The Italian Queen 

by Thomas Belton 

I am an Apiarist! Not a long word but a transcendent symmetrical word composed  of four vowels, four consonants, and four syllables. It strikes the golden mean for words filled with internal rhyme and meter; its meaning too simple for its acrostic tendencies. In  effect; I am a beekeeper. It is onomatopoetic as well, words that sounds exactly as what  they describe; like meow, honk, or boom, and as in the case with a beekeeper I hear the  buzz of a hive whenever I say Apiarist aloud.  

I am a fool for words as I am for bees. I love long wandering sesquipedalian words untethered from their moorings. I love the sexy sweep of syllables in a word; the  ultimate or last syllable I find punchy like a fist to the sternum; the penultimate or next to  the last syllable a bit embarrassing like a lisping suitor; and then there’s the pre-ante penultimate or third from the last syllable in a word, a seeming nocturnal emission sound  both embarrassing and satisfying; and of course there’s the pro-pre-ante-penultimate, the  last but fourth syllable in a word, a sibilating idiot anticipating the sounds to follow with  a stuttering hiss.  

Sesquipedalian or foot-and-a-half-long words can be practical like  

antidisestablishmentarianism – the doctrine opposed to removing Church of England’s  official Religion status. Or one might have deep philosophical meaning like   

antilapsarianism – a denial of the doctrine of the fall of humanity. Whereas others can be  plain silly words like arachibutyrophobia – the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of  your mouth. All the meaning in an unduly long word is but a lost penny to me in an  otherwise syllabic cornucopia of wealth. What’s important in a sesquipedalian word like  transmogrify or transubstantiation to me is the sublime lust of vowels and consonants that hold them together. 

I built a moat around the ephemeral and mellifluous concentrators of the sound in  Apiarist when I first heard it; constructed a castle of air in my imagination to render the  word a pennant atop the loftiest redoubt above the last battlement and saw the Duchy of  its syllables enthroned where they belonged. In fact, I looked it up in the Oxford English  Dictionary (or the OED as we lexicomanes like to call it) after a life-defining event. Oh, but that sounds so melodramatic! But a vita definiens or life-defining event nonetheless. How I became a beekeeper is a bit strange as it involved another word: stultifying from  the Latin stultus meaning foolish. 

It was a hot day in December; one of those anomalous amalgams of sun and warm  gulf stream air that wandered north in a freak sub-tropical thrust from the Florida Keys. I  was out in my yard in a tee-shirt and shorts – this in frosty intemperate New Jersey, where  December is typically heralded by dirty slush and freezing wind that crisscross our  peculiar peninsula of land trapped between the meandering shores of the Delaware River  and the wind-fetched expanses of the great northern Atlantic Ocean. 

It was a honey bee, Apis mellifera, that brought me out my stuporus daydreaming  as I raked some errant fall leaves locked under a yew bush by wind and glutinous decay. I  hoped to dedicate these to the mulch barrel, which was percolating over in the corner of  my yard in midwinter abandon. There, a microbial kingdom of decomposing fungi and  bacteria fed on the last mulch leaves of my summer garden. I opened the top of the barrel  composter and a whiff of deep-rot and earth-spun stink greeted my nostrils, a somewhat  sickly smell of decay but fraught with all the possibilities of regeneration, last years corn  husks and pea pods clinging tuberous and wondrous at the top making new soil for next  years peas and cauliflower gardens.  

I guess it was this rank smell of fecundity that drew the bee to my naked arm  where it shook like a dog on my goose-bumped skin. I looked down at her yellow  majesty, a brilliant moment in the otherwise slurred nor’easter suspension that is winter.  The bee turned about in a slow dizzying dance possibly smelling on my mulch-covered  skin some perfumed essence of summer gone, possibly mistaking the dank odor of decay  within the mulch barrel as a distant dream of time’s intensity. Drunk with the sweet sense  of the fallen flowers, she danced her directions out on my arm to remember where she’d been, then up she flew and was gone. Flying home, I guessed, to her monastery of honey comb caves in the earth where sister workers diligently waited on grubs and larvae,  tending the Queen in her jelly chamber, dancing for them in the darkness a buzzing song  that worked its hold on the hive. Her dance sang of the elixir of summer, the succor that  all should follow, all the sacred chamberlains of the Queen becoming agitated, circling  and acting out the directions of the bee’s dance in unison till all as one they fled, leaving  only a few warriors to guard the Queen and her egg chamber.  

