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December 19, 2018 Fiction

Ant Lifeboat

Annie Woods

Ant Lifeboat photo

The day my brother died, my mom ran naked in the street. She spun in front of the neighbor’s houses, flabby arms pulled toward the heavens. I had never seen that kind of body, a full body, an old and worn and loud body. I ran a hand across my flat chest; I was newly twelve. The neighbors, one by one, came to their windows. As the audience grew, my mom ran faster in that grief. I studied her. When my mom danced, her stretch marks spread, branching up her sides like a tree in winter: bright, white, and raised. So, ants took shelter in the wood of her stretch marks. Unlike termites, ants do not eat this kind of nature—they clean it out, remove the rotted bark, and make a home in the cavities.  

A black, fuzzy, ball of ants nested between her legs. My mother was a colony, but then it started to rain. Planet Earth called it an ant lifeboat—during a flood, ants will clump together to survive, wriggling en masse to float and move, a raft-alive. 

But my mother’s ants did not unite. They scattered into parts of her, burrowing in her thighs, her gut, her chest. My mom stopped dancing. She scratched at her body and wailed from the pain, from the ants in her ears, in her brain, and doubling over, she looked like maybe my brother did. Newly seventeen, he swallowed insecticide to death. If there were any ants in him, they died then, too. 



image: Steve Johnson