The Hive Vandal by Carolyn Oliver
They executed the hive vandal at noon, just as the crickets had warmed enough to make the long grass sing. In the orchard the apples hidden in shadow still sparkled with dew when the breeze nudged the leaves aside. The last of the blackberries melted into the loam, a confusion of syrup and rot.
The thief had smashed two skeps before learning the trick of it and getting what she wanted from the third. But it too was destroyed. Come winter, some would pass shivering hours in darkness for want of wax.
They brought her to a plane tree, the bark peeling back like a brindled pelt. Later those near the front of the solemn crowd swore they could still smell the smoke caught in her hair. It whispered her guilt, the smoke she’d used to subdue the bees. The questions came, but she wouldn’t say why she’d done it, not even when they offered her something swifter, not even when her mother pleaded and her sisters wept.
Missing from the crowd, unnoticed until nightfall, was one young woman, dark-eyed and quick to laugh. Just as she had trusted her friend with the first press of her parted lips, so she trusted her with her secret, with her untimely desire for sweetness. Here, where the bees tended apple blossoms and lavender, sage and linden, their prized honey was delicate and sharp as a sting. The taste wrapped around the tongue, filigreed the back of the throat, lingered love-like.
The young woman was long on the road, the first soft flutterings in her belly urging her on, when the soft rope—a last kindness—snared the honey thief. All afternoon the light slid down the plane tree, golden and thick, coating the vandal’s body as it swayed above the singing grass.
Carolyn Oliver’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Greensboro Review, The South Carolina Review, Day One, Tin House’s Open Bar, Gulf Stream, Frontier Poetry, matchbook, and elsewhere. A graduate of The Ohio State University and Boston University, she lives in Massachusetts with her family. Links to more of her writing can be found at carolynoliver.net.