Up and out, they came erratically into my garden like blind men mounting stairs,  following their guide, spilling upon the wind like a rope of gold seeking ambergris. Up  they flew into the bright sun upon my garden and hovered in the deep shadows behind 

my garage where unfortunately the mulch barrel was set tightly closed once again, its  aroma dissipating. I’d hosed down the barrel with a garden hose too and washed my arm, so it was to this detente, this non-eventuality that the swarm of bees came, flying about in  erratic spirals above the mulch drum.  

They sensed the diminishing odor but having lost the intensity of the scent, took  to searching in ever-widening spirals to the extremes of the yard in search of the source. I  stood in the wonder watching as they flew about my head like a golden cyclone, their tiny  hearts yearning for the smell of the decaying flowers evaporating into the cooling air. A  foolish, stultifying wish that evaporated with the closure of the mulch drum, the desire to  feed slowly fading until the bees eventually flew back to their lair and crept through their  windowed opening into the earth, crawled down into their heated hive cellar to work  more diligently till winter’s end, chastened by the promise of a false spring.  

Subsequently, I’ve learned that many of the nineteenth century natural scientists  such as Charles Darwin, Stephen Wallace, and Joseph Banks were often mystified by  what would appear to be a species stultifying behavior, its apparently foolish, recalcitrant  response to a new stressor in its environment. Many species respond with plasticity when  confronted with a new predator or competitor in the neighborhood, rising seas or volcanic  eruptions, adapting to a changing environment, while other species hold to tried and true  instinctual behaviors, immovable positions, and pay the price through reduced abundance  or possibly extinction. 

*** 

Another stultifying event happened to me, as a participant rather than an observer, a week later when I went to buy my first bee box. Bee boxes are artificial hives designed 

to keep the bee society safe, as well as making it easy for the beekeeper to remove the  honey from the hive. I also had to buy some bees. Ostensibly, Apis mellifera, the western  honey bee. Apis is the pragmatic and succinct Latin word for bee whereas mellifera is a  compound word from the Greek melli for honey and ferre meaning to bear, thus the  honey-bearing bee. In itself, a mellifluous honey-dripping word. Mel·lif·lu·ous, four  syllables, six consonants and an astounding five vowel word, which means smoothly flowing or sweetly-sounding, as with honey from the late Latin mellifluous (mel for  honey and fluere to flow) plus the -ous. 

It’s hard to find a bee box in the city as they’re typically carried by agricultural supply stores in the country but I did find a garden supply store near my house that advertised “urban bees,” which I thought would fit in quite well with my urbane  sensibilities. The store was called Buddha’s Garden and “Zend us your hands and we’ll  put a spade in it!” was their online motto. 

The store was in an old factory off Roosevelt Drive in the East Falls section of  Philadelphia. It was hard to find and I got lost driving past some strange facilities including the “Heights Parkour Academy” where people in Ninja outfits climbed the  exterior of an abandoned water tower, and a “Battle-Sword” facility where instructors in  leather jerkins and full-face steel helmets pounded on each other with Claymore swords and dented shields in an outdoor training facility. 

At last, I found Buddha’s Garden stuffed in between an abandoned junkyard and  a Podiatric Hospital. I parked in the empty lot and approached the door through a  colonnade of sculptures made from farm implements. To my left there was a large  Sandhill Crane made out of a hoe, a shovel, and lots of silver anodized wire. To my right 

waddled a tiny hippopotamus made from a waste paper basket with spades for feet and a  snout fashioned from a bulb corer. Entering the main door, the smell of jasmine incense  washed over me along with the sound of the Grateful Dead playing “China Cat  Sunflower” coming from speakers high above me in the rafters that swept up for three  stories. A sign by the door said the building was once a propeller manufacturer for  battleships constructed at the Philadelphia Naval Base during the Second World War. Huge steel gantries ran along the ceiling for moving the colossal props and the molds for  the parts were still suspended from hooks beneath walkways that stretched out into the  darkness. 

