Stanislav Kowalski replaced the cigarette between his lips, inhaling the smoke deeply. He held it in his lungs as long as he could, until dizzy from the nicotine, then exhaled slowly with pursed lips, forming smoke rings in the warm still air of the May evening. He didn’t know why he smoked, he just did. People said he should give up, but then what would he do when waiting on the used car lot, as he did now?
He looked down the road towards the edge of the woods, where an old water tower lurked high up in the trees. As always, when the light was fading he fancied it to resemble an alien creature, like the fearsome tripods in War of the Worlds, except this had four legs. Or the horrible tank-like creatures in Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes, with their octopus-like inhabitants, which would emerge to capture people with their sticky tendrils. Then back inside the ‘tanks’ with multiple victims neatly rolled up in the tentacles for God knows what horrific fate. He shuddered as he remembered reading how two of the ‘octopuses’ latched onto the same woman, tearing her in half.
He was awoken from his nightmare reverie by the hoot of a vehicle’s horn. He hadn’t even noticed the small silver car pull up. He went over and a woman wound down the window.
“Do you have any trucks or vans?” she asked, without greeting. She was plain, about forty, with thick-lensed glasses and brown hair fastened in a pony tail. She wore no make up.
“Well, yes, we do. We’ve a couple in right now, a Ford Transit, and a Toyota Hilux, that’s a pickup truck.”
She got out of the car and sized him up. About thirty, unshaven, needing a hair cut, and she recoiled from the stench of cigarette smoke. His face was quite handsome though, she noticed. “OK, let’s have a look.”
He dropped his cigarette, stubbing it out with his foot, then led her through rows of cars, carefully spaced to give the illusion of more stock than they actually had, to the two vehicles in question. “What did you want it for?” he asked, then noticed her surprised glare. “If you don’t mind me asking?”
“Well, actually, it’s for moving hives, bee hives.”
“Oh, do you need to move many?”
She looked him up and down. “Twelve.” She gazed around the car lot, then gestured across the road, to the view over the vale. A panorama of neat green and brown fields with Haw Hill, in the foreground. “They say that hill’s a natural formation. Looks artificial to me. Like a burial mound.”
“They found some gold coins there, about ten years ago, just below the summit.”
To his surprise, she smiled, suddenly looking ten years younger.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“It’s Stanislav. Er, people call me Stan.”
“Look, you probably don’t know, but hives are pretty heavy, I think the truck would be better.”
“Well, how often do you move them?” Ignoring his partner’s advice, he added, “I mean, it seems very expensive to buy a truck, when you could just rent one.”
Her eyes blinked rapidly several times behind the thick lenses. “Oh, not often, but I move them for other people too. Sometimes it’s to pollinate a special crop, other times it’s just to sell them. You have to move them three miles or more, or the little buggers’ll fly back to where their nest was. Like homing pigeons!” She laughed, a high-pitched, rippling sound. “That can cause problems!”’
He found himself smiling. “Back in Poland my uncle runs a bee-keeping museum. You know, hives, clothing, smokers, frames – that sort of thing. To be honest I was never really interested.”
She patted the side of the truck. “What can you do on the price?”
“Let’s go to the office, we can talk terms there,” said Stanislav. “What’s your name by the way?”
“It’s … Miss Dawson.” She started to follow him. “Bees are a lot more interesting than humans I always think.”
“They’re just insects that sting.”
She looked around at the vehicles. “Judging by your prices, you’ve got something in common then!”
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories
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