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  • 9 of 43 copies available at Bibliomation. (Show)
  • 0 of 1 copy available at Kent Library Association - Kent.
Location Call Number / Copy Notes Barcode Shelving Location Status Due Date
Kent Library Association - Kent F GAR (Text to phone) 33410147731352 Adult New Fiction Checked out 05/17/2021

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"Following three lonely strangers in a rural Oregon town, each working through grief and life's curveballs, who are brought together by happenstance on a local honeybee farm where they find surprising friendship, healing--and maybe even a second chance--just when they least expect it"-- Provided by publisher.
Subject: Bee culture > Fiction.
Friendship > Fiction.
Farm life > Fiction.
Grief > Fiction.
Self-actualization (Psychology) > Fiction.

Syndetic Solutions - Excerpt for ISBN Number 0593183924
The Music of Bees : A Novel
The Music of Bees : A Novel
by Garvin, Eileen
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Excerpt

The Music of Bees : A Novel

Chapter Two Twelve Queens The queen bee is the only perfect female in the hive, and all the eggs are laid by her. --L. L. Langstroth Alice Holtzman would have rated her mood below average even before she hit the wall of traffic creeping down Interstate 84 back to Hood River. She blamed the young imbeciles at Sunnyvale Bee Company in Portland who had mixed up her order, which had delayed her departure and landed her in this late-afternoon sea of cars and trucks. To be more precise, they had lost her order, which was frustrating because Alice was a regular customer at Sunnyvale and also because, as a point of personal pride, she tried hard to be conscientious. Things were always crazy on Bee Day, an annual event in April, and she acknowledged that. After all, the Sunnyvale Bee Company saw hundreds of millions of bees move through their yard on that single day. When Alice arrived, she saw hundreds of bee packages awaiting pickup. Each small, screened crate held ten thousand bees, all buzzing with confusion at their recent sorting in the bee yards of southern Oregon from whence they came. The precious cargo, trucked in before dawn, had to be picked up, transported, and hived within twenty-four hours. Hundreds of beekeepers would descend on Sunnyvale to claim their bees on an average Bee Day, so things could get hectic. The car in front of her crept forward and slammed on its brakes. Alice exhaled through her nose with impatience. She looked at her watch and sighed. Yes, Alice knew Bee Day would be crazy. That was why she had taken the day off. It was a Thursday. You could never count on the bees arriving on a weekend. They came, like babies, unpredictably and often inconveniently. Alice and other expectant beekeepers had to wait until those southern hives grew strong with populations of young bees and the early-spring showers tapered off. Pickups were rescheduled all the time. A betting man wouldn't put money on Bee Day, as intransigent as it was. Alice knew that. That was why she had called two days before, like she always did, to reconfirm her order with Tim, the cheerful shop manager who'd been there, she knew, for more than twenty years. It was impossible to tell how old Tim was. He was one of those men who'd looked old at twenty, probably, losing his hair right after high school, and now seemed ageless. Unflappable Tim. Alice didn't even know his last name, but for the past several years, Tim had been a regular part of her life. Not a friend, exactly. More like a friendly milepost, a happy marker that said it was spring, Oregon's winter was finally over, and it was time for fresh life in the apiary. For all its inconvenience, Alice usually loved Bee Day. But this year Tim hadn't answered the phone when she called. Instead a young woman picked up and identified herself as Joyful. "How can I help make your day amazing?" she'd asked. Alice gave her name and order number while wondering if Joyful could possibly be her real name. Joyful had assured her that all orders would be filled as usual and that they would be thrilled to see her in two days. She hadn't actually refused to look up Alice's order, but she hadn't looked it up either. "Be well!" she'd said, and hung up before Alice could say anything else. So as Alice stood watching Joyful with her blond dreadlocks hanging in her face as she pawed through the stack of orders and failed to find Alice's, she had wanted to say, I told you so. She had wanted to say other things--things that would have disappointed her mother. Alice folded her arms over her chest, took a deep breath, and leaned on the counter. "Miss, I called you two days ago. My name is Holtzman. Alice Holtzman. Hood River. I ordered twelve Russian nucs. Twelve nucleus hives." She tried to sound calm and shifted back slightly when she noticed she was tapping a blunt finger on the counter. "No extra queens and no packages. Tim usually sets my stuff aside in the overflow yard." Alice pointed to a gated area on the left. For years now, Tim had separated the orders of experienced beekeepers, like her, from those of the beginners who were more inclined to linger with questions, thereby creating their own buzzing confusion on Bee Day. "Why don't you just let me have a look over there? I'm sure I can