The Secret Life of Bees - Excerpt - Sue Monk Kidd (2023)

On July 1, 1964, as I lay in bed waiting for the bees to appear, I thought about what Rosaleen had said when I told her about her nocturnal visits.

"The bees form a swarm before they die," he said.

Rosaleen had worked for us since my mother died. My father - whom I called T. Ray because "daddy" never suited him - took her from the peach orchard where she worked as one of his pickers. She had a large round face and a body that protruded from her neck like a dog crate, and she was so black that the night seemed to slide off her skin. She lived alone in a small house tucked away in the woods not far from us and came every day to cook, clean and be my surrogate mother. Rosaleen never had a child, so I've been her favorite guinea pig for the last ten years.

Swarm of bees before death. She was full of crazy ideas which I ignored, but I sat and thought about hers and wondered if the bees had come with thoughts of my death. To be honest, he wasn't that bothered by the idea. Any one of those bees could have swooped down on me like a swarm of angels and stung me to death, and it wouldn't have been the worst thing that could have happened to me. People who think dying is the worst thing don't know anything about life.

My mother died when I was four years old. It was a fact of life, but when I mentioned it, people suddenly became interested in their nails and cuticles or far away places in the sky, and they didn't seem to listen to me. Every once in a while, however, a kind soul would say, "Just get it out of your head, Lily. It was an accident. You didn't want that.

That night I lay in bed thinking about dying and going to heaven with my mother. I heard her say, "Mother, forgive me. Please forgive me,” and she kissed my skin until it cracked, telling me it wasn't my fault. That's what she would tell me in the first ten thousand years.

For the next ten thousand years she would fix my hair. She would make it a tower of such beauty that people from all over the sky would drop their harps just to admire it. You can tell which girls don't have mothers by their hair. My hair kept falling out in 11 different directions, and T. Ray, of course, refused to buy me hair rollers with bristles, so I had to roll it in cans of Welch's grape juice all year round, which almost gave me insomnia. . She always had to choose between decent hair and a good night's sleep.

I decided it would take me four or five centuries to tell her of the particular misfortune of living with T. Ray. He was irritable all year round, but especially in the summer when he worked in his peach orchards from daylight to sunset. Most of all, I avoided him. His only kindness was for Snout, his bird dog, who slept in his bed and scratched his stomach every time he turned over. I've seen Snout pee on T. Ray's boot and he doesn't mind.

I repeatedly asked God to do something with T. Ray. He went to church for forty years and it just got worse and worse. I felt like that should say something to God.

I threw away the sheets. The room was perfectly still, not a bee anywhere. Every minute I looked at the clock on my dresser and wondered what was stopping her.

Finally, around midnight, when my eyelids had given up the effort to stay open, a low and fluttering purr began in the corner, a sound that could almost be mistaken for a cat. Moments later, the shadows moved like splatters of paint along the walls, catching the light as they passed the window so she could see the outlines of the wings. The sound intensified in the darkness until the whole room pulsed, until the air was alive and thick with bees. They slid around my body, making me the perfect center of a swirling cloud. I couldn't hear myself thinking about all the buzzing of the bees.

I dug my nails into my palms until my skin was almost a fishbone. You can almost get stung to death in a room full of bees.

Still. The view was a real spectacle. I suddenly couldn't bear not to show anyone, even though the only person around was T. Ray. And if you happened to be stung by a few hundred bees, I'm sorry.

I slipped off the sheets and ran through the bees to the door. I woke him up by touching his arm with a finger, gently at first, then harder and harder until I was poking his flesh, marveling at how hard it was.

T. Ray jumped out of bed wearing nothing but his underwear. I dragged him to my room and yelled that this had better be good, the house had better be on fire and Snout barked like we were doing target practice.

"Bees!" I scream. "There's a swarm of bees in my room!"

But once we got there, they disappeared into the wall like they knew he was coming, like they didn't want to waste their flying stunts on him.

"Damn, Lily, that's no fun."

I looked up and down the walls. I crouched under the bed and prayed to the dust and coils of my bed feathers to bring forth a bee.

"You were here," I said. "Fly everywhere."

"Yeah, and there was a damn buffalo herd here too."

"Listen," I said. "You can hear them humming."

With mock seriousness, he put his ear to the wall. "I don't hear any buzzing," he said, twirling his finger on the side of his temple. "I think they must have come from that cuckoo clock you call the brain. You wake me up Lily and I'll get the Martha Whites, do you hear me?

The Martha Whites were a form of punishment only T. Ray could have dreamed of. I immediately closed my mouth.

Still, he couldn't let it go -- T. Ray thought he was so desperate he'd fabricate a bee invasion to get attention. So I came up with the brilliant idea of ​​taking a jar of these bees, presenting them to T. Ray and saying, "Now who's making this up?"


My first and only memory of my mother was the day she died. I've long tried to picture her beforehand, just a fragment of something, like crawling into bed, reading to myself from Uncle Wiggly's Adventures, or hanging my underwear by the radiator on a chilly morning. Even she would have taken a piece of forsythia and pricked my legs.

The anniversary of her death was December 3, 1954. The stove made the air so hot that my mother took off her sweater and stood up in short sleeves, pressed against the bedroom window and fought the sticky paint.

She finally gave up and said, "Well, okay, we're going to burn the hell down here, I guess."

Her hair was thick and black, with thick curls that framed her face, a face I never saw despite the sharpness of everything else.

