When Gwen Woodleaf's
father died back in February, leaving the Woodleaf Apiaries to his daughter,
Gwen was in the hospital recovering from viral pneumonia and couldn't
"tell the bees" about his death. It was an old ritual, one
that had been in the family for three generations of beekeepers. The
way you did it was to tap on each hive three times and say, "Your
former keeper has diedbut please don't fly away, I'll be here
to care for you." If the ritual were ignored, Gwen's father had
warned, someone else in the beekeeper's extended family might dieor
at the very least, be severely traumatized within a year.
But then Gwen
was told by her doctor to rest at home on the bee farm for several weeks,
so how was she to travel practically to the Canadian border to visit
two hundred hives and tap on each one? After all, a beekeeper kept only
a few hives on his property: the rest were spread out for miles. How
silly it all was, she told herself at the time, and she'd curled up
with a Victorian novel and watched the snowflakes fly past the window.
The bees weren't flying then of coursewinters they clustered
snugly in their hives, dining on honey made from last autumn's asters.
But now it was
mid-April and the worker bees were happily sucking up dandelion pollen
and packing it into the baskets on their rear legs. Hearing their hm-mm-mm
as she unpacked a case of new bees, Gwen felt optimistic about the future.
At least there hadn't been anything so unthinkable as a death in the
familyafter her father's of course. Nothing, she felt, could faze
her today, not even the gloomy face on her helper Leroy Boulanger, just
back from town, the truck keys dangling in his hand. Leroy's mouth looked
like someone had sewn it into a down-curve; his rust-colored hair was
standing on end from the wind.
"I run into
Harvey Ball in town," he announced in his high pitched, pebbly
voice. "And he's mad as hops all right. Seems the bees we left
there got in the feed bins and spooked his cows. He wants you should
come and do something about it."
He stood in the
barn doorway, one hand slapping a feed cap onto the back of his head.
He was wearing a blue and white Branbury College T-shirtto impress
her daughter Donna no doubtLeroy had quit school after tenth grade.
He had an unrequited crush on the girl. He couldn't see that Donna,
at this point, was involved only in her studies at the local collegeor
so Gwen hoped.
"Is he sure
they're bees and not flies?" she asked. "There's a breed of
flies that look exactly like bees." She'd read, in fact, that Native
Americans called the first honeybees brought over by the settlers, white
they're bees. He wants that you should go up right now." Leroy's
lips squeezed stubbornly together.
Gwen sighed. "I'll
go up this afternoon. Help me feed these new bees and get them into
the hives, would you? Then I'll get some lunch going."
They were just
finishing up when she saw Donna come laboring up the hilly road on her
green bicycle. She jumped lightly off, a slim girl of medium height
with her mother's dark blue eyes and the long shining black hair of
her Abenaki father. She was home for the afternoon, she saidher
chemistry class had been cancelled. She ignored Leroy, who had managed
to intrude himself on the walkway.
her daughter into the kitchen. Her father-in-law was already in there,
fixing a huge tunafish, onion and chive sandwich. Mert LeBlanc was a
basketmaker, a pleasant looking man, dressed in loose leather moccasins
and faded brown corduroys. His skin was weathered, his eyes a warm walnut
brown; blue tattoos gleamed on his strong arms. He held up a braid of
newly picked sweet grass, his left hand shaking a little.
right, not quite," he said. "My damn fingers too big. But
yours, Donna, you could make 'em beautiful."
Donna had heard
this before. "Some day, Grandpop. Not today."
Mert sighed, grimaced
at Gwen. "Okay for now, but you'll see the light. Use the braid
for a bookmark maybethose heavy college books of yours."
Grandpop." Donna dropped it into her bookpack. "I'm going
to a frat dance tonight," she announced, with a sidelong glance
at Leroy, who was standing in the doorway with his lunch bag. He ate
with the family but insisted on bringing his own fast food from MacDonald's.
