An old woman becomes obsessed with bees...
|A TASTE OF HONEY
Most of the roses had taken a beating from the rain, but a few blooms had come through the storm untouched. Watching a rose nod in the morning breeze, Pudi Kantz pulled her gaze back to a closer point of focus and stared at her reflection in the window. It was an imperfect mirror, revealing to her a colorless transparent countenance like that of a haunting spirit; but perhaps it was an accurate reflection, after all, she was a ghost of her former self and in some ways dead already.
Sometimes, like now, it was difficult to believe that the face in the window was actually hers. She had always been a happy woman, seldom given to troubled introspection, never a brooder. But since the tragic death of her sisters, the loneliness was beginning to destroy her.
Raising her glass of honey wine, Pudi sensed something wrong just as she brought it to her mouth. Perhaps she subconsciously registered the lack of a honey aroma—or the faint foul smell that had replaced it. She stopped as she was about to tilt the glass to her lips, and saw what it contained: a clumped-ball of bees, entwined and fighting to climb upon one another to stay clear of the wine.
Startled, she cried out, and the glass slipped from her fingers. It dropped just inches to the table, but didn’t shatter. When it tipped over, the bees clambered out.
Pudi bolted out of the chair, blinking furiously—then the bees were gone. Nothing but spilled wine shimmered on the tabletop.
Rattled by her inability to come up with an explanation, she grabbed a paper towel from the dispenser and wiped up the mess.
Her hands were shaking.
Pudi was angry at herself for being afraid, even though the source of the fear was understandable. She thought that she had suffered a minor stroke of which the flickering hallucination of bees was the only sign. More than anything else, she dreaded a stroke, and worried that she might suddenly find herself unable to move or talk, unsure of where she was, unable to recognize her surroundings or even her own name.
When her sisters were alive, she had the comfort of knowing that whatever happened, they would be there to take care of her. Now she had no one, and she began to notice a gleam of madness in her eyes. If silenced and badly crippled by a stroke, she would be at the mercy of the bees—they would come for her.
The three sisters, all spinsters well into their sixties, had inherited the business of distilling honey from their father. When Pudi was twelve, it had been her idea to call the wine, ‘A Taste of Honey’. The name stuck, and the bees stung everybody but her. Somehow she was immune, even at an early age.
Then the terrible accidents began, and Lois, the eldest, was killed. She had been gathering honey when the bees attacked. Throughout the years, Pudi's sisters had grown accustomed to bee stings. Now their old skin was weatherworn and calloused. But this had been different. The bees had engulfed Lois, covered her body like a humming cloak and stung her to death. They found her body a mass of undifferentiated flesh, a lump of oozing pustules as if her skin had been scalded by boiling water.
Then it was Alice. She had been pouring honey into the deep vat when the bees attacked. In an attempt to swat them away, she lost her balance and fell into the thick, syrupy liquid and drowned. Pudi found her at the bottom of the vat, arms outstretched, eyes swollen in fear, encased within a sticky cocoon of golden honey.
Now Pudi was the last, and the shadows waited like a gathering of old friends.
A soft and tremulous laugh escaped her lips. “You crazy old coot,” she said, and felt better for making fun of herself.
Feeling hungry, she searched the kitchen for a snack, but when she pulled the door open, the cabinet swarmed with bees.
Faster and more agile than she’d been in years, she backed away, slamming into the counter behind her.
Thousands of nesting bees swarmed upon the shelves.
Pudi squeezed her eyes shut—opened them, but the bees were still there.
Above the drumming of her own heart, she could hear them buzzing, humming, singing to her.
But then she realized she was misinterpreting the source of the sounds. The buzzing was not coming from the open cabinet across the room but from the cabinets immediately above and behind her.
She looked over her shoulder, up at the pine doors, on the other side of which should have been nothing but plates and bowls, cups and saucers. They were being forced outward by some expanding bulk. Before Pudi could move, the cabinet doors flew open. An avalanche of bees cascaded over her head and shoulders.
Screaming, she tried to run, then slipped upon a living carpet of bees and fell among them.
With no warning, she suffered a stroke.
The pain was excruciating. Partially paralyzed, her body curled up like a pill bug upon the floor, her mouth gaping open.
The bees immediately set to work. They did not sting her, but welcomed her as a queen. Exerting themselves, they began to build their hive. They crawled in and out of her mouth, down her throat and into her lungs. Every time she gasped for air, she could feel them buzzing within her.
Her body pulsed, writhed, changed, and still, the bees labored; they fed her and kept her alive.
Several days later when the neighbor came to call, she found Pudi upon the floor, encased in bees and honeycomb, with only the side of her face that had pressed against the floor remaining clear.
Pudi's eye twitched and blinked sadly, then a tear spilled down her cheek to the floor like a slow drizzle of honey from a spoon.
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