I raised my arms to her and she grabbed me saying I was too big a girl to hold me like this but she hugged me anyway. The moment he picked me up, his scent enveloped me.

The aroma settled on me permanently and had all the precision of cinnamon. I used to go to the Sylvan Mercantile regularly and sniff every bottle of perfume they had to identify it. Every time he showed up, the perfume lady would be shocked and say, "My God, look who's here." As if I hadn't been there the week before and drank the whole row of bottles. Shalimar, Chanel No. 5, white shoulders.

I would say, "Do you have any news?"

She never did.

So I was shocked when I came across the scent from my fifth grade teacher who said it was nothing more than regular Ponds Cold Cream.

The afternoon my mother died, there was an open suitcase on the floor by the stuck window. He walked in and out of the closet, packing this and that in his suitcase and not bothering to fold it.

I followed her to the closet and slipped under the hems of the dresses and trouser legs, into the darkness and the dust piles and the little dead moths, back to the mud of the orchard and the musty smell of peaches clinging to his boots. Tray. I grabbed a pair of white heels and brought them together.

The closet floor vibrated every time someone climbed the stairs underneath, so I knew T. Ray was coming. Above me I could hear my mother taking things off hangers, clothes rustling, wires clinking.

As her shoes entered the room, she sighed breathlessly, as if her lungs had suddenly contracted. That's the last thing I remember with absolute clarity: his breath floated towards me like a small parachute, crashing without a trace between the stacks of shoes.

I don't remember what they said, just the fury of their words as the air grew raw and damp. Later it would remind me of birds trapped in a closed room, throwing themselves against windows and walls, against each other. I slowly retreated further into the closet, felt my fingers in my mouth, tasted the shoes, my feet.

Dragged, at first I didn't know whose hands were pulling me, then I found myself in my mother's arms, breathing in her scent. He brushed my hair back and said, "Don't worry," but as he said it, T. Ray pushed me away. He led me to the door and left me in the hallway. "Go to your room," he said.

"I don't want to," I yelled, trying to get past him, back into the room, back to her.

"Go to your damn room!" he screamed and pushed me. I landed against the wall and then fell forward onto my hands and knees. When I lifted my head and looked past him, I saw her running across the room. run towards him screaming. "Leave her alone."

I crouched on the ground by the door and peered through the raw air. I saw him take her shoulders and shake her, shaking his head back and forth. I saw the white of your lips.

And then, though I'm beginning to blur now, she backed away from him toward the closet, away from his anxious hands, and scrambled for something higher on a shelf.

When I saw the gun in her hand, I ran clumsily to her, falling, wanting to save her, save us all.

Time then folded in on itself. What remains lies in clear but incoherent chunks in my head. The gun gleamed like a toy in his hand as he grabbed it and swung it around. The gun on the ground. Bend down to pick it up. The noise that exploded around us.

I know that about myself. She was everything I wanted. and i took her


T. Ray and I lived outside of Sylvan, South Carolina, which had a population of 3,100. Peach stands and Baptist churches, that pretty much sums it up.

At the entrance to the farm we had a large wooden sign that read Owens Peach Enterprise painted the worst orange you've ever seen. I hated that sign. But the sign was nothing compared to the giant peach perched on a twenty-meter pole beside the gate. Everyone at school called her Big Fanny and I clear up the language. Its fleshy color, not to mention the center parting, gave it the unmistakable look of a donkey. Rosaleen said it was T. Ray's way of dreaming about the whole world. That was T.Ray.

He didn't believe in sleepovers or weekend dances, which wasn't a big problem since I never got invited anyway, but he refused to invite me to soccer games, rallies or car washes in town. Saturdays. She didn't mind that I wore dresses I'd made myself in home economics class, patterned cotton shirts with crooked zippers and skirts below the knee, dresses only Pentecostal girls wore. I might as well have had a mark on my back: I'm not popular and never will be.

I needed all the help fashion could give me as no one, not one person, had ever said to me, "Lily, you are such a beautiful girl" except Miss Dolly. Jennings at church and was legally blind.

I looked at my reflection not only in the mirror, but also in shop windows and on the switched off TV, trying to correct my appearance. My hair was black like my mother's, but mostly a nest of swirls, and I worried that my chin wasn't big. I always thought one would grow at the same time as my boobs, but that didn't work out. I might have pretty eyes, what you would call Sophia Loren eyes, but even guys who wore swallowtails dripping with Vitalis and carried combs in their shirt pockets didn't seem to have attracted me and were considered tough as nails. .

The thing under my neck had formed, not that I could show that part. It was all the rage to wear cashmere ensembles and mid-rise kilts, but T. Ray said hell would be an ice rink before she went out like this: Did she want to get pregnant like Bitsy Johnson, whose skirt barely covered her bum? ? As he learned from Bitsy, that's the enigma of life, but with the skirts and the baby, it was true. It was all an unfortunate coincidence.

Rosaleen was less fashion conscious than T. Ray, and when it was cold, God help me Jesus, she made me wear pants to school under my penis costumes.

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He hated nothing more than groups of girls whispering, who fell silent as he passed. I started removing scabs from my body and when I didn't have any, I bit the flesh around my fingernails until I was a bloody mess. I was so concerned about how I looked and if I was doing the right thing that half the time I felt like I was pretending to be a girl instead of a girl.

