When the bees came, he knew that winter was ending and sunlight was coming, because that’s just how these things worked. They’d flit about the playground, buzzing between the swings’ arcs, following him down the slide as he curved away from the melting snow and drip-drop icicles. They brought baby’s breath to his mother’s flowerbed and his cousin’s gurgling coo. Harbingers of warm summer nights, they were the stars sparkling on a stick he’d drag through the sand, creating the glass castle in which he’d come to reside. A kingdom fit for ruling, and all he had to do was wish hard upon the bees.
Back before his parents moved him halfway around the world he knew to the dangerous elephant graveyard just beyond where the sunlight touches, there hadn’t been any bees. Or, if there were, he didn’t know them; they weren’t so brave. Back then, he told time based on the color of the leaves dancing in the wind. When spring came, he’d see scattered pink drops on the gray skyline. He’d never considered how he could paint with their colors, how to make the leaves dance with a blow of stick-hot breath. But here, in this grand unknown, he could hear the low hum of bees, mechanical like his parents’ new washing machine, and familiar like his old flashlight. In the old house, he’d read in the dark, stare at the pages of a new chapter book beyond twilight’s firefly smile, and it was as if the bees knew that, knew he missed the toothy grin of the moon when a green bug danced a little jig to hear him laugh.
Back home in the spring, the sun danced with him in the slushy winter remains as he left a trail of tracks leading to his favorite playground. There was no gym class there, just traces of skinned knees and leaking ice cream appendages. That didn’t protect his kingdom from invasion, though. It didn’t stop someone form firing a gun. The jungle gym blossomed bright red, like the color of his favorite nighttime book, and there would never be enough bleach to burn away the traces of this scar. The ground smelled of metal, and his parents wouldn’t let him go there anymore. There was no more dancing in the leafy winds or swinging until he’d realize he could fly. Because the air stung of copper, and he wasn’t quite sure, but no one knew what happened to Rachel. But he thought that maybe someone came and saved her from the dragon that kidnapped her. If anyone he knew could slay a dragon, it would be her.
The grounds smelled of metal until his family moved, and he’d like to hope the playground smelled like something else now.
In this new place, there were no pretty pink trees, just hills of dandelions, muddy in the groundhog’s shadow, desperate for spring’s arrival. So marched the bees.
And with the bees came the honeysuckle.
He flourished under the twisty spell of that wonderful flower. It had magic in its veins, curled tight around its carpel. The honeysuckle sparked the life everyone grows up to crave, that everyone wants to drink in with their surroundings. It tasted like the roses they told him to stop and smell, like the once-in-a-blue-moon chance that presented itself in the beginning swells of a wave a hundred miles from shore. He could ride the wave into something beautiful, something unmistakably his.
He formed a kingdom with the trailing scent of honeysuckle. The bees, ever faithful, showed him how to breathe fire and make glass out of sandcastles on the shore. He found the shore in his backyard, drenched in flashlight shines. There were rays in the waves, and he learned to ride them like a stallion. The bees were his chariot. They created a home in the burnt remains of a funeral pyre for a girl once eaten by her dragon. There would be no dragons allowed in this new nation, not without proper identification and licensing. Before you could tame a dragon, you had to prove you could fly on your own. Circle the top of the swings and sing. There was no war there, no battered soldiers to be reborn, and it was everlasting summer. All were safe there, in the grasp of the bees’ soft lullaby, and every night the boy would ask them to sing him to sleep as he counted the stars, making sure all of his disciples survived the day.
When they moved, he wasn’t the one to find the bees. He’d always been afraid of bees, and iif he thought about it a little too hard, he might have easily said that the coming of the bees brought nothing but heartache for him. For, they too left. Spring’s light meant that the world melted away, freeing the boy from his icy prison, but forcing him under the watchful eye of the sun. Because come winter’s end, the gym coach would send the kids outdoors to run around the baseball diamond at the bottom of the hill, where the bees came from. They lived in between the cracked blue paint and the rotting boards of the abandoned dugout, overwrought with dust.
He hated running laps around the diamond. Everyone else ran with someone – not that what anyone was doing could be described as running, more like hobbling along the beaten path with a friend. He supposed, in retrospect, that what he had been missing was a friend, but it got hard to think clearly when he had to run – couldn’t fly, couldn’t ever fly – laps, and the only thing keeping him company was the constant buzz-buzz-buzzing of the bees. The bees become his dragon, he the sovereign of their kingdom, a tamer. He’d gallivant around the new playground, sworn to protect it, even when the bees left, because they would come back.
The boy ate his first honeysuckle sitting in the creaky dugout next to a nameless girl, while the world melted around him.
He couldn’t remember the exact circumstances of their meeting that day, there in the fading dugout, but he thought that the bees would, because these bees came every spring. They flitted about the same bushes every year after that first, nuzzling him a greeting in the hot corners of the jumbled world beyond his conscious. He’d great them with a scratch behind their ears and a sugar cube for the road before off they soared, into the sky to fight the monsters. And even though the girl moved away, the bees would remember.
The honeysuckle next to the dugout were special, see. They smelled more beautiful than anything this boy ever did and ever would smell. It was home: a creature comfort heretofore unknown to him, that glass castle he’d created for himself out of magic. The nectar on his tongue fanned the flames of creation that ran wild in his mind, in his youth before youth, before they’d sent him off from the port into the unknown without his flashlight and without a fire extinguisher. The taste wafted through his nostrils and comforted him; the snow had persecuted him, and he didn’t know where Rachel was, but he had come to understand that her dragon was not dead. Honeysuckle was a love letter from the bees to the melting snow.
He’d heard tell of the kids finding this magical flower, but he hadn’t known what honeysuckle looked like. Not until this new girl, this girl whose name he’ll remember before he remembers her face, and he’ll never remember he name. This girl, young and beautiful in the purity of her intentions – nothing mattered beyond showing this boy where the honeysuckle were and sharing in their grace – the girl brought him to the dugout during gym one day and made him sit there while she taught him how to eat a honeysuckle.
She taught him how to befriend the bees, to talk to them and to remember that without the bees, this delicate, delicious thing couldn’t exist. And she wasn’t Rachel, though he was starting to think she too would fade like the dugout, and she left him too, but she heard the bees talk and reminded him how to listen.
It’s because of the bees that came every winter’s end that he could do what he did and see what he saw, which, unfortunately, also meant that gym class would be reduced to running around the baseball diamond at the bottom of the hill behind the school. That part wasn’t quite as enjoyable as the melting snow or how he didn’t have to wear marshmallow-puffy coats anymore, but now he was freer. Now he had his own kingdom to protect, with the bees by his side, lifting him higher. With the taste of something decidedly non-metallic, determinedly not frozen, of something from someone else, someone new, he would survive the trek around the diamond. The dragons would eat no more.