excerpt from "Telling the Bees"
by Kaye Miller

Our third summer together, Ellis bought a beehive. I joked it was the summer I became a man, and Ellis became a beekeeper, as if they were on equal tiers. This when I was newly on hormones, and strangers were starting to see me as male for the first time, and Ellis as queer. We were past the stage of adjusting to each other, to the relationship—it was the world that was adjusting to us.

It wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision, the bees. Ellis always thought things through. He’d been reading and consulting and sitting in on internet forums for eight months. He’d call across the house with facts as he came upon them—Did you know bees can create enough heat by beating their wings all together to cook a wasp? Did you know bees can tell time? We don’t even know how! Did you know honeybees will starve their own queen if she isn’t producing enough spawn? And secretly create a new queen by feeding a worker on royal jelly? Did you know that?

I did not, yet it brought me some amount of joy to see Ellis so committed to something. He did nothing half-heartedly, but with a firecracker-passion that never seemed to fade with time.

We borrowed my parents’ truck to pick the hive up, from a little goat farm nestled halfway towards the Saskatchewan border. Ellis had to drive to distract himself from nerves, and I pressed my forehead to window on the passenger side, watching pass the land quilted with bright yellow canola, stitched with cottonwood stands. I counted crosses in the ditches on the side of the highway and tapped on my thighs the staccato of swallows perched in the staves of the telephone wires.

The beekeeper was an older man, wanting to cut back on his workload for the summer. He met us at the end of a long driveway to shake our hands. His house was a cheery prairie-sky blue, a beautiful biscuit-box with trees up to the clapboards. A stray goat perched on top of a rusted-out farm vehicle, an insectoid machine I couldn’t fathom the purpose of.

“Ah, brothers!” the man said jovially as we stepped out of the truck. Ellis and I shared a tired glance, but the beekeeper didn’t seem to notice. He led us around to the side of the house. “The hive’s just out back. I just gave it a good smoke, but you’ll want to give it another few puffs before you take off.”

He’d already split off the hive for the summer and provided Ellis with a handful of unused frames, an old copper smoker, and a young queen clipped up in a catcher. Together we wrapped the large wooden box in a towel and ratchet-strapped it together, then bungeed it down in the truck bed.

“You boys let me know if there’s anything you need, any questions. A man’s first season beekeeping is always teaching.”




From The Malahat Review's winter issue #225