I thought my real breakthrough would come when I went to magic school at the Woman's Club for six weeks on Friday afternoons last spring, but I was turned away because I didn't have a miserable mother, grandmother, or even aunt to treat me. a. with a white rose at the graduation ceremony. It was against the rules for Rosaleen to do that. I cried until I threw up in the sink.

"You're really pretty," Rosaleen said, rinsing the vomit out of the sink. "You don't have to go to a flashy school to be charming."

"I do," I told him. "You teach everything. How to walk and turn around, what to do with your ankles when sitting in a chair, how to get in the car, pour tea, take off gloves.

Rosaleen blew air from her lips. "Good God," she said.

"Arranging flowers in a vase, talking to the boys, tinting eyebrows, shaving legs, putting on lipstick."

"How about we throw up in the sink? Do they teach a nice way to do this? She asked.

Sometimes he just hated her.


The morning after I woke up T. Ray, Rosaleen stood in my bedroom doorway and watched me chase a bee with a mason jar. Her lip was parted so wide that I could see the little pink dawn in her mouth.

"What are you doing with the glass?" She said.

“I catch bees to show T Ray. You think I'm making it up.

"God gives me strength". He was shelling beans on the porch and sweat glistened in the beads of hair on his forehead. She pushed up the front of her dress and opened an airway along her chest as big and soft as sofa cushions.

The bee landed on the state map I had taped to my wall and I watched as it made its way down scenic Highway 17 along the South Carolina coast. I pressed the muzzle of the glass against the wall and held it between Charleston and Georgetown. When I took the lid off, it fell in and bounced off the glass repeatedly with pops and pops, reminding me of the sleet that sometimes fell on windows.

I made the jar as pretty as I could out of felt sheets, filled with pollen, and had more than enough nail holes in the lid to keep the bees from dying, because as far as I knew, people might one day come back as their own. thing they killed

I brought the pitcher up to nose level. "Come check out this wrestling thing," I said to Rosaleen.

As he entered the room, his scent reached me, dark and spicy like the snuff he had applied to his cheek. She held her little jug with a coin-sized opening and a handle for her finger to slip through. I watched as she pressed it to her chin, pursed her lips like a flower, and then spat out loads of black juice.

He looked at the bee and shook his head. "If it's itchy, don't complain to me," he said, "because I don't care."

That was a lie.

I was the only one who knew that despite her fierce ways, her heart was as tender as a flower and she loved me beyond measure.

I didn't find out until I was eight and she bought me an Easter-stained bidet at the store. I found him trembling in the corner of the pen, the color of a crimson grape, with sad little eyes searching for his mother. Rosaleen let me take him home, right into the living room, where I spread a box of Quaker Oats on the floor for him to eat, and she didn't say a word of protest.

The pup was leaving mounds of purple-veined excrement everywhere, presumably from the ink that had gotten into its fragile system. We had just started cleaning them up when T. Ray barged in and threatened to cook the chicken for dinner and fire Rosaleen for being an asshole. He wanted to attack the babysitter with his oiled hands, but Rosaleen was standing in front of him. "There's worse things in the house than chicken shit," she said, glancing at him from side to side, "You won't touch that girl."

His boots whispered uncle across the hall. I thought: She loves me, and it was the first time that such an absurd idea had occurred to me.

His age was a mystery as he had no birth certificate. He told me he was born in 1909 or 1919 depending on how old he was then. She was sure of the place: McClellanville, South Carolina, where her mother wove baskets of sweet grass and sold them by the side of the road.

"The way I sell peaches," I told him.

"Nothing beats selling peaches," she replied, "You don't have seven kids to feed that."

"Do you have six brothers and sisters?" I thought she was the only one in the world besides me.

"I have, but I don't know where any of them are."

She kicked her husband out for fun three years after their marriage. "You put the brain in a bird, the bird flew backwards," he liked to say. I've often wondered what that bird would do to Rosaleen's brain. I decided that half the time he would throw shit at his head and the other half sit in abandoned nests with his wings spread.

I always dreamed that she was white and married to T. Ray and that she would become my real mother. Other times I was an orphaned black he found in a cornfield and adopted. From time to time I lived in a foreign country like New York where she could adopt me and we could both keep our natural color.


My mother's name was Debora. I thought it was the most beautiful name I had ever heard, even though T. Ray refused to say it. When I said that he acted like he went straight into the kitchen and stabbed something. When I asked him once when his birthday was and what frosting he preferred, he told me to shut up and when I asked him a second time he grabbed a jar of blackberry jam and threw it against the kitchen cupboard. We still have bruises to this day.

However, I managed to get some information out of him, like my mother was buried in Virginia, which is where people came from. He was nervous because he thought he had found a grandmother. No, she tells me, my mother was an only child and her mother passed away a long time ago. Naturally. Once, stepping on a roach in the kitchen, she told me that my mom spent hours luring roaches out of the house with bits of marshmallow and traces of cookie crumbs, that she was crazy when it came to bugs to rescue.

The strangest things made me miss her. Like training bras. Who would I ask about this? And who but my mom could understand how big it was to take me to junior cheerleading tryouts? I can safely say that T. Ray didn't get it. But do you know when I missed her the most? The day I turned twelve and woke up with a stain of rose petals on my panties. She was so proud of this flower and she had no one to show it to except Rosaleen.

Not long after, I found a paper bag in the attic, stapled together at the top. In it I found the last traces of my mother.

