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Marco Denevi

Marco Denevi was born in Saenz Pena, Argentina 12 May 1922 and died in Buenos Aires 12 December 1998.  He was both a writer and political journalist.  His first successful novel was “Rosaura a las diez” (Rosaura at ten o’clock), which won the Kraft award.  It became a best seller and was translated into several languages as well as being made into a movie.

Marco stayed in Buenos Aires and wrote his novels and short stories there; among them “The Bronze Bees”, which has become one of his more popular short stories. It is a satire on greed and what happens when nature is interfered with, as well as a marvellous  piece of fantasy, widely used by teachers of Spanish in both high school and university. Typical of Latin American writers, he uses a very literary language, which is challenging to translate into English, without loosing some of the intrinsic flavours of the original Spanish words.

 

Las Abejas de Bronze

 (The Bronze Bees)

By Marco Denevi (Argentina, 1922- 1998)

 Since the beginning of time, the fox had lived by selling honey. It was, apart from
being a family tradition, a kind of inheritance. On the one hand, nobody had
the fox’s knack of handling the Bees (when the bees were live insects and very
aggressive) and make them perform at their best. On the other hand the Fox
understood the bear, a great consumer of honey, and thus his best
customer.

It wasn’t easy to get along with the Bear. The Bear was a bit brutal, a little wild, but if life in the outdoors maintained it in good health, it would refrain from its rough ways that not everyone was willing to tolerate.

Even the fox, despite his practice, had to undergo some unpleasant experiences in this regard. Once, for example, (I don’t know what trivial matter caused it), the bear destroyed the scale, used to weigh the honey, with his claws. The Fox didn’t flinch and never lost his smile. (He will be buried with a smile on, his uncle, the tiger, disdainfully said of him.) But I pointed out to bear, that according to the law, he was obliged to compensate me for the loss.

“Naturally,” laughed the bear, I will compensate you.  You just wait, I’ll break my neck running to pay you back for the damage.”

He laughed loudly and beat his thigh with his paw.

“Yes,” said the Fox in a calm voice, “yes, I recommend you to hurry, because the bees are impatient.”Look, sir!” he said, making a theatrical gesture, a studied gesture, toward the hives. The Bear noticed and instantly stopped laughing, because he saw thousands of bees had abandoned hives, with his face red with anger, frowning and mouth clenched, he looked at him from head to foot and seemed ready to attack.

“They do not wait for a sign from me, added the Fox, sweetly. You know, they hate disrespect.

The Bear, which in spite of his strength was a braggart, turned pale with fear

“It’s all right Fox, he babbled, I will restore the scales.” But please, tell
them not look at me that way; order them to return to their hives.

“Listen sweet little ones”, said the Fox gently to the Bees, “Mister Bear has
promised to bring us another scale.”

The Bees buzzed in unison. The Fox listened to them with a respectful expression. All the while he was agreeing with the queen bee he was murmuring:

“Yes, yes, agree. Ah, it is understood. Who doubts it? I will tell him.”

The bear was going out of his good skin.

What are they saying, fox? You are keeping me in suspense!

The fox fixed his eyes on him.

They say that the scales must be brand new.

Yes, of course they will be brand new. Now, what kind of finish do you want on them?

Nickel-plated.

In agreement, nickel-plated.

Foreign manufacture.

Also that.

Preferably Switzerland.

Ah, no, it is too much.

You are extorting me.

“Can you repeat that a little louder, Mr. Bear? they haven’t heard you!”

“I said I support that!”…

“It’s OK, it’s OK. I will try to like them. But once and for all, tell them to return to their honeycombs.  So many bees’ heads all  looking at me,  makes me nervous.”

The fox made a rare gesture, like an illusionist, and the bees, after throwing the bear a last warning look, disappeared inside the beehives. The bear moved away, ever so gloomy and with the vague sensation that the bees had cheated him. But on the following day he reappeared, bringing in his arms a brand new nickel-plated set of scales, with a little bronze plate that read: “Made in Switzerland.”

As I have said: the fox knew how to handle the bees and could handle the bear; but who didn’t, that foxiest of all foxes, know how to boss around?

That was until one day they invented artificial bees.

Yes!  Insects made of bronze, directed electronically, by remote control (as it said  in the illustrated brochures); they could do the same work as the living bees; but with enormous advantages. They would not get tired, would not get lost, would not stay caught in the spider webs, and not devoured by birds; they did not feed on honey, like the natural Bees (honey, that in the accounting and in the soul of the fox, appeared with big red numbers); between them, there were no queens, no drones.  They were all equal, all workers, docile and obedient, strong and active, with unlimited life.  In any sense, they appeared to him to be infinitely superior to live bees.

The fox immediately saw the business potential, and did not hesitate. He killed all his swarms, demolished the hives of wax, and with his savings bought a thousand bronze bees  and its corresponding hives, also of bronze, ordered  installation of the control board, learned how to handle it, and one morning the animals watched, stunned, how the bronze bees flew in the air for the first time.

