Flash Friday Review: “A Bee Story” by Nicole VanderLinden, published in SmokeLong Quarterly

I’ve always been enamored by flash fiction. Something about the conjured intimacy in such a brief amount of time. Like a tantalizing secret traded between strangers in an elevator. There’s an allure to its brevity. An awe at what can transpire in so few words.

In “A Bee Story,” published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Nicole VanderLinden mines the deepest parts of our human nature and does so deftly by presenting us a mundane, though interesting, event through which to tell a more compelling story about the narrator’s life. The event used for the surface-level story is beekeeping, and we start off with a discussion of the hive and the cyclical nature of things: “This queen bee is old news… Enter the new queen, the queen ascendant…”

And while beekeeping is fascinating in its own right (mundanely fascinating), it’s ultimately a device used to explore the nature of our relationships—both to others and ourselves. It’s a meditation on the choices we make and the people with whom we share our lives. “The beekeeper and I ended up married for a while.” There was also a physical therapist and later on a dispatcher. All of these partners exhibited damaging behavior, and I think this is the core of the story: an exploration of the dual nature of our lives and ourselves. The yin yang. “Half the sky was sunny and half was threatening rain.” Isn’t that the case with all of us? Every day, each decision? Constantly battling against the devil on our shoulder, while keeping an ear open to the angel on the other? If such an angel exists. “…I laughed so hard I thought he might hit me, which was the opposite of his vibe, the whole bearded beekeeper thing.” Appearances so often disarming though so often inaccurate.

The examination of these previous relationships and decisions are made more poignant by the sobering insights offered by a narrator who has learned a thing or two about herself: “It isn’t easy, being social—more than bees know that. Harder still to have ambition that’s not weighted by who you’ve been, that doesn’t keep you close to ground.”

And how to move forward with such baggage weighing us down?

The narrator offers an answer: we “fly off toward [our] own irrelevance.”

At least we’ve found someone who’s honest about what we’re doing here.

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