There was a photo of a woman grinning in front of an old car wearing a light colored dress with padded shoulders. Her expression said, "Don't you dare take that picture," but she wanted it taken, it showed. You couldn't believe the stories I saw in this photo as she waited on the bumper of her car for love to come to her and not very patiently.

I placed the photo next to my eighth grade photo and examined all possible similarities. She was also a bit missing her chin, but still she was pretty above average which gave me real hope for my future.

The bag contained a pair of white cotton gloves discolored by time. As he pulled them out, I thought: His own hands were here. I feel like an idiot now, but I once stuffed cotton balls in the gloves and kept them overnight.

The last secret in the bag was a small wooden picture of Mary, the mother of Jesus. I recognized her even though her skin was black, a little lighter than Rosaleen's. It was as if someone had cut the picture of Black Mary out of a book, glued it to a piece of wood about an inch wide, sanded it, and varnished it. On the back, an unknown hand had written "Tiburon, S.C."

I've kept his stuff in a tin buried in the orchard for two years. There was a special place in the long tree tunnel that no one knew about, not even Rosaleen. I started walking there before I could tie my shoelaces. At first it was just a place to hide from T Ray and his meanness or the memory of the afternoon the gun went off, but then I snuck in there, sometimes after T. Ray had gone to bed, just for fun to be alone. the trees and be at peace. It was my piece of land, my cabin.

I put his stuff in the tin box and buried it there by lantern light one night, too scared to leave it hanging in my room, even on the bottom of a drawer. I was afraid that T. Ray would go into the attic and find that his belongings were missing and would turn my room upside down to look for them. I hated the thought of what he would do to me if he found her hidden under my stuff.

From time to time I would go there and dig up the box. I lay on the ground with the trees bending over me, wearing his gloves and smiling for the photo. I would study Shark, S.C. on the back of the black photo of Maria, the strange slanting of the letters, and I wonder what that place would be. Once I looked it up on the map and it was no more than two hours away. My mom was there and bought this photo? I always made it my goal to take the bus there one day when I grow up. He wanted to go to all the places she had been.


After my morning bee hunt, I spent the afternoon at the roadside peach stand selling T. Ray peaches. It was the loneliest summer job a girl could have, trapped in a roadside shack with three walls and a flat tin roof.

I sat in a Coke box and watched the trucks go by until I was almost intoxicated with exhaust fumes and boredom. Thursday afternoon used to be a big peach day when the women got ready for Sunday's cobblers, but nobody stopped.

T. Ray refused me permission to bring books down here to read, and if I smuggled one out, say, Lost Horizon, hidden under my shirt, someone like Mrs. Watson from the neighboring farm would see it in the church and tell her. It read: "I saw your girl at the peach stand reading a storm. you must be proud And it almost killed me.

What kind of people are against reading? I think he thought it would stimulate college ideas, which he felt was a waste of money for the girls, even if, like me, they do as best as a human can get on their verbal aptitude test. Mathematical ability is different, but people shouldn't be too smart about everything.

I was the only student who didn't complain or complain when Mrs. Henry performed another Shakespeare play for us. Well, I actually pretended to groan, but inside I was so excited, like I'd just been crowned Sylvan's Peach Queen.

Until Mrs. Henry's arrival, I believed that beauty college would be the pinnacle of my career. Once I studied her face and told her that if she were my client I would give her a French touch that would work wonders for her and she said - and I quote - "Please, Lily, you are insulting her fine intelligence ... do it You have any idea how smart What are you? You can be a teacher or a writer with real books. beauty school. You're welcome."

“It took me a month to get over the shock of having a chance at life. You know adults like to ask, "What will you be when you grow up?" I can't tell you how much I hated that question, but all of a sudden I started telling people, people who didn't even want to know, that I was planning to be a teacher and a real book author.

I kept a collection of my writings. For a while everything I wrote had a horse in it. After reading Ralph Waldo Emerson in class, I wrote My Philosophy of Life, which was intended to be the beginning of a book but only made three pages. Mrs. Henry said she had to be fourteen to have a philosophy.

He said a scholarship was my only hope for the future and he lent me his private books for the summer. Every time I opened one, T. Ray said, "Who do you think you are, Julius Shakespeare?" The man honestly thought that was Shakespeare's first name, and if you think he should have corrected you, you know the art of Survival not. He also referred to me as Miss Emily Big Head Dictionary. He meant Dickinson, but then again, there are things you miss.

With no books at the peach stand, she often spent her time making up poetry, but on this slow afternoon she had no patience for rhyming words. I sat there thinking how much I hated the peach stand, how I absolutely, deeply hated it.


The day before I started first grade, T. Ray found me at the peach stand hammering a nail into one of his peaches.

He came toward me, thumbs in pockets, eyes narrowed in the glare. I saw his shadow gliding across the dirt and brush and thought he had come to punish me for stabbing a peach. He didn't even know why he was doing it.

Instead he said, "Lily, you start school tomorrow so there are things you need to know. About your mother

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For a moment everything was still and still, as if the wind had stopped and the birds had stopped flying. As he crouched in front of me, I felt trapped in a warm darkness I couldn't shake.

"It's time you heard what happened to her, and I want you to hear it from me. There are no people out there talking."

We had never spoken about it before and I felt a shiver run through me. The memory of that day came back to me at odd times. The stuck window. His smell. The clinking of hangers. Suitcase. How they fought and screamed. Especially the gun on the floor, the weight when I picked it up.