“Can I help you?” a young black man in an orange floor-length dashiki covered  with tiger prints asked me from behind a small table set up just inside the door. “Yes, but I’m not sure if I’ve got the right place. I’m looking for Buddha’s  Garden?” 

“No, you’re at the right place, just the wrong entrance. That’s it up on that  platform at the end of the gallery. We’re a collective, you see.” 

“You mean like a commune?” 

He laughed and showed me a brilliant set of golden inlays, “No not that kind of  commune. We’re a creative share-space for the arts, interior design, and New Age crafts.” 

“Oh, that explains the furniture and the fireplace mantels,” I said looking into the  shadowed interior of the old factory filled with mahogany and oak doors, stone garden  gargoyles and piles of stressed barn doors.  

“What are those?” I asked pointing at a row of colorful items mounted along the walkway leading up to Buddha’s Garden. A dozen objects in bright colors were  suspended like giant Piñatas thirty feet above the floor, about six feet long and in the shapes of animals; a swan, a caterpillar, there was even a squirrel.” 

“They’re Philippine Coffins.” 

“Coffins?” 

“Yeah, it’s a Cargo Cult thing! For some reasons the Igorot tribe in Luzon likes to  send their dead off in style. They don’t actually bury them in the things, just lay them out for viewing to impress their neighbors then throw the buggers in a hole and reuse the  coffins. One of my suppliers saw them on a wilderness vacation and bought a bunch.  They sell like hotcakes with the Dominicans in the Breweyrtown neighborhood.” “As coffins?” 

“No couches! The Latinos love to sit on the damn things and goof with their  friends.” 

“Oh, I see,” I said, although I didn’t. 

“So, Buddha’s Delight, right!” 

“Yes!” 

“You want to go down this aisle and up those stairs and you’ll see the enclosure for the store. You here for some weed?” 

“Weed? No bees. Why would they sell weeds at a garden store? Isn’t that the  exact opposite of a garden?”

I got another flash of the golden teeth as the concierge slapped me on the shoulder and said. “Oh man, Lenore gonna love you. Go on! Go see Lenore about them bees. You  gonna be surprised. She the Italian Queen of bees.” 

“She’s an Italian Queen? I thought Italy did away with the monarchy in the  nineteenth century.” 

“Oh, honey! You the man!” he shouted. “Lenore gonna love you. Go on now.  Down the aisle and up the stairs. You in for a new way of seeing the world you talk to  Lenore. Go on,” as he waved the back of his hands at me and turned around still  chuckling.  

A bell went off as I entered Buddha’s Garden and a spacey flute song echoed  about the room filled with bins containing seeds and bulbs for planting. The store smelled  funky in a barn gone-to-rot kind of way, the sickly-sweet smell of organic bulbs on top of  astringent manure; the walls were covered with long-handled farm implements; scythes,  shovels, pickaxes, and sledge hammers in varying weights. But the rest of the store  reminded me of a Head Shop I used to visit to buy Hookahs in college; macramé wall hangings descended from the rafters and tie-dye banners, lots of pottery and bronze  incense burners for sale on tables randomly filling the space, and a giant red tree root the  size of a shed in the center of the room brightly polished and carved to looked like a  rampant dragon its claws holding a set of potted cacti.  

I guess plant stores are no longer just about plants. The bulletin board by the door  announced workshops on making Kokedama hanging moss balls, which spun lazily  overhead in the slight breeze from a bamboo rotating ceiling fan; Ikebana or Japanese  flower arranging was advertised as well as cannabis (aka weed) cultivation. From the  

numerous announcements pinned up haphazardly by patrons on the corkboard it also appeared that the store served as an event space with regular community mixers including  healing touch Reiki, astral traveling, and something called yoga with goats. 