The words "frat dance" had made the blood flare up in his
you didn't like fraternities," Gwen said. "You and your friend
Emily." The pair openly boasted that they'd never attended a college
football game or a frat party.
been invited by a guy in her French class, and I'm going along. She's
picking me up. The college is closing down any frats that won't take
in girlsand ZKE won't, so this is the last chance. I mean, we
want the experience of it. Look, Mother, it's spring."
meaning the hormones are beginning to dance? Full moon tonight?"
you're going with Emily, I suppose it'll be all right. She seems a sensible
asking your permission. I'm simply telling you. So you'll understand
if I come in late."
asked Gwen, who locked the door nights now since they'd been vandalized
the month before, and three frames of honey taken. The bee farm was
on the East Branbury mountain road, and relatively isolated. The nearest
neighbor lived a half mile south, and Harvey Ball to the north had blinders
on when it came to neighborly assistance.
was the answer. "You and Dad don't seem to realize it." When
Leroy gave a snortling laugh she grabbed a red pepper and slashed it
in half as though it were someone's head.
leave a light on. You have a key. But be careful," Gwen warned
her daughter. "I don't like all the binge drinking that goes on
in those frat houses."
Mother." Donna leaned into the cutting board. Black hair falling
across her face, she chopped the pepper into a hundred tiny pieces.
Donna and Emily
had barely pulled out of the driveway that evening when an ancient Honda
pulled up and Gwen's activist husband Russell got out, ablaze with silver:
neck band, arm bands, wrist bands, brooches, earrings. He hadn't removed
them since his latest revolutionary war re-enactment. "Hey, Gwennie
babe," he bellowed even before he came through the door. "Any
food in the house? Drove me straight here from Montpelier via Swanton,
just stopped for one little drink at Big Joe's. All he had was fig newtons
to eat, you know I hate fig newtons. Where's the girl gone? I got the
one night home, have to shuffle off to Buffalo six a.m. You got any
gas in the barn?"
He was all the
way in the house now, filling it; his long black ponytail caught in
the shutting door. She pulled it out just in time, let herself be enfolded
into his muscled arms. The bear hug he gave her matched the bear tattoo
on his right arm. He swung her around twice and then deposited her on
a kitchen stool.
should I answer first?" she said, laughing. His original plan had
been to go straight from Swanton across the lake and then down the Northway
and over to Buffalo. But she didn't mind, did she? She rather liked
the unexpected, the unpredictable coming and goings. And she certainly
had those with Russell!
I guess," he said, "damn thing fizzled out right in front
of the house. "Hey, Pop," he called, "I'm home. Full
moon tonight! Though it might rain lateror snow. God knows we
need something wet. Got a pack basket I can take? The latch busted on
my old case."
this time? More war games?" Mert lumbered into the kitchen, a beer
in his hand. A silver earring swung from his left earlobe. "I got
pack baskets all right, come on in and choose."
you know," said Russell, answering the first question, "the
battle stuff. I got to run a lot, answer questions from the dumb tourists.
Say now, what is that thing you wear at your waist? Ooh,
what side are you on, French or British? Ha! I tell 'em
I'm on the side gives me a good meal, a good deal. I watch their heads
go click click, sure, he's an Indian, no loyalties, he's a cat: feed
him, he licks you." Russell laughed again and followed his father
into the basket room.
eating but I can fix you leftovers," Gwen hollered after him. "We've
got venison left from last fall's kill. Just have to thaw it in the
Russell sang out from the next room. "I'm so hungry I could eat you."
she called back; then hearing a noise, felt her cheeks heat up. She
hadn't realized Leroy was still there, guzzling a Pepsi, his face a
Leroy said. He didn't look at her as he walked out. He was still put
out with Donna. He didn't like Donna going off to a fraternity like
that, not giving him the time of daynot that she ever did anyway.
tell Russell where Donna had gone. Russell didn't approve of fraternity
dances either; he had nothing good to say about Branbury College boys,
period. Anyway, there was no point telling him, he was only home on
a quick overnight. Why would he have to know?
It was all so
normal. A young woman going off to a dance. She'd gone to a dozen dances
herself, hadn't shein the year and a half she'd spent at the university?
