Honeybud by Melissa Ragsly

Sandy walks down the curved stairs that Luther designed to mimic the shape of a woman’s hip, while I pad around the landing to find a good perch. I try to stay silent, but I can’t stop humming the music coming from the surround sound system downstairs. I wish the cold wood was carpeted.

In the future, you’ll get to go to the parties, Sandy says.

But the future always ends in death, I say. 

You are a dark child, Sandy says.

There’s a girl that stands by the record player who changes the album after each song. All the furniture has been moved aside to make a dance floor, and now it’s all bodies.

One of the guys on staff changed the lightbulbs so the room looks washed in red. I watch the top of people’s heads as they dance. I count the bald spots. My father and Luther are the only two men that don’t have them because my father prescribes drops to massage into their scalps. Now, their hair grows thick and dark just like those sprouts that pop out of their unbuttoned collars.

In between songs, Luther makes the same bad joke he always does about all the girls being synced up. Everyone laughs and wipes their drippy noses. Sandy has put on her roller skates that match her shiny teal pants, so tight they’re alien skin. She’s going to lead the parade outside on the tennis courts later after everyone is good and drunk and has taken a pill from Luther’s candy bowl.

I watch the party not because I want to wear tight pants or dance to disco or look syrupy in the amber light. And I don’t want to keep tabs on my father even though my mother asks me to. All I want in this whole world is a piece of cake. There’s one downstairs big enough you’d think one of the girls is hiding inside.

Geri comes up behind me. I didn’t hear her spiked silver heels that make her as tall as Luther. She says, Caught ya, and tickles my sides.

Stop, that makes me pee.

Geri has a test next week at the Honeybud Club down on Fairfax. She’s been practicing the drink-serving dip they make you do while she wears the costume, a honey bee with downy fur that feels rougher than it looks. Luther can touch her, and because he’s their doctor, my father can touch her. Any girl can touch another girl, but absolutely no customers can ever lay their hands on a Honeybud. That’s what the rule book says, but Geri and Sandy told me that sometimes restrictions have winks attached.

Geri asks if I’ll come to her room to clip her costume’s wobbly antennae in her hair. In Geri’s closet there’s a small, locked door that I pretend is where all the old Honeybud Bees are stashed when Luther is done with them.

We come with an expiration date, Geri says.

At the light-bulb mirror, she sits all honey perfect with her full costume living on her like skin. I ask her why Luther chose bees, a matriarchy of sorts. A queen in charge, just like in England. 

Didn’t you ever learn how a queen bee dies? she asks.

I should know. Sandy says I’m a dark child.

She shapes her body and rolls her neck to admire her reflection from all angles. She tells me how when a queen ages and lays fewer eggs, the workers—all female themselves—gather around and smother her until she overheats and dies. Then a younger queen can take over. I tell her maybe the door in her closet is not for the old Honeybuds, but rather a place to stash the young up-and-coming bees, the more dangerous variety.

Maybe you’re right, Geri says. That’s where I’m gonna put you.

She tickles me again, and I beg her to bring me up a piece of cake.

I make sure all her bobby pins are tight, and I spray Aqua Net, misting the back of her head where she can’t reach. Her Honeybud antennae shimmy with her slow deliberate steps. When she opens the door to the hall, a syncopated beat fills the room, and Geri tells me she’ll let me eat all the cake I want to fatten me up while I’m languishing in her little bee closet surrounded by the dried up carcasses of the ones that came before me, legs stiff and up in the air.

She heads down to join the other girls, and the bald drones clamor around them. Someone left me a slice of cake in my room. My heart buzzes and flares, leaping out of my chest. It might have been my dad who left it, or maybe Sandy, but I think it’s Luther. He always has an eye on me.

I lick black and yellow buttercream off the cake and think that the shape of a woman is not an hourglass. It’s a fork covered in frosting.

MELISSA RAGSLY — Melissa’s collection We Know This Will All Disappear was published by Pank in 2020 Her stories have appeared in Best American Nonrequired Reading, The Iowa Review, Joyland and other journals. She’s currently working on a book for Barrelhouse about MTV’s 120 Minutes, writing TV pilots and working at an independent bookstore in the Hudson Valley where she lives. 

Art by KEN HILTON — Ken is a photographer, digital artist, and music producer in Los Angeles, CA.  With almost a decade of experience in the e-commerce world working with musicians, DJs, and brands, Ken has started his own design company in 2021 called “IKendoit.Studio“, which pushes the boundaries of where creative mediums crossover.  Currently he is running multiple brands under the IKendoit.Shop umbrella called ‘House’ and ‘Vision’ where he channels his creativity through high quality apparel production and design, while keeping a separate ethos for each sub-brand.