So Molly tended to all Bee’s personal needs. She taught our child to keep herself clean, and to tidy her room as much as such a small person was able. Molly had a small bed built for her, and bedding of a matching size. She was required to keep her playthings in order and to do all things for herself as if she were a peasant child. Of this, I approved.
Molly taught her to gather from the woods mushrooms, berries, and herbs that we could not easily grow in our gardens. In the gardens and hothouses, I would find them together, picking caterpillars from leaves or gathering herbs to dry. I would pass Molly’s wax room and see small Bee standing on the table, holding a wick straight as Molly carefully poured hot wax. There they strained the golden honey from the combs and packed it into fat little pots for our winter sweetness.
They made a perfect unit, Molly and Bee. It came to me that though Bee was not the child I had dreamed we would have, she was perfect for Molly. She was utterly devoted to her mother, intent on every shift of the expression on her face. If, in their closeness, they closed me out, I tried not to resent it. Molly deserved the joy she took in this child.
So I was content to hover at the edges of their world, a moth at a window, looking in at warmth and light. Slowly I began to forsake my private study, and instead to take my translation work to the room where Bee had been born. By the time Bee was seven, I spent almost every evening in that warmly lit room. Molly’s softly flickering candles scented it with heather and lavender, or sage or rose, depending on her mood. She and Bee would do simple stitching together, while Molly softly sang the old learning songs about herbs and bees and mushrooms and flowers.
I was at my work one evening, the fire crackling softly and Molly humming over some embroidery she was working onto the neck of a little red nightgown for Bee, when I became aware that my daughter had left off sorting skeins of thread for her mother and had approached my table. I was careful not to look at her. It was as if a hummingbird hovered near me. I could not recall that she had ever voluntarily come so close to me. I feared that if I turned, she would flee. And so I continued painstakingly to copy the old illustration on a scroll about the properties of nightshade and its relatives. It asserted that one branch of the family that grew in desert regions bore red fruit that could be eaten. I was skeptical of such a claim for a toxic plant, but nonetheless I copied the text and did my best to reproduce the illustrations of leaves, starry flowers, and hanging fruit. I had begun to ink the flowers in with yellow. This, I surmised, was what had brought Bee to my shoulder. I listened to her open-mouthed breathing and became aware that Molly was no longer humming. I did not need to turn my head to know she was watching our child with as much curiosity as I felt.
A small hand touched the edge of my table and spidered slowly to the edge of the page I was working on. I pretended not to notice. I dipped my brush again and added another yellow petal. As softly as a pot bubbling on the hearth, Bee murmured something. “Yellow,” I said, as if I were Molly pretending to know her thoughts. “I’m painting the little flower yellow.”
Again, the bubbling mutter, this time a bit louder with more of a plea in it.
“Green,” I told her. I lifted the vial of ink and showed it to her. “The leaves will be this green at the edges. And I will mix green and yellow for the center, and green and black for the veins of the leaves.”
The little hand fumbled at the corner of my page. Her fingers lifted it and tugged. “Careful!” I cautioned her and received a cascade of bubbling muttering in a pleading tone.
“Fitz,” Molly gently rebuked me. “She’s asking you for paper. And a quill and ink.”
I transferred my gaze to Molly. She met my eyes steadily, her brows raised that I could be either so stupid or so unreasonable. The happily affirmative note in Bee’s babbling seemed to confirm that she was right. I looked down at Bee. She lifted her face and looked past me, but did not retreat. “Paper,” I said, and did not hesitate as I took a sheet of the best-quality paper that Chade had sent to me. “A quill.” It was one I had just cut. “And ink.” I slid a small well of black ink across the table. I set the paper and the quill on the edge of my desk. Bee stood silent for a moment. Her mouth worked and then she pointed a small finger and trilled at me.
“Colored ink,” Molly specified and Bee gave a wriggle of delight. I surrendered.
“We’ll have to share, then,” I told her. I moved a chair to the other side of my table, set a cushion on it, and then arranged Bee’s supplies where she could reach them. She surprised me with the alacrity with which she mounted to this throne.