Buzz Off - By Hannah Reed


If I hadn’t been drinking champagne at noon on Friday, I would have been over at the honey house with Manny Chapman, my beekeeping mentor and owner of Queen Bee Honey, and possibly, just possibly, I might have saved him from what must have been a very painful death. Instead, oblivious to his pending demise and feeling slightly tipsy, I popped open bottle number three and filled more flutes.

I’m the only grocer in the unincorporated town of Moraine, Wisconsin, which has a population base climbing steadily toward eight hundred residents. I work hard to fill the needs of the community. Today, business was brisker than usual at my shop, The Wild Clover, mainly because of the free champagne and the one-day sale on everything in the store, including special bullet items such as: • Wisconsin prize-winning cheeses

• Cranberries from the northern part of the state, dried and fresh

• Whole grains, including Wisconsin wild rice, which is really aquatic grass seeds

• Wines from Door County wineries

• Thirty-five varieties of organic vegetables

• Apples from the Country Delight Farm just up the road

• And of course honey products: comb honey, bottled honey, bulk honey, honey candy, beeswax, and bee pollen

There’s nothing like the lure of freebies and discounts to bring out the best in people. Everyone in my little hometown made a point of stopping by my store to tip a glass and wish me well, whether they meant it or not.

Well, maybe not everyone stopped by. My ex-husband, Clay Lane, didn’t show up, even though he lived only two blocks away and must have seen the banner tacked to the awning, announcing my freedom party.

“You should call him up, Story,” Carrie Ann Retzlaff, my cousin and very part-time employee, said in her husky chain-smoker’s voice. My cousin had close-cropped yellow-as-straw hair and a toothpick-thin body, since she ingested more nicotine and alcohol than nutrients. “Invite the ex to join us,” she suggested.

I scowled playfully to let her know that was a bad idea. Celebrating a divorce is a lot like celebrating a successful heart transplant. They both hurt like hell, and your quality of life would be much better if the issues leading up to the situation had never happened in the first place. But at least I can say I’m still in the game, still alive and kicking. It’s all about attitude.

“Cheers to all of you from me, Story Fischer,” I called out, placing special emphasis on my last name and noting by the clock above the register that I’d been a free woman for almost twenty-four breezy, wind-at-my-back hours. Fischer. My maiden name. The one I’d reclaimed yesterday afternoon. It sounded so right! Why had I ever given it up?

Story was my nickname, bestowed by childhood friends because I used to be quite the storyteller—in a friendly, silly sort of way, of course. I liked Story much better than my given name, Melissa, which my family shortened to Missy before I could even lift my bald baby head. As I grew up, Missy didn’t exactly shout out strength and intelligence. Besides, the other kids came up with a bunch of variations for Missy that were truly mean and hurtful. Plus, Story has a bit of intrigue to it.

Story Fischer, that’s me.

At the moment, I really missed my most loyal part-timers, twins Brent and Trent Craig, local college students in their sophomore years, working reduced hours at the store around gaps in their class schedules. That left me pretty much alone most days until they eventually reappeared like glorious gifts from heaven.

For this special event, I’d been forced to ask Carrie Ann, smoke-scented perfume and all, to work for me while I hosted the party. “Don’t think anything of it,” she said when I thanked her for the third time. She reached under the counter, then tipped back and drained an entire flute of champagne with one chug. “This is like hanging at Stu’s Bar and Grill, only better because I get paid.”

I plucked the empty glass out of her hand, ignored her startled expression, and said, “No drinking on the job, please.”

“Why not? You’re drinking,” she pointed out.

“Yes, but that’s why I asked you to handle the cash register.”

“Crapola.” My cousin shook her head at the injustice of it all.

I had a hunch that if I didn’t watch the till, Carrie Ann would be giving away the store. How many glasses of champagne had she already had?

The Wild Clover was crammed from aisle to aisle as far as my quickly glazing-over