Anne Louise Pair
The line wasn’t straight, but it was complete. Not one gap. It started under the chipped screen door and rippled over the cracks and dirt on the linoleum to the pile of sugar on the floor. There, each ant grabbed a grain of sugar and then skittered around to make a line going out, right next to the one coming in. The sugar grains twinkled as the ants carried them—a sparkly stream. Claudia, flat on her stomach, watched it all. She hadn’t moved for half an hour and glanced up only when the screen door creaked open.
Dee, her older sister, stared from the doorway. “Mom’ll be pissed.”
Claudia returned to the ants. “You can’t stop them. They just keep coming. Coming and coming.”
Dee came in and planted her sneaker across the line.
Claudia winced but knew not to say anything. Besides, she had tried this. The ants bunched up on either side of Dee’s sneaker and then crept over.
“Ew!” Dee jumped back and slapped them off.
“See?” Claudia smiled as the line reconnected. “They go over stuff or around it.” She placed a pink eraser in the path, careful not to hurt any ants. The line humped then poured over the eraser in a stripe. “They never stop.”
Dee knelt. “What about something bigger?”
They tried a book, a houseplant, a plate, a cardboard paper towel roll both with and without the towels, a newspaper folded into tiny ant-sized steps, Dee’s sweater, and a pillow. If the things were small enough or rough enough to climb, the ants flowed over. Larger or smoother things were circled, but no matter what, the living cord reformed and became whole.
“It’s cool,” said Claudia. “Nothing can stop them. Nothing.”
“Where’s Mom?” Dee glanced around. “I’m hungry.”
Claudia stared at the ants. “Nothing ever.”
Dee stood and saw the open bag of sugar lying on its side at the kitchen table’s edge. The sugar on the floor had spilled from this bag. On the table there were also squeezed lemon halves, a wooden spoon in a sticky puddle, and a glass bottle—empty except a few light brown drops. Dee picked up the bottle. Tequila.
“Mom’s in her room?” she asked.
Dee frowned. “With the pitcher.”
“She had a hard day,” said Claudia. It was the first hard day their mother’d had in more than two weeks. There would be more after this, though. There always were. “Peanut butter sandwiches for dinner, I guess.”
Dee set the bottle down hard. With both feet, she stamped on the ants. Stamp! Stamp! Stamp! Stamp! “Filthy things.” She stormed out.
Claudia kept her mouth shut. Her eyes filled, so she clenched them shut as well, sucked in a breath, and held it. When the urge to cry passed, she opened her eyes and glanced down.
The line had reformed.
It flowed from the screen door to the sugar pile and back again, unbroken. Only wrinkles showed the leftover obstacles and crushed bodies. Claudia wiped away her tears and settled back to watch. If the mess and ants weren’t cleaned up by the time their mother came out, it would be bad. But right now, as the line went on and on, maybe everything would be all right.