Monday, February 15, 2010
Ants for Christmas
Cedar Fort is asking for Christmas stories and based on our recent ANT experiences in our new place, I came up with this one. Tell me what you think.
Ants for Christmas
By Christine Thackeray
Sarah put her hands on the stained countertop, hitched herself up and knelt next to the cookie jar while opening the tall dented oak cupboard. Rummaging around between the Minute Rice, Potato Flakes and Oatmeal, she hoped to find a box of crackers or something sweet to munch on when she noticed the edge of a red and green container that was conspicuously tucked behind everything else.
“Christmas Crunchies” she whispered to herself, allowing a momentary smile to flit across her freckled face. “Nice try.”
Jumping off the counter, Sarah grabbed an apple from the filled fruit basket on the kitchen table and stormed down the hall to her room. She flopped on her bed and took a huge bite. The juicy mouthful was difficult to chew, but she chomped hard while staring at the stained blotches on the ceiling, mirroring the dark rings in the carpet. Even Christmas Crunchies, her favorite cereal of all time that she only ate on Christmas morning, couldn’t save this Christmas, she thought.
Swallowing, she let her eyes follow the crack that spread down the wall facing her. “Why did we ever move to this dump- and right before Christmas? Sure, it’s next to Aunt Linda’s, and I love that, but the house is disgusting.”
When she had first heard of the move, Sarah was excited because she hoped her mother would finally let her get a pet. She didn’t really care what kind- puppy, kitten or hamster. She just wanted something to call her own. In the past it had been out of the question because her older sister was allergic, but with Eden going off to college last fall, and all the space around them, she had hoped her mother would agree. Unfortunately, it was the same answer she’d heard a hundred times, “No pets!” Eden deciding to go to her friend’s for Christmas instead of coming home even made it worse.
Still, there was always wishing. Wasn’t that what Christmas was for? Sarah closed her eyes tight and mouthed the words. “Please, please can I have a pet? Any kind, I just need something. Please.”
As if in reply, there was a knock on her door. Sarah threw the half-eaten apple on her end table, stood and put her hand on the antique knob that turned with a creak. There stood her mom with a larger than normal grin on her face. “Sweetie, guess what?”
“We’re moving back?” Sarah said with arms folded.
“No.” Her mom’s smile disappeared. “I just got a call from the neighbor next door. They are coming to visit and have a child about your age.”
“Really?” Sarah said in genuine surprise. “I’ll be right out.” She looked around the room for something she could do with her special visitor, and her eyes lit on a box in the corner. She threw back the lid and took out her bead kit to make friendship bracelets. The flat blare of the ancient doorbell in the front room brought hope bubbling to her heart as she rushed down the hall to greet her new neighbor.
When Sarah got to the living room, she could see the top of a pretty blond head next to a tall woman with her dark hair pulled into a tight pony tail. Sarah rounded the couch and took a spot on the loveseat next to her mom. She blinked twice before registering what she saw. There on the couch across from her was a boy with round rimmed glasses and a bowl haircut. His limp bangs hung down in his eyes, which looked like bulging bug eyes through his thick lenses. She couldn’t help but let out a muffled giggle when she read the title of the book under his arm, “INSECTS.” He even looked like an insect.
“So this is Sarah,” said the new neighbor. “What do you have there?”
“Nothing.” Sarah hugged her plastic bead box and cowered back next to the arm of the sofa, wishing she was anywhere else.
“Well, this is Nat. He likes bugs.” His mother nodded proudly in her son’s direction.
“Is that why he’s named after one?” Sarah couldn’t believe she actually said what she was thinking, but it just popped out.
“Actually, my name is Nathan--Nat for short--and the bug you are referring to is spelled with a ‘G’ on the front so there’s really no relation.” Nat said with his nose in the air.
“That’s interesting.” Sarah’s mother raised her eyebrows, trying to encourage her daughter to be polite.
Sarah sighed. “Can I please be excused? I don’t feel well.”
“Well, if this isn’t a good time…” Nat’s mother said as Sarah made her way slowly back up the hall with her box.
She opened her door and flopped back on the bed. “That’s it. What could possibly happen to make this Christmas worse?” Sarah put her bead kit on the end table and something caught her eye. She rolled on her side until her chin touched the table, and her nose was inches from the unbelievable sight. There sat the apple she had put down minutes earlier, swarming with ants. It looked like it was pulsing with them. An unearthly scream began in her gut and shot out of her mouth with a force she didn’t know she had.
In seconds everyone in the house arrived at her doorway. Sarah was on her feet, pointing. “Look at them. They’re so gross. I can’t live here.”
Nat rushed forward and knelt beside the table, examining it. “These are honey pot ants. They are rather rare. Do you mind?” He took a plastic bag out of his pocket, blew it open like a small balloon and threw the bag on top of the apple, ants and all, scooping them up in a single motion. Four ants were crawling across his hand, and he watched them intently. “Aren’t they great?”
