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
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 Bradstoke almost by accident
whilst en-route to view two potential shop 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 a café or restaurant. Instead, she’d had to make
do with a packet of crisps and a bottle of water from the newsagents.
It was as she’d stepped outside of the newsagent’s 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 illomen.
It had to be fate, for what better advert could there be for a sewing studiocum-coffee shop
than her very own sewing bee to welcome customers at the door.
Melissa stood stock still for several moments, hypnotised 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 flightpath 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
Bolts of vibrant fabrics, in a multitude of floral prints, lay stacked upon
vanilla, wooden shelves 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 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
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. 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
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.
(c) Catherine McCarthy