The Queen’s Attendant
The sign of the honeybee had hung on the shop front for a hundred years, or at least that’s what the locals would have you believe. A whole century it had flown on the wind, its huge eyes – all-seeing with a thousand lenses – watching the comings and goings of the little town. If only it could speak . . . what stories it might tell!
It really was a work of art. Delicate wings of transparent chiffon, veined with strands of saffron to give them strength, stood proud of the base-board. Why, one could almost imagine the creature leaping from its frame and taking flight. It must have been re-painted on several occasions, or how else would its contrasting stripes of butterscotch yellow and mocha brown have retained such vibrancy?
Melissa had come upon the charming town of Goginan almost by accident whilst en-route to view two other premises in nearby towns. Feeling peckish, and having an hour or so to spare before the next viewing, she had followed the sign to the little car park just off the High Street, but despite strolling its entire length had failed to find any sign of a café or restaurant. Instead, she’d had to make-do with a packet of crisps and a bottle of water from the newsagent’s.
It was just as she’d stepped outside again that the sign of the bee, suspended from the premises opposite, had caught her eye. Window frames painted buttercup-yellow drew her attention to the large ‘To Let’ board, and from where she stood her own reflection smiled at her, willing her to take a closer look. She’d crossed the road and taken down the phone number, and it had all started from there really.
Apparently, over the years, the premises had been home to a variety of enterprises, but despite having no link to the bee, not one of the previous occupants dared to have the sign removed. Local legend spoke of how the honeybee acted as protectorate of the community, and so no-one had ever wished to risk ill-omen. It had to be fate, for what better advert could there be for a sewing studio-cum-coffee shop than her very own sewing bee to welcome customers at the door.
Melissa stood stock still for several moments, hypnotized by the bee’s gentle lulling swing as it played on the southerly breeze. Then, beaming from ear to ear, she turned to admire her newly-painted business name which now adorned the shop front - Snip ‘n Tucker - written in cursive, amber-coloured lettering with a honeybee trail at its tail end.
With a contented sigh, she retrieved the key from the pocket of her summer dress and unlocked the shop door. Only it wasn’t really a shop . . . or at least not yet. It soon would be, though, as she was due to open the following day. Hands on hips, she determined a flight-path through the maze of cardboard boxes strewn on the floor from the previous day’s delivery.
At least she hadn’t needed to re-decorate, for the walls were already freshly painted in subtle tones of apricot and cream; deliciously tempting! And she’d spent the whole of the previous week setting up six little sewing stations in readiness for her classes.
Bolts of vibrant fabrics, in a multitude of floral prints, lay stacked upon wooden shelves, painted vanilla, whilst wicker baskets, in all shapes and sizes, boasted buttons and various other sewing notions. Hexagonal frames, displaying tonal cottons within their cells, were slotted together on the central wall to form a bright and busy focal point. Her dream of the pleasant little community where she intended to nurture a bustling hive of activity was taking shape quite nicely.
All that remained now was to set up the little café towards the back...
Early-morning sunshine streamed through the large display windows. Melissa opened wide the small window at the top, encouraging a cool breeze to enter, and began to unpack her wares.
Matching crockery in lemon and white was neatly arranged on the dresser and interspersed with bulbous jars of her own organic honey – their inviting labels, printed on a gold background, pleading to be purchased. Tiny ceramic pots of creamy honey-butter were dotted about, and the space between was scattered with sprigs of dried lavender, adding colour to the display.
A handsome slab of sage, honey and roasted red pepper cornbread to tempt those with a more savoury palate, and sticky honey cakes drizzled in lemon frosting for those with a sweet-tooth, were carefully placed in air-tight canisters to keep them fresh. A variety of organic fruit teas, as well as the more traditional earl grey and breakfast tea and an impressive range of coffees were added to the chalkboard menu. Just one more display to sort and she’d make herself a cuppa, perhaps even indulge in a slice of cake; after all, she’d worked hard all morning.
On a small, circular table, draped in a dandelion print, Melissa arranged jars of royal jelly, beeswax and banana lip balms, and little pots of propolis cream, all lovingly prepared by a close friend, and all, of course, organic.
Ah, job done! She snuggled into a cocoon-shaped cane chair, strategically placed next to a products catalogue, and curled her feet beneath her. Inhaling deeply, she encouraged the steaming, peppermint tea to clear her head and calm her busy mind. Memories and daydreams drifted into one, becoming less coherent . . .
‘Daughter, you have proven yourself to be my most loyal attendant,’ The Queen Bee said. ‘And now you shall be amply rewarded.’ Her Queen was soon to die. Her own sister – a younger, more fertile queen – was already waiting in the wings, plump with royal jelly and ready to supersede their mother. Having stung her opposing sisters to death, the younger had proven herself worthy of the title and was growing impatient.
‘When the sun sets on this glorious autumn eve, both your life and mine will end, and you shall receive a new life of your choosing. Take from the hive a plentiful supply, for you have earned a thousand times your weight in golden nectar.’
The attendant did not know how to reply. She loved her Queen and had been faithful and loyal to her ever since the very first day of her employ, but she too was growing old and tired of this life.
So they sat together at rest, watching the evening sun as it dipped on the horizon one last time . . .
Melissa came back to the present with a start, spilling the last dregs of her tea into her lap. Where was she? For some moments, she failed to make sense of her surroundings, then slowly . . . gradually, they grew once more familiar.
When she was born, her grandmother had chosen the name Melissa, derived from the Greek word for bee, and of course, mȇl was Welsh for honey. Neither of her parents had objected; in fact they had considered it rather sweet.
But now her grandmother was gone.
On her death-bed, Melissa had made her a promise – that she would put her inheritance to good purpose, and in doing so create her own personal utopia. So here she was, fulfilling that promise. Fortunate enough not to require the income from this new venture to support her day-to day living, she had already decided to donate its proceeds to charity. She was certain that the Bee Friendly Trust would be able to put the money to good use. She smiled to herself, glad that she could help.
Rising stiffly from the chair, her aching back reminded her of all the lifting she had done that day. There was just one last item to place. Wistful with fond memories, she carefully unwrapped the framed photograph and placed it in the centre of the dresser. Lily Rose Hummel – her grandmother. From the open window, the pleasant hum of a honeybee drew closer and closer.
Serene; sleepy; satisfied.
Landing softly atop the photo frame, its saddlebags swollen with pollen, it watched her contentedly. Both queens in their own right – her grandmother and this little bee, and this world all the more rich for having had them both.