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Flash story

How To Catch A Bee

In this magic realist flash story published at Dove Tales: Gardens in the Desert, wildflowers learn about cooperation. The hard way,

Anthuriums. [Image Credit: https://www.twenty20.com/photos/9b589c31-b894-46b9-8d13-9a9335469ca1]

This story was originally published in Dove Tales: Writing for Peace: https://writingforpeace.org/amita-basu/

***

HOW TO CATCH A BEE

“Nectar.  That’s the obvious answer,” said White once we appointed him to the Committee.  White wasn’t the brightest Anthurium around.

Big Red glared at White.  He’d explained to us often enough why nectar wasn’t an option.  “We’re kings of the flowers,” Red would say.  “What about roses?” White would challenge.  Big Red, ignoring White, would continue: “We need bees to sit on us, get pollen on their legs, buzz away, and scatter the pollen.  That’s what bees are supposed to do.  It’s their duty.  They don’t get anything for it.  That’s how it works.”

“But most flowers make nectar,” White said.

Usually Big Red ignored this.  One day he replied, thrusting out his chin, “Most flowers are fools.  Cowards!  They’re letting down the dignity of flowers.  Flowers are kings of the world.”

“See how long it took Big Red to come up with that?  He’s making it up, Little Red.”

That’s why White was appointed to the Committee – he argued too much.  I was appointed ostensibly ‘to manage that foolish White’ (but really because I’m Big Red’s nephew).

So we puzzled: How to catch a bee?  It was a new problem.  We’ve always been popular flowers, hand-pollinated by People.  Then, in the Greatest War, the Allies stamped Anthurium on their flag; made us their ‘symbol of hope.’  The Allies lost; the survivors shunned us.  Now we needed bees.

“Forget nectar,” White said.  “Where would we offer it, anyway?”

Most flowers offer nectar to pollinating insects in their petal-bowl.  Their pistil, grainy with pollen-sacs, lies hidden, gratefully brushing the bee’s legs as she flies away nectar-drunk.

We Anthuria have a single petal, the spathe, majestically curving.  Glossy: too slippery to hold nectar.  But it lets bees sit and rest.  Our pistil, the spadix, is bold, bristling.  Ordering bees to come pollinate us.  Gratis.  No nectar reward.  Incomprehensibly, bees refuse.

“It’s not just nectar bees want,” I said.  “Sometimes they just wanna rest on a warm, soft flower.”

Another stalemate.  Warm and soft isn’t us.  That’s why the Greeks called us Anthurium: ‘flower-like.’  They thought we were stones: cool, hard.  Then they discovered we were flowers.  The rest is history.  But there’s one thing People still didn’t know: inside that tough-skinned spadix is Super-Nectar, a special plant-sap sweeter than nectar.  Bees didn’t know it either: their jaws couldn’t penetrate the spadix.  Only Earthworms knew.  Earthworms are special.  They aerate the soil around our roots; sometimes we secretly open our spadices to drizzle one drop of Super-Nectar into Earthworms’ gaping mouths.

“But, Red,” said White, “How can we make our flowers warm and soft, to catch bees?”

“We could grow many layers of little petals, like Marigold, and trap the sun’s heat in the air between layers.  We could weave petals from baby cotton, like Violet.  We could” –

“No. All that’s hard work.  You heard Big Red.  We’ve to get bees to pollinate us without doing anything for them.  Crazy, if you ask me.  That’s the kind of thinking that led People to the Greatest War.”

“Who cares about People? Can we focus on what matters?  Unless we get bees to pollinate us, we’ll become extinct!”

“Right.  Here’s my plan.”  It was simple.  All the flowers of an Anthurium plant would face each other and raise their spathes, forming a dome.  We’d leave the top open just wide enough for a bee, wondering at this beautiful new flower, to wander in.  Then the spathes would snap shut on the hostage.

I volunteered to try it with my plant.  Sure enough, a fat old forager ambled in.  We closed the dome behind her.

“Listen up, Bee!” You have one way out of here.  You’re gonna saturate those furry legs with pollen from our spadices.  That’s plural for spadix, insect.  You do that, we’ll let you out.”

It worked.  Beautifully.

Big Red implemented Red’s plan throughout Anthurium-Land.

“I see you’re spreading again,” said Earthworm, after we’d become the Bee-Terrorists.  “We’ve been scurrying around trying to aerate the roots of all your new seedlings.  What’s the secret?”

“The secret is,” said Big Red, “Flowers are smart; Bees are dumb.  Get on with your duty, Caterpillar.  Aerate our roots.”

“I’m an Earthworm.”

“Whatever.”

Quickly we colonized the grassland with our blossoms – cool, hard, successful.  Bees kept coming, mesmerized by our spathe-domes, and Shlup! trapped.  At Red’s suggestion we made the bees swear they wouldn’t share their, ahem, experience with their mates.  Seems bees can communicate, too.  Who’d have thought.

Suddenly the bees stopped coming.  We’d had whole hives buzzing our way, one lone worker after another.  Now we were lucky if we caught a bee a day.  “What’s up at the hives?” I interrogated one bee.  “Where’s everybody?”  But that bee’s hive was fine; she didn’t know about the others.  We released her.  She disappeared, too.

It was Earthworm who told us.  Came panting up one day, goggle-eyed.

“The bees – they’re dying!  People” –

“Who cares about People?” I said.  “Tell us about the bees.”

“People have no food left – after the war – they’re smoking the beehives.  Honey’s all that’s left.  You should see the bees, carpeting the ground.  Crunchy gold.”

“They’re all dead?”

“No.  That’s what I came to tell you!  They’re migrating, south over the ocean where People can’t follow.  They’ve got miles to fly.  And they’re stopping to refuel – here!”

“Here?  Here there’s only us.”  Silence tumbled over Anthurium-Patch.  “You didn’t!  You didn’t tell them about Super-Nectar!”

Earthworm trembled with rage.  “You called me a caterpillar!”

“You’re bluffing,” said Big Red.  “There’s no way their little jaws could break through our Spadix.”

He stopped and stared.  Far north, the horizon had darkened with a cloud.  Gold-black.  In the silence now we heard the buzzing.  Closer to us, steadily approaching us, was a smaller cloud: the harbingers.  Twelve bees.  Two tight lines.  Clasping, in their jaws, rose-stems. Bristling with thorns sharp enough to cut through spadices.

END

I wrote this story originally as children’s fiction. I’ve not read much children’s fiction, but what I did read I enjoyed. I still occasionally browse some Tintin comics, and some Just William books. Do you enjoy children’s fiction? Have you discovered any as an adult, or do you revisit old favourites?

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By Amita Basu

I'm a writer based in Bangalore, India.

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