And nothing out of the way had occurred. Donna would be fine, just fine.
Gwen would like to go dancing, herself, tonight. She would! She snatched
up an aluminum pot and waltzedonetwothree, onetwothree, around
the kitchen. Until she bangedouch! into the center island.
It was only midnight
and already Emily Willmarth had announced that she was going back to
her dorm. Emily was lucky enough to live in the dorm instead of at home.
But then, Donna knew, Emily had been paired with a rich, stuck up roommate
from Greenwich, Connecticut, and as early as October the society girl and Emily wanted to switch roommates. But the school wouldn't
let them, so they were sticking it out.
go," Donna cried. "Not yet. Shep's coming back. He's making
a beer run. The keg ran out. I mean, this is the last big blast. That's
why you wanted to come, right?" She pulled her short black rayon
skirt down over her butt. She'd bought it in town just that afternoonhadn't
realized how tight it was until she began to dance in it, and then it
Alyce undulated past with a glass in her hand, a silly grin on her made
up face. "We don't usually see you here," Alyce gushed,
in one of her ingratiating, be-nice-to-the-locals modes. Donna never
knew quite how to respond to her. She usually just turned her head and
murmured something dumb.
"No, I didn't
borrow your art book, why would I do that when I have my own?"
Emily was arguing with Alyce. It seemed Alyce was always losing things
and then accusing Emily of taking them.
"It was there
on my desk when I left for class, and it's not there now." Alyce
lifted a painted eyebrow, like she'd made a weighty statement.
out of here." Emily grabbed Donna's arm. "Anyway," she
confided to Donna when Alyce had waltzed on past, "I want to leave
before Bozo comes back."
Billy Bozeman. He's a nerd. He's always craning back his neck and grinning
at me in French class. I didn't realize he was in this frat. He went
to get me a vodka and I don't want it."
to the guy who invited you?"
of it. They took him up to bed. Honest to God, it's been nothing but
losers since I came to this school. Either they want to discuss astrophysics
with you or they want to get you into bed. Or both."
isn't like that. At least I don't think so. I can't leave now he's told
me to wait. You go ahead."
you get home if I take the pick-up? Mom needs it in the morning."
take me. He's already offered. He has a motorcycle. Whee-ee..." Donna
threw up her arms and whirled about. The black skirt spun with her and
settled half way up her ass. She yanked it down.
him then, okay? I gotta go. Bozo's on his way with that drink. And you
gotta bet it'll be lethal." Emily ducked behind Donna and out
the front door .
Now Donna was
sorry she hadn't gone with her friend. Together she and Emily could
face the collegiate world. She felt suddenly gauche with her black hair
hanging loose down her back, while Alyce and the other girls all seemed
to have blonde hair done up in a sophisticated twist or, at the very
least, an expensive short cut.
She wheeled about to see Shep grinning down at her. He patted her on
the rump. "Nice dress," he said, and handed her a glass. "Drink
that," he ordered.
a little whiskey," he said, when she stood there, staring into
the glass. "I went all the way across campus for it." He held
the glass to her lips and she sippedspilled it on her blouse.
He stooped to lick it up and she had to laugh. He kissed her lightly
on the lips. "Come on. Just this one and we'll dance. You dance,
she said, and drank. It tasted rather good actually: it was icy cold
and made with ginger ale so it wasn't hard to get down. Her head felt
fuzzy and free, like it was floating, unattached, beside her neck. The
room smelled of smoke and perfume and whiskey and pot. She saw Alyce
go upstairs with a blonde boy. They would weave up a few steps, then
drop down to giggle and kiss. Shep had dark hairfor some reason,
she was glad of that. He was a junior already, majoring in political
science, though he was in her sociology class. He wanted to be a lawyer.
"The rich get richer," she remembered her grandfather saying,
as he squatted in a pile of brown ash splints.
