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When A Boy Gets His Bees

Daniel Patrick Rosen writes speculative fiction and swing music. He grew up on a tiny farm in northern Minnesota, where he learned the value of hard work and the relative softness of kittens. His short fiction has appeared in Apex, IGMS, and many more.

By thirteen, most of the boys have their bees. By sixteen, even the late bloomers have matured, hives jutting out from under their skin, sculpting their jawlines. Bees deepen boy's voices, giving their words a hollow, buzzing tone. Like boys, bees themselves come in many shapes and sizes.
Tommy Murdock's bees were big and sluggish, but the doctors had assured Tommy's family that the bees were well within the median. No health risks. This put the issue to rest for everyone except the other kids at school. Other kids thought Tommy's bees were hilarious.
"Don't sweat those guys, Tommy." Sam'd say, around a mouthful of canned corn. "They just have shitty lives. Bad stuff at home, you know?"
Tommy just shrugged and stared off at the table nearest the milk cooler, where the boys with sleek rainbow bees sat, smirking and slapping each other on the back, stinging nearby girls in a cloud of yelping and giggling, joking about splitting hives on girls, colonizing them with bees.
By thirteen, some of the boys were assholes.
9th graders had to dissect cats. Everyone chose partners, and before long, only Tommy and a new girl were left. She had curly black hair and a paisley dress. She sighed as she met Tommy's gaze, and took a seat at the remaining table.
Tommy's partner didn't seem interested in introductions. She followed each step of the lab directions with quick efficiency. Tommy just tried to follow along, marking each of the muscles and blood vessels as his partner separated them. He was pinning the trapezius when she screamed. A pair of boys had snuck up behind and each dumped their bees down the back of her dress. Her face flushed firetruck red as she danced around, trying to beat the bees out.
Tommy had never been in a fight, but suddenly his heart pounded in his ears and he opened his jaws wide. A buzzing whine filled the lab as Tommy's sluggish golden bees flew out in a rage, striking swiftly at the aggressors, stinging without abandon. The bullies' bees were tiny, and stood no chance.
"Enough!" yelled Mr. Lundtgren, his own bees flying out around him. As quickly as it had started, the fight was over, each hive returning to their respective boy.
"You didn't need to do that." Tommy's partner whispered.
Tommy shrugged. "That's true."
"I can take care of myself."
"Not saying you can't."
She huffed and pulled a red ribbon out of her hair, handing it to Tommy. "Ok. Thank you. Now we're even."
"Ok, sure. You're new here?"
She nodded. "I did dissection last year, but this stupid school wouldn't accept the credit."
"Lame. I'm glad to have you as a partner, though. I'm Tommy."
"Alice." She paused. "Say, maybe you could show me where the decent people hang out around here?"
By fifteen, most of the boys were assholes. But there were always a few late bloomers.
Tommy and Alice shared all summer. They shared snacks and ideas and dreams. And kisses. Lots of kisses. The best spot was on top of the water reservoir, the concrete cool against their skin, with stars spread above them like shattered glass.
"I hear that Sam and Rach are splitting a hive." Tommy said, tracing circles in Alice's palm.
"Sam says she wants to colonize. Get her own hive of bees. Pretty crazy, huh?"
"Sure is."
Tommy paused in his tracing. "Would you ever think about it?"
Alice pulled her hand away from Tommy. "Can't we just enjoy the stars?"
"I mean it, Alice. You wouldn't even consider it?"
"Let someone else's bees live in my body? Why should I?"
"It's a sign of trust. It's love. It's the deepest sharing there is."
"That's not love. It's stupid. Bees are for pollinating flowers. Making honey. Not infesting other people's bodies."
Tommy sat up on his elbows. "Seriously? Why'd you drag me around all summer if you don't want my bees?"
"Drag you around? Really? Is that how it was? Christ, Tommy. I thought you liked me."
"Yeah, and maybe it's not always about you. Maybe I have dreams and desires and things I want in my life. Maybe I don't want to be alone with my bees my whole life." Tommy regretted it instantly. It sounded like something his father would say, when his mother would complain about the bees.
Alice gritted her teeth shut, and turned away from Tommy, biting off whatever words she had to say. What was the point? She slid down the edge of the water reservoir and hopped to the ground.
By seventeen, boys were assholes. Even late bloomers learned.
They didn't talk for months after their night on the reservoir. School started and ended and people started to drift apart. Tommy started working in a community garden. Alice started working in an old record shop. She liked the variety, and the smell of the old dusty plastics. It was quieter than you'd expect out of a record shop, and she didn't have to deal with too much bullshit. Tommy only came in once that summer.
"Come on." she said. "I'm at work. I'm not taking you back."
"No." he said. "I know. I just wanted to apologize. You were right. I'm an idiot, and I can't change that. I can't change what I said, or how I felt. But I'm sorry. Here." He held out a paper bag, awkwardly thrusting it at her.
"What's in it?" she asked.
"Just an apology. You were right about the bees." He turned to leave, pausing at the door. "I'm sorry again, Alice. Goodbye."
As the door swung shut behind him, Alice cautiously opened the bag. Inside was a jar of honey, neatly wrapped in red ribbon.
By eighteen, men were assholes. But some were starting to figure it out.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

Author Comments

Society pushes misogyny on all children, young boys included. It was something I experienced a lot growing up in rural Minnesota. Bees is meant to address taught misogyny, the way we pressure and shape children, and hopefully how we can learn from the past instead of repeating it. Bees as a motif for misused violence is something I've thought about for a long time too. Bees dance and pollinate and make honey, despite some people's sentiment that they will attack and sting anyone they can. If we wouldn't train bees to abandon these beautiful things in lieu of violence, why would we do it to boys?

- Daniel Rosen
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