Book Excerpt: The Secret Life of Bees

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. I'd lie right down on the ground and it would calm me. Now T. Ray scooped up a handful of dirt and let if fall out of his hands. "The day she died, she was cleaning out the closet," he said. I could not account for the strange tone of his voice, an unnatural sound, how it was almost, but not quite, kind.

Cleaning the closet. I had never considered what she was doing those last minutes of her life, why she was in the closet, what they had fought about.

"I remember," I said. My voice sounded small and faraway to me, like it was coming from an ant hole in the ground.

His eyebrows lifted, and he brought his face closer to me. Only his eyes showed confusion. "You what?"

"I remember," I said again. "You were yelling at each other."

A tightening came into his face. "Is that right?" he said. His lips had started to turn pale, which was the thing I always watched for. I took a step backward.

"Goddamn it, you were four years old!" he shouted. "You don't know what you remember."

In the silence that followed, I considered lying to him, saying, I take it back. I don't remember anything. Tell me what happened, but there was such a powerful need in me, pent up for so long, to speak about it, to say the words.

I looked down at my shoes, at the nail I'd dropped when I'd seen him coming. "There was a gun."

"Christ," he said.

He looked at me a long time, then walked over to the bushel baskets stacked at the back of the stand. He stood there a minute with his hands balled up before he turned around and came back.

"What else?" he said. "You tell me right now what you know."

"The gun was on the floor — "

"And you picked it up," he said. "I guess you remember that."

The exploding sound had started to echo around in my head. I looked off in the direction of the orchard, wanting to break and run.

"I remember picking it up," I said. "But that's all."

He leaned down and held me by the shoulders, gave me a little shake. "You don't remember anything else? You're sure? Now, think."

I paused so long he cocked his head, looking at me, suspicious.

"No, sir, that's all."

"Listen to me," he said, his fingers squeezing into my arms. "We were arguing like you said. We didn't see you at first. Then we turned around and you were standing there holding the gun. You'd picked it up off the floor. Then it just went off."

He let me go and rammed his hands into his pockets. I could hear his hands jingling keys and nickels and pennies. I wanted so much to grab on to his leg, to feel him reach down and lift me to his chest, but I couldn't move, and neither did he. He stared at a place over my head. A place he was being very careful to study.

"The police asked lots of questions, but if was just one of those horrible things. You didn't mean to do it," he said softly. "But if anybody wants to know, that's what happened."

Then he left, walking back toward the house. He'd gone only a little way when he looked back. "And don't stick that nail into my peaches again."

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