Just A Few Bees
"Leave them alone, honey. They can sting you."
"But what's wrong with them, Mommy?"
I sighed and turned to look. Several bees wandered over the porch railing while Amy stared, open-mouthed. Every now and then, they staggered, and they were clearly disoriented. As I watched, one of them fell over and lay still. "I don't know, honey, but don't get too close. They're probably sick."
Of course I didn't expect it was anything she could catch, but it never hurts to be careful. We did have health insurance, at least, but she couldn't go to day care sick. No day care meant no work unless I could round up a baby sitter. I noticed one or two bees making slow, erratic loops in the air, and hustled Amy inside. Over dinner that night, all she could think or talk about was the sick bees. I put her to bed and hoped she'd have forgotten them by morning.
I slipped onto the porch before she was awake and swept up all the tiny bodies. I was careful not to touch them, and I threw the brush I used into the trash, and washed the dustpan with bleach. Again, I knew I was being silly, but it never hurts to be careful. Two evenings later, while I was getting dinner, Amy let out a squeal and pointed to the television.
"See, Mommy, sick bees like ours!"
I glanced over sharply and turned up the sound until I could hear the news over the sound of everything I was trying to do at once.
"....reports from other states as well. What is alarming some scientists is the fact the abandoned hives are left alone by surviving bees and other insects. This behaviour is unusual, and suggests they are able to detect a problem scientists have yet to identify. The real concern, of course, is for the many crops which rely on these bees for pollination...."
"Mommy, what's pollynation?"
"Poll-i-nation, honey." Trying to explain to Amy, I lost the thread of the news report.
The next day, when we'd all gone across the street to Lucy's Lunch, I heard bees mentioned again. I only caught a fragment of the conversation.
"....all because of this problem with the honeybees." The speaker was a woman I knew slightly who worked in the loan department.
I shifted my chair slightly and called out to her. "What about bees? Amy and I found some sick ones the other day."
"There are a lot of them, lately. That's the problem. Whole hives have been wiped out. No one's sure yet how many farmers will be able to get their crops pollinated. So we got instructions, today, to report any late payments on farm mortgages to Mr. Gormley right away."
"Well, a lot of agriculture depends on honeybees for pollination. Some beekeepers bring their hives hundreds of miles, just to service the crops. They're paid well for it, too. It brings in more income than sales of honey."
"I suppose there's nothing we can do about it, anyway. I just hope food prices won't go up too much."
I had a daughter to take care of on my teller's salary, and I always worried about prices going up. It was bad enough with the gas prices where they were, and food cost more because of the shipping, but now if this meant there was less food to sell, well, I really worried for a few weeks. But prices didn't seem to change, so after a while I forgot about it. Amy did, too, and stopped talking about 'sick bees' all the time.
Later in the season, some of the prices did go up all of a sudden, and some kinds of produce became very hard to find. Cantaloupes tripled in price, and there weren't as many apples as there usually are in the fall. I thought of the bees, then, and suspected that must be the problem, but I didn't give it much thought. Things were working out, after all. Well, they seemed to be, anyway. People got used to the changes, and the idea of bees dying off, so we didn't pay too much attention.
I did watch one show that explained the problem was probably not one thing, but an overload of stresses from poisons, poor quality food, constant travel, and all the other tiny things that affect bees' lives. No one could find any one cause, at least, so they couldn't find a nice, simple solution. Bees just went on dying; not as many as at first, but there weren't as many to begin with. Farmers stopped planting crops they knew might never have a chance to ripen. A few small farmers tried changing the way they did things, so wild insects could pollinate their crops, but that just couldn't be done quickly on a big scale.
The past few years, certain kinds of produce have become terribly difficult or even impossible to find, and much of what you do find is priced as a luxury for the well off. I still splurged on occasion, for the strawberries Amy loves, or for watermelon once or twice a summer, but we got pretty sick of corn. Amy was young enough I don't think the change was too hard on her. One way or another, we all adjusted, and never really thought about what might happen next.
Until yesterday. The news broke that a genetic modification had gone wild and affected more than three quarters of the current corn crop. The problem was, this particular modification produced a protien that was beginning to trigger severe allergic reactions in nearly everyone. That news, along with all the earlier agricultural losses, and the rest of the losses down the line to the businesses that depended on that agriculture, hammered the stock market.
Today, when I showed up to work at the bank, they told me it was closed indefinitely. The federal government is supposed to place it in receivership, of course, but with nearly every bank in the country ruined, no one knows when they'll be able to get to them all. The Internet spreads news quickly, so as soon as a few folks figured out credit cards were no good any more, word got around and nearly everyone stopped taking them.
Most people won't take anything but cash, and a few people are already wondering aloud how long that will last if the government can't find a way to handle all this. I don't know what's going to happen next, but it's obvious the world will never be the same. I'm writing this down, now, sitting at home hoping they'll be able to get the bank open again soon. Amy might find it interesting, someday, to read about all the trouble a few sick bees could cause.
This morning, I woke up and found out the power was out, and the phone lines and the Internet, too. No one seems to have any money to keep anything running, and too much is happening too fast for anyone to keep up with it. Other countries are in at least as much trouble as we're in here, and the news says there were riots in Tokyo last night. Whole blocks of the city are burning now.
I can still get a few radio stations, as long as my batteries hold out. I don't know how I'm going to cook, though, without power. I think I'd better take Amy out and see if we can find anything to scavenge. The last night the Internet was up, I read that was what they did in the Depression. I probably won't be able to keep this up every day, but I want to have something to remind Amy of what we lived through. Maybe one day we'll even be able to laugh about it.
The last few days have been really crazy. Things are falling apart in all the big cities, and people are leaving them and taking whatever they can get. I hope I can keep Amy safe somehow. I know one girl who's already gone to see if she can convince a survivalist guy she knows to take her in. She thinks the gangs are getting worse. Maybe, for Amy's sake, I'd better think about that, too. I wonder what kind of world Amy will have to grow....