I knew the explosion I heard that day killed her. The sound still slipped into my head from time to time and startled me. Sometimes it seemed like there was no sound when I held the gun that it came later, but other times when I was sitting alone on the back steps, bored and wanting to do something, or cooped up in my room on a rainy day, I felt me that when I raised the gun, I caused the sound to go across the room and break our hearts.

It was a secret knowledge that crept in and got hold of me and I ran, even though it was raining I ran straight down the hill to my special place in the peach orchard. I lay down on the floor and it calmed me down. Now T. Ray took a handful of dirt and let it fall from his hands. "The day she died, I cleaned out the closet," she said. She couldn't explain the strange tone of her voice, the unnatural sound that was almost, but not quite, soft.

Clean the closet. She had never thought about what she was doing in those last minutes of her life, why she was in the closet, why they were fighting.

"I remember," I said. My voice sounded low and distant to me, like it came from an anthill on the ground.

His eyebrows rose and he brought his face closer to mine. Only his eyes showed confusion. "What about you?"

"I remember," I said again. "You guys were yelling at each other."

A tension settled on her face. "That's right?" he says. His lips were starting to turn pale, which I always noticed. I took a step back.

"Damn, you were four!" the Scream. "You don't know what you remember."

In the silence that followed, I considered lying to him and telling him go away. I can't remember anything. Tell me what happened but I had such a strong need, suppressed for so long, to talk about it, to say the words.

I looked at my shoes, the nail that had fallen off when I saw him coming. "There was a gun."

"Christ," he said.

He looked at me for a long time, then walked over to the bushel baskets stacked in the back of the store. He stood with folded hands for a minute before turning and walking back.

"What else?" he says. "Tell me what you know right now."

"The gun was on the floor..."

"And you took it," he said. "I think you remember that."

The sound of the explosion began to reverberate in my head. I looked at the orchard and wanted to stop and run.

"I remember picking it up," I said. But that's all.

He leaned down and grabbed my shoulders, shaking me a little. Don't you remember anything else? Are you sure? Now think.

I paused so long that he cocked his head and looked at me suspiciously.

"No sir, that's all."

"Listen to me," he said, his fingers tightening around my arms. "We argued like you said. We didn't see you at first. So we turned around and you were there holding the gun. You picked it up off the ground. Then it just started."

He let go of me and put his hands in his pockets. I could hear his hands jingling keys and quarters. I wanted so badly to grab his leg, to feel him bend down and lift me onto his chest, but I couldn't move and neither could he. He was looking somewhere over my head. A place he studied with great care.

"The police asked a lot of questions, but it was one of those terrible things. You didn't want to do that,” he said softly. "But in case anyone wants to know, it happened."

Then he was gone and went back to the house. Looking back, he had made little progress. "And don't ever stick that nail in my peaches again."


It was after 6 p.m. When I came home from the peach stand and hadn't sold anything, not even a peach, I found Rosaleen in the living room. Normally she would have gone home by now, but she was struggling with her bunny ears on the TV, trying to focus on the snow on the screen. President Johnson came and went, lost in the blizzard. He had never seen Rosaleen so invested in a television show that she exerted physical energy on him.

"What happened?" I asked. "Did they drop the atomic bomb?" Ever since we started bombing practice at school, I couldn't help but think my days were numbered. They all set up fallout shelters in their backyards, bottled tap water, and prepared for the end of time. Thirteen students in my class built nuclear bunkers for their science project, which shows I wasn't the only one concerned. We were obsessed with Mr. Khrushchev and his rockets.

"No, the bomb didn't explode," he said. "Just come over here and see if you can fix the TV." His fists were buried so deep in his hips that they seemed to disappear.

I wrapped aluminum foil around the antennas. Things became clear enough to see President Johnson seated at a table with people around him. I didn't particularly like the President for holding his beagles by the ears. However, he admired his wife, Lady Bird, who always seemed to want nothing more than to have wings and fly.

Rosaleen pulled up the stool in front of the TV and sat down, hiding everything beneath her. Leaning toward the set, she took a piece of her skirt and rolled it up in her hands.

"What's happening?" I said, but she was so caught up in what was going on that she didn't even answer. On the screen, the President signed his name on a piece of paper with a dozen ink pens.

„Rosaleen – –“

"Shhh," he said, waving his hand.

He had to get the news from the man on TV. "Today, July 2, 1964," he said, "in the East Room of the White House, the President of the United States signed the Civil Rights Act into law."

I looked over at Rosaleen, who was sitting there shaking her head and mumbling "Lord have mercy," looking as incredulous and happy as the people on TV answering the $64,000 question.

He didn't know whether to be happy for her or worried. After church everyone was talking about black people and if they were going to get their civil rights. Who won, the white team or the black team? As if it were a life and death contest. When this Alabama minister, Reverend Martin Luther King, was arrested in Florida last month for wanting to eat at a restaurant, Church men acted as if the white team had won the pennant race. He knew they wouldn't take this news lightly, not in a million years.

"Hallelujah, Jesus," Rosaleen said from her stool. Inattentive.


Rosaleen had left supper on the stove, her famous chicken stew. As I set T. Ray's plate, I thought about how I might address the sensitive issue of my birthday, something T. Ray had never paid attention to in all the years of my life, but every year, like a drug, I got it My hopes are rising and I think this year would be the chosen one.

I shared the same birthday as the country, which made it even more difficult to attract attention. When I was little, I thought people would throw rockets and cherry bombs because of me. Hooray, Lily was born! Then, as always, reality set in.