She must have
finished the drink because suddenly her hands were empty; they were
dancing. Shep's shaggy head was close to hers, she saw the fine hairs
inside his ears, a cut on his cheek. She could smell the whiskey on
his breath. Her father drank whiskeytoo much of it, her mother
complained. It was an Indian weakness, people said. But if that were
so, then it was a white weakness too.
As if he'd heard
her mind speak, Shep said, "I hear you're Indianuh, excuse
me, Native American. That's cool."
She felt her face
go hot. "Only half. My mother's not. I look like my mother."
Though it wasn't entirely true, she had her father's nose, kind of flat.
His hair too, where her mother's was the color of maple syrup.
known an, uh, native before," he said. "We'll have to talk,
She wasn't exactly
sure what he meant by talk. Talk about Native Americans?
She didn't want to be some kind of guinea pig so he could go and tell
his roommate he had the inside story on Indianshe'd
talked to one.
But he must have
read her mind again because he was pulling her closer. "I mean
justtalk. About stuff, you know. Like what do you think of our
Soc prof? Something funny about her, you think?"
what?" she said. Personally, she liked Professor Wimmet. But Shep
just laughed and said, "Never mind. Right now, let'sdance.
Close, like this, huh?" He pulled her to him until she gasped.
His hand was on her buttocks, she felt her dress inching up, his hand
pressing in, fitting itself to her curves.
It didn't matter,
her brain was comfortably blurry, she felt as though anything could
happen, anything at all, and she'd go along with it. Because that's
all she could do now. She couldn't think. Her brain was shrinking away
from her body. The slow music crept on and on, and then suddenly sped
up again, a heavy rock. She couldn't dance that kind of dance, she didn't
know how; but it was all right, she swung out away from Shep and moved
her hips. Surprisingly her feet moved along with the rest of her. When
the music stopped and finally she looked up, Shep wasn't there at all.
A red-haired boy with a purplish scar over his left brow was grinning
down at her, handing her a plastic cup. "Shep said to drink this,"
he told her.
Shep?" she asked, hearing her voice plaintive.
right back," the boy said, not answering the question. "Want
to dance?" Someone had put in a Fugees CD and turned the volume
She shook her
head. She wanted to go home now. She was feeling out of control and
she didn't like the feeling. She didn't like the way this boy was looking
at her. Like she was something he had on his dinner plate and he was
starving. She pushed past him and felt his hand brush her bottom. The
loud music assaulted her ears, the laughter and shouts sounded faraway,
although she knew they were there in the room with her. She almost tripped
over a bodysome guy, wasted, crawling across the floor. She didn't
know where she'd left her coat but then remembered that the boy Emily
had come to meet had taken it upstairs.
Did she want to
go up there? No, but she needed her coat. She would walk home even though
it was four miles. And she didn't want her mother to see her like this,
smell her breath. If she was going to walk, she had to have her coat.
It was chilly out. It was snowing a little, she saw through a window:
fat white flakes drifting lazily down, obscuring the moon, telling the
world it didn't care that it was April, that spring had arrived. She
liked snow. She liked rain. No sun god for Donna!
She took a deep
breath and started upstairs. She found herself lurching, and grasped
the handrail. Someone was coming down, another girl. The girl banged
into her, she was drunk. "So so-rry," the girl said, and Donna
heard a crash at the foot of the stairs.
She heaved herself
to the top, but the doors were closed to all the rooms. It was quieter
up here; now and then she heard a giggle behind a door, a groan. She
didn't know where her coat was, she didn't want to open the doors. She'd
have to walk home without itand how was she to get it in the morning?
She went back down again, clinging to the bannister for balance.
And there was
Shep Noble at the bottom, smiling at her, a glass in his hand.
home, please, Shep. You said you would. You said you have a motorcycle."
Shep made a mock
bow. His hair fell into his eyes; he pushed it back with a damp hand.
"Whatever milady wants. One for the road?" He held out his
glass. He had a rather nice lopsided smile.
you." She didn't want it. He accepted her refusal with a shrug.
She liked that, he seemed to understand.
