A Day in the Hive ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(Published in Quail Bell Magazine)
Queen Francine, the Queen of all the Bees, came into the hive dragging her enormous egg sac, a cigarette dangling from her lips. Her harlequin glasses were askew because she had sat on them on the bed and bent them. “Where the hell is everybody?” she said with her characteristic sneer, making a whistling sound when she spoke because her dentures were loose. When she saw one of the worker bees—her own offspring—working a crossword puzzle, she bit his head off and ate it. Before she went into her office and slammed the door, she turned and said to the room at large, “And let that be a lesson to everybody!”
“My goodness, she’s in a foul mood today,” Ermine said to Lucille, the worker bee closest to him.
“She always gets that way right before she lays her eggs.”
“I’m not scared of her,” Maybelle said. “She’s full of hot air. Somebody’s going to drive a stake through her heart one of these days and make a lot of bees happy.”
“And I suppose you’re going to be the one to do it,” Ermine said.
“I might,” Maybelle said.
“And then who would be our queen?” Lucille said.
“I’d make a better queen than her any day,” Maybelle said. She stood up and did a little sashay up and down the aisle, pretending to be regal. “My first official act would be to have her thrown out of the hive.”
“I think you’d have to kill her,” Ermine said. “If you let her get away, she’d organize an army and come back and re-take the hive.”
“Yes, I think killing her would be best,” Lucille said thoughtfully.
“Will you help me do it?” Maybelle asked.
“Of course I will,” Lucille said.
“You can be my first lady-in-waiting.”
“Now who’s full of hot air?” Ermine said with a laugh.
“If she ever tries to eat my head,” Sherwood piped up, “I’m not just going to stand there and let her do it.” He was still a little upset over seeing Queen Francine eat a worker bee’s head. He knew it happened all the time but had never before seen it with his own eyes.
“Oh, and what are you going to do?” Ermine asked, turning around and facing Sherwood. “You know you’re powerless against the queen.”
“I’ll punch her in her egg sac and then when she doubles over I’ll stick a knife in her eye. When she’s howling in pain, I’ll get away from her and leave the hive.”
“You know that would never work,” Ermine said. “The drones would catch you and bring you back and she’d eat your head anyway and she wouldn’t do it quick either. It wouldn’t be pretty.”
“He’s right,” Lucille said. “The queen always wins. The rest of us are puny nothings compared to her.”
“Be careful what you say,” Ermine whispered to the others. “I think Georgie is listening.”
They all turned and looked at Georgie. He seemed to be engrossed in his work but they knew he was listening to every word and would repeat it all to Queen Francine the first chance he got. He was her pet worker bee. There were even rumors that she took him to bed with her sometimes.
“I say we kill him, too,” Sherwood said. “If we kill her, we’ll have to kill others.”
“We’re bees!” Ermine said. “Bees don’t kill other bees!”
“They do when they have to,” Sherwood said sensibly.
“Oh, he’s not going to kill anybody,” Maybelle said. “He wouldn’t have the courage to kill a maggot. He’s just bumping his gums together to hear his head rattle.”
“You think so, do you?” Sherwood said. “Maybe I’ll surprise you one day. Maybe this will be the day.”
The door to Queen Francine’s office opened; she stepped out and stood at the front of the room, hands on hips. Everybody suddenly became very busy.
“There seems to be a lot of non-work going on here!” she said in her booming contralto. “You jerk-offs need to realize I’m not blind and I’m not deaf. Just because I’m not in the room doesn’t mean I don’t know what you’re doing!”
All the bees kept their eyes on their work and pretended Queen Francine wasn’t yelling at them. Georgie was the only one who looked at her, and that was with adoration.
“Georgie!” Queen Francine said, bringing him out of his reverie. “I need to see you in my office right now!”
“Yes, your majesty,” Georgie said.
He stood up, almost falling over his own wings, and ran into Queen Francine’s office and closed the door.
“What a toady!” Ermine said.
“She needs her ass wiped and she knows he’ll do it and not complain,” Sherwood said.
