The history of the bee

“The real history of the bee begins in the seventeenth century, with the discoveries of the great Dutch savant Swammerdam. It is well, however, to add this detail, but little known: before Swammerdam a Flemish naturalist named Clutius had arrived at certain important truths, such as the sole maternity of the queen and her possession of the attributes of both sexes, but he had left these unproved. Swammerdam founded the true methods of scientific investigation; he invented the microscope, contrived injections to ward off decay, was the first to dissect the bees. The irony of his death is of course, not lost on us, if it is, indeed, lost on history and the flowery record keepers of the contemporary bee communitas. Long have we wondered how the society of bee orientated writers could countenance such a stain on its character. That people still deny Swammerdam was killed by bees, stung to death, as it were, is an insult to us all.”

So began the address, and it was immediately clear, by the response of scant audience, it was not welcome.

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Serhan didn’t really care about bees. Or biology in general for that matter, at least not as a matter of study. What he did care about was Florence Wainright, his classmate, sitting next to him in the small auditorium. She had asked him to accompany her to the lecture because she didn’t want to be out alone at night in this neighborhood. Not that it was a bad neighborhood really, it was just deserted at night. Eerie, for lack of a better word.

He had been infatuated with Florence since the first week of school, and even more so once he realized how smart she was. And funny. Very funny, and not in the class clown kind of way. Smart funny.

She was also the right kind and level of weird. She liked Jean-Michel Jarre, Pink Floyd, Buster Keaton, and Paul Auster. Her left shoulder had a tattoo of a swarm of bees, and she was writing an article on applications of lidar, some kind of laser reflecting technology that Serhan knew nothing about.

This was the first time he spent some time with her, just the two of them. Well, just the two of them apart from the bee weirdos. They kept to themselves though, the weirdos, spread out through the auditorium, keeping a few chairs between themselves and others. Some of them were muttering angrily at the statement from the lecturer.

Serhan glanced over at Florence. She was looking intently at the lecturer and his screen, currently showing a picture of what Serhan assumed was this Swammerdam person. Florence saw him glancing, and smiled briefly at him. She had a great smile.

“Swammerdam passed suddenly at the age of 43 in 1680,” the lecturer said. He was a small man, maybe in his 50s, with unruly white hair like a halo around his head, and wore some kind of overalls with lots of pockets.
“One can only speculate what his contemporaries believed was the cause of his death.” he continued. “His journals from that time are fragmented, at best, so we have no information about any existing medical conditions. The only shred of evidence we have been able to uncover is this.”

The lecturer clicked the little thing he held in his hand, and the image on the screen above him changed to show three pages of paper laid out on a white table. The pages were old, torn and frayed at the edges, the writing smudged and barely legible in some places.

“This is a letter from August de Geer, a Swedish painter, to Antoinette Bourignon. Bourignon was a mystic and sect leader that Swammerdam had been associated with a few years prior. In the letter, de Geer describes an encounter with Swammerdam in Amsterdam in January of 1680, barely a month before he passed away.”

To be killed by the thing you love the most,
Is a very common way of becoming a ghost.
A rabbit choking on a carrot and becoming toast.
A kitten squeezed by its loved one until completely roast.

A more usual death of a fly is to drown in honey,
I joined this faith to the place thats never sunny.
I joined the millionaire in its chase for money.
I joined Grizzly man Timothy who got eaten by a bear bunny.

I joined the magicians performing their last tricks.
And all of the free divers who got off on their kicks.
I joined the drug addict looking for that amazing fix,
And the selfie taker chasing for more, better clicks.

There is a very special place for us in hades, where I am also learning to speak in rhyme since its apparently a thing here. We have formed our own little community of indulgers, celebrating our love for life in death. Many motorcyclists and sailors. There are some famous people here too, like Marina Abramovic the performance artist who is very annoying and self centered in my opinion, she walks around staring dramatically at everyone and sometimes faints just to get attention, she has a whole little team of followers who always gasp in awe at every step she floats. Theres also that Swedish king Adolf Fredrik that ate too many of those fat bun cream cakes, he´s a funny chap.

My death came by my bees. My beloved bees. I loved their tune of bzz bzzz bzzz. I was a caretaker of their intricate castles of liquid gold. They shared secrets of me and sometimes they would make one collective body out of their many bodies. They can turn solid as our own flesh, or choose to disperse into their own individual small bee bodies. Its beautiful to watch really, it looks very cool. Sometimes they would turn into a creature resembling my own shape and carry me in their strong arms over the clouds, I would feel so tiny and so loved. Other times we would make passionate love with honey dripping all over, I can tell you it was HOT! We were living in this beautiful love bubble for decades, I had not experienced anything like this before.

Then one day, I was away on a business trip, I know a cliche, I met August, a beautiful man, a beautiful painter. We met in Amsterdam of all cities, such a romantic city, all of those bridges and wetness, the bikes and the rain! It all had a glow to it, as did August.

When I came home and told the bees, they were furious! Which made me confused because I didn’t know we were exclusive. But apparently bees aren’t into polyamory. And they don’t want to deal with their jealousy in a constructive way either, I tried to give them a book about it but they refused to read it. All of their thousand eyes turned red with jealousy, And they conspired against me.

They lifted me up in the air for one last flight (oh what a beautiful flight, sunset and all!)
then they dropped me from several hundred meters hight.
And right there that night
I finally saw the light.

The lecturer paused for a moment, eyes glazed, as though convening with some other spirit – or perhaps to escape the mumbled jeering of the crowd. A moment later, he continued.

“I will not embarrass myself by attempting to read you this letter, which you’ll notice is in French, of course, aloud. I’m afraid my linguistic talents are rather meager. However, a translation provided by de Greerian scholar Julie Ardouin contains several references to several bizarre experiments in apiculture. De Greer was in Amsterdam to perform urban studies of the streets, the pollution, the industrialized peasantry, and so forth, but his encounter with Swammerdam was obviously the most important event of that period in his artistic career, as for years de Greer’s sketchpads would overflow with depictions of the bee contraptions that were described to him.”

The old man coughed, and his face went blank again, for a minute or so, although the crowd had since ceased protesting, and in fact the buzz of interest was spreading. Finally, the lecturer shook himself, and clicked forward once more.

“Sadly, these notions were to remain as drafts, except in the incomplete masterwork you behold above, which was interrupted by the artist’s infamous death, several decades after his formative encounter with Swammerdam. It is postulated that the machinery depicted here had been transported by Swammerdam to Amsterdam, as a little peek at his laboratory, to entice investors.”

The projected image was a disturbing one, its eeriness enhanced by its ragged, unfinished quality, the background still merely swathes of black paint, with a few inchoate furnishings of the room scratched over the void in chalk. A shadowed figure, bent over the table, remained featureless. Only the machinery had any detail to it: a collection of glassware and candles, dominated by a central jar packed full of bees. In the weird light, the swarm formed a kind of howling face.