the way good writing seems to sharpen your senses.  I close the book and listen.  Across the city, church bells ring and the starlings nesting in our gutter clamour for food.  From my son's bedroom, the incessant whistle of a police siren car chase.  The peace lily on the sill trembles in the draught of the barely open window.

I think of the bees that swarmed in our garden.  The clichéd cloud and drone, the hasty evacuation of young children.  Once swarmed, they gathered benignly on the stone wall, barely visible until you were an arm's length away.  The council did tell us what type they were, but I've forgotten now. Certainly, not comic-book bees; they were thinner and paler coloured.

I could add bee-keeping to my list of pipe-dreams, along with bountiful allotment keeping and hosting gregarious outdoor dinners as seen in the better lifestyle magazines.

In the meantime, I return to more mundane affairs - post-Freudian analysis of Dracula and a fun-run in the local park.

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