Thank you to everyone who joined us for this session!
Our text for this session was an excerpt from the novel “Hamnet” by Maggie O’Farrell, posted below.
Our prompt was: “Write about what you did next.”
More details on this session will be posted, so check back!
Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.
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Agnes is circling the skeps, listening for whatever the bees are telling her; she is eyeing the swarm in the orchard, a blackish stain spread throughout the branches that vibrates and quivers with outrage. Something has upset them. The weather, a change in temperature, or has someone disturbed the hive? One of the children, some escaped sheep, her stepmother?
She slides her hand up and under, into the skep, past its lip, through the remaining coating of bees. She is cool in a shift, under the dark, river-coloured shade of the trees, her thick braid of hair pinned to the top of her head, hidden under a white coif. No bee-keeper veil covers her face– she never wears one. If you came close enough, you see that her lips are moving, murmuring small sounds and clicks to the insects that circle her head, alight on her sleeve, blunder into her face.
She brings a honeycomb out of the skep and squats to examine it. Its surface is covered, teeming, with something that appears to be one moving entity; brown, banded with gold, wings shaped like tiny hearts. It is hundreds of bees, crowded together, clinging to their comb, their prize, their work.
She lifts a bundle of smouldering rosemary and waves it gently over the comb, the smoke leaving a trail in the still August air. The bees lift, in unison, to swarm above her head, a cloud with no edges, an airborne net that keeps casting and casting itself.
The pale wax is scraped, carefully, carefully, into a basket; the honey leaves the comb with a cautious, near reluctant drop. Slow as sap, orange-gold, scented with the sharp tang of thyme and the floral sweetness of lavender, it falls into the pot Agnes holds out. A thread of honey stretches from comb to pot, widening, twisting.
There is a sensation of change, an agitation of air, as if a bird has passed silently overhead. Agnes, still crouching, looks up. The movement causes her hand to waver and honey drips to her wrist, trails over her fingers, down the side of the pot. Agnes frowns, puts down the honeycomb, and stands, licking her fingertips.
She takes in the thatched eaves of Hewlands, to her right, the white scree of cloud overhead, the restless branches of the forest, to her left, the swarm of bees in the apple trees. In the distance, her second-youngest brother is driving sheep along the bridle path, a switch in his hand, the dog darting towards and away from the flock. Everything is as it should be. Agnes stares for a moment at the jerky stream of sheep, the skitter of their feet, their draggled, mud-crusted fleeces. A bee lands on her cheek; she fans it away.
Later, and for the rest of her life, she will think that if she had left there and then, if she had gathered her bags, her plants, her honey, and taken the path home, if she had heeded her abrupt, nameless unease, she might have changed what happened next. If she had left her swarming bees to their own devices, their own ends, instead of working to coax them back into their hives, she might have headed off what was coming.
She doesn’t, however. She dabs at the sweat on her brow, her neck, tells herself not to be foolish. She places a lid on the full pot, she wraps up the honeycomb in a leaf, she presses her hands to the next skep, to read it, to understand it. She leans against it, feeling its rumbling, vibrating interior; she senses its power, its potency, like an incoming storm.