A woman came out of the back room and nodded in my direction. Petite with an  oval face, green eyes and unlacquered lips, long brown hair done up in an intricate  French braid that wrapped around her head like a serpent. She wore bib overalls with one  blue strap hanging loose that I surprisingly found seductive, a pair of brown-stained  gardening gloves stashed in the chest pocket, a spray water bottle hanging on the tool  hook along her pant leg, a pair of muddy timberland boots and a basket filled with beets  that she placed on the counter between us. 

“Hi, I’m Lenore. How can I help you?” she said in a surprisingly deep and husky  whiskey voice for such as small lady. 

“Hi, I’m Ben. Yes, I’d like to buy some bees,” I said, “Oh, and a hive, and some  of those nifty gloves and the hat with the net on it, and anything else that goes with  keeping the little stingers off me.”  

The woman looked at me quizzically for a moment, as if she were a bird  contemplating an inedible bug. I placed my hands in my pockets and squeezed them into  fists as the silence spread, thinking maybe I’d misspoke, thinking maybe I needed a more detailed explanation to my simple request. 

Then as if coming out of a trance, she said “Well…, what you need depends on  what you want. And what you want depends on who you are! Morally that is!  “Morally?” I asked with a moue of confusion on my lips. 

“Yes, morally! What kind of equipment you need depends on your philosophy of  life?” 

I raised my left eyebrow and gave her my best quizzical glance back. She answered my voiceless question in the same flat delivery, “From what you  believe I can infer your personal philosophy of beekeeping.” 

“There are different philosophies of beekeeping?” 

“Oh, yes! Yes!” she added declaratively, slowly building up into an emotional  storm, waving her hands about as if shooing away my reasonable request like an invisible  swarm of wasps. 

“There are people who have faith in nature with a big N! The Buddhists, the Jains, Taoists, Shaman followers; while others might call it God in his many manifestations; Jesus, Yahweh, Buddha, to work things out in life. That’s the traditional more organic  way of doing things. 

“OK!” I agreed haltingly, stupidly nodding my head in time to her delivery. “And then there are those more interested in speed and practicality; the scientists; they do everything fast and easy, keeping the bees healthy with chemicals and treatments.  You have to decide where you stand on these kinds of things – before – I can sell you a  queen and a hive.” 

“I’m kind of agnostic about the God thing,” I said, but hastily added “I recycle,”  when I saw the look of disdain creep onto my interlocutor’s face.  

“Are you one of those hipsters?” she asked. “You looking to chill out with your  bees, create some nostalgic ironic lifestyle so you appear cool to the chicks?”  

“No God forbid! Last thing on my mind,” I cried, waving my own hands now as if to drive back the pronouncement like errant flatulence. “I’m the anti-hipster, I like my meat well done and drink cheap New York wine. My buddies say I’m the least cool  person they know.” 

To this I got another frozen stare as she absent-mindedly reached down and  buttoned the loose strap on her overalls, which I again found quite sexy.  “OK!” she said. “Let me ask you some questions before I decide what kind of  bees, I might sell you.” 

It suddenly occurred to me at that I was being interviewed. And that I might not walk away with my coveted bees. Maybe go home with the Scarlet Letter B stamped on  my forehead, my photo placed in other bee supply stores around town, my visage forever  marked as an unreliable keeper of insects. The stress was building like a burning forge of  shame in my gut. 

“What are the three morphological types in bees?” she asked.  

“Oh, thank God! I know that one,” I said, having done my research before I set  out for bee country. 

“Well, there’s the queen, her sole purpose in life is to lay eggs, that’s all she does.  Heck, she doesn’t even feed herself. She’s like some self-indulgent Chinese Empress just  lying around and fed peeled grapes all day long by the worker bees.” 

