Monday, September 11, 2006

spilt honey - chapter one

Spilt Honey

This morning, New Year’s Day, was a disaster.

I mean an absolute disaster. Unmitigated. Something on the order of the attack of the blob. You know, the jell-o like invader from outer space.

I’m thinking about the 1950’s version and not the remake. Though I would have just as soon have remade that morning myself. This time doing it without the blob
And if not the blob, at least without the mess.

It would have been nice to have a happy ending, or at least a non-sticky one.
But unfortunately you can’t undo mistakes. Not in the real world. And especially not mistakes of this magnitude. But, be that as it may.

Actually, the catastrophe started the evening before. Wenonah was cooking. Making cookies, I believe. And I was reading, listening to music and occasionally picking up a log and throwing it into the wood stove.

It was New Year's Eve and we weren't doing anything in particular. And while it was cold outside the woodstove was keeping our farmhouse warm.

Wenonah called from the kitchen. “I need some honey, a quart or so.”

Now, I keep the honey back in the laundry room, in the back of the house, a room right off of the sun room with its stone floor and skylights.

The laundry room isn’t very warm. It’s pretty far away from the wood stove and our farm house, an old salt box well over a hundred years old, doesn’t have any central heat.

If the wood stove doesn’t heat it, there isn’t any heat. And on cold winter nights we close off all the rooms except for the ones we’re living in. The kitchen, the bedroom, the large living room.

The rest of the house is chilly. Especially the room where I store the honey.
So, I got up, went into the pantry, got a half gallon jar from the shelf and went to the back of the house where I keep the honey vat.

It had been a good honey year. In the fall I had taken on average about 80 pounds of honey off of each of our fifty some hives. I had given out several tons to our customers.

But that left us still with something like 800 pounds of honey. All of it stored in the settling tank.

A settling tank is a large stainless steel tank that sits a couple feet up off the floor with a spout down at the bottom.

The first thing I noticed, when I put the jar down on the floor, under the spigot was how cold it was back there.

I hadn’t bothered to put on a jacket and so I was pretty chilled right away, it couldn’t have been more than a degree or two above freezing.
For a second my teeth chattered.

I opened the spigot and waited for the honey to fill the jar. Only..
Nothing happened.

No honey.

I stood there in the cold and waited a little longer.
And, still, nothing.

So, I waited,
And waited.

And waited.

Until finally, finally a thin needle like thread of honey appeared at the mouth of the spout and slowly worked its way down passing the jar’s mouth and finally, finally inched all the way to the bottom.

Sort of like a stalactite.

Or is that a stalagmite?

As you probably know, honey does not flow very well when it is cold.

In fact, the colder it is, the closer to a rock, honey becomes.

So I stood there in the cold. Rubbing my hands, thinking I should go back into the living area and get a coat.

While I shivered this strange thing, a cross between honey and a rock, slowly formed a needle like crystal between the honey tank and the jar.

But I wasn’t thinking much about the honey. Instead I was thinking about the cold.
And how nice it would be to have a coat.

‘Or better yet’, I thought. ‘I should just leave the jar here, with the spout open. It’s going to take at least half an hour. I can go sit down on the sofa, stand by the fire, be warm, and later. Later I’ll come back and get the honey. Way before the jar’s full. There’s plenty of time.’


Except I knew better. I knew:

You don’t leave an unattended jar sitting under 800 pounds of honey, no matter how rock like the honey might seem to be.

‘Don’t leave the jar unattended’. A voice somewhere said.

‘A smart person,’ the voice went on to lecture me, ‘would stand there in the freezing cold, ignore the fact they were shivering, ignore the fact that the honey really isn’t flowing at all. A smart person would pretend the honey isn’t more like a rock than a liquid.

‘They would stand there and put the idea of sitting by the warm fire right out of there mind.’

That’s what the voice told me a smart person would do.

They would stand there and wait and shiver until the jar filled right up to the top.

And when it was full, when the cold, frozen honey had finally managed to fill the entire jar, then, and only then, would they return to the warm fire, where they could sit on the sofa and stop shivering.

That’s what a smart person would do.

I watched the honey stalactite a while longer without noticing any growth. This was going to take forever. I was going to freeze before the jar would fill.

It would be so easy to just go in the other room, the room with the heat, with the fire and come back in five minutes.

Then the voice chimed in again.

‘Don’t you do it.”

It was like someone was right over my shoulder speaking. A wise someone. It was that voice that always speaks to you just before you go and do something foolish anyway.

And just like the other times. The other times when I have done something foolish that I knew at the time I shouldn’t do.

Just like those times I ignored the voice and instead I gave the slow moving honey one more look and turned around and walked back toward the wood stove, leaving the jar on the floor and the valve wide open and the voice screaming in my ear, ‘You’ll be sorry’.