I wanted to tell T. Ray that every girl would love a silver bracelet, that I was actually the only girl at Sylvan Junior High last year without one, and that the whole point of lunch was in the creaky cafeteria. her doll that gives people a tour of her amulet collection.

"So," I said, pushing the plate in front of him, "It's my birthday this Saturday."

I saw him pick the chicken off the bone with his fork. "I thought I'd like one of those silver bracelets they have at the dealer."

The house creaked as it did from time to time. Outside the door, Snout barked softly, and then the air was so still I could hear the crunch of food in T. Ray's mouth.

He ate the chicken breast and began the drumstick, glaring at me with his harshness from time to time.

I started saying: And what about the bracelet? but I could see that he had already given his answer, and that brought me a kind of sadness that felt fresh and tender and actually had nothing to do with the bracelet. I think now it was sadness at the sound of his fork scraping across his plate, at how it increased with the distance between us, at the fact that I wasn't even in the room.


That night I lay in bed, listening to the pops, chirps, and taps in the bee jar, waiting until it was late enough to sneak into the orchard and dig up the tin of my mother's things. I wanted to lie in the orchard and let him hold me.

As darkness carried the moon high in the sky, I got up, pulled on my shorts and tank top, and slipped into T. Ray's room in silence, arms and legs sliding like a skater. I didn't see his boots because he had parked them in the middle of the hallway. When I landed, the noise startled the air so badly that T. Ray's snoring changed rhythm. At first it stopped completely, but then the snoring started again with three piglet snorts.

I went downstairs past the kitchen. When the night hit me in the face, I wanted to laugh. The moon was a perfect circle, so full of light that all the edges of things were amber. The cicadas got up and I ran barefoot through the grass.

To get to my spot I had to go to the eighth row to the left of the tractor shed, then go down and count the trees until I got to thirty-two. The tin can was buried in the soft earth under the tree, shallow enough for me to dig out with my bare hands.

When I cleaned the lid of dirt and opened it, I saw first the whites of her gloves, then the waxed paper-wrapped photograph as she had left it. And finally the funny wooden picture of Maria with the dark face. I took off everything, stretched out between the fallen peaches and laid them on my stomach.

As I looked up through the web of trees, night fell upon me and for a moment I lost control, feeling like the sky was my own skin and the moon was my heart beating there in the darkness. Lightning came, not jagged, but across the sky in soft golden streaks. I unbuttoned my shirt and opened it wide, just wanting the night to fall on my skin, so I fell asleep, lying there with my mother's things while the air wet my chest and the sky crumpled with light was.

I woke up to someone struggling through the trees. Tray! I sat up in a panic and buttoned my shirt. I heard his footsteps, the fast, heavy breathing of his breath. Looking down, I saw my mother's gloves and the two photos. I stopped buttoning them, grabbed them, played with them, didn't know what to do, how to hide them. He had dropped the tin can back into its hole, too far away to reach.

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"Lileeeee!" he shouted and I saw his shadow coming towards me across the floor.

I tucked the gloves and photos under the waistband of my shorts and picked up the rest of the buttons with trembling fingers.

Before I could close them, the light fell on me and there he was shirtless, holding a flashlight. The beam zigzagged, blinding me as it passed my eyes.

"Who were you here with?" he yelled, shining the light on my half-buttoned shirt.

"Nobody," I said, pulling my knees into my arms, afraid of what I was thinking. I couldn't look at his face for a long time, how big and bright it was, like the face of God.

He released the beam of light into the darkness. "Who's there?" the Scream.

"Please, T. Ray, there was no one here but me."

"Get up from there," he yelled.

I followed him home. His feet hit the ground with such force that I felt sorry for the black earth. She didn't speak until we got to the kitchen and she got the Martha White Beans from the pantry. "That's what I expect from the boys Lily, you can't blame them but I expect more from you. You don't act any better than a whore.

He dumped a heap of grain the size of an anthill on the pine floor. "Come here and kneel down."

I've been kneeling in the sand since I was six, but I still haven't gotten used to the feeling of glass dust under my skin. I took those small steps towards her that you would expect of a girl in Japan and sank to the ground, determined not to cry, but the sting in my eyes was already growing.

T. Ray sat in a chair and used a pocket knife to trim his fingernails. I rocked from knee to knee, hoping for a second or two of relief, but the pain was digging deep into my skin. I bit my lip and felt the wood carving of Black Mary under my waist. I felt the wax paper with my mother's picture on it and her gloves were stuck to my stomach and suddenly I felt my mother there, pressed against my body like pieces of insulation that hugged my skin and helped me absorb everything. your evil


The next morning I woke up late. The moment my feet hit the ground, I checked under the mattress where I had kept my mother's things, a temporary hiding place until I could bury them in the orchard.

Satisfied they were safe, I went into the kitchen to find Rosaleen sweeping up the grain.

I buttered a piece of Sunbeam bread.

As he swept, he shook the broom and kicked up the wind. "What happened?" She said.

“I was in the orchard last night. T. Ray thinks I met a boy.

"You managed?"

I rolled my eyes.


"How long did he keep you busy with those beans?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "Maybe an hour."

He looked at my knees and stopped sweeping. They were swollen with hundreds of red welts, bruises that would turn into a blue beard all over my skin.

"Look at you, little one. Look what he did to you!” he yelled.