find them myself." But Joyful, with her brows in a crease and her dreads in her face and who was not having an amazing day, would not be moved. She looked up from the mess of papers and fixed Alice with a stern gaze. "Ma'am, I hear you saying that you are a longtime customer, and I do respect that. But we have a system in place here, and you are just going to have to wait your turn like everyone else." Alice flushed with embarrassment and drew back, pressing her lips together and feeling like a chastised child. She felt her breath catch and thought about Dr. Zimmerman, who asked her to note such moments. Alice hitched up her overalls and joined the clutch of other beekeepers milling around and chatting as they waited for their orders. Alice did not chat. The spring sun grew warm on her head. She took off her sunhat and pulled her hair off her neck, which was damp with sweat. She glanced at her hands, her nails chewed to the quick, and shoved them in her back pockets. She shifted her weight from one foot to another, her feet swelling in her work boots. She glanced up and saw herself on the security monitor and looked away, tugging on the straps of her overalls. Being motionless made her nuts. Half an hour later, her order was discovered on the floor under Joyful's Birkenstocked feet. "Alice Holtzman, Hood River. 12 Russian nucs. No extra queens. Side yard. ***VIP!!!" was scrawled in red across the page. Joyful looked miffed but didn't apologize. She handed Alice the crumpled paper and pointed toward the overflow area. This situation was nothing new to Alice. She was a Holtzman, after all. German-American, rational, she always planned ahead and thought things through like her parents had taught her. She tried to anticipate what might go awry and work in advance to avoid hiccups. She knew most other people were not as conscientious. She often found herself waiting for others to catch up with her thinking, having fallen short before they even started. So how did she account for this feeling now, this impatience, the childish urge to reach across the counter and yank Joyful's dreadlocks? She took the paper and walked to the side yard. A couple of regular staff, Nick and Steve, helped Alice duct-tape the tops of the cardboard boxes and carefully load each one into the back of her small pickup. She tightened a tie-down strap around the bases of the boxes to keep them from sliding around. "Sorry, Alice," Nick said, rolling his eyes toward Joyful. He was a nice guy about her age with a handlebar mustache. "New management while Tim's in Arizona. Family stuff, I guess." Alice shrugged, tried to smile, and failed. She shut the gate of the truck harder than she needed to. It wasn't Nick's fault that she'd wasted more than an hour on what was meant to be a fifteen-minute stop, but she wasn't going to stand around making small talk. "Thanks, Nick," she said. "Tell Tim to give me a holler about that honey extractor when he gets back." Now on the clogged highway, Alice huffed with annoyance. She reached across the seat and grabbed the bag of mini Chips Ahoy! cookies she knew she shouldn't have bought at Costco earlier that day. She pulled out a handful of cookies and tossed them into her mouth. She hated to admit it, but she'd been running late long before she got to Sunnyvale. She stopped at Tillicum Lumberyard and then at Costco, that great behemoth of retail they didn't have in little Hood River. People shoved past her, and one harassed-looking mother of two banged her cart into Alice's heels and didn't even apologize. Alice waited forever in the checkout line, which made her stressed. Then she'd lost an hour waiting for her bees and was now smack in the middle of the afternoon traffic she'd tried so hard to avoid. It was why she'd called ahead two days ago. It was why she'd taken the day off and gotten up early. She tried so hard to have everything organized. It was other people who fouled things up. She felt a bloom of anxiety then. The line of traffic inched along, and her chest felt tight. She cracked the window, but the hot smell of asphalt stung her nostrils, so she shut it again. She looked at the cars on either side of her. Nobody else seemed to mind sitting here. They were all looking at their phones. She gripped the steering wheel, feeling the tightness creep up into her throat. Then she heard Dr. Zimmerman's calm voice in her head: "Do you know where that feeling comes from, Alice? Can you follow the thread?" Alice inhaled deeply and flexed her hands. Being still was so hard for her these days. If she stayed focused, kept working, her thoughts couldn't blindside her. No, Dr. Zimmerman, she thought, she couldn't follow the thread. Not with 120,000 Russian honeybees in the back of the pickup. She ate another handful of dusty cookies and glanced in the rearview mirror at the nucleus hives wedged together in the back of the truck. The spring sunshine was mild enough, so she wasn't worried about the bees getting overheated on the ride home, slow as it was. Once there, she intended to get them hived before sunset. She could do it quickly, all twelve on her own, she was sure. She was efficient and had laid out her tools in the shop the night before, all cleaned and polished. Remembering that made her anxiety rise again. She stayed up late to set things up so she could