Honey of Andromeda
Even though the sun had not risen over the horizon yet, the sky decided to stop raining. I once read somewhere that dawn was supposed to scare the clouds away, but it seemed that the water was determined to continue clinging to the air. I tasted the moistness on my tongue as I sat up in my bed. It was as bitter as cinders.
Up until I was eleven years old, my mother woke up before the bees did and gathered the dandelion flowers in the field to make a bouquet to put in the center of the dining table. The fluffed-out yellow of the petals glowed countered the closed darkness of nighttime. She was the type of person that thought of life as a teeter-totter—always in need of balance.
Then my mother grew old and needed to sleep. She told me to wade through the grass to find the dandelions before the honeybees rose to drain their life-giving nectar out. As I stepped out in my flip-flops, feeling the wet grass between my toes, the hives’ low buzz rang through the fields. Here was something that I liked about the bee farm: even while unconscious, it filled the world with dreams.
I plucked the dandelions from the ground one by one. I looked up at the sky and saw the stars with their chilling lights. It seemed to me now that the universe was the same as that night when my twin brother, Eli, crawled through my window, pointing his finger out and upwards. Time had not passed since the day that the women brought me into the room with his corpse and told me, “Weep. He was half of your heart.” And my cheeks sagged with sogginess.
A damp breeze brushed past me, and I thought that my face was filled with water again. I clasped a full bouquet between my hands. The blossoms overflowed between my fingers. The sun began to peek over the horizon. The buzzing grew louder, vibrating in my bones.
While I walked back, perhaps I should have kept my mind clear. Maybe I shouldn’t have lost myself in the water. Because when I stepped through the door, my mother was awake even though Dan, my little brother, was still snoring. She had a scrunched-up look on her face that said that she was going into town. I said with a laugh, “Are you getting tired of this old place?”
Which turned out to be the wrong thing to say because I had forgotten that my mother and I had to visit our fertilizer supplier every three months to bargain for our next order. She needed me by her side, a young one who was savvy in modern-day society.
It might’ve been the feeling of betrayal that welled up inside of me, but my rebelliousness exploded. I told her that Dan and I would stay. She looked at me as though I were crazy and asked whether I cared about our honey or not. I asked if she thought that she was too incompetent to manage the supplier herself, or worse: if she thought that her daughter was too immature to take care of the house for the day. And this was what punched us. The truth was that I was too immature for her. Since I was born, I was too prone to getting lost in myself. I held onto things that I should’ve moved on from and cried even when I didn’t need to. I was not a perfectly balanced teeter-totter. I thought about Eli every morning when I went to pick out the dandelions and my mother never noticed. She moved on. She didn’t think about these things anymore. She drove forward in life.
My mother knew my stubbornness well enough that she didn’t attempt to persuade me to go to town. Or maybe she just chalked it all up to teenage hormones. She kissed my hair and promised me that she would be back by tomorrow. Then she left, trusting me to take care of Dan. There wasn’t anything to worry about—I’d been home alone with him many times before, but right then I wondered if she’d given up on the both of us. If she’d thrown up her hands and said fine, these are the type of children that I have.
Outside, the sun gave the sky a soft golden tint; the world was growing bold. Then I heard a muted crying and knew that Dan had woken up. He was crying because the summer daybreak had shaken him awake before he was ready.
I cradled him even though by now he was too big to be cradled. I sometimes forgot that children could grow. Children were like plants: they were once a mere seed. This might’ve been an idea that Eli would have enjoyed, but for now, I tried not to think of him. It only made things worse. I leafed my hand through Dan’s tufts of chestnut hair and promised him that I would make him pancakes even though I was in no mood to make anything at all.
The pancakes that I made for Dan were undercooked, but he didn’t notice because I had slathered a generous coating of butter on them. While we ate, I read him Goodnight Moon, which did not turn out well since he reminded me that he only liked to listen to stories before bedtime. I closed the book, my hands sweating slightly while saying of course. He looked at me with those startling brown eyes of his, and I could feel him judging me. I swallowed and asked if he would like to collect honey with me. Would that make him feel better? He agreed and we went outside.
We put on our beekeeper clothes, heavy white suits mesh to veil our faces. Sweat trickled down my spine. The grass was no longer wet but aridly verdant. Honeybees, with their flashily yellow-and-black bodies, littered the flowers. On the way, Dan kept asking me questions. Where is Mother? What day is it today? Why is the sky blue? To which I answered to the best of my ability: Your mother is in town. It’s Saturday, the day when everybody should be sleeping, including you. The sky is blue because it’s a bastard that doesn’t want to be any other color.
It did not take long for us to reach the hives. They were in wooden boxes, fitted perfectly into flat panels. I lifted off one lid. Immediately, the buzzing filled my skull. The swarm crowded the inside, crawling over each other. All of the bursting chaos contained within the perfect order of the hexagonal combs. I reached down with my gloved hand and pulled out one of the panels.
The honey trickled out of the comb and into the bucket that I made Dan hold for me. It was thick and milky, resilient in the blazing sun. When it was empty, I put the panel back. I saw the largest bee—the queen staring at me. They always watched their subjects.
Dan followed me as we moved from hive to hive. He asked questions, but I didn’t remember my answers to them. Twice he said that his arms were too tired to carried the bucket. That should’ve been a sign that we had been outside for too many hours. That and the unbearable heat beneath my suit. But we kept going. Everything became a blur of wings and suns and queens. I looked down at the hive and thought of all of the honey as a never-ending ocean of molten sugar. It pulsated around me, coating my throat. All of it, the world, was drowning. The earth was but an inconsequential insect, and the last thing I saw was a plump, omniscient queen staring at me with her bottomless eyes before my mind went black itself.
