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Caroline Smailes was born in Newcastle in 1973. In 2005 a chance remark on a daytime chat show caused Caroline to reconsider her life. She enrolled on an MA in Creative Writing and began writing. Like Bees to Honey is Caroline’s third novel. Caroline lives in the North West of England with her husband and three children. She can be found at www. carolinesmailes.co.uk and twitter.com/Caroline_S

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Also by Caroline Smailes

Disraeli Avenue In Search of Adam Black Boxes

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Like Bees to Honey ~b침an-na침al lejn l-g침asel

Caroline Smailes

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The Friday Project An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers 77–85 Fulham Palace Road, Hammersmith, London W6 8JB www.thefridayproject.co.uk www.harpercollins.co.uk This edition published by The Friday Project 2010 1 Copyright © Caroline Smailes 2010 Caroline Smailes asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN 978-0-00-735636-2 Set in Book Antiqua by Wordsense Ltd, Edinburgh Printed and bound in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St Ives plc

FSC is a non-profit international organisation established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests. Products carrying the FSC label are independently certified to assure consumers that they come from forests that are managed to meet the social, economic and ecological needs of present and future generations. Find out more about HarperCollins and the environment at www.harpercollins.co.uk/green

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

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Remembering, always, my grandparents George Dixon and Helen Dixon (nĂŠe Cauchi).

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‘You sent for me sir?’ ‘Yes Clarence. A man down on Earth needs our help.’ ‘Splendid! Is he sick?’ ‘No. Worse. He’s discouraged. At exactly 10.45 p.m., Earth-time, that man will be thinking seriously of throwing away God’s greatest gift.’ ~It’s a Wonderful Life, 7 January 1947 (USA)

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Tnejn u g–hoxrin ~twenty-two

: Beaches

Malta’s top 5

ay rg cilities and di One of the la aters, good fa w r ea cl l spot for w lo with shal Bay is an idea ħa lie el M , ks twor transport ne n. small childre parents with

B land, . 2. Mellieħa es hes on the is t sandy beac rect

297

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Caroline Smailes

‘You have been chosen, dear Nina and with that blessing, you have sacrificed your only son. Take comfort from Our Lady, She knows of your loss,’ Flavia says, places her cold hand onto my shoulder, but I do not look to her. I have been looking at the plastic table cloth for at least ten minutes. The lingering taste of olive swims around my mouth. The plastic cover is white, with swirls of blue that blend into filled circles as my eyes focus in and out. Flavia has stopped talking, an echo, a wisp of her last word tings within the air. I look up, to meet with her sparkling eyes, but she is gone. It has all gone. r I am in an empty café, no plates before me, no owner bustling around, no 1980s instrumental music. I am alone, at the only remaining table in a stripped room where no life exists. I am covered in dust. My only Lord’s breath whips at the torn plastic that decorates the outside of the café. The tang of olive clings to the roof of my mouth. I look to the door. 298

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Like Bees to Honey

r I see my son. r Christopher walks through the door and to me; he sits on the floor beside my chair, crossing his legs as if a schoolboy. ‘I used to talk of this place, do you remember?’ I ask. ‘This is your special place. I recognise it from your description. I was watching you, Mama as you ate with the angel.’ My son speaks, his voice lower, quieter than usual. ‘I used to come here with my mother, after school. We’d sit here, near to the window; we’d talk and look down onto –a. We’d eat ftira bi·z-·zejt.’ the bay of Mellieh ~Maltese flat bread seasoned with salt, with peppers, with tomatoes, with capers, with olives, with olive oil.

‘I have tasted it now.’ My son says. ‘You have?’ I ask, my stomach tightening. ‘Elena made it for me.’ 299

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Caroline Smailes

He speaks the words, in an almost hush; my stomach knots from anxiety, envy, loss. ‘I gave you words without flavour, without texture,’ I say. ‘I thought that there would always be a tomorrow, but I was wrong.’ ‘And that is why you should be with Molly.’ My son says, anger seeping from the words; then he stands and runs through the door. r He is gone. r The dust sticks to my white cotton dress, to my skin, to my hair, to me. I have not changed my clothes, for days, perhaps. I leave my special place, the café, alone. I look to the uneven pavements, roads, as I. ~fl – ip. ~fl – op. to the bus stop. r I look out through the window of the bus, I watch the 300

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Like Bees to Honey

sea. The bus travels over smooth roads that I have never seen before, the island has progressed. The bus hugs close to the lip of the island. Il-grigalata is burly today, angry, whipping the waves up and onto the path. ~strong wind.

The bus driver swerves to avoid a wave that jumps up, onto the road. The salt water will damage his shiny new bus. He thinks of his bus, first, swerving onto the wrong side of the road. Cars beep, the bus driver holds up his hands into the air. He is blaming the heavens. · l’Malta biss!’ I say. ‘Affanjiet li jigru ~only in Malta!

