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Summer Stories: The Tale of Little Garrett and the Bees

The night before he was stung, he remembers a storm, lightning like flash bulbs, the only one like it before or since. Little Garrett hadn’t been afraid, had thought even then that he heard buzzing in the storm. It had comforted him. His parents had been back-and-forthing across the West, then this stop in Spokane, Washington, for the World’s Fair. A blur of pavilions and faces, bright flowers and the giant iron butterflies. And on Havermale Island, goggling at the IMAX building, a bee had landed on the back of his hand, and stung Little Garrett.

Little Garrett was so surprised he turned in a circle three times before he saw the bee. He held it in the palm of his hand. His parents were arguing with a Russian woman about the finer points of horse-breeding. Little Garrett put his face down to the bee, its abdomen pumping slowly, fine hairs rippling across its tiny body.

He said, “Out of all these people, you chose me. Thanks, bee.” He pulled on his father’s sleeve. “Here’s where we got to stay.”

His parents stopped back-and-forthing, believing what Little Garrett had told them. They parked the van in a little pocket of land below the falls, Lower Crossing, and stayed. At first, Little Garrett just wandered up and down the riverbank, with its broken-brick shoreline. He stared up at the old bridge, the concrete bull skulls, cars zooming above the burbling river. He explored the old ruined home foundations, the bridge footings left behind when the train tracks moved across the river. Then the bees came.

Little Garrett’s father had built a campfire, and his mother hovered around it, heating dinner. Little Garrett showed off the things he’d found that day: 142 water-logged World’s Fair programs, 17 Pepsi bottles, a green umbrella, six crickets, and a fragment of a beehive. When he showed that last thing, everything went quiet. The river stopped burbling, the cars stopped zooming. The three of them looked around. After a few moments, burbling and zooming resumed, crickets sang, wind blew. Sounds came again from the houses of Lower Crossing.

The next morning, Little Garrett awoke to the sound of his mother knocking around in the van. He sat up in his sleeping bag, and saw her swinging wildly with a rolled-up World’s Fair program. Expo ’74 was the first World’s Fair with an environmental theme. Little Garrett’s father opened the van door to see what was happening, and out flew hundreds of bees, thousands, a humming mass of them. Little Garrett cried out in surprise, but not in fear, as they swarmed over to him, buzzing and zooming happily about his head. There were so many they made a small wind. They sounded like voices to him and he laughed. Well, his parents stood in shock, mouths agape, eyes goggled.

Soon, the bees settled down, covering him like a suit. Little Garrett understood things then. His mother put the rolled-up World’s Fair program away. His father took the wheels off the van and sold them to a man in a house.

Little Garrett learned about bees, even until he wasn’t as little. The bees lived in beautiful hives. Little Garrett learned what plants they liked best, and he planted them in widening rings around their van. Little Garrett complimented them on their beautiful hives every day. They hummed. The bees made honey that tasted like sunshine and rain at the same time. Little Garrett sold it at the top of the hill while his mother and father played guitar and tambourine. Some days the line ran all the way down dusty Bridge Road. Children came with their parents and Little Garrett tried to talk and play with them, but he only knew how the bees played, and the children would run away.

Eventually, the van started to rust away, so the bees made big hives that Little Garrett and his mother and father could live in. The plants were just what the bees loved. Cars zoomed across the bull skull bridge. Bridge Road wasn’t a bridge. Little Garrett lived with his mother and father and the bees. They weren’t his bees.

The bees made honey and taught Little Garrett many of their secrets. Their stories were delightful, and Little Garrett loved them. Sometimes, Little Garrett traveled to markets and fairs with his mother and father. The bees went with him and people came to see the bees and Little Garrett and buy the honey and clap when his mother and father finished one of their songs.

But one year, a cold year, a year when the bees stayed very still over the winter and did not speak much to Little Garrett, his mother and father died. Little Garrett was sad and the bees came out, even though it was still cold, and flew around him. Little Garrett told the neighbor about his mother and father, and people came then, and wanted to take the bodies and wanted to take Little Garrett, too. To make him a Ward of the State. Little Garrett did not like the sound of that and made a little buzzing sound at the people. By then, the bees had taught Little Garrett much of their language, so they knew what he meant. Those folks ran to the top of the hill, the bees chasing them the whole way. Afterward, Little Garrett carried his parents away from the hive, and the bees helped him. He made holes for them, and planted them like he’d done with the bee garden. For many years, the best flowers grew there, and Little Garrett would sometimes hear the faint sounds of guitars and tambourines.

After that, Little Garrett got lonely. He had the bees. Sometimes the bees would swarm into the shape of a person and talk with him, but it wasn’t the same. That fall, he went to the biggest fair of the year, just like he always had. By then, he wasn’t a little Little Garrett. People came to his booth and bought honey. He spoke to them, and sometimes the bees would hover around his head, like the little thought bubbles he saw in comics.

On the last night of the fair, a girl came to visit him. She sold dresses and purses a few booths down from Little Garrett. He thought she smelled like cucumbers. She told him how much she liked his honey and asked about his mother and father.

“They grew into flowers,” he said.

She nodded and sighed. “Mine, too.”