. Outside she took
deep gulps of the cool April night. The snow was clean and pure and
fresh in contrast to the indoor scene with its mixed odors of people,
pot and perfume. She was surprised to see that at least a quarter of
an inch had fallen, although it was a light, fluffy snow, would be gone
with tomorrow's sun. She scooped up a handful and washed her face.
he said. "Snow. And we have practice tomorrow."
Shep was the baseball
captainEmily had told her that. He was a skier, too. This was
an athletic fraternity. What was she doing here anyway? Though if Shep
asked her, maybeshe would come to a game.
he was saying; his motorcycle loomed up beside her. It looked like a
great black bear. Bear was the symbol of her father's clan. Her hand
almost froze to the bike's cold metal, to the name plate where Shep's
full name was inscribed.
She climbed on
behind him He stuck his helmet on her head and they roared off. She
was touched by the gesture, it seemed a small sacrifice. Her fears subsided.
It was exhilarating to ride through the night, to feel the wind and
snow in her face. She gave him directions to her house.
road?" he called back, sounding surprised. She realized he didn't
know, probably thought she lived in town.
up," she said. "Not so far as the National Forest. Though
our land extends almost to there. My mother keeps bees."
He didn't ask any more questions, he was concentrating on the driving.
He didn't want to be picked up again, he saidhe'd been hauled
into the police station one too many times. Just last weekend some belligerant
cop had given him "the third degreelike I was some kind of
criminal." The cycle slipped and swerved in the fluffy snow.
She wasn't worried
though, not a bit. She was enjoying the excitement of it, the thrill
of hanging onto his black leather coat. They raced through town and
then, more laboriously, up the mountain road and onto the dirt road
that took them to the Woodleaf Apiaries.
she shouted over the roar of the cycle, "stop here." He went
into a skid, barely missing a tree, and pulled the machine up to lean
against the sign.
fly at night?" he asked. "I've got allergies."
She laughed. "No.
And we only keep a few hives on the grounds. You won't get stung, don't
worry. Mother keeps them well fed. She's got hives all over the state,
on farms and orchards. She and Leroy are always on the road, taking
care of them."
He was leaning against the tree now, pulling out a flask. She didn't
like that, but he'd brought her home. She couldn't complain.
"Oh, he just
works herelives in a trailer up behind the house. He can heave
those hives around while Mother can't." She thought she heard a
rustle in the bushes and listened a moment. But it was only wind. Though
she wouldn't put it past Leroy to wait for her to come home.
Shep grunted something
and then said, "You don't wanna go in yet. We'll take a walk. Snow's
It wasn't a question about taking a walk; already he was yanking on her arm, pulling her
along. But she didn't mind, did she? She hadn't gone out with boys much
in high school, she'd had to study hard to get into college. Not many
Abenaki girls went to college. But Donna had a special Native American
scholarship. She was to finish college, the first in her family to do
so; it was her mother's obsession. Her father was proud of her going,
too. He never said that, but she felt it was true.
Shep was still
pulling from the flask. But he didn't seem drunk except for a little
slurring of his words. He had asthma he told herthat's why he
couldn't play football; he had an inhaler but he'd left it in the frat.
She rather liked the idea of his asthma, it made him seem vulnerable,
less the jock. His walking was steady enough. She would go just a little
way with him. Soon they'd come to the swampy part of their land; it
was where a stream ran through and spilled over, especially now, in
spring. The ground was still unthawing from winter and their feet would
get soaked. She told him this.
He laughed. Everything
seemed funny to him now. He put away the flask, pulled out a slim cigarette,
and puffed on it. It helped his asthma, he said, to smoke.
"Smoking helps asthma?"
He laughed again.
"Not nicotinecannabis. Cures a lot of things. Like inhibitions."
He handed her the joint. "Indians smoke, right? In ceremonies?
Powwows?" He seemed amused by the word, powwow. He repeated it.