“Not a bad analogy, Lenore said. “All bee larvae are fed some royal jelly for the  first few days after hatching but only queen larvae are fed the jelly exclusively. As a  result of the difference in diet, the queen will develop into a sexually mature female,  unlike the worker bees. Queens are raised in specially constructed queen cells too.”  

I nodded and said, “That’s the second type, the workers, they’re the proletariat,  they build the hive, forage for food, take care of the baby bees, and get rid of all the  waste. I’ve read that during the height of laying season, the queen can produce around  1000 eggs a day so a bunch just hang out around her and pop the eggs into a brooding chamber until the larvae come out, little wormy things that crawl around begging to get  fed until they metamorphose into flying bees. 

“Impressive!” Lenore said, placing her hands on her hips. “And the other form of  bee?” 

“Well, the worker bees are sterile females and all they do is work. But the Queen  can make males too called Drones, and all they do is fornicate with the Queen. Very  incestuous! Definitely a better deal you ask me then the lot of his sister worker bees.  Like most guys all these bees do is eat and think about sex. Their only job is to get jiggy  with the Queen; that is it. But it isn’t as sexy as it sounds. If a drone is lucky enough to  mate, the queen bee rips out his sexual organs during coitus and stores the sperm for  future use. He then falls to the ground and dies. If he isn’t fortunate to find a queen to  mate with, the worker bees will force him out of the hive come winter as he is no longer  deemed useful.” 

“Well, it looks like you do know your bees, Ben. So maybe we’ll move onto the  next step,” she added, leading me to the far side of the store by a tall window that let in  the sunshine onto a series of boxes piled one atop the other into a pyramid. “Why it’s a ziggurat,” I said in delight.  

“A what?” 

“A ziggurat is a rectangular stepped tower, sometimes surmounted by a temple.  Ziggurats were first described in the Book of Genesis from the late 3rd millennium BC  and probably inspired the biblical story of the Tower of Babel.” 

“They’re only boxes,” she said.  

“No, I meant the display reminded me of a…; Oh, never mind. A lovely word,  ziggurat. It comes from the Assyrian ziqquratu meaning height or pinnacle, perhaps  derived from the root word, zaqaru, which means to be high.” 

The looked at me with a querulous look, somewhat sclerotic, rigid and  unresponsive; perhaps I’d said something wrong. “I’m an etymologist. I study the origin  of words and the ways in which their meanings change throughout history.” 

And then her gaze turned ironic with an upward twist of the left eyebrow, which made me feel even more ill-at-ease. 

I stammered, “I study words. Sometimes these things come out of my mouth and I  forget it doesn’t mean anything to anyone but me.” 

“And how do you make a living studying words?” she asked, her voice softening  slightly. 

“I taught Philology at University for a while but that was a bit too musty and  Ivory Tower for me, so I became a cruciverbalist,” I said. 

“You’re making that up!” she said. 

“No! it true. I’m a cruciverbalist. Its roots are in Latin with cruci from crux meaning cross and verbum which means word. You add the English -alist for a person  who studies and you get cruciverbalist. 

“You seem to swim in verbosity,” she said making me smile.   

A lovely word verbosity but to the point, I added, “A cruciverbalist devises crossword puzzles, which I do at home now,” and added quickly to up the ante on my bid  to become a beekeeper, “So I have lot of times for beekeeping. Once I get them,” I added smiling conspiratorially.  

“I see!” she said but I feared she clearly did not as she went on as if I hadn’t spoken and pulled one of the boxes from the pyramidal display. 

“This is a honey bee box. It’s made up of a hive stand, a bottom board, hive  bodies or brooders, smaller boxes called honey supers and a cover. The lower hive body  is separated from the supers above by an excluder.” 

“Oh, lovely, it opens like a Chinese puzzle box,” I cried as she pulled the various segments out and placed them at my feet.  

“As I mentioned before, the equipment you’ll need depends on your philosophy  of life. Will you meld with the bees or seek to dominate them?” 