get back early and install her hives before dark. She took a deep breath, trying to slow her thudding heart. She tossed the cookie bag into the back seat, where she couldn't reach it. At the exit for Multnomah Falls, which marked the halfway point to Hood River, Alice saw two cars pulled over on the shoulder--a fender bender, from the looks of it. The lane was cleared by the time she reached it, but everyone was still rubbernecking. Two men stood next to their dinged-up cars talking on their cell phones. Probably some tourist trying to take a photo without the inconvenience of stopping. It happened all the time--people leaning out the window to snap a photo of the 611-foot waterfall. After the wreck, the highway opened up, and soon she was doing eighty, heading east as the sun dropped behind her. The freedom of movement made her feel calmer. Alice took off her hat and sunglasses. She unhooked one strap of her overalls, an admission that they didn't really fit anymore, but she didn't care. She turned up the music--Springsteen's "Born to Run." Alice disliked Portland, with its confusing network of bridges, snarls of traffic, and aggressive panhandlers. But the open road leading away from it, she loved. Basalt cliffs overlapped each other in a view that unfolded mile after mile along the Columbia River. She knew the distinct monoliths by heart--Rooster Rock, Wind Mountain, Beacon Rock. In the early sunset, the green hills and rocky crags were cast in a pink veil. It looked like a painting, like a dream. Alice never grew tired of looking at it, this impossible beauty that she had lived within for forty-four years. She passed a semi and glanced at the wide river on her left. The dark green water was frothy from the wind, whitecaps whipped-up and pushing against the current. She saw a mass of white pelicans resting on a gleaming sandbar and towering Douglas fir trees leaning out over the water. An osprey circled the river, keening. On the right, she saw the headlight of an oncoming train. It passed her, and she heard the whistle blow and recede. The setting sun threw a gauzy light over the water, and Alice felt her body relax. She took exit 62, slowed, and stopped at the top of the ramp. She rolled down the window, and the cool wind off the Columbia River blew through the truck and teased strands of hair around her face. She could smell the water, the pines along the road, and the faint scent of woodsmoke. She could smell the distinct green breath of spring. She passed the Red Carpet Tavern, its roof sagging sadly, and noted that the parking lot, as usual, was full of pickup trucks of guys stopping for a beer on their way home from work. She smiled to recall her father so often in their midst--slender and reticent, but drawing others to him with the force of his kindness under his cutting sense of humor. The road past the bar would take her south to her little house outside of town down in a dell at the end of Reed Road. There was orchard on one side and forest on the other. It was the perfect spot for honeybees--sheltered from the wind and with Susan Creek running down off the hillside providing water for her girls, as she liked to call them. Beside the irrigation ditches were tangled miles of clover, blackberry, and dandelion. Bee heaven. The dell was perfect for Alice too, because she hardly ever saw anyone out there. Other than Doug Ransom, whose large orchard sprawled pleasantly to the west of her, she had no real neighbors unless you counted Strawberry Hollow, a messy collection of trailers at the foot of Anson Road. She didn't know anyone who lived there and kept her distance. Meth heads and pit bulls, she imagined. Rapists and creeps of all sorts, she thought. She started making up headlines. "Ten Arrested in Trailer Park Drug Bust." "Shallow Grave Discovered at Strawberry Hollow." Then she stopped herself. Like the anxiety, this was also new--making up ugly stories about people she didn't know. "They are just thoughts, Alice, and the pattern promotes a negative outlook," Dr. Zimmerman had said to her. "But you can shift those patterns and rewire your thinking. It just takes practice." Dr. Zimmerman was obviously very smart. She had diplomas from Harvard and Stanford on her wall. She had worked in Palo Alto, ostensibly fixing the tech crazies, before moving to Hood River for semi-retirement. Despite the diplomas and her chic looks, which were unusual in this rural outpost, she wasn't arrogant. Just confident. And kind. Still, the fact that she, Alice Holtzman, was seeing a therapist was absurd. You had to laugh, she thought. Only it wasn't funny, was it? Alice steered the truck south toward Mount Hood, toward the home she had bought with the help of her mom and dad. They were third-generation orchardists, both of them. It was hard work, but they had loved it. "Never be afraid of hard work, Alice," her mother would say. "Or I'll come back from the grave and kick you in the rear, my dear," her dad would say with a wicked grin. A life lived outside, they always said, was a good life. "A good life," she said aloud, glancing into the rearview mirror at the twelve nucleus hives, each holding a queen and her workers and so much promise. "Almost home girls. You'll have a good life. I promise." Though it was no longer the quiet backwater it had been when Alice was