She is a noble soul, that is what she tells me, in no fewer and no more words, in those very words. This is in the context of the bumblebee. The bumblebee, which was really just a bee, so we will call it a bee, landed on her person. It took shelter under the collar of her coat perhaps. The point is that she is the bumblebee, but then this is a true story, and we should imagine the curious bee stumbling around her shoulder hunting down the promise of her sweet scent, which is pollen as you know, but since we have rendered and bottled it and thereby deceived the bee, it is hopeless. She is hopeless, no of course she is not, for she is a noble soul. That much is clear.
With the bee thus tucked beneath her lapel, wandering hopeless but cheery in pursuit of her promise, so she boards a tram and validates her ticket with a beepity beep. And sits down, and some time passes, and she becomes aware of the buzz of the bee, and surprised, she might in your imagination suddenly move, disturbing and distracting that hymenopteran mind from the tryst she never intended to make. Perhaps a flick of the hand. Let's say a reflexive flick of her hand. So now the bee is in the air, and finds itself upon a tram.
That didn't happen, not immediately. Instead, as you've surmised, she sat still and considered that the bee might become airborne, and find itself upon a tram, and this troubled her more than the possibility of a painful prick, for she is a noble soul. So she sat still, and glared balefully at anyone who thought of taking the seat next to her, giving the wrong impression but for a greater good she hoped they would never know. See? Already there is hope, and it relies not on heroism but quietitude and stillness and sacrifice. I think it often did for her.
But she had many stops to go, and some things are inevitable, and one of them is that a bee, given pause, will eventually realise it is on a tram. Of course a bee has no conception of trams or conveyances of any kind, being possessed of wings, and only dimly perceives a prison, so I'm really just saying that the bee knew something wasn't right. The world was moving and its wings and hairy legs were not. There was a discernable absence of flowers.
So it took off, up from her garment into the air, to what it knows best, which is the promise of freedom, and all promises seem alike to a bee, for it can only smell them. So it headed for the smell of flowers. You and I both know that nothing (but flowers) smells so much like flowers as old women, who shroud themselves in the mist of English gardens. The bee made a bee-line for the promising cloud.
"Then I thought," this is what she said to me, I am merely recording it, she said "I thought I'd better do something to try and get it off the tram because I felt a little responsible and I am a noble soul." This is a true story, and all the parts of it are true, except what you and I imagine of it, which merely contains the possibility of being true. But we know what she said.
Rummaging in her bag, feeling pangs of conscience for having brought the bee onto the tram (but to whom did she feel guilty? The bee? The old woman in her miasma of roses?), she found a tin of Wintergreen Altoids. The mints fell into her hand and she put them in a safe place, perhaps because she liked the taste of rootbeer, perhaps because her mind was on the bee, which was on the tram and whose own thoughts were full of roses and the unthinkability of windows. She folded some paper. By this stage a rough-headed Preston guy (we are proceeding on her descriptions, for we have nothing else but ghosts) had replaced the old woman in her seat, presenting a dilemma that is hard to articulate but easy to understand. She pressed her thumb and forefinger against the fold of paper and watched the bumbling bee.
Then, and again I have to quote, she thought: "Sod it, I'll just go for it." This bit she had to explain to me, and the mechanics of it require some precision: "The tin goes over the bee against the window then you slide the paper in so you can move the tin away from the window." At that moment, the rough-head stood up and the bee fell neatly into another enclosure.
She wasn't sure, but she thought that the other people on the tram were impressed.
What you don't know of heroes is the agonism that comes after. We all imagine ourselves performing good deeds, normally in hindsight, and rarely do we consider that the aftermath is difficult. What she felt was the buzzing of the bee against all sides and corners of the Altoids tin. For many stops, until her stop came, it beat itself against the night and the cruel betrayal of rootbeer, which to bees makes no sense, being sweet and useless. But it's not a bad thing, because the bee is therefore alive, and has not succumbed to menthol. It struggles and struggles and in the struggle it remains a bee, a living bee.
Her stop came and she disembarked and felt the bee smashing against the metal box in her hand. There was row of planter boxes before a cafe. They were full of Liriopes.
"Perfect." That's what she told me.
She knelt down and prised the tin open. The bee tumbled out into the grasses. It was coated in white Wintergreen Altoid dust. Landing on a blade, it shook itself clean. A moment, and it zigzagged into the air.
Maybe she wasn't the bumblebee. Maybe that was you and I. It hardly matters.
Joseph | 19 Aug 2008