"Pow-wowww." He gave a high pitched giggle.
they don't." She felt indignant now. "Tobacco is a spiritual
thing. The Abenaki used to think it had special powers that could help
them communicate with spirit beings. " Donna was careful to refer
to the Abenaki as "they" and "them." Careful to
use the past tense. "Today it's a kind of hospitality thing. You
can't go visit my Aunt Therese without a gift of tobacco. You wrap it
in red cloth, with red yarn and beads to show honor. It's important
to her," she said when he was suddenly quiet. "Of course she
herself doesn't smoke!"
In case she had
somehow offended the boy, she took the joint he offered, and inhaled.
He was once again
amused. He laughed and laughed and drew her toward the swamp.
toxic plants in here," she warned. "Oleander, nightshade.
Mother grows them for medicinal purposes. She has them marked with red
sticks so we'll stay away. As kids, my brother and I were never allowed
in here." She didn't mention the marijuana her mother grew for
her grandfather's tremors.
It was hard walking
now, thick vines and roots twisted about their feet. He said, "Jesus!"he'd
tripped on a root. He backed out a few feet, and paused to lean against
a tree. He finished the joint. Then he grabbed at her hand and pulled
her roughly toward him. She went, she had to, he was strong. He was
kissing her now. She didn't like it, he was too rough. She pulled away
but he only yanked her harder against him.
it, you know you do, you little squaw you," he said, and kissed
her again, a smothering, painful kiss.
She wrenched away.
Her hand flew up and slapped his face.
For a moment he
held her at arm's length, stared into her eyes. "I don't like that,"
he said, spacing his words. Then before she could catch her breath he'd
shoved her down on the ground. A stone cut into the small of her back
and she cried out. He grabbed at her blouse. She cried out again, it
was a brand new blouse, he had no right. She yelled "Stop!"
but he didn't stop, he was pulling at her underpants, unbuttoning his
belt with his other hand, and she screamed.
After that things
happened so fast she was dazed. She hit at him with her fists and scratched
with her nails. She didn't care, she just wanted him to stop. "Little
bitch," he finally grunted, and pushing her roughly from him, he
rolled off and fell back on the damp ground, his eyes shut. She stared
down at him, then got up, and tried to pull herself together. Her blouse
was torn, her new skirt filthy.
There was someone
behind her then, with a flashlight, yanking her up. It was Leroy. "Come
on. I'll take you to the house. Here," he said, jamming his coat
around her shoulders, "so your mother won't see your dress."
She was embarrassed,
mortified! "I don't need your coat," she protested, but he
was moving her along. She glanced back and Leroy said, "He's passed
out. He's drunk as a skunk." He added, "You're not much better,"
my keeper," she said. "And we can't leave him lying there."
She tried to release herself from Leroy's grasp but he held fast.
care of him," he said. "I'll get him back on his big old motorcycle.
How far'd he go with you, huh? Not all the way, I'll kill him!"
you, my father?" she said.
He gave a grunting
laugh and kept tugging her along with him. She heard her mother's voice,
calling from an upstairs window. "Donna? Is that you? Donna?"
ma'am," Leroy called. "I was checking the hivesI thought
I heard a noiseanimal or somethin.' But it was Donna driving in."
quiet getting in bed then, Donna. Your little brother's asleep. I'm
glad you're finally home." And the window dropped down.
Donna was relieved,
she had to admit it. Her mother would think she'd come home with Emily.
She wouldn't have to tell about the motorcycle. She wouldn't have to
tell about Shepnot if Leroy got him out of there as he'd promised.
help him back," she reminded Leroy. Not that she wanted to see
Shep againshe was disgusted with him now. He was trying to rape
her, wasn't he? If she hadn't fought back, if he hadn't been too drunk.
She shuddered. Still, she didn't want him hurt. She should have realized
he would expect something from her. Boys did. That's what Emily said,
Emily had had more experience with boys than she had. Donna's mother
had homeschooled her until her junior year in high school. She waited
for Leroy's answer before she opened her door. She was still embarrassedhow
much had he seen, anyway?
"I said I
would, didn't I?" said Leroy. "I said I'd take care of him.
And I will."