The window was open just enough to let in the cool night air.
‘Bring me seed.’
‘Make me blossom.’
‘Fly to me along a moonbeam, oh thou winged marauder of the night.’
The figure on the bed cast off a duvet and emitted a moan – it was unclear whether of discomfort or relief – as the air from the window struck clammy flesh. The fragrance of night-scented stock filled the room.
The executive car cast up a plume of dust as it was brought to an abrupt halt at the side of the country road. William Lynes – always William, never Bill – regional sales manager for the North-West, pushed a button on the radio. Noise filled the car. He clicked it off again. It wasn’t the radio. He strained his ears.
‘Alight on my calyx, taste my sweet nectar—’
‘I am open for you, I yearn for you, come to me, oh—’
The voices jumped in and out of hearing. He pushed down the driver’s sunshade and looked at himself in the rectangular mirror affixed to the back. The face that greeted his gaze was white and glistened with moisture. The sight of it worried him. He hadn’t been sleeping well for some time now. He remembered the voices from his dream. Uncanny, certainly, but a dream all the same. Now this. Sending up more dust as the tires spun to find grip, he made for home.
‘Are you alright, my love?’
He saw how she was looking at him.
‘I’m fine. Been overdoing it a bit, that’s all. If I can just rest up for a while and catch my breath.’
She looked concerned.
‘Rest? Of course, if you must. But won’t you get in trouble? With work, I mean?’
He felt his eyes closing. A cool breeze came in through the half-open window.
‘Come, don’t be shy. Lay your body on my soft petals. Let my perfume chase away your sorrows.’
It sounded just like the voices he had heard while driving. And the voices from his dream. But he was too tired to worry about that now.
He awoke later to find the bee sitting opposite him. It had evidently been watching him sleep. It sat in the chair his wife usually sat in. He watched as it rubbed its legs together in obvious agitation. A loud buzzing filled the room. The noise reminded him of the automatic saws he had seen on the production line of the factory. He could see how the bee took care to keep itself from crushing the opaque wings that were folded neatly against its back. What was strange, of course, was that the bee was as big as his wife. He carefully shifted position in his chair, not wishing to disturb it.
The buzzing somehow chimed with the incongruity of his being at home when he should be at work. A thought struck him. How strange it all seemed when you got a moment to really think about it: at one end you fed the conveyer belt with planks of wood, the saws got to work, then the other machines took over, and almost before you could say cheaptawdryrubbishwhykillagoodtree, at the other end you took flat-pack chairs and flat-pack desks off the conveyer belt. And that was where he came in. Because it was his job to sell the prodigious output of the machines to the customers who perused the glossy catalogues that displayed the flat-packs in all their assembled glory. In the old days, when he still had some enthusiasm for the thing, he would make a point of asking in a bright voice, ‘Have you considered our range of filing cabinets, special offer this month?’ But it had been a long time since those words had left his mouth. Indeed, the very mention of the words ‘filing cabinet’ conjured such an awful abyss of dull grey metal that his mind almost reeled with existential terror.
‘Are you okay? You were out like a light.’
It was his wife again. The bee was nowhere to be seen. He muttered something about not wanting dinner, then made his way to the bedroom and fell asleep on the bed.
He woke up the next day to the sound of voices.
‘Make me fertile.’
‘Bring me your seed.’
‘Come, swift-of-wing, come whilst I play sweet dalliance with the promiscuous breeze.’
How long that sort of talk had been going on he didn’t know. It seemed to be coming from the direction of the open window.
‘You had a bad night, my love. Twisting and turning.’
He suddenly came to his senses and sat up.
‘What time is it? Work!’
‘Shh, don’t worry. I called the office and told them you were ill. I said they should email through some work, just in case you felt up to it later in the day.’
He nodded doubtfully, consoling himself with the notion that everyone was ill now and again. It was the nature of things. She shut the window and left the room.
He woke some time later and peered at the red figures on the alarm. They were difficult to read because of the sun. Then, suddenly, 12.30pm glowed in deep red. A moment later, the figures became almost illegible as the sun shone on the face of the alarm, leaching away the colour. Then the room darkened again and the red glow of the figures on the clock deepened. He looked over at the window and saw that a bee was hovering up and down on the other side of the glass. He was horrified: it was as big as his wife. A buzzing sound like that made by the automatic saw at the factory filled the room. Then the bee was gone, and the room grew quiet. His forehead felt clammy to the touch. He thought it would be a good idea to eat something.
As he walked into the kitchen, he met his wife, who was just that moment stepping through the back door with a bag of shopping.
‘Lunch,’ she said brightly. ‘Just been to the supermarket. Swarming with people, of course.’
She was positively brimming over with health. He shivered.
‘What’s for lunch?’
‘Chicken soup,’ she said. ‘But first, a little pick-me-up.’
He watched as she took something from another bag and held it out for him to see.
‘What’s that?’ he asked.
‘Royal jelly.’ She smiled. ‘It’s very expensive. My treat. It will help you get your strength back.’
She unscrewed the cap and took a spoon from the drawer.
‘Now, open wide.’
He felt the strange taste in his mouth.
After lunch he went to the study and sat down to work. He felt slightly better. Lunch had evidently done him some good. Or perhaps it had been the royal jelly?
‘Why won’t you come to me? Why do you withhold seed from me? Why? Why? Tell me why?’
The voice was like the others. He listened carefully, trying to discern from which direction it was coming.
‘Fecundate me, oh knight whose banner is a triple band of gold on a field of sable.’
