By MELISSA GOODRICH
Ants from different colonies dream of picnics. They dream on six-inch hills made of stones. Ants from different colonies leave smellscapes when they walk, their underbellies glands, their elbows dusty. Red ant colonies collect like freckles near the base of a tree. Black ants march up to porches, leave lines of stitches across sugar spills in the kitchen, coffee mugs crusted over with hazelnut. Ants from different colonies veer away from each another like flight paths. They see each other’s cities on the horizon out the sides of their eyes. Ants from different colonies can’t help but compare themselves:
What’s wrong with your chin?
Why are your legs so fat?
You look old, for an ant.
You aren’t pretty, even by ant standards.
Ants from different colonies don’t know why, but this hurts them. Or they do know why—they look in their ant-sized mirrors and take an ant-sized breath and think to themselves, Ants and humans are the only creatures that farm other creatures. Ants from different colonies look out across their pastures of aphids, stroke their antenna, cool themselves with dew, live for 30 years. They think, With an ant-face like this, no one will love me. I’m unlovable. An unlovable ant.
Ants from different ant colonies wish their ant-faces weren’t so prominent, wish their smell-scapes were richer, wish it didn’t hurt so much when a farmer crushed them with a shoe, when you’re crushed but not all the way, just fifty-percent of you. Fifty-percent crushed.
Ants from different colonies get swallowed by birds, get bulldozed by a rainstorm, crisp up in August like bacon bits. Ants from different colonies draw territorial maps, draw blood, start fracking their hills for nutrients, have colonies over 3,000 miles wide. Ants from different colonies transport dirt, transport seeds, transport bodies. Ants from different colonies don’t find joy in their daily lives anymore. They don’t know when they started coping so well they forgot what happiness was like. Sunshine on your antennae? A skinnier neck? Worrying about rejection less than you did before? Ants from different colonies need a lot of validation. They ask, “Can you please stop?” to the wind, the permafrost. They rarely laugh. Have you ever seen an ant colony laugh? You would have felt the world rumble.
Ants from different colonies aren’t calling their mothers, aren’t becoming mothers, are cloning themselves in an infinite loop.
Ants from different colonies live upwards of 30 years. The fact of death surprises them. Ants from different colonies weren’t sure they ever would die. A lifespan is a long time.
“I never wanted a lifespan,” say ants from different colonies. “I never knew it could be so long.”
Melissa Goodrich is a writer and educator based in Tucson, Arizona. She received her BA in Creative Writing from Susquehanna University and her MFA in Fiction from the University of Arizona. Her work has appeared in American Short Fiction, Artful Dodge, The Kenyon Review Online, Passages, and elsewhere. She is the author of the fiction collection Daughters of Monsters and the poetry chapbook IF YOU WHAT.