The Fox was not wrong. Without even getting up from his seat, he moved a lever, and a cloud of bees went roaring toward the North, moving another lever, and another group of bees barreled toward the South, a new movement of the lever, and a third swarm flew in the direction East, et sic de ceteris(1).The bronze insects were soon flying at speeds never seen, with a sort of buffered buzz that sounded like the echo of another buzz; they cascaded like an arrow to the flower cups, quickly sucking up the nectar, returned to flight, went back to the hive, deposited the nectar it carried in its pocket, did a few quick contortions, and some small, dry noises. , tric, trac, cruc (1), and within a few moments they had created honey, pure, clean, golden, uncontaminated, aseptic honey; and were able to resume again. No distraction, no fatigue, no fad, no anger, for twenty-four hours a day. The fox was beside himself with joy.

The first time the bear tried the new honey, he rolled his eyes, smacked his tongue and not daring to express an opinion, he asked his wife:

-Have a go, what do you think?

-“I don’t know, she said, I get a metal taste from it.”

-“Yes, I think so too.”

But the children protested in unison:

“Dad, Mom, what nonsense. The taste proves that this honey is very superior. Superior in every way. How can you prefer the other, made by a few dirty bugs? On the other hand it is cleaner, more hygienic, and more modern; in short, better honey.”

The bear and his wife did not find reasons to refute their children and remained silent. But when they were alone they insisted:

-Say what you want,  I still prefer the old type. It had a flavor…

-Yes, me too. We can agree that without doubt it comes pasteurized. But that flavor…

Ah, the flavor!

They didn’t dare to tell anyone, because, basically, they felt proud to serve in an establishment where this eighth wonder of the world, the bronze bees, was operating.

If one really thinks about it, the bronze bees were invented exclusively for us… – said the  bear’s wife. The bear didn’t comment and appeared to be indifferent, but inside he was proud as his wife.

So no-one in the world would stop to buy and eat the honey distilled by artificial bees, and even less when they realized other animals also flocked to fox’s shop to buy honey; not because they liked the honey, but because of the bronze bees and to brag about being modern.

And, with all this, the Fox’s profits grew like wildfire in the forest. He had to hire an assistant to help him and after much thinking, chose a Raven; above all because it assured him that it abhorred the honey. Soon the thousand bees were five thousand; and the five thousand, ten thousand. They began to consider the fox’s wealth a fabulous fortune. The Fox smiled and rubbed his hands with delight.

And meanwhile the swarms came, and went. Animals could barely se or follow the bursts of golden points crossing over their heads. The only ones who didn’t admire them were the
ignorant spiders, who complained loudly that the bronze bees went straight through their cobwebs and tore them to pieces.

What is this? The end of the world? – Those affected the first time squawked, but when someone explained to them what is was, they threatened to sue the fox for damages.

What stupidity! Said the bear’s wife.

-It is the eternal struggle between light and shadow, between good and evil, between civilization and barbarism.

The birds were also a surprised, because one of them, when first it saw a bronze bee, opened its beak and swallowed it. Poor devil!

The metal bee tore its vocal cords, and embedded itself in the body, where it he formed a tumor,  as a result of which it died shortly after, in the midst of the cruelest suffering and without the consolation of singing because the other birds had flown away, having learned a lesson.

After the fox had relished its prosperity for a time, some problems began to appear. First it was just a little cloud, then another little cloud, until the entire sky looked like a threatening storm. The chain of disasters began with the event of the goose’s peonies. One afternoon, while emptying a hive, the Fox discovered some small flecks of grey in the golden honey, opaque and repugnant. He tasted it on the tip of his finger and found it to have a noxious odor and bitter taste. He had to pull all the remaining honey that was contaminated. It was the goose’s peonies that changed the storm to  a hurricane.

-“Fox -he whistled, do you remember those artificial peonies that adorned the porch  of my house in memory of my deceased husband? Do you remember them? Well: look what your bees have done to my peonies”. (3)

He raised a hand. The Fox looked, saw the mess, understood, and as a good merchant, didn’t beat around in the bush.

How much? He asked.

Twenty pesos, said the goose

—Fifteen.

—Twenty-four.

—Sixteen.

—Twenty-eight.

-Are you crazy? If you think that this is the stock market…

I do not think that it is the stock market. But I do charge interests.

-Hold it! Take your twenty pesos.

-Thirty-two.

Okay, stop it, I’ll pay.

When the goose had counted its money and gone, the Fox let go of all his frustrations. He walked through the store, kicked the ground, and struck the walls with its fist, screaming between his teeth.

The first time- the first time that someone charges me money. And look at this idiot goose. Thirty-two pesos for a few artificial peonies, which are not worth more than forty. And all because of the bronze bees- be damned. They make mistakes because of their lack of instinct. They have confused artificial flowers with fresh flowers. The others would never make such a mistake. But who thinks of the others. Well, not everything is perfect in this life.

Another day, a bee, entering the crown of a lily, cut the throat of a hummingbird that was feeding there. The blood of the bird dyed the lily red; but as the bee was insensitive to smells and tastes, reacting only to electrical impulses, it mixed the nectar and blood together. The honey thus turned pink, which alarmed the fox. Fortunately his employee took the worry off his shoulders.

