Death by Cuddling

By Charlotte Hubbard

When nieces Sydney and Samantha were ages four and six, one of their friend’s parents died of cancer.

My brother-in-law consulted with experts about how to discuss a parent’s illness and death with such young children. He then faced the difficult task of explaining to my nieces the unexplainable—that sometimes people die early.

The girls studied him, wide-eyed and solemn.

He then assured the girls that their Mom and Dad were working hard to stay healthy, and visiting the doctor regularly, so nothing was probably going to happen to them for a long, long time.

After a lengthy pause, four-year-old Sydney broke the silence with a cold “Really Dad? Or so you think!”

Sydney’s assessment of reality was chilling, but it has served as a family punch line ever since.

I thought of it recently, when I was pondering my role in the household, my “hive.” Beyond question, I am the household’s queen bee.

Or so I think.

Upon thinking about it, I’m not so sure.

Worker bees are the hive members who gather and prepare food, feed their hive mates, and clean up after them, among other duties. My hive mates are two cats who only move from in front of the gas stove long enough to eat, a dog whom I let out (and in) 4,000 times daily, and the occasional visiting (grown-up) child who greets me with a laundry bag, and then a hug.

Uh-oh. The definition of worker bee fits me to a T.

There are times though when I feel more like a queen bee. Recently, after a long day at work, I returned home, worn out and crabby.

Part of the crabbiness was due to hunger—I’d left the lunch I packed on the kitchen counter. That lunch had included an awesome chicken salad sandwich.

Part of the crabbiness was finding my lunch sack on the kitchen floor, ripped open next to a chewed-open sandwich baggie. Gee. I wonder who did that? Maybe some or all three of the critters staring at me through seemingly innocent eyes (and breathing chicken salad breath)?

The critters then leaned against my ankles, herding me toward their still-full food bowls.

Normally I feed the critters in the late afternoon. As they’d eaten my lunch, their food bowls weren’t empty, but in their little brains, it was time to be fed.

Or so I thought. Perhaps they weren’t herding me toward the feeding dishes at all. Maybe they had something else in mind. Maybe, just maybe, I am their queen bee, and double uh-oh. You see, when a hive is preparing to swarm they stop feeding the queen; that would explain them eating my lunch.

The next step in swarm preparation is chasing the queen around the hive, thinning her down for flight. While I haven’t yet lost those extra holiday pounds, maybe the animals weren’t chasing me so I’d feed them, but instead to thin me down.

Later that night, I snuggled on the couch to do one of my favorite things—read about honeybees. With winds whistling out of the north, I was a bit chilled. My animals cuddled around and on top of me. The dog consumed the majority of the couch she’s not allowed on. Chloe the slender cat meatloafed on my shoulder; Melvin the obese cat settled his enormousness on my lungs, making it hard to breathe. One of the glorious advantages of pets is that they warm up humans quite nicely, although sometimes they’re too warm.

I turned to Wikipedia, and upon reading this entry, my blood ran cold. It confirms that I’m this hive’s queen bee, and that I’m in trouble: “When a new queen is available, the workers will kill the reigning queen by “balling” her, colloquially known as “cuddle death”; clustering tightly around her until she dies from overheating.”

No, it can’t be. My hive mates are just being affectionate, friendly … right?

Or so I think.

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