There once was an old book illustrator who lived in a moss-covered cottage on the east coast of Ireland. One warm June morning, he awoke to find a brown paper parcel outside the front door He picked it up and held it to his ear. It was buzzing, as if it contained a dozen mobile phones all ringing at once. Carefully he unwrapped the parcel, lifted the lid of a decorative gift box and discovered it wasn’t phones, it was bees: several neat rows of curiously round, wingless bees. They smelled lovely, delicious even.
He examined the box more closely. There was a card inside. It read, ’Happy Birthday! Enjoy the chocolate! Your friends at Little Brown’.
Of course – they were chocolate bees! It was a gift from his publishers. The artist was very late delivering his new book. They knew he had a particular weakness for chocolate and they hoped the chocolate bees might inspire him to get his brushes moving faster.
Ah well, he thought to himself, it was unlikely to get him out of his slump, but why not try one? Chocolate was the answer to so many questions after all. It was as he reached for one of the bees that he noticed one of them was missing.
“Conas atá tú?”
The artist jumped. One of the chocolate bees was on his nose, talking to him in Irish!
“Tá mé go maith,” replied the startled artist. “I’m fine, thank you, and you?”
“Well, we’d like to ask you a favour,” said the bee, getting straight to the point. The bee explained to the artist how frustrating it was for bees to be kept prisoners in the dark, with spring upon them, the sun shining, the flowers blooming, and the first tender green leaves filling the trees. Yes, they knew full well they were just chocolate bees, born to be eaten instead of makers of honey, but they were bees just the same. They wanted to experience what it’s like to be real bees, if only briefly.
“As you can see, my friends and I have no wings,” the bee explained. “We cannot float lightly from blossom to blossom gathering sweet nectar like other bees do. Please sir, can you help us? Life is so short. We just want to see something more of the world before it is all over.”
The bee’s speech moved the artist, and despite being hungry, he took pity on them. “Come with me,” he said, after some thought. He placed the bee gently in the palm of one hand and the box with the rest of the bees in the other. “Let’s go for a walk.”
First he carried the bees outside his cottage and showed them the heather in his window box.
Then he took them into the village and let them smell the tender lettuce leaves at the neighbourhood vegetable market.
Next he strolled with the chocolate bees to a local garden and took them for a tour, showing the bees all his favourite spots.
He showed them his favourite flowers.
He showed them Azalea alley.
He showed them the chuckling stream.
He even introduced them to the locals.
The chocolate bees loved everything. They got so excited the artist almost lost track of them among the colourful flowers. (They could move surprisingly fast considering they had no wings or feet.)
“It’s so much more beautiful than we ever imagined,” cried the chocolate bees.
In a shady corner of the garden, they spotted a row of little upright stones with lettering on them. “What is this place?” one bee asked.
“This is a pet cemetery,” the artist said. He explained how people thought this garden was the perfect spot for their dogs and cats to be after they died.
“I wish we could stay here forever,” sighed another chocolate bee.
A lovely meadow nearby had a sign at the entrance.
“What does this say?” the bees asked. The artist raised an eyebrow. One small bee explained, “No one ever bothers to teach chocolate bees to read. They say it’s not worth it – we don’t live long enough.”
The artist paused before speaking, watching the bees all wriggling with excitement and wonder. “The sign says, ‘Special Bee Garden. Welcome all chocolate bees! Welcome home!’”
“Does it really?” said the bees, who were now buzzing ecstatically, positively humming in the sparkling sunlight. The old artist sat down. The stream was chuckling in the background, the air warm, humid, and heavy with intoxicating perfume from a thousand blossoms. The world was all vibrant colour, all warm light.
The artist didn’t say another word. For the rest of the afternoon he just sat contentedly with the bees, in that beautiful place, in that wonderful, beguiling sunshine, and let them soften slowly, blending into the garden around them, until they were no longer individual bees, but a single swirl of silky liquid chocolate.
The artist licked his fingers, smiled, got slowly to his feet, and went back to work.
Thanks to Megan and everyone at Little, Brown Children’s Books, and all the chocolate bees that gave their lives for this story…
Michael has form with small chocolate creatures who arrive in the post…check out his Mouse Tour Of Greystones