“Well, I’m relieved he’s out of the room,” Lucille said. “I think I’m going to take a break and go to the little girls’ room. Want to come along, Maybelle?”
“No thanks,” Maybelle said. “My boyfriend’s going to call. I don’t want to be out of the room when he does.”
A few minutes later Lucille had returned from the little girls’ room and was freshening her makeup at her desk. Maybelle was blatting into the phone to her boyfriend about where they were going to have dinner. Ermine was balancing his checkbook, trying to figure out exactly where he had made his latest mistake. Sherwood had taken off his shoe and sock and was picking at a scab on his foot while he whistled a happy tune. Suddenly the door to Queen Francine’s office opened with a suck of air and Queen Francine was again upon the worker bees like a Kansas cyclone.
“You should see yourselves!” she bellowed. “You all look like you think you’re on vacation. Well, I’m got a news flash for you! You’re not on vacation—but you are all really close to going on a permanent vacation, if you get my meaning!”
“Call you later,” Maybelle said into the phone and then hung up, hoping Queen Francine hadn’t noticed.
“Was there something you wanted, Your Majesty?” Lucille asked sweetly.
“I want all you lazy slugs to get your worthless asses into my office now! And ‘now’ means this minute! Pronto! Post-haste! Chop, chop!”
The worker bees filed into Queen Francine’s office with a sense of foreboding. They knew something was wrong. Ermine had a lump of dread in his stomach. Lucille had gone pale and her lipstick was smeared because Queen Francine startled her when she was applying it.
When they were all seated around the table, Queen Francine closed the door loudly and regarded everybody with disgust.
“Is anything wrong, Your Majesty?” Ermine asked with a nervous smile.
“Wrong? I’ll say there’s something wrong! I’ve just been going over the figures from the last month. Honey production is down twenty-five percent! This is unacceptable! I feel like firing the whole lot of you!”
“Then who would make the honey?” Sherwood asked.
“I’ve just been discussing this problem with my lieutenant, Georgie. He suggests we work longer hours with fewer days off until honey production is what it should be.”
They all looked turned their heads and looked at Georgie. He was smirking with superiority. Ermine, remembering the remark he had made earlier about bees not killing other bees, wanted to kill him.
“Now, after today I’m going to be on maternity leave,” Queen Francine said, “for I don’t know how long. Georgie will be in command while I’m gone. He will be my eyes and ears. He has assured me he knows how to increase honey production, so I’m going to turn the show over to him. We’ll see what stuff he’s made of. When I come back, if I see no improvement, well, there are going to be some heads eaten, and I don’t mean maybe.”
After the meeting was over, all the worker bees were quiet and worked very diligently. Georgie was working on a new work schedule whereby days off and vacations would be canceled. All worker bees were going to have to come in an hour earlier in the morning and stay an hour later in the evening until honey production was up.
When Queen Francine left for the day, the worker bees still had hours to go before their day was over. They were tired and didn’t know if they were going to be able to keep up the pace, but they knew that Georgie was watching them and would report everything to Queen Francine, so they at least tried to give the appearance of being productive.
“Killing the queen never seemed like a better idea,” Maybelle whispered to Sherwood when Georgie had stepped out for a moment.
“You can’t kill the queen,” Ermine, overhearing her, said. “It just isn’t done.”
“Wouldn’t you kill her if you got the chance?”
“I don’t think we should even be talking about it,” Lucille said. “The walls have ears, you know, even with Georgie out of the room.”
“Maybe I can will her dead,” Sherwood said.
“What do you mean?” Ermine asked.
“I’m going to keep wishing for her to die, praying for her to die. She deserves to die. If there’s any justice in the world, she will die. I’ve willed bees dead before and they’ve died.”
“Just a coincidence,” Ermine said. “They would have died anyway.”
“Die, die, die, die, die, die, Queen Francine, die!” he said in a kind of chant.
“I don’t think it’ll work,” Lucille said.
“I can certainly try,” Sherwood said. “Would anybody like to place a bet?”