I waited for the laugh to follow but Nooo…, she was completely serious. “Bee societies are like ours; they have their own rules, limitations, enemies,  diseases and social structures. They can get along quiet well without us but if you want to  make an artificial colony in a bee box you have to devise a strategy to encourage then to  do your bidding without moving them too far from what they would do all by themselves,  otherwise they will get sick and die, or swarm and fly away.” 

“That makes sense.” 

“There are two ways to do that; you have to decide if you’re the carrot or the  stick. There’s your organic beekeeper. He’s the type to take an herbal remedy rather than run to the doctor. True organic would be no treatment whatsoever. Some say this can’t be   

done but there are many people including me doing it. After that there are “soft”  treatments like essential oils and FGMO, and then slightly “harder” treatments like  Formic Acid and Oxalic acid for treating Varroa.  

“What’s Varroa?” 

Varroa destructor is an external parasitic mite that attacks and feeds on the  honey bee.” 

“Wait, you mean bees get sick?” 

“Of course, and parasitized just like humans are with fleas and ticks. That’s Varroa. It’ll kill your colony in a few days. 

“This is more complicated than I’d anticipated,” I said remorsefully. “Life’s tough bud. You buy a dog you pay the Vet fees, don’t you? You buy bees  there are no Vets. You’re the Vet.” 

“OK, that makes sense, I guess.” 

“Now there’s the other type of beekeeper, the stick, he’s the type who runs to the  doctor for antibiotics the second he gets a sniffle; the scientific approach. Some in this  group treat with chemicals for prevention. However, some argue that over-treating causes resistance to the chemicals and does little to help the hive and often hurts them. Chemical  buildup in the wax from Cumaphos and Fluvalinate can also cause high supersedure rates and are known to be the cause of infertility in drones and queens. 

“Supersedure?’ 

“It’s the replacement of an old or inferior queen bee by a young or superior queen.  “Lovely! The word,” I added hastily, “Not the regicide! That’s horrible.”  

“That’s the life of a hive, Queen bees are expendable. Its natural and you  anthropomorphizing it into regicide doesn’t really help you to be a good beekeeper,” she  added stoically. 

I almost collapsed in ecstasy at the sound of anthropomorphizing; 

an·thro·po·mor·phize the verb; the gerund anthropomorphizing; to attribute human  characteristics or behavior to a god, an animal, or an object. I looked at Lenore and felt  queasy and hot. Maybe I was falling in love. I noticed Lenore looking at me with that wry  smile of hers again and realized I’d been mouthing each syllable of her glorious word to  myself. 

“But more importantly are you up to the task? And if so, what bee keeping road  do you wish to walk down,” she said. 

“Well, I guess the carrot one, I suppose. The bees set the highway, right? We just walk on it.” 

“Absolutely, I think you’re finally onto it, my friend,” she said reaching out to my  arm and pulling me across the room and through a curtain into the dark recesses of a  storage room and then out onto the roof of the old factory where a dozen bee boxes lined  the edge of the roof. 

Bees came in from all directions and crawled into the recesses of each box as  Lenore pulled on a wide brimmed netted bee hat and a pair of elbow length gloves. She  told me to stand back and lifted a rack filled with cells and busy bees, which she sprayed  with a smoke gun to slow them down. 

Pointing at a large bee in the center surrounded by squirming attendants she said,  “We offer several lines of Queens: Pol-Line, Carniolan, Minnesota, Caucasian and  

Italian. We raise them to be mite resistance, paralleled with high brood and honey  production. 

“How do you make Queens if there’s only one to a hive?” 

“Good question. We remove Queens from trainer hives and the workers create  another one. Queen bees are the reason a colony works towards rearing the brood, storing  honey, and being productive. So, when bee colonies lose their queen, they lose sight of  their work. The colony goes into a frenzy, unsure of what to do.  

“One hive can produce 60 pounds of honey in a season. And bees fly about  55,000 miles to make just one pound of honey, that’s 2.2 times around the world.” “Wow, that’s interesting. I never thought about the spatial mechanics of being a  bee.” 

“OK, I think you’ve shown enough passion to be a beekeeper,” she said. “So, I’m  going to sell you an Italian Queen.” 

