"The Secret Life of Bees," Vocabulary from Chapters 1-3

April 25, 2014
Set in South Carolina in 1964, Sue Monk Kidd's "The Secret Life of Bees" is the story of a little girl looking into her mother's past.

Learn these word lists for the novel: Chapters 1-3, Chapters 4-7, Chapters 8-11, Chapters 12-14
I know it is presumptuous to compare my small life to hers, but I have reason to believe she wouldn’t mind; I will get to that.
My hair was constantly going off in eleven wrong directions, and T. Ray, naturally, refused to buy me bristle rollers, so all year I’d had to roll it on Welch’s grape juice cans, which had nearly turned me into an insomniac.
He had an orneriness year-round, but especially in the summer, when he worked his peach orchards daylight to dusk.
I tried for a long time to conjure up an image of her before that, just a sliver of something, like her tucking me into bed, reading the adventures of Uncle Wiggly, or hanging my underclothes near the space heater on ice-cold mornings.
Her hair was black and generous, with thick curls circling her face, a face I could never quite coax into view, despite the sharpness of everything else.
I worried so much about how I looked and whether I was doing things right, I felt half the time I was impersonating a girl instead of really being one.
I’d made the jar as nice as I could with felty petals, fat with pollen, and more than enough nail holes in the lid to keep the bees from perishing, since for all I knew, people might come back one day as the very thing they killed.
We had just started to clean them up when T. Ray burst in, threatening to boil the chick for dinner and fire Rosaleen for being an imbecile.
She’d thrown her husband out three years after they married, for carousing.
Once when I asked him when her birthday was and what cake icing she preferred, he told me to shut up, and when I asked him a second time, he picked up a jar of blackberry jelly and threw it against the kitchen cabinet.
There was a photograph of a woman smirking in front of an old car, wearing a light-colored dress with padded shoulders.
The man sincerely thought that was Shakespeare’s first name, and if you think I should have corrected him, you are ignorant about the art of survival.
It was a secret knowledge that would slip up and overwhelm me, and I would take off running—even if it was raining out, I ran—straight down the hill to my special place in the peach orchard.
We were obsessed with Mr. Khrushchev and his missiles.
The moon was a perfect circle, so full of light that all the edges of things had an amber cast.
I woke to the sound of someone thrashing through the trees.
I walked toward them with those tiny feather steps you expect of a girl in Japan, and lowered myself to the floor, determined not to cry, but the sting was already gathering in my eyes.
One of the church doors opened and Brother Gerald, our minister, stepped into the sanctuary.
Naturally the third man felt obliged to say something, so he looked at Rosaleen sashaying along unperturbed, holding her white-lady fan, and he said, “Where’d you get that fan, nigger?”
Rosaleen looked straight ahead and acted as if the men were insignificant houseflies buzzing at our screen door.
The poor truck was rattling to the point I expected the hood to fly off and decapitate a couple of pine trees.
I moved with deliberate slowness, anger suddenly building in me.
A brazen feeling had broken loose in me
I looked toward the window and felt a tremor slide along my spine.
I don’t believe those men are Christians, Brother Gerald, because they yelled at her to shut up with that blankety-blank Jesus tune. Rosaleen said, ‘You can curse me, but don’t blaspheme the Lord Jesus.’
Part of me was saying these actual words, and part of me was listening to myself say them, thinking how I belonged in a reform school or a juvenile delinquent home for girls, and would probably soon be in one.
We had to go past the nurses’ desk to get to the door, but the girl in white seemed preoccupied, sitting with her head down, writing something.
I waited for Rosaleen to say how ridiculous that was, but she squinted straight ahead as if weighing the possibility.
I could have added that mothers have instincts and hormones that prevent them leaving their babies, that even pigs and opossums didn’t leave their offspring, but Rosaleen, having finally pondered the matter, said, “You’re probably right. Knowing your daddy, he could do a thing like that.”
“If I needed somebody to criticize me around the clock, I could’ve brought T. Ray along!”
A barge of mist floated along the water, and dragonflies, iridescent blue ones, darted back and forth like they were stitching up the air.
We drifted by gray barns, cornfields in need of irrigation, and clumps of Hereford cows, chewing in slow motion, looking very content with their lives.
I was speculating how one day, years from now, I would send the store a dollar in an envelope to cover it, spelling out how guilt had dominated every moment of my life, when I found myself looking at a picture of the black Mary.
I realized it for the first time in my life: there is nothing but mystery in the world, how it hides behind the fabric of our poor, browbeat days, shining brightly, and we don’t even know it.
We walked past Worth Insurance Agency, Tiburon County Rural Electric office, and the Amen Dollar Store, which had Hula Hoops, swim goggles, and boxes of sparklers in the window with SUMMER FUN spray-painted across the glass.

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