born, Hood River was still a great place to live. The 1980s brought the windsurfers with their vans and long hair. There were some fights between them and local loggers and farmers, like the ones who hung out at the Red Carpet. But the hippies who caused trouble ultimately left. The ones who stayed started families, fixed up the town's old houses, and opened businesses--cafés, pizza places, and windsurfing stores. The town grew. The last decade had seen an explosion of wineries, fancy boutiques, breweries, and restaurants. It wasn't the same town anymore, but for locals like the Holtzmans, who lived outside all that, it didn't matter. Their lives kept chugging along the same tracks. The sunburned tourists who plodded through downtown clutching iced coffees had no idea that the heart of this place was far from Oak Street, up the valley, and out in the orchards. Those long rows of trees were far more than a postcard backdrop for their scenic drives. They were history, part of a tradition that was more than one hundred years old. Alice's family was part of that history. The Holtzman orchards were small, but they were all heirloom stock from the 1900s--Gravensteins, Pippins, and Winesaps--nothing like the mushy Red Delicious apples from your average school lunch. This was fine, flavorful fruit. Al and Marina Holtzman had taken over the orchard from Al's parents, who had taken it over from his grandparents--German immigrants who'd arrived in the valley before World War I. Al and Marina had made a living for themselves and Alice, their only child. They'd been happy there. Alice rolled to a stop at Country Club Road, signaled right, and glanced left, alert for the plodding tractor one was apt to see on a spring evening like this. The quiet lane was empty. She hung a right and continued toward home. Alice had been planning to take over the orchard from her parents since she was ten years old. When the time came, she knew she'd have to work hard and keep her job at the county to make ends meet. But to her shock, Al and Marina had decided to sell eight years ago. Her dad had become disheartened by changes in the industry. The big producers had forced spray laws on the county that the smaller farmers couldn't stomach. Not that the Holtzman operation had ever been fully organic. Al Holtzman was too much of a libertarian to let those words cross his lips. But he was German, after all. Sensible. He sprayed minimally and by hand. The county regulations were too much, he said, and went too far. "It's poison, Alice," he said, shaking his head. "The fools are cutting off their noses to spite their own faces." She hated to see her parents pushed aside by the demands of the larger orchardists, who were too stubborn, busy, or just plain wrongheaded to consider different options. As for the county, well, Alice worked in the county planning department. She knew how backward things could be. It could take years to change a simple mailbox ordinance. Alice had later wished she'd argued with him about it, wished she'd told him how much she wanted it. But she didn't want to make him feel worse. Her eyes prickled with tears remembering. She wiped them away with the back of her wrist. Al and Marina gave Alice some money from the sale of the orchard, which she used to buy her place in the quiet dell--a single-story rancher on a couple of acres. She thought they might eventually move in with her. But they had wanted to be independent, and they'd moved into a townhouse. They died within six months of each other--Al first. Alice missed them. She talked to Dr. Zimmerman about them too. She mentioned she seemed to hear their voices in her head and sometimes she talked back to them, though that might sound nuts. Dr. Zimmerman looked at Alice over the tops of her glasses. Alice blushed. She supposed it wasn't polite to say "nuts." But Dr. Zimmerman simply nodded. "It must be a comfort to you," she said. But they both knew the reason Alice went to see the nice lady doctor was not because she missed her folks. Alice slowed for a large fruit packing truck barreling through the intersection near the road to Kingsley Reservoir. She glanced south to find Mount Hood on the horizon, kissed with sunset. She turned up the stereo, which was now playing one of her favorite Springsteen songs, "Thunder Road." Alice had started seeing Dr. Zimmerman after she'd had what felt like a heart attack in the middle of the produce section in Little Bit Grocery and Ranch Supply three months earlier. She'd been standing next to Carlos, the friendly, handsome clerk, the one who always called her "Madame" or "Miss Alice" and always had a story to share about his kids or the news. For the first time she had felt that invisible band ratchetting down across her chest, and she couldn't catch her breath. She slid to the floor, pulling down a pile of kale with her. Carlos eased her into a sitting position against a rack of absurd, uncut Brussel stalks. She could see his lips moving but couldn't hear any sound. She was close enough to see that he had a tiny bit of shaving cream on the smooth brown skin behind his ear. She felt she needed to tell him and wanted to laugh at that urge. The paramedics came, and then it seemed like half of Hood River County was standing around looking down at Alice Holtzman sitting on the floor, her chest