My knees have been tortured this way so many times in my life that I've stopped considering it as anything out of the ordinary; it was something you had to endure from time to time, like a common cold. But suddenly the look on Rosaleen's face broke all of that. Look what he did to you.

That's exactly what I did, looking closely at my knees as T. Ray walked in the back door.

"Well, look who decided to stand up." He snatched the bread from my hand and threw it into Snout's plate. "Would it be too much to ask you to go to the peach stand and do some work? You're not queen for a day, you know.

This might sound crazy, but up until then I figured T. Ray probably loved me a little. I'll never forget how he smiled at me in church as I sang backwards from the hymnal.

Now I looked him in the face. He was filled with anger and contempt.

"As long as you live under my roof, you will do what I tell you!" the Scream.

Then I'll find another roof, I thought.

"You understand me?" he says.

"Yes sir, I understand," I said, and I did. I understood that a new roof would do wonders for me.


In the late afternoon I caught two more bees. I lay face down on the bed and watched them circle the space in the jar, spinning in circles like they were lost.

Rosaleen stuck her head in the door. "Everything's fine with you?"

"Yes I am okay."

"I'm leaving now. Tell your father I'm going into town tomorrow instead of here.

"Are you going into town? Take me," I said.

"Why do you want to go?"

— Por favor, Rosaleen.

"You have to walk all the way."

"I do not care."

“Not much is open other than the fireworks stands and grocery store.”

"I do not care. I just want out of the house on my birthday.

Rosaleen looked up at me and bent over her large ankles. "Okay, but ask your father. I'll be here first thing in the morning.

She was outside the door. I called. "Why are you going into town?"

He turned his back on me for a moment, motionless. When she turned around, her face was soft and changed, like another Rosaleen. His hand dipped into his pocket, where his fingers were searching for something. He took out a folded sheet of notebook paper and sat next to me on the bed. I rubbed my knees as she smoothed the paper in her lap.

Her name, Rosaleen Daise, is written at least twenty-five times across the page in large, careful cursive handwriting, like the first sheet of paper you turn in when school starts. "This is my exercise sheet," he said. “On July 4th they are holding an election rally at the black church. I register to vote.

An uncomfortable feeling spread in my stomach. Last night on TV it said a man was killed in Mississippi for running to vote, and I heard Mr. Bussey, one of the deacons, say to T. Ray, "Don't worry, they will." You write their names in perfect cursive and refuse a card if they forget to dot the i or grind the y.

I studied Rosaleen's R curves. "T. Does Ray know what you're doing?"

"T. King," he said. "T. Ray knows nothing.


At sunset he woke up sweating from work. I found him by the kitchen door, my arms crossed over my shirt. "I thought I'd go into town with Rosaleen tomorrow. I need to buy toiletries.

He accepted this without comment. T. Ray hated female puberty more than anything.

That night I looked at the bee jar on my dresser. The poor creatures in the background barely moved and obviously longed to fly. Then I remembered them fleeing the cracks in my walls and flying away with joy. I thought about how my mom would build paths out of cookie crumbs and marshmallows to lure roaches out of the house instead of stepping on them. He doubted she would approve of keeping bees in a jar. I unscrewed the cap and set it aside.

(Video) The Secret LIfe of Bees

"You can go," I told him.

But the bees stood there like airplanes on a runway, unaware that they had been cleared to take off. They crawled around the curved edges of the glass on their stalked legs as if the world had shrunk into this glass. I hit the glass, even turned the glass on its side, but those crazy bees stayed put.


The next morning when Rosaleen showed up, the bees were still there. She carried an angel cake with fourteen candles.

"May I help you. Happy birthday," he said. We sat down and ate two slices each with glasses of milk. The milk left a crescent moon in the darkness of her upper lip that she didn't wipe away. Later I would remember her walking, a woman marked from the start.

Sylvan was miles away. We walked along the curb, Rosaleen swaying to the beat of a bank vault door, spittoon cup on her finger. Fog hung beneath the trees and every inch of air smelled of overripe peaches.

"Do you limp?" said Roseleen.

My knees hurt so bad I had trouble keeping up with him. "A little."

"Well, why don't we sit by the curb for a while?" She said.

"Okay," I told him. "I'll be fine."

A car passed with boiling hot air and a layer of dust. Rosaleen was slippery from the heat. She wiped her face and took a deep breath.

We were on our way to the Ebenezer Baptist Church, which T. Ray and I attended. The bell tower jutted through a clump of leafy trees; below, the red bricks looked desolate and cold.

"Come on," I said, turning toward the door.

"Where are you going?"

We can rest in the church.

The air inside was dark and still, flooded with light from the side windows, not that pretty stained glass, but milky glass that you can't really see through.

I led us to the front and sat on the second pew to make room for Rosaleen. She picked up a paper fan from the hymnal stand and studied the picture on it: a white church with a smiling white lady walking out the door.

Rosaleen fanned herself and I heard small puffs of air coming out of her hands. He never went to church, but the few times that T. Ray let me go to his house in the woods, I saw his special shelf with a candle stub, stream stones, a reddish feather, and a piece of St. John's Wort, the Conquistador, and right in in the middle a photograph of a woman, erect without a frame.

When I first saw him, I asked Rosaleen, "Is that you?" because I swear the woman was just like her, with woolen pigtails, blue-black skin, squinted eyes, and most of her focused on like an eggplant her butt.

"This is my mother," he said.

