The Burden

The Burden

The Burden 1600 1600 Kelly Gray

We are on the beach, and bees are falling from my arms. They are dead in the sand, small bodies with wings folded neatly to yellow fuzz, amongst crab claws and plastic. People are playing volleyball. Dogs are zipping, children digging. The bees are pouring from the soft of my inner arms, I am holding them out to you. The whiteness against the sand is glaring, turning pink.

“Am I a fucking hive?”

You look unimpressed, as if every woman you have taken to this beach- which must be countless, given our age, our tendencies- has insects crawling from her folds. I stop walking, letting my feet sink into another’s footprints. I pull down my top exposing the left side of my breast. Laid upon my skin is a perfect imprint of a bee, you can see the outlines of wings, pollen sacks, the thorax and abdomen, curled.

“This was the first one, babe, from this morning.”

You already know this because we haven’t separated for four days but I say it anyways. We have been latched on to each other since I wrote you the letter about my need for a pet bee, one that I would tuck under my arm, one that would tend to my home. This was after our first fight, a gentle, rolling, painful conflict that you called “Our Difficulty.” You look again at the imprint, and I am reminded of my love for you when you indulge me, even though it makes you tired. I am selfish like that.

Remember that day we were working in the yard? You were hacking with a machete, and I had Japanese clippers for deadheading the antique roses. We went inside to the buzz of the air conditioner, and I brought in the giant orangey pink rose and asked you to hold it so that I could see it in your man hands. You did, again, because you often indulge me, and out crawled a moving sea of grey spiders. They went up your arms and dove off into the sky above your work boots. I screamed, “I love you!” which I say before critique, “But please go outside!” Which is what I really meant.

This moment on the beach was nothing like that moment in our home. I am not a flower. I am not scared of bees. I cannot push you outside.

The bees are everywhere. Floating in the toilet. In the freezer. The space of our shared domestication is littered. When you take me to the doctor’s office, the bee imprints are continuing to run up the side of my breasts, circling my clavicle, a line moving towards my ear lobe. They are catching in my hair, and as you help me from the car, you take a moment to brush them off the seat. I sigh.

“I am sorry, I will have the car cleaned.”

The technician turns the ultrasound screen towards us. We can see the papery hive in my uterus, the workings of the colony. It is surprisingly beautiful, the way it drapes against my uterine wall. You and the technician stand by my side, mesmerized. The bees are crawling in and out my fallopian tubes, crawling up the currents of my fascia, escaping from holes in my skin. Clusters of worker bees are burrowing new holes, and other bees are mending unused exits holes. As I lay there, I shake a few from my sleeve.

That night, I lay on the couch and you bring me a bouquet of peonies. By this point the bees are escaping from my insides alive. I am in my underwear watching them crawl from the inside of my thighs down to my knees, where they launch off to swarm the great pink flowers with yellow seeking stamens.

The doctor had many questions that I could not answer. Did I know if my mother had this condition? Was I exposed to beehives as a child? Do I take royal jelly supplements? At night, you hold me, wrap your arms against the ever-increasing vibrations. Honey drips from my legs. At first, we wonder if this should be some form of kink, but we quickly resign to the foreseeable mess of honey. Your beard, your hands, your chest hair. Paper products stick, the smell of peony on my breath.

I decide to visit a beekeeper. They say, “You are an apiary of past lives.”

I decide to visit a pest control company. They say, “You are infested with work that you have not done.”

I decide to visit an entomologist, but I don’t say anything about the bees. They offer me tea and shortbread in their garden. The tea is good. Hibiscus, rose and chamomile. I feel calm. The entomologist pulls out books on the relationships between creature and man. Of Wolves and Men, The Peregrine, The Soul of an Octopus.

At home, I ask you, “Do you think I am a witch?” Hopeful.

You answer no. You tell me that I am more animal than witch. I sniff.

I ask, “Do you think that I am a tree?” You don’t bother answering. I don’t call an arborist, knowing that I do not want to be cut down, my hollows exposed. I know the difference between animals and insects. I know the difference between creatures and dens, even though they smell the same.

At night you kiss each imprint of bee. They are beginning to scar, creating smooth mounds of fallen flight across my body. I try to gently push your face away, but you carry on, following the flight pattern from neck to ankle.

Eventually I call a midwife. We schedule an appointment for a D&C. She explains that she will use seaweed to soften and open my cervix. She will blow smoke up my vagina into my uterus, expanding it and lulling the bees. She will then use a curette to scrape the walls of my uterus where the hive has embedded.

You insist on coming. You want to hold my hand. On the examining table, I look up at the ceiling as I feel pulling. Each bee is collected and placed inside a mesh apiary. Residual honey is collected, jarred. You come down to my ear and whisper, “I am sorry our bees have caused you so much hardship.” I start to weep, and you place your head on my chest. The midwife is almost done. I can barely see her face behind the veiled hood, her thick yellow beekeeper gloves are swarmed with my insides. I look into your eyes, noticing for the first time the specks of gold, deep lines of exhaustion forged by me. Your eyelids blink kind.


As we drive away from the clinic, we decide to take the backroads. The bees are kept in the backseat, but I only look forward, your hand on my knee. You pull over. We decide to release them along a pullout painted brightly with wild radish, cow’s parsnip, ceanothus and blooming buckeye. It is spring. The bees land on drooping flowers, crawl vines of wild cucumber blossom.

Header photograph © Brooke Reynolds.

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