Colony, Collapsed

“How I would like to believe in tenderness.” —Sylvia Plath

She begins in the house to move the flowers as if a rearrangement of them can restore order. It’s just that there will never be order again, not really, she thinks. Ash rains down from the sky like confetti from the fire that torches the hills. Another fool with matches, she thinks. The thick plume spreads over the city. Two days ago she had moved the foxgloves and the primroses and what was left of the pansies to a cool shaded grove in a corner of the garden. Ash coats the leaves like sprinkled salt and pepper. The birds are singing and

“When are they going to knock that off?” he says angrily.

She shrugs at the sound of the tile setter and the constant grinding he’s been doing for months. It’s like they were tiling the entire house next door but what was really happening was that the woman who lived there and was pregnant again couldn’t make up her mind. Every so often you could hear her come down and say something about the design. She was never happy.

“They must be redoing it,” Brenda says, her hands caressing the faces of the little primroses.

“I’m sick of listening to that racket.”

“Todd, I want to try and help the bees.”

Her voice gets lost under the grinding of the tiles. Her hands keep moving, pushing clusters of pink and purple into the soil. She spends hours researching the hives, learning about the Queen bees and the sisters and the fat buzzing of the males whose purpose is to mate and then die.

They work together for awhile in the damp earth. He digs and she plants. One of the babies cries next door. The work stops, the saw stops, it sounds as if it’s almost going to be finished. The noise has been intolerable against the heat of unfolding summer, this constant screech of the grinding. The woman’s voice next door is like the Queen, Brenda thinks. Ordering the workers, each tile part of a honeycomb that never ends. A honeycomb she continually redesigns. The sound of her babies crying is the sound of what they’ve lost, she and Todd, and what they never really speak about.

The neighbor lady’s loud hissing buzz over the top fence is the incessant barking out of myriad commands to the workers: “Blue or gray?” she’s yelling. “Oh that one. It matches my stove. Wait, you put in the wrong faucets. Those have to go.”

“Can’t they get that kid to shut up?” Todd says. “Can’t she shut up?”

That Brenda wants a baby too, isn’t a joy-filled thing. It requires thermometers. It requires the right days of the month. It requires her to reach for Todd in the middle of the night on fertility filled days when that might be possible. Two things are required. His sperm and her egg. There must be impeccable timing and the two of them have separate schedules at work. Still, she reaches for the warm flesh of him under the covers, trying to coax him stiff. He sleeps with his back to her most nights, no curve in his arm where she could rest against his chest. The baby next door cries and cries and cries, and Brenda hears it. Each month she bleeds out their loss.

“I think I’ll put the roses in here, Todd.”

She gestures to a wide strip along the side of the house. She fingers her ring and twists it every so often like it’s some kind of gold charm that she wears. There is supposed to be order. There is supposed to be a Queen in the center of the hive full of eggs. There is supposed to be a drone who will mate with her and work his heart to death because he loves her that much.

Brenda doesn’t tell Todd about the man before him, and how much she was in love. She doesn’t speak about how he cradled her to him and whispered how he wanted to plant his seed inside her. How instead of turning his back he had been the opposite. How he couldn’t keep his hands off of her. How he didn’t love his wife. How the two of their bodies fit perfectly together. How she thought he really loved her.

Brenda never mentions that other women seem to be the Queens. She orders tulips and daffodils to line the drive. Nectar from the honeysuckle coats her hands. There are other drones. She has learned the mentality of the hive, the mentality of the colonies. The cubicles where they work resemble cells. There are mortgages and properties that need to be paid for. Her wings are exhausted, fluttering from cubicle to cubicle late at night in the halls without structure while the machinery hums.

Brand buzzes next to her while she’s pasting up pages. He’s touching her arm. His eyes are full of merriment. He says, “I like those beads,” and he pulls her to him. Todd doesn’t see. He’s only fifty feet away at the other end of the row. He misses it. Suddenly her honey is starting to flow. Suddenly nothing seems like it might have to be forced. She spins her ring nervously and Brand is touching her hair with unsubtle hands. Brand is looking into her eyes. Brand is staring as she moves.

“We need you to stay late tonight.”

It’s always like that for Brenda. Todd likes to waltz out. He’s never going to work overtime. That would interfere with his daily runs. It would interfere with his golden tanned skin. It would interfere with his smile. He’s always fat, dumb and happy, or that’s what he says anyway. Not that he’d ever get fat. He’s simply not that kind. He was the one on every other picture in the yearbook. The one the girls hung off like so many flowers along a vine entwined along his thickly muscled arms.

Brenda moves to the couch after so many thermometer-filled sessions where he shakes it all off like a bad dream by saying, “Fuck it.”

There are twelve months in the year, so there are twelve times. There are seven days when conception is possible. The walls of the house begin to close in on her. There is the bedroom for the baby. She knows which one. She busies herself choosing eyelet curtains and stacks of flowery sheets.

The baby next door cries again. Thick carpenter bees roam in the foxgloves. There are only so many years. There are only so many days, each month, each year. Time moves like a waltz through her garden.

Brand stares and she feels the honey move through her like slow sap at his glance. He likes to come up behind her at work near the light tables. She can feel his breath along the back of her neck. He places his hands on either side of her. He’s careful not to press too close, not close enough for anyone to see, but Brenda feels him through her clothes like warmth. Like sunlight against her. Like the heat of 1,000 suns. He makes her supple and she forgets the coldness of Todd’s tanned back.

“What are you working on?”

“The designs for Home and Garden.”

“Looks good,” he says. One hand runs up her arm. She wonders if he feels the trembles. His lips are so close to her neck she can feel the heat of his breath.

“We’re having drinks at O’Mafferty’s tonight.”

She nods.

“Come with us?”

“I can’t Brand.”

“Sure you can.”

“I can’t.”

Later that night she runs a bath. The bubbles climb and spill. Todd’s watching the game and every so often she hears him make sounds if there is a touchdown. Under the water there is a place her hand touches. It’s Brand’s hand now. It’s Brand’s fingers nudging her thighs apart. It’s Brand’s lips at her neck when she closes her eyes. Suddenly she’s coming silently, slowly, in the water behind the closed door and Todd is oblivious to anything that might have been her desire.

“The sperm is too thick,” the doctor says. “It’s lazy sperm.”

They’ve tried one last test.

“Fuck it,” says Todd that night. “Forget it then.”

There are drones in the hives that are born and live out their lives being fed the best of the honey. Thousands and thousands of sterile females tend to the work. There are Queens producing egg after egg growing fat while the ordinary females slave. The colony hums and the cubicles are built. The sky fills with ash from the fires that rage every year when people play with matches. And all of it collapses slowly toward the sea. In one of the houses a new baby cries.

© 2013 Valentina Bonnaire. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Bio: Valentine Bonnaire’s work can be found in the archives at and at ERWA in the galleries and Treasure Chest. “Flowering” will appear this year in The Mammoth Book of Quick and Dirty Erotica edited by Maxim Jakubowski. Find her in Amazon.

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