There it was, I thought! The enigmatic epithet applied to Lenore by the strange doorman on my passage into the domain of the bee.” 

“Why an Italian Queen?” I asked. 

Apis mellifera, subspecies ligustica, is the Italian bee which is a subspecies of  the western honey bee. Its originally from Liguria in northwestern Italy. Italian honey  bees have been a favorite among beekeepers since they were first introduced to America  in the 1850’s. It’s gentle and easy to work with, readily builds combs, keeps their hives  clean and hygienic.” 

“They sound like the ideal housewife,” I said and immediately regretted my faux  pas as Lenore looked at me like I was a sexist pig (BTW the porker phrase is a good two way clue in a crossword puzzle).  

Ignoring my glib sexism, she continued, “Italian honey bees also have less  tendency to swarm and fly away. They’re wonderful foragers, excellent honey producers,  and are highly valued as pollinators for fruit and vegetable gardens.” “Oh, I have a garden,” I cried. 

“That’s nice!” she said but her frostiness underscored my diminishment in her  eyes as a potential apiarist. “Our Italian Queens come in a screened cage with attendants and are mark so they don’t go missing into someone else’s hive.” 

“You mean you brand them like cattle.?” 

“No, nothing so invasive! Just a mark on the thorax with your own code.” “Oh, you mean a word of my own designation?” 

“Well, it’s usually a symbol but yes, a word would do. But it’s got to be small to  get onto the one centimeter back of the Queen.” 

“Oh!” 

“Yes, a small word, possibly an abbreviation. But something distinct that lets  other beekeepers know that this Queen is yours and yours alone.” 

“What a challenge,” I said. “A unique, one syllable word, emblematic of my  Queen.” 

“Think of it as a cruciverbalist challenge,” Lenore said playfully as she placed the  rack back into the box and removed her netted headpiece.

“Yes, a challenge, that’s good. But what word could be so small it could fit on the  back of a bee. It’s like angels on the head of a pin. This might be beyond even my  linguistic abilities.” 

“How about a simple one syllable word like bee in another language, like  French,” she said. 

“Not surprisingly that won’t work, as with most words in French, they’re longer  than their English cousins, bee is abeille.” 

“I’ve an idea she said, what about a diphthong?” 

I’m astonished you know about diphthongs,” I said looking at Lenore and thinking of her as my Italian Queen with new respect and surprise. 

‘What do you think, the dumb broad can only cut plants and raises bees? I went to  college. A diphthong, if I remember correctly is a sound made up of two separate vowel  sounds within one syllable.” 

“That’s right, the word comes from the Greek meaning “having two sounds. Look  at the word “sound” with only one syllable but two vowel sounds that run together; you  have the “ow” sound for the “o” and the “ohh” sound from the “u.” You put them together and voila, you’ve got a blend. What a wonderful idea. Ahh, but which  diphthong, there are five you know.” 

“Nope, that I did not know,” Lenore said pulling back a wisp of hair from her face  that had become disheveled under the hood. 

Suddenly, a sharp burning sensation snapped like a pinprick into the soft flesh  beside my thumb. I looked down and saw a worker bee, its body flexed in a defensive  arch, its stinger pushing venom into my hand. I cursed and swept the bee aside and shook 

my arm, hopping about and down while making sad mewling sounds, which did nothing  to quell the slowly building and agonizing pain. 

Lenore swiftly jumped to my side and pulled my hand to her lips and began to  suck the soft flesh at the delta between my thumb and index finger. Strange sensations  curled through my hand and arm then swept up into my head, as the soft sucking slowly  dissolved the fire of the bee’s venom. Paralyzed, I stood there and watched as Lenore  massaged my wrist and my palm, her fingers whispering a steady rhythm that reduced the pain and evened my breathing. 

Finally looking up, she released her mouth, smiled and said, “How about the  diphthong “ai” like in air! That’s where the bee makes her living, right?” “You can’t err with air,” I said, as a Mona Lisa smile crept across her lips.