“I’m going to Aunt Linda’s.” Sarah covered her mouth, trying not to gag and rushed out the front door at a dead run.
The smell of fried chicken caught her nose while she was still only halfway up the path between the two houses. Aunt Linda waved from the window and threw open the door in welcome. “I was just getting ready to head over to your place, you must be psychic.”
“No, I’m miserable.” Sarah collapsed in the ladder back chair, put her elbows on the light pine table and caught her head in her hands.
“It can’t be that bad. Look, I saved the drumsticks for you.” Aunt Linda set a plate in front of her niece with two steaming drumsticks, perfectly browned. She patted Sarah’s head and sat next to her with an open cheery face that made Sarah feel warm inside. Nothing in the world was better than Aunt Linda’s fried chicken, and the smell forced Sarah to raise her chin and take a big whiff, before letting her shoulders droop back down.
“It is that bad. I met the new neighbors, and Nat is gross! There were ants in my room- millions of them. I’ll never be able to sleep there again.” Sarah picked up a drumstick and took a bite. “And, there’s no way I’m getting what I want for Christmas. What could be worse?”
“I don’t know.” Aunt Linda watched her eating and shrugged. “Aren’t there any good things you like about living here?”
“Well, I’m next to you, and Mom is really excited about fixing up the house. She says I can paint my bedroom any color I want, but we aren’t starting until after the New Year.” Sarah put down the bone of her first piece of chicken and picked up the other piece.
“Let me ask you something.” Aunt Linda picked up the bone from off her plate. “Why didn’t you finish your first drumstick?”
“What do you mean?” Sarah scrunched up her nose. “I did.”
“You didn’t eat this part.” She held up the clean chicken bone. “Don’t you like it?”
“Are you kidding?” Sarah laughed. “You can’t eat a chicken bone. Well, maybe you can, but it would taste awful.”
“Does the fact that you don’t like the bone make the rest of your fried chicken not taste good?” The lower lids of Aunt Linda’s eyes lifted slightly with the edges of her lips in an encouraging grin.
“Oh, I get it.” Sarah dropped the half-eaten drumstick on her plate. “You’re saying I should enjoy the parts of the move I like and let the rest go, right?”
“Maybe.” Aunt Linda stood up and walked over to the stove. “Now I was going to bring the rest of this chicken over to your folk’s so we could spend Christmas Eve together. Do you want to help me?”
“Aunt Linda, is there any way my parents could come over here?” Sarah cleared her throat. “I’m not sure I want to go back yet.”
“Alright, but you remember what I said.”
Aunt Linda lifted the receiver of the yellow phone off the wall and before long the family arrived. The evening was spent exchanging gifts, singing carols and telling stories. That night Sarah returned home in a much better mood and decided to try and only focus on the best parts of the holidays. Her mother assured her the exterminator would be coming right as soon as he could and that she had thoroughly cleaned her room. Sarah peeked through her bedroom door. It was spotless, smelled mildly of insect repellent, and on the bed she could see a new pair of soft pink Christmas pajamas.
Sarah put them on and walked over to her parent’s door. The rich wood was ornately carved, and the knob was made of crystal. She put her hand on the cool glass which caught a shaft of light from the Christmas lights in the window, splaying a miniature rainbow on her hand. Sarah smiled and opened the door. “Thanks, Mom and Dad.” she said with her head bowed. “These are really cute. I’ll try harder to make this a great Christmas.”
Her mom gave her a big hug. “I’m glad. Just wait, tomorrow will be a wonderful day.”
Sarah headed to the bathroom and admired her new nightdress in the ornate gold-trimmed mirror, as she put the paste on her toothbrush. The fabric was so soft it reminded her of rabbit fur, which reminded her that she would never have a rabbit or a hamster or even a mouse for Christmas. No pets. With a frown she turned on the water and started brushing her teeth, when she noticed that the toothpaste tasted odd. Opening her mouth wide, she looked in the mirror. Sarah turned her head slowly back and forth to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. Little black specks floated amid the white foam. Her gaze drifted down to her hand where she could see ants creeping up and down the handle of her toothbrush right near her fingers.
Horrified, the scream that wanted to erupt was drowned by fistfuls of water being dashed in her mouth. With both hands she splashed her teeth and tongue over and over until she was sure there wasn’t a single creature or body part still in her mouth. Then she washed her hands with the vigor of a surgeon four times to make sure that there were none crawling on her and threw the toothbrush directly in the trash can.
When at last knew she was ant-free, Sarah lifted her head to catch her reflection. A beard of water dribbled down her front, flattening the fluffy fabric of her new pajamas. There were big white blotches where the toothpaste foam had dripped onto the pink and after rubbing them with the corner of a bath towel for another ten minutes, she was sure her pajamas would never be the same again.
