In the ant town, in the child’s mind, the ants are all friends and they leave every morning to go work in the yard. Some of the ants are garbage ants and they clean and tidy the edge of the ant hill and some of the ants are warrior ants and they fight invasive ants and other bug enemies. Others of the ants gather food to bring back and you can see them, sometimes, waving a leaf or carcass in the air, and still others are storytellers who leave and enter the grassy expanse to return with tall tales about what they have seen.
In the child’s mind, the storyteller ants are always those found the farthest from the ant hill, climbing to a high perch or hiding in the flora, and watching the other ants and beetles and butterflies and lizards, and the child imagines they return in the evening full of news and wonder. When a neighbor’s dog bounds after the ball, the ants speak of giants and UFOs, and when the child visits, they speak of gods. The ant town, in the child’s mind, is called Antville, and on summer days when the child does not want to hear in the morning the Price is Right again, the child takes a towel and goes out to the yard and lays down, stomach first, to watch the ants as they leave and return and work. The child ignores the sounds of the mother cleaning the kitchen and ignores the television as it cycles through another day time soap. The child watches the ants and ignores the phone when it rings.
The child sees a green lizard hunt the ants and it darts to and away from the ant hill with hungry curiosity and the child waits, still as a stone, and then when the lizard next approaches, the child waves its hand and scares the lizard away. The mother calls the child and the child says it is busy, because the child believes the work it is doing is like the work of the storyteller ants, and nothing is more important on this earth. In the midday the child hears a car drive and park in the driveway and the child knows it is the grandmother who has come to check on the mother while the father is away.
The child leaves the towel and goes to check on the grandmother who is checking on the mother and the tv is off and they are all in the kitchen eating sliced apples and peanut butter. In the midday light the room is bright with sun and the child enjoys the kitchen and the hug of the grandmother and the voice of the grandmother asking the mother if the mother needs anything at all. The mother is afraid of the father and the child is also but the mother has no money with which to feed the child and the grandmother will not offer to watch the child while the mother works because the grandmother believes the child should be raised by the mother and so the mother and the child live with the father who scares them. The child can tell the mother resents the grandmother for how she offers anything when she means only small things and the child decides to leave and return to Antville.
In Antville the ants are busy and the child places a slice of apple, stolen from the kitchen, beside the hill. The child watches the ants, at first a few and then many, break up the apple into tiny bites to carry back into Antville for another meal, another time. A breeze flutters the grass top and the child sees aphids ascend and descend along the stalks. The child hears the door close when the grandmother leaves and hears the grandmother say goodbye and the child knows to not go back inside until later, when the television can be heard again. The father will come home, after dark, and the television will stay on. The mother will take a bath and the child will finish supper. The child will eat alone. And when the mother tucks the child into bed, the child will hear his father walk down the hall. The child will listen for which room the father chooses. And if the father chooses his own bed, and goes to sleep, the child will sleep too. And when the child sleeps, the child will dream of Antville, because in the ant town, the child is safe.
Originally from Georgia, LJ Pemberton is a writer / artist / futurist living in Los Angeles, California. Her essays, poetry, and award-winning stories have been featured in the Los Angeles Review, PANK, Cobalt, VICE, the Brooklyn Rail, and elsewhere. New work is forthcoming from Cosmonauts Avenue, Hobart, LEVEE, and Drunk Monkeys. She currently reviews fiction for Publishers Weekly. Her (yet unpublished) novel, STARBOI, is a queer tale of obsession and heartbreak set in the recent past.She holds an MFA from Columbia University and is formerly an assistant editor at NOON. You can find her on twitter @ljabouttown.