heaving and red in the face. Her face flamed now, remembering. She knew almost everyone at the small ER too. Jim Verk, who she'd known since second grade, was on duty that night and told her she'd had a panic attack. She went to see Dr. Zimmerman at his recommendation. Nobody in the history of the Holtzman family had ever been to a therapist, but the experience at Little Bit had embarrassed Alice so much that she was willing to try anything to avoid a repeat episode. Alice stared at the road and realized she was gripping the steering wheel as she remembered. She willed herself to relax. The sunset was winning their race when she reached the Oak Grove Schoolhouse. She sped up the hill, which was shadowed by tall Douglas firs that marked the boundary of county forest land. Through the window, she felt the cool air at the top of the rise and glanced at the bees again in the rearview mirror. The new nucs were the root of her anxiety, she realized. Every step of her carefully planned day was bent toward successful hive installment. These bees depended on her. But at this hour, the temperature would be even colder down in her shady ravine, and she didn't want to stress the girls with exposure to the cold, dark air and the artificial light of the shop. They would have wait until tomorrow, she told herself. They had honey in their combs to eat and would be fine for one night in their nuc boxes. Better for her to make the transfers when she was fresh to avoid any silly mistakes. "Be sensible now and pull yourself together," her mother's voice said. Alice sighed and surrendered the idea of that chore. "Tomorrow morning before work, then," she said aloud. Alice relaxed back into the seat and palmed the wheel as she followed the familiar curves of Reed Road. She let her mind drift, trusting her thoughts to behave, expecting her customary self-discipline to keep any worrisome memories rounded up like obedient sheep by a collie. But then she recalled her last session with Dr. Zimmerman. The therapist had been leading Alice toward the forbidden topic for some time, but they hadn't ever quite arrived. Alice kept certain thoughts behind a firmly closed door in her mind and had resisted Dr. Zimmerman's gentle prodding. Now, without warning, the door opened a crack. Later she would blame fatigue for her careless bargaining with herself. I'll just think of his face, she thought. Just that. Then the door burst open and the memories flooded her. Bud laughing as he stood behind the counter at the John Deere store. A photo of Bud in his parks department uniform on the front page of the Hood River News. Bud looking so serious that she thought he was breaking up with her, but he asked her to marry him instead. That day at the courthouse, the day he moved in, the day they brought the baby chicks home from Little Bit and sat on the floor watching them peep and hop around under the heat lamp. Buddy waltzing his laughing mother around the living room after Sunday dinner to Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon." Buddy loading the little nephews in the truck to go fishing and running back to the house to kiss Alice goodbye. Alice didn't realize she was speeding when she hit the curve at the top of the hill. She was thinking about her husband, Robert Ryan, who everyone knew as Buddy. Buddy, who had arrived so suddenly in her quiet life, bringing such unexpected happiness. Buddy, who was now gone. The pressure ballooned in her chest, and her throat caught. Her breath grew ragged and shallow and then exploded into hot sobs. Her vision blurred as her eyes filled. Triggered, her grief loosened like a load of big timbers from one of the logging trucks she had passed on the highway. Alice wiped an arm across her streaming eyes as she swerved toward the edge of the road. In the twin arms of her headlights, she saw a shape in the shoulder. She slammed on the brakes, swerved, and banged to a stop against a fence post. Alice felt 120,000 Russian honeybees crash together in the back of her truck. Her head bounced as the seat belt arrested her. Time slowed. Her head rang. She saw spots of white and blue zipping around her field of vision. She looked in the rearview mirror and saw a wheelchair on its side, one wheel spinning like a runaway Ferris wheel. Alice scrambled out of the truck and ran across the road. She could not move fast enough and felt like she was swimming through the cool air. She began to pray, her eyes searching the tall grass in the waning light. She saw a person on the ground next to the chair. Was he hurt? Alice crouched, her hands on her knees, and peered down. The figure rolled onto its back. Alice expected to see some confused old person, a little guy in his bathrobe and slippers doing a runner from Riverdale Retirement Center up the road. But she saw a boy--a teenage boy with crazy hair and a tangle of earbuds and sunglasses on his face. Holy shit! She'd hit a damn kid! The boy pushed his sunglasses off his face and looked up at her. He smiled. Relief surged through her, and she wanted to cry. Instead she yelled. "Christ on a crutch, kid! What in hell are you trying to do? Get yourself killed?" Excerpted from The Music of Bees: A Novel by Eileen Garvin All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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