To Be an Ant
From the school bus, Lacey skips home. Along the gravel, she passes houses, buckets of peeling paint weathered like old boats. Her foot swiftly kicks an ant hill under the apple tree with flakey bark. The colony will rebuild itself, ready to be kicked again tomorrow. Lacey squats closer to crisscrossing trails of black dots. Grey worms and furry caterpillars inch through an apple’s dry white core that rolled near the hill. An ant circles wrinkled fruit skin. Lacey’s father once told her ants can carry ten times their weight. What could I carry? Dad’s pickup truck? The fridge? Mom, down the stairs to the dining room table?
At home, her parents are upstairs. Lacey turns the stove on; metal grates glow red and smell of char. Her mother taught her how to make lentil soup. She sets the wobbly table for two, lays a flower on a tray for one. As the water boils, heavy boots step down the wooden stairs and slowly to the recliner. Her father looks out a dirty window. It’s almost dark.
Lacey didn’t know you could get sick and keep getting sicker. That night, once again, her mother will fall asleep to Lacey’s voice reading the thick Bible that Lacey can barely fit in her hands. Lacey will hold her mother’s heavy hand, feeling the knuckles, and kiss her cheekbones goodnight. She will lift the blanket up and over her mother’s shoulders.
“Hey Lacey, bring me a beer,” her father says like usual. She swings the fridge door closed but stops before the recliner. He turns his head to her and looks up, crumpled in the leather. She’s never seen him cry before. Lacey squeezes next to him, and he wraps his arms around her. The weight of his shaking shoulders makes it hard to breathe. They both stare out the window. Is this what those little ants feel like?