All Purpose Bees – Chapter 4

Eternal Al

There isn’t a warmth to the day. Al finds this odd, unexpected. There he is on the balcony drinking his evening tea, and the patchy cloud work that’s annoyed them all day is still there. A soggy pockmarked blanket over the sky, a feeling of being trapped in a thin gauze mesh. He pulls a teabag out from the cup. His spoon digs into planter earth, pushing potting soil to the side, depositing the teabag. He does this secretly. Betty thinks it harms the rosemary, but he finds that it changes the flavor, softens it enough so that it can blend into subtler dishes. Al likes prickly things, but he likes it when they reveal something else inside of them. That is the story of him and Betty.

The mug passes heat to his fingers, around the thumb fat in his palm. He holds the smooth circular ceramic close, feels the steam opening his nose, turning dry snot loose and moist. Where do the hummingbirds go when the sun isn’t out? He misses them. Everything is too quiet today. They’ve stripped the trees bare. The conveyor belts are gone, the semis have hauled everything off. They’ve let the seasonal staff go. Marta and Jacob have the year rounders on the other side of the grove, cleaning off the equipment. It is a time of power washing, oil changes, putting equipment under roof. Battening down in case hard rains come this winter.

“What will you bring to us?” Al asks. “Do we need to fear you, or will the days continue to extend outwards in a golden falsehood masquerading as an eternity in the making? We all know the curtain is coming down soon, that these pleasant red days of Indian summer are not meant to last, but when?” Al wonders if he will live to see the cruel back hand come striking down or if he will carry out his days in the calm before the storm.

A part of Al thinks this will go on forever, that he is on a slow continuum drifting ever so imperceptibly between this world and the next. He may finish his tea, close his eyes, and open them on the other side. He might find himself in space, on another plane, carrying the warmth of this world with him into his next life. That would be so nice, but not today. He holds himself here for Betty. She still rages against this world, still has something to prove. She needs to fight to keep the darkness at bay.

The dark. Opposite to the light, the night terror, the infinite void. A place where no one is loved, where doubt rules, where hope is crushed. How terrible is that Yin and Yang, not compliments but opposites. The opposite of hope, the barren Earth, an emptied womb. When there’s no sun, Al thinks about the possibility that almonds won’t make more almonds. This is terrible to him, it is sin. He finds it impossible. Nature finds a way. Man finds away. Nature and man working together, always succeeds.

He sips at his tea. Too much lemon, not enough honey. Man against nature. He knows that story, he has lived that story. Al considers himself blessed for finding balance, for no longer fighting against the natural order of things. He was called to take on his family’s land, to continue the line, and he has done that. Almond Al, as true to the name as his uncle had been. This is their corner of the world. That’s the problem with Ed Ortega. He’s running from fate, running from destiny. He thinks of himself as an I and not as part of a We.

We are a colony. We are bees but cursed with brains. Al reflects on that. It is not having a brain that is the problem, it is elevating that brain over other brains. It creates competition, make man think himself unique, special, when in fact he’s been playing out the same story others have a thousand years over. Al read once that the idea of the self is a new phenomenon. That prior to Rousseau, man was incapable of thinking as a he, only as a we. He’s not sure what to think of that. Caesar was not a we. A wave of warmth washes over Al. His gummy bear was kicking in. Once he finishes his tea, he’ll go inside, wrap a blanket around himself and fall asleep in his recliner. A show he wanted to watch was on, he’ll remember it when he gets in front of the TV. Betty won’t be back for hours. She’s helping Ed look through the books. Those books will show him what we are. All of us independents, not so independent after all. A colony looking out for each other.

He pours the last of his tea out on the table in case a hummingbird comes by seeking something sweet. Eternal Al is there for them, as they for him as well. Before turning in, he looks up at the sky one last time. The new moon has risen, he sees it visible through a broken window of night sky in the cloud cover. His eyes glance at it for just a moment, but then are drawn to a deep red specter looming behind it. It is large, hazy and heavy. Al rubs his eyes, pulls a pair of reading glasses from the table and puts them on. It is a second moon, he says to himself, or a hallucination.

The warmth of the gummy surges through him, but he has his wits about him. Al stares slack jawed in wonder as the red moon comes into sharper focus, materializing from its haze into a solid thing peering down on Earth.

“We are no longer alone,” Al whispers to himself. “There will be Nezerjians in space, and it will happen soon, perhaps in what’s left of my life.”