by Tracy Fells

Melissa was a melittologist, a bee scientist. She studied honeybees, Apis mellifera, to be precise. When her date asked, she confirmed that her name did indeed come from the Greek for honey. Sweets for my sweet, sugar for Melissa, her dad had always sang, balancing her on his broad shoulders as they went to inspect the hives.

‘In four years’ time we’ll be extinct,’ the guy told her, his mouth full of crisps. ‘Now the bees have gone. That’s what Einstein predicted.’

‘There is no substantiated evidence to support he ever said that,’ she said with a snap in her voice. The blind date was a friend of a friend, or rather a friend of a colleague, one of the technicians from Melissa’s lab, and she’d reluctantly agreed to ‘go for a drink.’ Pushing forty, single and childless (she preferred child-free), Melissa needed to get out more. Before it was too late. Not her words.

And he was wrong on so many levels that Melissa didn’t know where to begin. By the time she’d finished, he’d downed his pint and polished off the prawn cocktail crisps, which he hadn’t shared. When he left, Melissa relocated to the pub garden. Someone had trapped a common wasp, supping lazily on sticky dregs, with an upturned pint glass on the only free table, nestled close to a clump of lavender. The flower heads drooped in the dusk half-light. A summer ago this spot would have hummed with the industry of nectar-hungry bees. Now the flower beds were silent. The honeybees had gone. Wiped out by pesticides, Colony Collapse Disorder and other environmental pressures too numerous to list. Melissa would have liked to continue her lecture, on how there were other pollinators out there: insects, the wind, while in Asia, paid workers hand pollinated crops with brushes, and how mankind could learn to live without certain fruits and berries. Who really liked eating apples anyway?

Her dad had been a beekeeper all his life. When he died, Melissa chased out all the queens then burned the empty hives. In the years that followed, bee colonies and entire species began to disappear. Their absence was another sign that she deserved to be alone. But isn’t that what she wanted? To focus on her research. To find answers. She should return to the lab shortly, it wasn’t too late and then her evening wouldn’t be entirely wasted.

‘The trick to life is finding something to love,’ Dad had said as he carried her out to tell the bees. He shared everything with them, the good and bad news of daily life.

Love was his buzz word, but it hadn’t saved him, or Mum, nor his bees. Melissa’s word was different. More than hope, or faith, she had belief.

She watched as the trapped wasp tried and failed to climb the slippery slope, its feelers tapping out a futile message on the glass. The first bees had evolved from vegetarian wasps. Her team’s research could make that happen again: genetic resurrection of the honeybee. Sweets for my sweet, sang Melissa as she gently laid the beer glass onto its side.

Tracy Fells has won awards for both fiction and drama. Her short stories and flash fiction have been published in online and print journals including Granta, Brittle Star, The Nottingham Review, Spelk, Reflex Fiction, Firewords and Popshot. She was the 2017 Regional Winner (Canada and Europe) for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, and has been shortlisted for the Fish, Bridport, Brighton and Willesden Herald prizes. She tweets as @theliterarypig.