Rosemary and the Butter Bees is an audio piece designed to be a part of a larger audio installation. The installation would appear as a closet overflowing with cardboard boxes, mixed with cushions, chairs and stools. Participants would be invited to take a seat somewhere and open a box. Each box would contain a micro-controller with a movement sensor and a speaker. When the lid of the box is removed, a story inspired by the objects inside of it would play. The items inside each box vary, from stuffed animals to various other trinkets. Rosemary and the Butter Bees is a longer piece that would be split up into multiple boxes in an installation scenario, creating and incentive for the audience to explore each of the boxes to hear the whole story. Each box would contain thematically relevant objects, such as figurines, stuffed animals, or Rosemary herself. As the audio plays, participants would be welcome to pick up and examine the objects inside the box.
Once upon a time there lived a rabbit named Rosemary. Rosemary lived in a cottage, just outside of a small town. If you stood on the road at the edge of the town leading out towards the large field to the west you could just make out the shape of a white house with a yellow roof on top of the closest hill. Rosemary was a collector. The target of her collection was a vast and rare assortment of glass figurines; bears with ebony eyes twinkling in the afternoon sun, fish with coloured tails frozen in mid-swish, ballerinas balanced on one tiny tip of a pink slipper… And Rosemary loved them all.
Asthma is defined as an allergic disorder of respiration, characterized by bronchospasm, wheezing, and difficulty in expiration, often accompanied by coughing and a feeling of constriction in the chest. Asthma can be triggered by a number of things, the most common being the presence of dust. Dryness in the air can also exacerbate asthmatic symptoms. Dust accumulates on nearly everything. Fabrics, though, can absorb dust and cause a build up on the fabric fibres. Most fabrics also suck moisture quite heavily and an abundant presence of fabric contributes strongly towards drier air conditions.
Every morning she would rise, brush the crinkles out of her ears, dress, and begin cleaning each glass figurine individually. Unfortunately for Rosemary, the soot factory that was the town’s main livelihood usually left a thin but pervasive layer of grime over everything, if regular and strict cleaning was not maintained. She would spend the entire morning working her way through her collection, finishing the last set of larger and more sturdy figurines of dancing ladies just before lunch time. The remainder of the day would be spent cleaning the rest of her lovely white house and ending the evening with a delicious dinner of carrot stew and a walk through town before bed. This was how Rosemary went about her day, every day. That was how she liked it. But there was one particular day when everything did not go according to plan.
I knew I was never asthmatic as a child because I had a large collection of stuffed animals. Lots of young girls are lucky enough to have such a collection but can never remember exactly how it came to be. Stuffed animals just seemed to accumulate and even when I grew older I didn’t have the heart to give most of them away. I didn’t have the heart to give most things away and whenever I did a clean out of my bedroom, it was more like a reorganization. I was a bit of a pack rat in that respect.
The shelves in my room were lined with teddy bears and rabbits and cats and dogs, all carefully arranged with the bigger ones in the back and the smaller ones up front. I would only ever pull them out to play carefully planned games, or when I wanted to use them to tell my grandparents a story. And so it was. Every morning I would wake up with the sun shining in their smooth plastic eyes, unaware of the layer of dust sinking into their knitted paws and ears.
Rosemary had woken up that morning feeling especially excited to clean her figurines. On her previous night’s walk through town she had purchased a gorgeous glass lily the size of her palm. Rosemary, careful yet excited, worked her way through the shelves until finally she came to the new lily. However, as she moved to bring the lily in to shine clean with her cloth, something slipped, and in a flashing whirl of glass the lily fell to the floor and smashed. Rosemary bent down, shocked. How could practiced paws such as hers drop one of her precious figurines so easily? A close look at one of the fragments, however, revealed the cause: butter bees.
How much space do you think eight or nine boxes take up? It might not sound that daunting but when that amount of cardboard is sitting in the living room of a one bedroom apartment it feels like a mountain that rose up overnight. Mom, who was in the middle of moving and had decided not to tell me, had dropped them off while I was away on vacation. My fiancé hounded me for days to go through them so we could clear up our living room. I kept dodging the matter. Most of those boxes were filled with the stuffed animals that used to live on my shelves. Now they inhabited my living room, contaminating what precious space we had in our small apartment. There were eight or nine boxes but I knew that I would only be able to keep one or two.
A butter bee infestation had been Rosemary’s greatest fear ever since she began collecting figurines. They were basically like normal bees except that they were made totally of butter. A phenomenon in their own right, Rosemary had never heard of butter bees living anywhere near the town. But there they were, smears of buttery grease all over every petal of Rosemary’s beloved lily. As she cleaned up the remnants, Rosemary knew that she had to do something quickly. Little was known about butter bees, but what was known was that if you catch them they were incredibly easy to squish. Rosemary smacked her fist into her palm. That was it! It only took a few minutes of digging to find some old fly swatters and metal springs.
After going through the boxes I realized I had forgotten how many tchotchkes I collected. If you’re not familiar with the term, a tchotchke is an inexpensive souvenir, trinket, or ornament. Many of my tchotchkes took the form of fairies, which I now recall having an absolute obsession over. These were alongside a sizeable collection of angel figurines, glass unicorns, hand painted dogs and cats, and a miniature tea set with gold trim and roses printed on the side. They had filled every ounce of shelf space I had, all carefully arranged for the best viewing in between my stuffed animals. At least a dozen had chips and scrapes of some kind. Their delicacy had not stopped me from flying them around and taking them on adventures with the rest of other toys. Up until this point, almost all of them made it.
For the rest of the afternoon, Rosemary worked away in her kitchen building her contraption. Two fly swatters were attached to a spring mechanism that slapped them together when either of the fly swatters were landed upon. However, Rosemary had cleverly attached a slice of bread onto each fly swatter. Not only would the swatters be disguised from the butter bees, but Rosemary would have an extra snack on top of it. Once Rosemary had completed her first trap, she made a few more and put them throughout the house. The next morning, she delighted in the collection of butter sandwiches she had. And so she replaced the slices of bread on each of her traps and proceeded to clean her beautiful glass figurines.
I wept over every toy and trinket that went into the give away boxes. Vivid memories of playing with and arranging every single doll and book flashed in a constant playback and almost everything came out and went back into a give away box at least once. Quite a few of my stuffed animals were at first saved from those dreaded boxes but when my fiancé saw them, he put his foot down.
“They’re bad for my asthma.”
I knew he was right. But how could I get rid of Goose who wore a pink bonnet, one of the few gifts I got from my parents before they were divorced? How could I get rid of Bilbo, the dog I cuddled with every night? How could I get rid of Rosemary the rabbit, whose stories I told to my grandparents every time they visited? Only a very few of them made it. Even thought they were just stuffed animals, I couldn’t look at them when I closed up the give away boxes.
Rosemary could never find the infestation of butter bees. She searched high and low throughout the house, all the way from the attic to all the way into the deepest depths of her basement. She could never find anything. She never even saw them, just the smears of butter on the slices of bread. And every once and a while, a butter bee still made it’s way onto one of her beloved figurines and it would slip and smash like the glass lily. As upsetting as it was when it happened, Rosemary supposed that her collection was getting a bit large anyways. It started that her more favourite figurines began to be closely examined before being picked up, while less favourite ones usually ended up slipping. But never once could she catch a glimpse of a butter bee. She began to wonder if there were any butter bees at all, if she was just imagining it. But there they were. Smears of buttery grease all over the bread slices.