I went back in the living room, looked at the wood stove, threw in another log, changed the music on the stereo, went in the kitchen for a snack, went back out to the living room, picked up my book and sat down.

After a while Wenonah called from the kitchen, “Did you get the honey?”

I told her it wasn't ready yet. “It’s so cold the honey's hardly flowing. It’ll take another half hour.”

“I’ll use sugar instead,” she said.

And that was the end of that.

She finished baking her cookies. I finished reading my book for the evening, we turned off the music, I filled up the stove with firewood for the night, we went upstairs, got undressed, pulled back the overs, climbed into bed. snuggled together.
And peacefully, cozily, drifted off into sleep.

And I woke up at 3 AM.


‘Oh no!’

And ran down the stairs, opened up the sun room door and there it was.
Covering the entire floor.

Six inches thick.

Sometime during the night there must have been a heat wave because the honey had started flowing.

Sometime during the night the honey had turned to water. And it looked like the entire tank had emptied and had poured all the honey out of the vat, into the jar, over the rim of the jar and on to the floor of the utility room.

Filling the floor.

And then the honey, squeezed under the door into the sun room, where it spread out across the stone floor, from one end of the room to the other.

800 pounds of honey.

800 pounds of very sticky, syrupy, gummy, glue like.

An absolute mess. From one end of the room to the other.

Thick, gooey, honey.

I just stood there at the door wishing that I could roll back time to the night before. Wishing that I was standing there shivering in front of the empty jar, when the honey was still in the vat.

And then I thought, ‘Maybe the tank isn’t empty yet, maybe half of the honey is still in the tank.

‘If I can get back there fast enough, I can save having to clean up all of it.

‘I can turn off the spigot. Save myself more of a mess.’

Only there was all of that honey to cross. It must be six inches deep already.
‘I could go outside, around the house, to the window in the utility room, somehow open it and squeeze through. Climb down into the room. Turn off the vat.’

Or I could just take off my slippers and wade through the honey.

I stared across the room. It looked like the honey could still be bubbling up under the door.

So, I made the decision and took off my slippers and took my first step out into the ooze.

My foot sunk into it, clear up to my ankle.

Imagine the feel of that?

Honey up to your ankles.

Not to mention the thought of all the work I had done, all summer long. Taking care of the hives. All the bee stings.

And I took another step. A rather long step, trying to cover the distance across the room in as few steps as possible.

The honey was cold. It had thickened into the consistency of Jell-O.

I took another long step, which was, of course, a mistake.

I took the step into the sticky, slippery honey and before I knew it my foot was sliding out from under me, and then the other foot, and both feet were in the air and I was flying backwards, landing.

Landing with my back in the honey.

Six inches of honey.

And quickly I tried to stand up, only there wasn’t anything to grab or hold except for all of that honey. And I was laying there slipping and sliding getting more and more covered. Honey from one end to the other.

It must have been fifteen minutes before I managed to slide to the utility room, move the door, which was stuck with the mass of honey, and then discover that all the honey had long since left the tank.

All 800 pounds was on the floor.

It took me another fifteen minutes to get back across the room, crawling through the honey, half the time on all fours because I couldn’t stand.

And then finally, crawl into the living room.

Dripping honey.

I stood up. I walked across the floor, leaving sticky footsteps behind, to the bathroom and climbed into the shower, almost crying, as I turned on the water.
What a horrible mess.

There is one fortunate thing, though, about honey. I mean, honey is really a very wonderful substance. It would be a lot worse.

Just think if honey was like oil.

Once you got it on your skin it took hours and hours of scrubbing and special, toxic chemicals, to remove it.

Fortunately, honey’s not like that at all.

It’s water soluble.

Meaning. It washes off with warm water.

Which is a good thing, besides getting it off my feet and arms and back, it was a good thing for cleaning the mess from the floor.

Only, 800 pounds of honey is sure a lot of honey. I could see right then that it was going to take hours, if not days to clean up.

What would be nice, considering the horrible situation, once Wenonah had come down stairs and looked at my handiwork, and seen the mess, and shook her head back and forth, and asked how I could have done such a thing.

What would have been better, after she had shaken her head for her to say, ‘Well, don’t worry about it. I can clean that up in no time.’

That would have been nice wouldn’t it? That would be better than I deserved. Just imagine. All that mess, all that honey. Covering the entire floor.

And instead of having to clean it up, it would be taken care of. That wouldn’t be as nice as it not happening it the first place, but it would have been nice.

Go back to bed and wake up and the mess was gone.

Snap my fingers. Close my eyes and magic.

No mess!

Only it didn’t happen that way.


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