Category Archives: A Cry of Bees

My Fifteen Minutes of Fame

The back cover of A Cry of Bees

The back cover of A Cry of Bees

When I was sixteen, I wrote a novel entitled A Cry of Bees, which was published, a year later, by no less a house than Viking Press.  I didn’t seek publication nor did I even consider it within the realm of possibility; my sole idea starting out had been to see how long a story I could manage to eke out. It was my father who, unbeknownst to me, sent the manuscript to his literary agent and Malcolm, in turn, who shopped it to Viking.

I’ve often wondered why Viking bit.  It was a good enough little bildungsroman, quirky and dark and possessed of a certain gawkish charm, but it broke no new ground and the talent it hinted at was, at best, nascent.   Perhaps they believed that the novelty of my youth would suffice to send it flying off the bookshelves; perhaps they thought that they were making an investment, as publishing houses did in those days, in a writer with a promising future. In both respects, it seems, they were mistaken.

Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox

The Atlanta Airport was decorated with illustrations from Uncle Remus’s Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox

When the novel came out, I was dispatched all over the Southeast to do readings and book signings — a heady experience for a seventeen year old. I remember landing in the Atlanta airport. At the time, it consisted of one large room decorated with illustrations from Uncle Remus’s Brer Rabbit Stories — not the Walt Disney ones, the original ones. It was 1970, after all, and Georgia.

All of the media regarding me . . . and there was a scrapbook full . . . focused on my youth and my looks. “She writes books and she’s pretty!” exclaimed one rapt journalist. Another remarked, “She has talent and a tiny waist.”   I can’t help but cringe when I re-read those articles – so unabashedly sexist – but I can’t pretend that I don’t feel the teensiest frisson of gratification as well. Forty six years have passed since then and much has changed. Today the Atlanta International Airport is the size of a small city. As for my waist, it disappeared from view several years ago, never, I fear, to be seen again.

The trouble with publishing a novel that young was that it set the bar very high – too high, as it turned out, for little me. It would be twenty one years until my next publication – a short story entitled Magical Thinking that appeared in the New Quarterly in 1991. And not for lack of trying. Oh, I wrote. And I wrote. I just could never attain what had once been given to me on a silver platter, what had seemed, at the time, so easy – publication.   I spent twenty plus years all washed up, a has-been, someone who had not lived up to her potential, a disappointment.

Thankfully, after a two decade long hiatus, I have been met, not with the overwhelming success I anticipated would be mine, but with a more modest success.   I’ve published three additional novels and two collections of short stories. My work has appeared in noted journals and magazines, it’s been anthologized, and, along the way, I have won a couple of significant awards.  Not bad.  Also far from stellar. There’s a reason I retain my day job.

The rabbit in the foreground had astraphobia.

The rabbit in the foreground had astraphobia.

The year A Cry of Bees was published, my father’s university department threw a little party for me and presented me with a sterling silver cup on which was engraved: Melissa Hardy. Congratulations on A Cry of Bees, 1970. I have it still, though the silver has become so tarnished  it’s hard to make out the words.  During the party, the Department Head, a sweet man named Wesley Wallace, seized my hand in both of his, squeezed it, and promised me, “The world is your oyster!”

He didn’t tell me that it would be my oyster for … oh, about fifteen minutes.  And that, after that, it would be somebody else’s.

Astraphobia!

The rabbit in the foreground had astraphobia.

“At the merest suggestion of thunder on the horizon . . . [Glorio] would dispatch himself to his corner and commence chomping on himself with unbelievable enthusiasm.” p. 4-5

 

When I was thirteen, I used to dog sit for my brother and sister-in-law’s terrier during thunder storms.   She was so frightened of thunder and lightning that she would chew on her own legs, with predictably ghoulish results. I always enjoyed these quasi-humanitarian missions; Camille had a copy of Mary Macarthy’s novel, The Group – naughty stuff, at least for a thirteen year old girl in 1965 — and I looked forward to picking up where I had left off reading during the last thunderstorm. As I lounged on their sofa, reveling in the dirty bits, Tara cowered on the couch beside me, quivering like a bowl full of jelly in a centrifuge, a victim of acute astraphobia, otherwise known as also known as astrapophobia, brontophobia, keraunophobia, or tonitrophobia, the abnormal fear of thunder and lightning. Indeed, I based the character of Glorio the Rabbit in my first novel on Tara.

Tara was not alone.

Fifteen to 30% of all dogs suffer from astraphobia. Among them was Buddy, our beloved golden retriever, whom thunder rendered witless. There was no going to bed for human beings during a storm until my husband had built Buddy a Thunder Tent – two chairs over which a blanket had been draped just so. Only then, in the safety of the Tent’s confines, would he settle, if uneasily. Otherwise he would pace without cease from my side of the bed to Ken’s, panting like an ancient set of creaking bellows and occasionally leaping onto the bed to loom over us, wild-eyed and drooling excessively, the way dogs do when they’re stressed. “Are you insane?” his posture seemed to convey. “The End of the World is upon us and you’re . . . what . . . sleeping?”

We thought we were astraphobia-free with Nellie, our second and current Golden Retriever — a bold girl if ever there was one. For the first four years of her life she seemed blissfully unfazed by anything but dishwashers. When our friends Oliver Whitehead and Mary Malone were looking after her, she caught her collar in their dishwasher’s fully loaded bottom tray, panicked and bolted down the long narrow hall leading from their kitchen to their front door, dragging the tray with her and leaving a wide swath of broken crockery in her wake. The sound alone must have been tremendous. Since then, she takes an exceedingly dim view of dishwashers, for which, Oliver and Mary, we are extremely grateful.   (Also, sorry for your loss.)

Thunder! Poppet and Nellie.

Thunder! Poppet and Nellie, beside themselves.

Lately, however, even the incautious Nellie has developed a fear of thunder that seems to increase exponentially with each storm that rolls in off of Lake Erie. Perhaps this is because Poppet, our father’s dog and our ward, has set her straight in all those hours that the two of them spend alone together, ostensibly sleeping and ignoring one another: “Be afraid! Be very afraid!” Poppet can smell lightning on the wind and hear the distant rumble of thunder long before any of the rest of us can. The minute that happens, it’s like an on and off switch: Poppet goes into lock down.    She bolts to our closet and hides out under Ken’s shirts, quaking. She will not eat. She will not drink. As for bodily functions, are you kidding? Her . . . go out? Out there? Out there, where all Hell is breaking loose?  At first I tried to manhandle her out of doors, to make her do her business. As it turned out, however, when it comes to thunder and lighting, fright trumps might. Poppet might weigh only seventeen pounds but, factor in thunder and lightning, and what you’ve got is seventeen pounds of highly motivated angst and all of it laser-focused on getting back inside as soon as canine-ly possible. “To resist is futile!” I would insist, but I could no more persuade Poppet to poop or pee than I could talk a salmon out of swimming upstream during spawning season. 

There have have been a lot of thunder storms this season, spectacular ones that light up the ravine like a horror film and make the bedrock on which our house is moored shudder. Storms that blow in over a Great Lake seem more apocalyptic than those that take place over land; they make a bigger show. The dogs’ fear serves as a reminder that it was not all that long ago that human beings and their wolf friends huddled together in caves and burrows and huts – ancient prototypes of the Thunder Tent – and wondered if this storm would be their last. Which is why man ultimately invented indoor plumbing: who in their right mind would risk Armageddon for a Last Pee?

And,, yes, I’ve heard of Thunder Shirts.

But no.

Tagged ,