'And the Littlest Ones Shall Lead' by Georgene Smith Goodin

The ants arrived with the heat wave.

“I need traps,” Anna said, swishing the kitchen faucet to start the genocide. She wished Charlie would stop screeching the alphabet song. It was the version she hated, the one with the rhythm revised so the dumb kids wouldn’t think ‘LMNO’ was one letter. 

“It’s too hot for coffee,” Eddie said. He pushed his mug away and lit a cigarette.

“Not in the house, please.”

Eddie dropped the butt into his coffee and stormed out. His work boots left poofs of dust on the linoleum she’d mopped the night before.

“I need traps,” she yelled, throwing the dish sponge at the screen door as it slammed shut.

*****

The internet said chalk kept ants at bay. Skeptical, Anna circled a stray with the chunky blue stick she used for hopscotch.

The ant backed off like a brick wall blocked its path.  Each direction brought new dead ends, but the ant kept trying.

The internet said some ants lived 30 years.  How long would that ant live like this before realizing it was trapped?

*****

Anna sat on a lounge chair, the vinyl kind that imprints stripes onto skin, and dipped her feet in the kiddie pool. The water felt like a bath, but Charlie splashed happily. She sipped her coffee, wondering if the cream had spoiled when she left it on the counter.

The flag on the porch hung limp, no breeze to stir it. Squirrels raced across the power lines, tails arched.  They reminded her of how she used to walk across the tops of bike racks, arms curved for balance, pretending she was flying.

*****


At lunch, the ant was still at it. 

Approach. 

Retreat. 

Approach again.

She wanted to put it out of its misery, but couldn’t.

What did that ant know that she didn’t?

*****

Eddie smelled of Jim Beam and Marlboros and another woman’s perfume, a department store brand Anna used to love. 

“You’re late.”

“Had to get this.” He slammed a canister on the counter as if stopping at the store could explain three hours.

“I asked for traps.”

“They’re both poison.”

“But traps are contained.  Spray goes everywhere.”  She gestured to illustrate, but his nose was in the fridge.

“Hungry?” she asked, plugging in the deep fryer.  Oxidation had turned its oil foggy and rancid.  She put in the chicken anyway. 

“I want to shower first.”

She heard the close of the bathroom door and imagined the strike of the match for his cigarette.

She waited for the water to start before slipping in.

“Doing a load of darks. Need your jeans.”

“Couldn’t wait ten minutes?”

She rifled the pockets and found the keys to the truck.

Charlie didn’t protest when she woke him.  She scooted him along, careful not to let the suitcase thump the wall. 

She hadn’t planned past this, but there was no stopping now.  She paused only to swipe at the chalk, leaving the ant a gate to freedom.


(previously published at MashStories.com)

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Postcard by Kate Mahony

Breathing Space by Joanna Campbell

Mother Tongue by Alison Lock