The girls sat all together in a corner of the yard, bumping their eighth month bellies and drinking the crisp cool of the grass as a curative against late August. A light breeze tricked seedpods into buzzes and rattles reminiscent of the cicadas of the east, but thinner, because the dry air suckled from until they hung from their baked stalks like rattles in waiting for the issue of those four ripe bellies in their midst.

“Do you remember what it was you used to do? Before all of this?” Beth, always the most self-centered, if there can be a contest of self-centered among pregnant women, stirred up the dialogue so she might reminisce about pre-Law at the University. She’d discovered her earlier life to be much more thrilling in repetition than in experience.

“I used to do photography,” Marie told them. “I imagined I’d take a class, to learn about the lenses and filters and all those developing fluids.” She shrugged her shoulders in that dismissive way, like branches shaking snow off.

“What would you photograph?” Rachel asked. She possessed this endearing quality of projecting genuine intrigue, when she asked, she really, truly wanted to know, in this case, exactly what Marie would have photographed in a life once removed from them. A life, irrelevant.

“Oh,” Marie sighed. “Did you ever see those framed pictures people sold at markets and craft? You know, of colored sunsets and bees rooting in flowers?”

“You wanted to be a craft fair vendor?” Beth smoothed out her eyebrow to nose wrinkle a breath after she felt it. Marie, prone to prone to tears, might take offense.

“No, but I wanted to take the pictures, you know, like a hobby. I could get someone else to run the booth, yes?”

“Not a lot of money in that. Especially if you had to pay the guy to work the booth.” Beth enjoyed considering all the details. That’s what she imagined she would have done at a law firm. She would have been the one who analyzed the scene, like a detective, and extracted the prize detail that delineated between accident and murder. “But anyway, you wouldn’t be allowed to develop the photos now. Too many chemicals.”

And there lay the truth of their lives. After the Collapse, it was as if they endured a retroactive punishment for their chemical dependence. All chemicals, all substances needing human refinement, were eliminated. This of course, precipitated the second and third collapses, like aftershocks of a quake. The evolutionary biologists, recovered from their throes of mourning, raised the cry of evolutionary bottleneck and species reinvention. Women of decimated populations were encouraged to procreate, at the state’s expense. The rational being that, if the initial Biological Collapse hadn’t killed them, any woman who managed a chemical free pregnancy would be birthing a new race of men.

Sociologists were the next to ride the grief cycle to curiosity. The deaths and the terror, followed so closely by a new and provocative hope, appeared to rattle monogamy to shambles. Girls and women everywhere were sprouting rounded bellies like a survival cry and thronging together into state sponsored housing. Many knew nothing of their pollinators except they’d survived, and that, as always, was sexy enough.

Isis, the fourth in their ripening quartet, drifted out of the conversation. The quietest of the four and the eldest by several years, she grew inside her, not just a child but also a tuberous guilt for her sliver of participation in the raging chemical industry. Secretly, she cherished memories of chemical formulas, reactions and titrations that shifted like magic from one color to another, the brilliant crystals that rose from murky liquids like mountain ranges forced from invisible plates. Her worries got drunk on awe and failed understanding. How did it all go so wrong so fast? She looked out past their trimmed patch of green, along the ornamentals they’d gathered together for their sitting garden and out into the fields of grass, grass, grass. All wind pollinated and hardy.

“Do you remember bees?” she asked the girls, her little bevy of bellies.

“I was stung once by a hornet,” Marie volunteered. “They’re nasty beasts. They’re one I’m glad is gone.”

“No, Marie, bees. Honey bees, bumble bees. Do you remember honey?” Isis said the word, like a vocal sigh. Erotic, sweet, salivating honey.

“I had a boyfriend who liked baklava from the Greek deli by our apartment,” Rachel said. “It oozed honey, like comb. It was so sweet my throat would ache.” She smiled, recalling an ache not unpleasant. “He was Greek, too,” she added, stretching out her smile that slipped as she caught a ripple of muscle across her belly. The girls leaned in to steady her.

Beth allowed the sororal pause for a few breaths then drew the conversation back to her. “One man I saw, he was in medical school, he told me honey had antibacterial properties. That’s why the sugars kept so long. He said honey was good for the skin. Once, he brought the honey bear into the bedroom.” Here she giggled at the amber memory of sweet and salty, slow summer skin. “We stuck to the sheets,” she admitted.

Marie absently licked her lips. Isis stroked her own memory of honey, better preserved internally, and of bees hanging like pendants on Vermont clover in July.

The breeze stirred up again, the cool impartial wind that could not be nailed down but carried the breath of procreation on it where ever it went. Stuck in the alluring memory of those sweet, singular bees, none thought to give thanks for their last great remaining pollinator.

"The Girls Who Followed Bees" Copyright: © 2009 Christie Isler
Christie Isler is a poet, writer, musician, and teacher in the Pacific Northwest. She writes prose and poetry and has seen work published in several online collections. Her affection for science fiction and fantasy began in childhood with Ray Bradbury and Ursula LeGuin and has yet to let up. Christie makes her home outside of Seattle, Washington.


  1. That was hauntingly beautiful! Love your description. I felt like I was one among the women feeling the breeze and reminiscing.
    Thank you.

  2. Truly, an amazing flash. Striking imagery with absolutely beautiful prose. Thanks.