The air was so, so vast. It was cold and it was quivering from the might of its own heart. Its blood was woven from apricots and ashes. I drank it all in. It burned my tongue.
Some time later, I opened my eyes and found a little boy looking at me. He was fair and skinny. He patted my cheek, calling, Are you okay? His voice reverberated through the smoke.
I tried to stand up, but the world was spinning too fast. All I knew was that there was a searing pain splitting my stomach. Bees wriggled all over me. I was a sack of nectar.
The boy held the bucket of honey over my head. Then he screamed, Lily! I didn’t realize that I had forgotten my own name until he said it. He asked me if he should call the doctor. I said that I was fine. I just needed to go home.
I leaned onto him as we treaded back. Before we went inside, he had to remind me to swat off all the bees before going inside. Right, I said, Thank you for the memo, darling. I had never called him darling. His name escaped me.
I sat down and drank water. It was useless because I began to cry. Rivers poured through my eyes. The boy attempted to calm me by putting ice on my neck. It froze my skin.
Eventually, I stopped crying and the world stopped wobbling. Dan’s name drifted back to me. I told him not to worry because all I had was a heat stroke, which was true. He listed his head with the kind of skepticism you only see in an adult who truly understand what is going on. Right. Because Dan wasn’t that young anymore. He had grown to my shoulder height.
I ordered Dan to bring me the pot. Dutifully, he retrieved it, and despite the bulging feeling in my forehead, I poured the honey in and stirred. It was only then that I understood the significance of the amount of time we had left before our mother came home. When I was still in middle school, I sat on our porch and watched the seasons go from spring to winter. I inhaled the pollen of March and the snowflakes of December. Now I wondered how I managed to do that without crushing my spine.
When all of the honey was portioned into jars, Eli visited me. I knew that I shouldn’t let him in. My mother had trained me against that. But he swam through the cloudy sugar. I knew what he thought of it—it was the Milky Way, filled with millions of stars. We used to lie in the fields at night and count the lights as if they were wishes. He had a book in his lap, one that told him about the monstrosity that was the universe. The two of us were a peculiar pair. I, a farm girl. He, an astronomer. The night that he sat on the windowsill telling me that there was a comet rushing through the heavens, his green eyes startled me enough that I thought he was a wolf. Which made us run even faster down the stairway to catch the glorious meteor. Now, as I looked into the deepening twilight through the window, I was the same person who heard a thump behind her and found her brother face down, head cracked and still gripping the railing.
I now approached the window and pressed my face against it, gazing up. Eli was the one of us who could fly. We were one heart split into two at birth. He taught me how to dream. How to see beyond the farm and into the macrocosm. In a fit of rage, I thought, Dan. You could never replace Eli. It’s your fault that you are not Eli.
I’m sorry, Dan, for not being a good sister to you.
I woke. I didn’t remember much about what had happened before I fell asleep except that I had tried to read Dan Goodnight Moon again but my head was too scrambled for the words to make sense. The boy’s head was under my arm. I tried to shove my love for him into the spot where he clutched my wrist.
The first rays of sunlight peeked out. There was something whimsical about them, the way that they flowed over the fields with their high-flying rosiness. I crept down the hallway to the dining room, where the dandelions from yesterday sat. In all the confusion, I lost track of them and now they appeared, staring at me with their fiery eyes.
Slowly, I slipped on my beekeeping suit to venture out. There was the buzzing again. Only this time there wasn’t the humidity. The boxes where the bees lived were chambers of mystery. They were alive in the face of death.
I lifted the top off the closest one. Inside was the honeycomb universe. The eternal dripping waxes swirled into colossal galaxies that soared through spacetime. All of the little cells brimming full with possibility. The indifference of the colony as they became asteroids diving in and out of emptiness. And lastly, the queen. The grand overseer. She looked up. I inhaled.
I asked her, Is it lonely, being the ruler of the macrocosm? She replied, I see you’ve come a long way, child. Your way of asking questions is the same direction in which the cosmos spins around itself. I said, Will you be kind to Earth? Will you be kind to us? She did not answer. Instead, she stared, daring me to answer the question myself.
Before I opened my mouth, the sun rolled over the edge of the field. The dandelions! I had to get them before it was too late! I put the lid back, shutting the queen into her universe. I scrambled on the ground to grab whatever dandelions I could, dirt and roots and all. Several bees landed on me. I ran towards the house.
My mother was in the dining room. Her hair was greasy. Her tired hand lay on the old dandelions from yesterday. She told me that she had just made it back from town and everything with the supplier was fine. But then she paused and looked at me from head to toe.
I knew that she was in awe with me. Bees looped around my head in a halo. I stood with a handful of dandelions, offering them to my mother like a religious sacrifice. Energy rushed through me. The queen gave me the power to defy gravity. I was the Princess of Chaos. And now, as my mother scolded me for bringing the bees into the house, I realized that she was the essence of the constellations. The lumbering heart that fed all the voids in everything and anything that was in existence. Her face was elemental, something close to fear itself.
Dan called for our mother from down the hall, and I pierced the air with my invincible call. I was in flight. I was unchained. Thank you, Eli, for telling me who I am.