The beehive hung from the roof of their motel room, and nobody could reach it without a ladder, and nobody was coming out until tomorrow.
“The bees are sick,” the manager said, his cheeks shiny and red and his white face blown up like bubblegum, “it won’t be much longer till they die.”
The bees were sick, it turns out, because some kids last night came to the motel with bottles of liquid soap and poured some on the hive from the rooftops. The manager thought they were aiming for the guests. “Good thing they didn’t; we’d have had a hell of a lawsuit on our hands.”
The evidence was there this morning – five bottles full of green and purple slime, strewn everywhere like they’d stayed up all night drinking, colouring the asphalt with motor oil rainbows.
They should have done that instead, Maria thinks, looking over at her husband while he arranges dollar bills on the counter, deliberately, his eyes on the manager’s glowing face, like it’s about to be popped from a child’s mouth.
Back in their room, Maria sits on the edge of the bed and spreads her hands out flat on the cool covers. They’d spotted dead bees – and a couple of live ones – in their room when they first arrived an hour ago, and came to the front desk to complain to the manager. All three of them had traipsed around the room looking for a hole or a nest, under the bed and inside the wardrobe, until her husband noticed the dark mess collecting in the corner of their window, a hug of bees, and followed it to the outside, to the doomed colony. Her husband and the manager had taped up the edges of all the windows inside and out, as well as keyholes and even the tiny gap at the bottom of their door. “Can’t we just move rooms?” Maria had said, but they were either fully booked or being renovated. Outside, the bees were flying sleepily around the hive, and every now and then a soap bubble would rise out and up, like a little girl’s playful princess castle.
She’d touched her stomach, feeling annoyed and sorry and guilty at the hive; the manager scratching his belly and explaining in a thick sticky drawl how they couldn’t really risk getting rid of it without experts; and her husband, asking how much exactly would it cost for it to disappear today, trying to fix it.
That night they decide to eat somewhere close by and local, maybe a pizza joint, and Maria had decided to dress nice. They had been travelling down from Chicago to New Orleans and the salty summer air had made them both tired and cranky. They’d snapped at each other and sat silent for hours in the car, one person looking out the window at the cedars turning into cypresses, the other drumming their fingers on the wheel, sometimes even whistling. She hated the whistling. They were going down for a wedding and she worried she would hate the jazz, too.
Tonight it was time to look nice, to show her husband that this was not an intermediate to finally arriving and finally looking nice and finally being amiable to each other in New Orleans. She pouts at herself in the mirror; her lips, small and pink, had always been her favorite part of her body, his favorite part of her face. She opens her make-up bag, the lipsticks and mascaras and brushes were powdered and silky from when her blusher had broken early on in their trip, having dropped her suitcase down the stairs of another motel. Her husband had been down at the bottom. “Let me do that!” he’d snapped, picking the bag up and shaking his head. Once he was gone she’d waited a few extra minutes at the top of the stairs, undoing and redoing her ponytail, until her husband blew the car horn and she took the steps one at a time, like she was in a movie, black and white, lips red.
She chooses a lacquered mahogany: a drop of sherry. This one makes her feel French, and she wishes she was halfway across the world, meeting her husband for a late sunset dinner, with olive trees branching above them both and somewhere in the distance someone pouring wine and playing the violin.
The lipstick slides along her lips fluently, like running fingers over piano keys, leaving starry shadows, and she knows she’ll feel overdressed at a pizza place, knows the first look her husband will give her will be a bemused one, knows once she explains that she just wants to look nice for him, her husband will squeeze her leg and carry on driving.
She closes her bag and that’s when she hears it: a muted buzzing, soft, almost dreamy. Perhaps it’s coming from the bath. She follows the noise and pulls back the shower curtain and there he is: a lone bee, flittering in a small pool of water, as deep as her fingernail and as wide as her thumb, swimming around in frantic circles like one side of his wing is no longer in action. Maybe he was one of the brave ones, sent out from the colony to hunt, search for rescue, to bring back supplies and food. Perhaps he escaped, or he was lost and looking for a way back. How did he get in here? She looks above and around the bathroom, up at the window and the small gap she’d left after her bath, hoping to air the room out. She grabs a cup by the sink and puts it close to the bee, willing him in, edging it nearer and cooing to it the way she might mumble sweet sounds to a baby.
Once the bee is in, she walks outside of their room, turning to face the soapy beehive, now getting quieter and longer, sagging and ill like an old man’s face. There are no buzzing bees. She doesn’t really know what to do with her bee so she pours him carefully on the ground underneath the hive, holding back any excess bath water she may have picked up as well. He falls out of the cup, spinning on his side, his little fur sparkling with wet and his wing now obviously broken. She hopes his friends will find him more easily this way, know of his brave efforts in the face of adversity and listen to him while he regales stories of sea and cool glass.
She sees her husband make his way out of the manager’s office across the parking lot, stuffing something back into his jeans pocket. She waves to him and he gives her a thumbs up, taps his watch. She holds up one finger – one minute – and goes back inside, puts on her good heels and a silk kimono she had been saving for the wedding. She drapes it across her shoulders and walks back outside, gets in the car, feeling her husband’s eyes move over her. “You look nice,” he says, looking at her mouth and then her bare legs.
“He said they’ll be gone by the time we get back.”
“The manager. The bees. A guy’s coming down especially tonight. Put them out of their misery.”
She nods, rolls the window down. “I’ve never been very good at putting things out of their misery.”
Her husband turns on the ignition, blasts the air con, rolls her window back up. “Well, now you won’t have to.”