fiction

Tithonus

tithonus

The following story has nothing to do with Why It Matters, but it needs a home.  It had one once, many years ago in a literary magazine that is long out of print.  In fact, this is the first story I ever published.

Even then it was an oddity for me, the only story I’ve ever written with a form like this.  It started with a dream I had about a woman married to a bumble bee, and by the time I was done I had a piece stuffed with Greek mythology, loneliness, and eroticism.  I didn’t understand what I’d written, but I slipped it an envelope anyway (which gives you a sense of how long ago this was) and sent it on its way.

Today I think I finally understand it, or at least some of it.  I understand the title, and I understand the main character.  But I’ll keep my opinions to myself, because inevitably my opinion doesn’t matter.  What matters is what, if anything, you take from the story of the lady who married a bumble bee.  Care to discuss? Leave a comment, send me an email at jostaffordjr@gmail.com or send a note via messenger bee.

grasshopper

Kate came early, with scarlet fingers, and clipped red roses from the garden fence.  While daylight broke across the ocean, she lay the flowers on her kitchen table and gathered the vases scattered about her little beach house.  She wed each flower to its appropriate vase:  the fully open Falstaffs placed firmly in the squat, cobalt vase given to her by her first husband; the barely-opened L.D. Braithwaites in a mock-Staffordshire pitcher she found in a thrift shop; the Dark Ladies, with their large, loose blossoms clipped stemless and floating together in a chipped porcelain bowl, a gift from her sister.  Kate trimmed away their imperfections and carried them to their new homes. She had been married to the bumblebee eight days.

Muscles shimmered beneath the tan skin of her lean back, yearning to fly.  She floated into the kitchen and opened the red door that led to the garden.  Absentmindedly, she rattled her spoon around her coffee cup, waiting for him.  Her flowered yellow robe opened loosely to the waist.

His wings glistened in the morning sun as he hovered for a moment above a vase of roses on the table. Quietly he hummed through the open door, his flight both chaotic and industrious. She frowned, knowing that he had no need for a packed lunch, a scarf, or any of the spousal niceties. Silently she stood and watched through the open door as he mined the clover just beyond her kitchen garden. She watched him strain as the sticky pollen collected on his bristly, striped beard and the coarse hairs of his thin legs.  She watched until she could not see him anymore, then put on her muddy Birkenstocks and walked to the garden.

A grasshopper sat on the garden fence, basking in the morning sun. His muscular hind leg dangled as if he were sitting on the edge of a dock, stirring the water with a bare toe.  “You’re a happy little grig,” Kate said.  The grasshopper chirped.  “Chatty, too.” He watched while Kate weeded, pulled hookworms from the tomatoes, cut the bolts from her basil.  She plucked a basil leaf and set it in front of him.  “There’s no sense in all of us working,” she said.  “You just enjoy the sunshine.”

The sun climbed and her thin arms grew heavy.  Sweat gathered like dew in the curls of her golden hair. She and the grasshopper had been working and chatting for an hour at least.  “What do you think?” she asked the grasshopper, “Is that enough for one day?” He flexed his hind legs, then with a chirp he flew away.

On the evening of the eighth day of her marriage, the bumblebee did not return home. She called her sister.

“Hello?”

“Selene, it’s Kate.”

“What is it?  What’s wrong?”

“He hasn’t come home.”

“Since when?”

“Since tonight.  He never came home.”

There was a long silence.

“What should I do?”

“Well I don’t know.  Call the police.  Make a poster.”

“Don’t be foolish.”

“Draw a picture of him and write ‘Missing’ beneath it and go down to the grocery store and hang it on the bulletin board between the detergent coupons and the Jaycees’ events calendar.”

“You’re not helping.”

“Sweetie, you know I work nights.  I just don’t have time for this.  Go to bed, Katydid.  He’ll be home.”

The next morning she went about her routine as if nothing was wrong.  She cut fresh flowers for the vases, rattled her spoon and cup, and opened the garden door.  Her robe clung to her, the silky lapels folded closed like new blooms.  She stepped into her sandals and walked to the garden.  The grasshopper stretched along the fence, the morning sun warming his torso.

“Good morning,” she said. “Have you seen my husband?”

The grasshopper said nothing.

“Maybe if I keep busy I won’t feel so consumed with worry.  Does that work for you?”

He stretched his meaty, green leg as if he were awakening from a nap.

“Well,” she said as she pulled weeds, “at least I will have a friend to talk to.”

The grasshopper listened intently while Kate puttered about the garden, talking about her lost husband.  “He’s probably just been very busy,” she said.  “Deadlines and quotas and what not.  I just wish he would stop by and let me know that he is okay.”

PSM_V45_D033_Orange_banded_bumblebee

The last days of summer passed with no sign of the bumble bee. Every morning Kate chatted and worked while the grasshopper sunned himself on the fence, until eventually she set the work aside. The basil bolted and the roses grew wild, but she didn’t seem to notice. She would bring her coffee and her spoon outside and sit on the ground next to him, her lean back pressed against the fence and her long legs stretched out in the morning sun.  She would talk until the sun grew too warm and he leaped from the fence and burrowed into the groundcover.

One morning, after he flitted away mid-story, Kate gazed at the clover beyond the garden fence and felt a familiar sadness. “I can’t live like this anymore, not knowing,” she thought.  “I am going to pot some of that clover and put it on my table.  Hopefully he will see it through my kitchen window and he will come and see me.”

The next morning she set her coffee next to the potted clover.  Cup and spoon clanged absentmindedly in her rosy hands, her robe tied loosely.  She looked longingly at the clover.  The green leaves stirred and her heart chirped.

“I didn’t know if you would come,” she said.  “I have been so lonely.  Maybe this is a mistake.  You have your purpose and I have mine.  Maybe that should be enough.”

The grasshopper leaped from the clover onto the lapel of her robe and climbed into her pocket.  The darkness lifted from her eyes.  “Let’s get a little sunshine in here,” she said, throwing open the red garden door and uncurtaining the heavens.

Categories: fiction

Tagged as: , ,

3 replies »

  1. This is a common enough tale…the inattentive husband, the consoling friend, and the eventual turn of the woman from one towards the other.
    My take away is – my roses aren’t attracting the bee any longer. Guess I better pull out the clover and see what happens next 🙂

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.