I look up, to the sky, to the spirits that can float. I see outlines, on different levels. My eyes adjust to see all those who swarm to Malta. The spirits look so small, yet still they come, like bees to honey. I smile. r The bus pulls into the terminal, into Valletta. The bustle of people waiting, chatting, shouting; the clamour of buses, of cars, of taxis. The noise of Valletta warms me. I smile. 301

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Caroline Smailes

I look to the kiosks, skimming for Christopher, hoping to see him clutching a glass of strawberry milkshake. He is not there. There are no children there, they are at school. I think to Molly. r I walk, I flip and I flop. ~fl – ip. ~fl – op. I think to my son, to his being with Geordie, with Elena, with Jesus. They will be telling him of their world, of his new world; he will be learning and living as a spirit should. I think, Christopher has been near to me less and less. Since we arrived in Malta, I have been self-absorbed; my son has had a freedom. And with that taste of independence, he has moved from me, almost beyond my reach. His anger, resentment, disappointment are unhidden, growing. ‘My son is dead,’ the words escape from me, they force me to catch my breath. I inhale sharply, trying to suck back my voice. ‘My son is dead,’ I say, again, louder. I walk, my eyes full, blurred with tears, trying to watch the 302

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pavement. My words roll from my tongue in a loop. r The road, the pavements that lead through the City Gate and into Valletta are uneven. I wonder if they will try to make these pavements smooth. The new roads are progress, but something is being taken and covered with each new construction. They are burying dust into the roads. The island of Malta should never be smooth, perfect without blemish, there is too much history, too many marks, injuries, memories. The island breathes, has character. I walk into Valletta, within the walls. The Renaissance streets open up. I look up to crumbling balconies, to chipped frames and flaking faรงades. Each building has a story, each building breathes through history, space and time. They speak many languages, blending into the story of invasion, of desire to control. The buildings are proud, they exist; they speak their own words into an island that carries the story of my family. I will always belong, here. Each building breathes out the same dust that forms my heart. r 303

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Caroline Smailes

I turn right, past the crumbling Opera House, up again, I feel my fitness level improving, then left, then down again. I long for an ice-cold Kinnie. The streets slope down to the harbour. I stand at the top of the slope, looking down my mother’s street. I see the bumps, the cobbles. I think of how the rain glides down, of how slippery the street becomes. I have fallen, my mother has fallen, my grandmother has fallen, here. r I feel younger, lighter, today. Here the heavens shine, my only Lord is happy, no wind whips the cotton dress tight to my thighs. The narrow streets of my home offer protection, of sorts. I am warm, warm in my bones, I am covered in dust. I reach my mother’s green front door. r I stand, very still; I think about holding my breath. I long for my sisters, Maria and Sandra. The images of them, as children, have appeared in my head, before my eyes. I have no sense of them as adults. I wonder where they are living, now. 304

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I think about how we would play games here, on this slope. I think about how the slope would ruin, make each game almost impossible, but still we would play, together. Cousins would visit, cousins of cousins would visit and together we would play up and down and up and down the slope. We were a family, close, belonging. I think of a childhood that was filled with laughter, with noise. I think to Molly, to all that she is missing, to all that she needs, to all that she deserves. r ‘I wish that I could go back to that time, start again, relive, compromise, find a way,’ I say, to no one. But of course there is always a someone.

Jesus: Your longing is for a home that no longer exists. It is your need to belong that is shrouding your vision. I turn, a full circle. He is not here, rather reading my thoughts, placing words inside of my head, covering me in the smell of stale alcohol. ‘I need my family,’ I say, to someone.

Jesus: You have your family, your Matt and your Molly. Think to the future and stop this dwelling in a past that is no longer yours. 305

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‘You have no idea!’ I shout, to someone.

Jesus: Oh my Nina, your argument is so weak. I know everything. ‘Tkellimniex aktar!’ I say. ~stop talking to me!

Jesus: You must stop your needing to belong to the dead. ‘Iskot!’ I scream. ~shut up!

The smell of alcohol drifts away from me; he does not continue with his words. r I bang. ~b – ang. ~b – ang. with my fist onto my mother’s green front door. I hear a key turning. and a. ~cl – unk. as the barrel revolves. 306

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The chain and padlock come undone, unrelated. I hear the chain clunk. ~cl – unk. ~cl – unk. to the floor. And then it is gone. I do not care that it has gone. I need to be inside.

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bees25  

a chance remark on a daytime chat show caused Caroline Caroline SmaileS was born in Newcastle in 1973. In 2005 carolinesmailes.co.uk and twi...

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