If I were you, chief, he said with his little voice, hoarse and with the air of a spinster- I, would sell it as a special children’s honey.

And if it turns out to be poisonous?

If such was the unfortunate scenario, I would be dead, chief.

Ah, so you have tasted it. So you, my junior, are robbing me of honey.  And did you not tell me that you abhorred it?

One sacrifices himself and look how you pay me back – muttered the Raven, putting on a face of outraged dignity-. I loathe it; I abhorred it all my life. But I wanted to test it to see if it was poisonous. I ran the risk for you. Now, if you think that I have acted badly, fire me, chief.

What was it they wanted but to make the fox follow the advice of the Raven? It was a great success, this special pink kid’s honey. He sold it entirely, and no one complained. (The only one who could complain was the pig, because of certain poetic whims which in those days inflicted their children). (But no pig in its right mind is capable of relating this strange madness to produce verses, to a bottle of honey, colored by the blood of a hummingbird).

The fox felt safe. Poor fox, he ignored that his troubles would be the same for his bees.

A few days later, he noticed that the insects took more and more time to return to the hive.

One night, locked in the store, he and the Raven began to ponder this new enigma.

Why are they so late? Said the fox-. Where do those devils go? Yesterday a swarm took five hours to return. The daily production, thus, reduces, and electricity costs increase. Furthermore, this pink honey is still stuck in my throat. Every moment I wonder: what will appear today? Green honey? Black honey? Blue honey? Salt honey?

Accidents such as the with the peonies have not been repeated, chief. As for the rose honey, I don’t think you have anything to complain about.

-I agree. But what about the mystery of the delays? What can the explanation be?

Nothing.  Except —

Except what?

The Raven, looking serious, crossed its legs, joined hands and looked up.

“Chief” he said, after reflecting a few moments-. “To go and watch the bees is not easy.
They fly too fast. No one or almost no one can follow them. But I know a bird that, if you grease his palm, would deal with the case. And I give you my word that he would not return without having learned the truth.”

And who is this bird?

Yours truly.

The fox opened his mouth to cover his insults to the Raven, but then thought the better of it and chose to accept the offer, since any remedy was preferable to staying with their arms crossed,contemplating the progressive and relentless decline in earnings.

The Raven returned very late, gasping as if it had flown all the way from China. (The fox suspected that this was all a farce and that perhaps his employee knew the truth from the first day). The expression on his face did not portend anything good.

Boss – he stammered-, I don’t know how to say this, but the bees are late, and will be so more and more, because there are no flowers in the region and they must go to feed abroad.

What do you mean; there are no flowers in the region. What foolishness is that?

“Listen chief! It seems that the flowers, after that the bees have sucked their nectar, bend,
weaken and die

“And why are they dying?”

-“They can’t tolerate`the bees’ metal tube.”

-“Devils!”

– “And it doesn’t end there. The plant, after that the bees have assassinated the flowers, die.”

“Assassinate! I forbid you to use that word.”

Let alone killed. The plant, after that the bees have killed the flowers, they won’t flower again. Consequence: there are no more flowers in the whole region. What do you say, chief?

The fox didn’t say anything. Nothing. It was stupefied.

And the worst thing is that the Raven was not lying. The artificial bees had devastated the flowers in the country. Then they went to neighboring countries, then to the closest, then to
the less close, later to the remote and distant, and thus, from country to country, then all the world and then returned to the starting point.

That day the birds were overwhelmed by a strange grief and no one knew why. Some inexplicably, committed suicide. The Nightingale had stopped singing and the colors of the Robin paled. It is said that, for example, the rivers stopped running and the springs no longer babbled. I do not know. All I know is that, when the bronze bees went from country to country, they turned the whole world upside-down; there were no flowers in the world, there were no flowers in the field, in the cities nor in the forests.

The bees returned from their travels, they nested in their combs, they writhed, did tric, trac, cruc(2), but the fox didn’t collect a single, miserable drop of honey. The bees returned as empty as they had left.

The fox was desperate. His business collapsed. It prevailed a while thanks to his reserves, but even these were exhausted. He should bid farewell to the Raven and close the store, losing all his customers.

The only one that didn’t give up was the bear.

“Fox! – vociferous-, either I get honey or I’ll  beat your brains out.”

Wait. Day after tomorrow I have some coming from abroad – the fox promised .But the supply never came.

He made a few attempts at rewarding them. He sent swarms in different directions. All useless. He said the tric, trac, cruc (2), all in mockery, but no honey.

Finally, one night the fox disconnected all the cables, destroyed the control board, buried the bronze bees in a pit, picked up his money and, under the cover of darkness, fled in an unknown direction.

As he crossed the border he heard behind a few giggles and some old voices that called him.

-Fox! Fox!

That was the spiders, who in the light of the Moon wove their prehistoric webs.

Fox made an obscene grin and took off in great strides.

Since then, no one has ever seen it again.

Translated in April, 2011, by
Kenny Beechmount

(1) Latin – and the same for all the rest(2)

(2) Combination of syllables used to teach children pronunciation.

(3) Some versions of the story use roses, rather than peonies as the artificial
flower type.

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