The finish rubbed off on the sides of the photo where the thumbs held it. Her library had to do with a religion of her own creation, a mixture of nature and ancestor worship. She had stopped going to Full Gospel Holiness Prayer Church years ago because it started at 10 a.m. and didn't finish until 3 p.m., which is enough religion to kill an adult, she said.

T. Ray said Rosaleen's religion was total madness and I should stay out of it. But it tempted me to think that he loved waterstones and woodpecker feathers that he had a single photo of his mother like me.

One of the church doors opened and Brother Gerald, our pastor, entered the sanctuary.

"Well, for God's sake, Lily, what are you doing here?"

Then he saw Rosaleen and started rubbing the bald spot on her head so excitedly I thought I could rub her to the bone in her skull.

“We walked into town and stopped for a snack.”

Her mouth formed the word "oh," but she didn't actually say it; he was too busy watching Rosaleen in her church, Rosaleen chose that moment to spit into his snuffbox.

It's funny how you forget the rules. She shouldn't be here. Whenever there was a rumor that a group of blacks would be coming with us to Sunday morning services, the deacons would stand arm in arm on the church steps to see them off. We love them in the Lord, Brother Gerald said, but they had their own places.

"Today is my birthday," I said, hoping to steer her thoughts in a new direction.

"That's all? Well, happy birthday, Lily. So how old are you now?”


"Ask her if we can have some of these fans as birthday presents," Rosaleen said.

He made a faint noise meant for laughter. "Now if we borrowed a fan that we wanted, the church would run out of fans."

"She was just kidding," I said, standing up. He smiled contentedly and walked me to the door, closely followed by Rosaleen.

Outside, the sky was shrouded in cloud and the glow spread across the surfaces, sending spots before my eyes. As we crossed the vicarage and returned to the street, Rosaleen took two church fans from the neckline of her dress and gave me the impression that I looked up with a sweet face and said, "Oh, Brother Gerald, you I was only kidding.


We entered Sylvan on the worst side of town. Old houses built in concrete blocks. Fans are stuck in the windows. meters country women with pink curlers. Released Dogs.

After a few blocks, we're approaching the Esso station on the corner of West Market and Church Streets, which is popularly known as a place for guys with a lot of time.

I noticed that none of the cars were filling up. Three men sat in dining chairs at the side of the garage, balancing a piece of plywood on their knees. They played cards.

"Hit me," one of them said, and the dealer, wearing a Seed and Feed cap, put a card in front of him. He looked up and saw us, Rosaleen, fanning and shuffling, swaying from side to side. "Well, look at why we came here," he yelled. "Where are you going, black guy?"

Fireworks echoed in the distance. "Go on," I whispered. "Not paying attention."

But Rosaleen, who had less common sense than I had dreamed of, said in that tone, as if she were explaining something very difficult to a kindergarten child: "I'll register my name so I can vote, that's all."

"We have to hurry," I told her, but she continued walking at her own slow pace.

The man next to the dealer laid down his cards with his hair slicked back and said, "Did you hear that? We have a model citizen.”

I heard a slow song of the wind gently blowing off the road behind us and moving along the gully. We left, and the men pushed back the makeshift table and stepped onto the sidewalk to wait for us, as if they were spectators at a parade and we were the coveted float.

"Have you ever seen one so black?" said the merchant.

And the men with their hair slicked back said, "No, and I've never seen one that big."

Of course, the third man felt compelled to say something, so he looked at Rosaleen steadily, held up her white fan and said, "Where did you get that fan, black?"

"I stole it from a church," he said. In order to.

I once flew down the Chattooga River with my church group, and now I felt the same thing: being swept along with currents, into a maelstrom of events I could not undo.

Rosaleen approached the men, lifted her snuff, which was covered in black saliva, and poured it calmly over the toes of the men's shoes, moving her hand in small circles as if she were writing her name, Rosaleen Daise, as he was had done . practiced

For a second they stared at the juice seeping onto their shoes like car oil. They blinked and tried to register. As they looked up, I saw their faces change from surprise to anger to outright anger. They pounced on her and everything started spinning. There was Rosaleen clutching and thrashing, men swinging like wallets in her arms, and men yelling at her to apologize and shine her shoes.

"Clean it up!" That was all I could hear over and over again. And then the screeching of the birds overhead, sharp as needles, sweeping the low branches of the trees, awakened the scent of the pines, and even then I knew I would dread that smell all my life.

"Call the police," the drug dealer yelled at a man inside.

Meanwhile, Rosaleen lay trapped on the ground, twisting her fingers in tufts of grass. Blood spurted from a cut under his eye. It rippled under her chin like tears.

When the policeman arrived he said we had to get in the back seat of his car.

"You're under arrest," he said to Rosaleen. "Assault, robbery and disturbance of public order." Then he said to me, "When we get to the police station, I'll call your father and let him take care of you."

(Video) The Secret Life Of Bees | Book Trailer

Rosaleen climbed up and slid into her seat. I moved behind her, slid as she slid, and sat as she sat.

The door closed. So quiet it was no more than a breath of air, and that was the odd way a sound that small could reach anyone.


1. Sue Monk Kidd - Beginning the Day
2. Book Review on The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
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3. The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd (Audiobook Excerpt)
4. Author Stories Podcast Episode 872 | Sue Monk Kidd Interview
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5. Alicia Keys & Sue Monk Kidd Virtual Book Talk
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6. THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES: On Set With Alicia Keys
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