This girl, she doesn’t need a name, is sitting on the sidewalk and watching ants move down a line. They follow the cement to the grass, walking through one of the culverts carved in the concrete. The girl knows the trenches don’t occur naturally, spaced along the fake stone; she knows that they—the construction men—just cut them in with a saw. The girl watched them do it when the sidewalk was put in.
The girl doesn’t know why the culverts are cut, only that they are there. She wonders if maybe they are meant to channel the rain. Either way, the ants love them, and so the girl loves them. The ants are small and shiny black. Some of them are carrying bits of sand; others have chunks of softer things the girl imagines must be food. Some of them carry dead ants.
The girl imagines magnificent ant funerals deep under the earth. She imagines that when it is time for a queen to die, there is a great sarcophagus built for her. The sarcophagus would be blue as the sky, with amber inlay like autumn leaves, and tiny bits of quartz clear as glass. The sarcophagus would be built of such a size that all of her children could fit with her, all but one. The last child that the queen laid would be the next queen, safe and warm in her egg.
And after the queen and her children disappeared into the cold stone of the sarcophagus, the ant baby would hatch, and this ant, this queenling, would reach out to a blue mother with amber eyes, a cold, hard mother incapable of being anything but a memory.
The girl understands bugs.
She understands being raised by a memory of love.
The girl leaves the ants and steals a bag of sugar from her grandmother’s kitchen. When she returns, she opens the bag and spreads fine white lines of sugar on the ground. Soon the ants are swarming on the sugar in black lines squiggling over the cement, over the earth.
I am fed by the memory of love, the lines read. I am the child of a dead mother, a mother who left me pictures and an apology, a mother who loved a gun.
She watches the ants eat her words, taking them down into the earth to be kept secret, to be preserved forever in a vault the color of a blue sky.
**The Girl Who Loved Bugs was originally printed in Vestal Review’s Winter 2009 Issue.