Georgie went into Queen Francine’s office, making it his own during her absence, but he left the door open so he could keep an eye on the worker bees. He was going to enjoy being boss and he hoped that Queen Francine would take a much longer-than-expected maternity leave. He was going to hate giving up the reins when she came back, but he wouldn’t think about that until he just had to.
The afternoon progressed slowly. While the worker bees gave the impression of being immersed in their work, they all had their minds on other things. Ermine was trying to keep from watching the clock; it was only two minutes later than the last time he looked. Maybelle was considering how familiar she was going to let her boyfriend, Alphonse, get on their date that night. Lucille was thinking about her children at home by themselves; she longed to get home and make sure they were all right. Sherwood was thinking about the movies he had seen in the last few months and was arranging in his head a list of the ones he liked best.
Once, when Ermine raised his head from his work and looked at the ceiling to relieve his stiff neck, he saw two drones, looking very business-like, go into Queen Francine’s office and close the door. About a minute later they heard Georgie let out a wail.
“Wonder what’s going on?” Maybelle, hearing the wail, said to Ermine.
“Maybe he’s under arrest,” Sherwood said with a hopeful smile.
In a little while Georgie and the two drones came out of Queen Francine’s office. The drones left and Georgie stood at the front of the room and raised his arms for quiet. When he knew that he had everybody’s attention, he began, with difficulty, to speak.
“It is my painful duty to inform all the worker bees: we have confirmed reports that Queen Francine is dead.”
“It worked! It worked!” Sherwood said.
“Not long after she left the hive this afternoon, she stopped on a tree branch to rest and have a sup of water.” He stopped and lowered his head and dabbed at his eyes with a handkerchief.
“Yes?” Ermine said. “Go on.”
“A crow came along from out of nowhere and, seeing her majesty sitting on the branch, swooped in and ate her in one gobble and then flew off. There were two worker bees there who saw the whole thing. They’re being questioned by the bee police this very minute.”
“Are you sure this is not a trick?” Maybelle said.
“That crow would have to be dead or really sick by now,” Sherwood said.
“Out of respect for Queen Francine,” Georgie said, “I’m going to shut down the hive for the rest of the day. You are all free to go, but remember to be back here tomorrow morning bright and early. We’re all going to have to work extra hard now to honor her memory.”
After Georgie had left, almost flummoxed with grief, all the worker bees who had heard Sherwood’s boast turned and looked at him.
“Do you have some kind of magical powers?” Lucille asked him. She had started to cry in spite of herself.
“I don’t know what you would call it,” Sherwood said, “but I definitely have something.”
“We’d better all try to stay on Sherwood’s good side,” Maybelle said.
“Hey, didn’t you bees hear what the man said?” Ermine said. “We are free to go home now! Tomorrow is another day.”
“I wonder what we’ll do now for a queen?” Lucille said.
“They’ll probably bring one in from outside,” Sherwood said. “I think that’s what usually happens in these cases.”
“They don’t need to bring anybody in,” Maybelle said. “I am fully positioned to assume the throne.”
“I think you have to be born to it,” Ermine said, trying to keep from laughing.
“I have a feeling Georgie is going to initiate a coup to make himself the new queen,” Lucille said.
“Aren’t you forgetting one little detail?” Ermine asked. “Georgie is a male bee. A male bee can’t be queen.”
“Well, I figure anything is possible.”
“Maybe Georgie really is a woman,” Sherwood said. “I’ve always had my doubts about him.”
“You’re terrible,” Lucille said.
When they were all outside, ready to leave the hive together, Sherwood said, “Now that Queen Francine is dead, I’m going to take a few days off from the hive. I want to find that crow and tell him how much of a hero he is to all of us.”
“Make sure he doesn’t eat you, too,” Ermine said.
“Not a chance,” Sherwood said as he buzzed off.
“Long live the queen!” Maybelle said, waving her handkerchief in the air as she flew away. She was feeling in a festive mood.
Copyright © 2012 by Allen Kopp