‘I yearn for you, plunge into my welcoming softness, ravish my delicate beauty.’
He got up from the desk and walked out into the hallway. There, on a jardinière placed beneath a small window, was a pot of geraniums whose red and yellow flowers hung vibrant in the sunlit air. He knelt down and put his ear to the blooms.
‘What are you doing?’ asked his wife.
He straightened up.
‘Nothing, nothing. Must get back to work.’
She gave him a worried look.
The next day, he felt almost fully recovered. He was certainly well enough to go to the office.
‘Goodbye, my love. Work well.’
‘I will. See you later.’
He drove to the bottom of the lane, parked the car on the verge and got out. He needed to check something. He climbed over the fence into the field that he knew led around the back of the house. The field had been left to pasture, and as he walked, tiny, almost inaudible voices spoke up from among the grass.
‘I am petite, but no less beautiful for that. Come, my wanton warrior, descend in thy glory.’
‘Crush me, oh great one. Make thy conjugal bed amidst the yellow velvet of my petals.’
‘Fill my golden cup.’
Doing his best to ignore the voices, he made his way along the hedgerow until he reached the corner of the field, then turned ninety degrees and crept along behind the cottage. With some difficulty, he squeezed through the hedge and into the back garden. He raised his head and, careful not to tread on the border of the night-scented stock, peered in at the bedroom window. It was empty. He made his way around to the living room window and stood to one side of the frame with his back flat against the wall. He bent his knees, turned to face the wall and crab-stepped underneath the window. Gradually, he raised himself up until he could look into the room.
There it was, sitting in his wife’s chair, its opaque wings carefully folded. An open jar of dark Greek honey, his wife’s favourite, lay next to it on the table. From time to time it would dip a crooked leg into the jar, and then bring the leg up towards its mandible. It seemed to be watching TV. The inanities of morning television, however, were frequently drowned out by the buzzing noise which sounded at irregular intervals. It reminded him of that saw in the factory. A feeling of nausea washed over him as he contemplated the interminable output of the conveyer, envisioning a world piled high with flat-pack chairs and flat-pack desks and filing cabinets at specially discounted prices. Suddenly, and much to his surprise, the sick feeling vanished as a new and different thought flickered through the miasma of his mind, like a tongue of lightning forking down through heavy black clouds. A smile crept over his face as he pondered the implications. Then, filled with a novel sense of certainty, he carefully moved away from the window, anxious not to interrupt the bee, crept back to the hedge, pushed his way through it into the field and made his way to the car.
‘Honey, I’m home.’
He couldn’t resist that one; he’d somehow in recent years lacked the wild rush of joy and the cavalier attitude towards cliché necessary to pull it off. She came into the living room with an anxious look.
‘I don’t understand. It’s early. What about work? Did something happen?’
He smiled at her.
‘Yes, my love. You might say that. I handed in my notice. They let me go immediately. I left my car keys on my desk at the office and got the bus to the village and walked from there.’
‘William! But what are we going to do?’
He sat down with a sigh of joy. He hadn’t felt this light in years.
‘First, we are going to have a cup of tea. I’ve realised that my body’s been trying to tell me something for some time now. It’s psychosomatic. I couldn’t go on like that. I just couldn’t.’
She nodded uncertainly and went to see to the tea.
There was some sort of flower arranging demonstration on TV. He disengaged the mute button on the remote.
‘Be sure to balance the colours. A flash of green lends variety. And it’s not just aesthetics. Think about what message you want to convey. For example, pansy means “remember me!” Red poppy symbolises pleasure; primrose means “I can’t live without you”; carnation denotes fascination. And of course, there’s the classic red rose – true love.’
A wild laugh filled the room. When he had collected himself, he thought about how they made it sound so genteel. He knew better. He would never forget those exigent entreaties that he had been privy to over the last few days. He shook his head in amazement at the liberties taken by those perfumed innocents. No, he would never forget it. Not now he knew.
On an impulse, he went into the hall and thrust his ear into the pot of geraniums. As he suspected, no coaxing whisper insinuated itself into his ear, exhorting him to deeds of botanical concubinage. It had been the strangest thing: the voices had stopped speaking to him immediately after he had handed in his resignation. He’d noticed it on the walk up from the village, a walk which had merely been accompanied by the usual sounds of birds and passing cars, the subdued whine of agricultural machinery.
He made his way back to the living room and watched as the enormous bee sitting in his wife’s chair poured some tea. An excited buzzing filled the room. It still reminded him of the sound of the automatic saw on the flat-pack office furniture production line. But that awful memory was rapidly acquiring the status of a dream, or rather a nightmare, and he knew that soon it would be gone.
He realised the buzzing had become intelligible. His wife was speaking.
‘I don’t know how I should be feeling but all I can feel at the moment is relief. I was never keen on you working in that job. Like some drone. There’s so much more you could do.’ She smiled at him. ‘Just focus on being happy. The rest will follow.’
He added a little honey to his tea. He frowned when he noticed that the pot was almost empty. But he was immediately consoled by the thought that abundance surrounded him, if he would but see it. The insistent cries of the flowers, their luxuriant polyphony, had taught him that. He thought of how part of him would miss those voices, and he also thought of how he would miss his wife’s strange metamorphosis, for he suspected that this too would come to its natural end. Never mind, he would enjoy it whilst it lasted. She looked positively regal sitting there in her black and gold, the opaque wings carefully folded behind her back.
He sipped his tea to the sound of soft contented buzzing.
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