“I am here and you are where you are” – Fireflies, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
Bernard looks out into the garden at the rain. It’s been pouring for hours now and the water on the glass makes everything shimmery and tentative. The time of night isn’t helping either – 3.18 a.m. and counting. Crazy time. Bernard time.
He’s at his computer (where else would he be?) and he arches his back to stretch out the rat hunched over a keyboard position he’s been in for hours. The room smells of cheese puffs and sour breath. Bernard hasn’t opened his window for months.
What Bernard doesn’t get – no, seriously he really doesn’t get it – is why no woman will give him the time of day. Beautiful, ugly, young or old, they don’t want to know him. It makes him angry even thinking about it. He has a right to be noticed, he has an entitlement to be noticed. These women, these stacys and beckys, should at least pay him the respect of noticing him. But they don’t of course – they’re too busy sucking up to the brads. The big guys with their big dicks. Like his fucking father – sadly ironic, Bernard reckons, that he’s got a brad dad.
The guys on the forum think it’s pretty funny too – certainly, the dozens of memes he gets sent on the subject seem to suggest this reaction. Brad dad with his incel son – an evolution of sorts, thinks Bernard.
His mum doesn’t quite fit the stacy stereotype, but Bernard bets she did when she was younger. He’s seen pictures of her when she was in her twenties (before he came along and ruined everything) and she was hot, but hot with a big dollop of vacuous shallowness around her eyes. Yep, Bernard thinks, his parents’ collective sexiness really went to seed when they spawned beta Bernard.
It’s not even that he hasn’t tried to do something about it – dating coaches, pickup artists, Bernard’s tried it all. He’s even attempted looksmaxing himself at the gym, but to be fair, he’s drawn a line at plastic surgery. And you know what? Why should he even entertain the idea of going to that length when women are so dismissive and cruel? When all that really matters to them is the size of your wallet and the size of your member? When it comes down to it, Bernard thinks you’re better off with a robot. At least, they can’t say no.
Bernard doesn’t feel sorry for himself though, not really. He knows the slope of his shoulders and his chin that isn’t quite a chin might suggest this; but here in front of the screen, he’s a god of sorts, connecting with his people. A god lurking in the dark @ Lord Pussybane.
The night’s a clammy one and when Bernard wipes the sweat from his brow, he can only think of the texture of slugs. There’s part of him that wants to go into his parents’ bedroom and smear his sweat on their sleeping faces, so he can really get in touch with his father’s disappointment and his mother’s distaste.
What stops him doing this are two things – one, the sense he has that they wouldn’t be all that surprised and two, the crackle and boom of the thunderstorm that’s finally fulfilled its promised arrival.
The lightening illuminates the bedroom green, clashing with the flashing red of the smoke alarm on the ceiling. Bernard doesn’t want to be this person: he is this person. He is alone and connected in an echo chamber of his own construct. Bernard is legion.
The rain on the front window has turned emergency vehicle blue and he sees that a police car and fire engine are parked outside the house. There’s a smell of acrid smoke in the air, prompting Bernard to leave his computer and go to the back window - the thought that dual view windows are wasted on someone like him, who rarely looks out of them, flits across his mind.
He sees that his father’s shed at the bottom of the garden is on fire, presumably hit by a fortuitous fork of lightening. Ha, thinks Bernard. Ha, ha, ha.
Baba looks out into the garden at the rain. She’s worrying about the bees and hopes they’ve all got safely back to the hive. She resists the urge to go out and check, knowing that it’s not rain, but cold that’s the danger - and besides how could she account for every, single bee life? Even so, it’s still a temptation and she considers finding her raincoat; deciding instead that if she does go outside into this warm evening, a coat of rain - of glistening, rainbow rain – would be preferable to a raincoat.
When she is alone, which is always, Baba has time to connect with the world. For her, the experience is religious. Her body fills with yearning and wonder at every single particle of everything that exists. Baba feels the whole world and if she can do this, why would she ever be lonely? It occurs to her that the honey bees, in their safe, cruel home, are also never lonely.
Her mother had been a beekeeper and when she’d gone into the home (a hive for the old?), Baba had promised to keep the bees until she was well enough to come out. Baba had felt fleetingly sad and inadequate at not being able to look after her mother herself, but she knew it wasn’t, in the end, what her or her mother really wanted.
The home gave her regular updates on what they were providing for her mother – a commitment to massaging her hands and painting her nails, opportunities to listen to her own choice of music and to dance, time to update her life-story, taking the last two years into particular account. Baba grimaced at these messages of joy – at a mother who had never painted her nails and whose life story over the last couple of years consisted of eating, sitting, being operated on and sleeping.
In the final year of her mother’s life, Baba had brought her back home and they had settled into a routine of small, tender actions. At the end of each day, she and her mother, crushingly tired in her makeshift bed in their dining room, would talk of the past and of the bees.
“Baba”, her mother had said in one of their last conversations, “When you were a little girl, of three maybe four, a bee landed on your lips and stung you. You cried and cried, partly because of the pain I think, but also because you saw the bee dead on the floor. From that point on, you have had such a beautiful way with words. A real gift for language.” Baba had waved away her mother’s words, but had gone to bed that night smiling.
When her mother died, Baba had gone to the hive to tell the bees. It’s what had to happen, showing respect for them and her mother. She’d whispered the news into the hive’s entrance, soft enough not to shock the bees, loud enough so there was no misinterpreting. “I’ll keep you and I’ll care for you”, she’d added as she walked back to the house.
Baba kept the bees and she kept her mother, preserved in road salt after a fashion; bound by the kindly words of a strong spell, by rosemary, sage and beeswax. Her mother - forever sleeping in her bed in the dining room, features over time melting like wax, then desiccating. Still her mother and not her mother.
The rain has stopped now and Baba is quite certain she can hear the bees, buzzing and whispering as the last ones return to the hive for the night. When she looks out of the window, the moon is shining, mellow and golden, on the hive’s cedar wood and on the straw skeps. The sound of the bees is soothing to Baba and she begins to feel sleepy. She kisses her mother good night and goes to the kitchen sink to wash out the old, honey jars – there’s always work to be done. She imagines she has a bee as her familiar, or even that she’s a bee herself. A busy, little, brown creature, flying home to her sisters.