“I tried to look for the good.” Sarah stepped into the hall and peered towards her parent’s room. The light beneath the doorway was out, meaning they had already gone to bed. “But there is nothing good about this day. Nothing except…”
Sarah suddenly remembered that morning. Marching in the kitchen, she grabbed the first chair she came to and stuck it against the cupboard, climbed up and retrieved the cereal. “I don’t care that it’s a Christmas morning tradition. I’m not going to get what I want anyway so what does it matter?”
She yanked open the lid and squeezed the plastic bag in the box wide open, exposing the red and yellow little squares of sweet corny goodness. She hurried to the get a bowl and spoon. As she opened the refrigerator for the milk, she stopped.
There, beside the milk, was Aunt Linda’s leftover fried chicken. Sarah looked at the plump drumstick that seemed to be glaring back at her. She took a deep breath and closed the fridge door without touching the milk. Turning, Sarah put back the bowl and spoon, closed the top of the cereal box and put it back in the cupboard.
“I’ll try. Even if I don’t get what I want, I can find something to be happy about,” she said as she walked back to her bedroom and closed the door.
The next morning Christmas came. Sarah opened the stuffed animals her parents got her and tried not to look too disappointed that they weren’t real.
“We got you Christmas Crunchies.” Her dad said with a big smile. “They were hidden in the cupboard.”
Sarah tried to look surprised. “Really? Thanks.”
Her mother had made a full breakfast of eggs and bacon for her dad and had even set out an extra empty bowl with a little pitcher of milk at her place. The cereal box sat on the table, and Sarah pulled back the previously opened flap, relieved that her parents hadn’t noticed.
She shook the cereal into the bowl and lifted the small pitcher to pour on the milk when her mom put a hand on her shoulder. “I hope you aren’t too disappointed about not getting a pet like you wanted, but this is Eden’s home too, and she gets so sick around any kind of fur. I’m so sorry. She’ll be back next week.”
“It’s okay.” Sarah told her mom who was staring at her bowl with a look of horror. Sarah flipped her head forward and watched as at least ten ants wiggled out from the centers of the cereal pieces and tried to escape over the sides of the bowl. She nearly dropped the milk and pushed her chair away from the table.
“I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine how those creatures could have gotten in there.” Her father said scratching his head.
Sarah’s mom ran to get a dishrag to shoo the ants away when the doorbell rang. “It must be Aunt Linda.” She hurried to the front room with rag in hand and threw open the door.
“Merry Christmas,” said an unfamiliar voice. Sarah turned around to see the neighbor lady with her hair pulled back in the same ponytail. Beside her Nat stood holding a big package. “Nat made something for Sarah for Christmas and insisted we bring it to her right away. Sorry if we are interrupting.”
“No, come in.” Sarah’s mother opened the door wide.
Nat walked across the room and put a large thin package carefully on the table so that it sat up on its side. Sarah couldn’t help but notice his dirty fingernails and cringed. He stared at her bowl with a smile. “More ants, I see.”
“Yup.” Sarah clasped her hands together and tried to look interested in the gift. “So you brought me a present?”
“Here.” Nat lifted his dirty palms in a gesture for Sarah to open it. She ripped off the plain newsprint wrapping, exposing two thin sheets of glass held a few inches apart with a wooden frame. The space between the two panes was about three-quarters full of dirt.
“What is it? A dirt picture or something?” Sarah asked.
“No, look closer,” the boy said evenly.
Sarah leaned over and noticed a white chunk at the top of the dirt. It was quaking slightly. Then she spotted a little piece of white about the size of a grain of rice moving across the soil and then ducking down into a tunnel against the glass. As soon as she recognized what she was seeing, a network of corridors and passageways came into view, filled with worker ants. Behind the glass she didn’t feel the same aversion she had before. In fact, it was fascinating. “Where did you get them?”
Nat knelt beside her and watched the glass as well. “These are your ants-- from your apple. See, that’s you’re apple, right there, although they like bread dipped in sugar water better. I thought you might want to keep them as pets.”
“Pets?” Sarah’s face lit up.
“And look. These ones are headed back to their nest.” Nat pointed to the trail of ants that had climbed out of her cereal bowl and were moving in single file down the leg of the table. “We could follow them and dig up the queen.” Nat bit his lip. “The plastic box you had yesterday would be a perfect container to start a colony. What do you think?”
“I think that sounds great.” Sarah got up and headed to her room. Before she had finished dumping out the assorted color beads on her bed, her mom walked in the room and closed the door behind her.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Her mom looked into Sarah’s eyes intently. “It’s okay if you don’t.”
“No, I really do. But is it alright with you?” Sarah wiped out the inside of the box with her hand. “Can I keep ants as pets?” Her brows lifted in anticipation.
“I guess that would be fine.” Her mother shrugged.
“So I did get what I wanted.” Sarah turned to hurry down the hall. “I got a pet. No, I got a whole bunch of pets. I got ants for Christmas!”