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So here I am, observing ants, and it's one o'clock in the morning. I'm in my bedroom, but I should be in bed--I have to get up early tommorrow morning (technically, I have to get up early this morning). But instead, I'm laying on the floor, observing ants.
My house has recently become a Holiday Inn for ants. Big black ants, not the vicious red kind. I need to call the exterminator. I'll get around to it sometime.
An ant is crawling by me now. My floor is well-carpeted. To the ant, I imagine it is a perfect scale model of Veitnam.
I have the Vix in my hand--the stuff you rub on your chest and neck when you're conjested. It stinks, but it can clear up your snot holes with a few whiffs. I've been using it quite a bit this winter.
But looking at the ant crawling by me, I wonder how it would react to Vix. Can ants smell? Do they get conjested, for that matter?
So I screw the lid off the little jar of Vix. I turn the jar upside-down and set it over the ant. Now the ant is trapped under the jar. Trapped with those incredible fumes. Like a bio-sphere built by a madman.
The jar of Vix is an opaque blue, so I can't see the ant underneath it. After a minute or so, I wonder what that ant is up to under there. So I lift the jar.
The ant is sitting. Just sitting. He is completely still on the rug, but he doesn't look dead. Then he begins to move. He twitches a little at first, then a lot. Then, very slowly, he walks in circles. He walks slowly in a crcular motion, then in a figure-eight.
The ant does this for a long time, and I get bored. I wonder if the ant is suffering. Do ants ever feel sad, I wonder. I doubt it.
I'm worried that the ant is suffering terribly though, so I kill it. I pick up a bar-bell that I use to work out with, and I roll it over the ant.
The ant is still moving, but it isn't going anywhere. It's laying on the rug, its mid-section caved in, and it's thrashing. So I roll the bar-bell over it a few more times until it quits moving.
I feel bad about the ant. Not too bad, of course. It is only an ant.
Now the ant is completely dead, squished on my rug. I am about to throw it into the trash when I see a second ant. This one is crawling down the wall towards the floor.
It is black night outside, and I should go to bed. I have to get up early this morning. But there is an ant crawling down the wall.
My bed-room is small, and lit by a nightlight which casts an orange glow over the room. In the dim light, the ant on the wall looks like a little shadow.
The ant on the wall reaches the floor, and begins to stumble and fight its way through the jungle which is my rug. I wonder if ants feel fear.
I still have the Vix, and I hold it over the second ant. But I don't trap it under the jar.
The ant starts to run, not in any particualr direction. I move the jar, and the ant moves away from it, as if repelled by it. I move the jar, guiding the ant to move as I want it to. To go where I am directing.
The ant stops running because the dead ant is still on the floor. The dead ant is right in front of the living one, because that is where I have guided it. I want to know if ants feel fear.
I don't like thinking of the ants as "the dead ant" or "the living ant". So I make up names for them. I wonder if they are male or female. I decide to make one of them female and the other male. The dead one can be a female, because she is smaller.
I name the female Juliet, because it is a romantic name, and the real Juliet also died. And of course, the living ant would be Romeo. Romeo found Juliet when she was dead. When he thought she was dead.
I wonder if Romeo the ant really was the mate of the dead Juliet on my rug. Do ants fall in love? I don't think so. But still, I wonder.
Romeo's two front legs are perched on Juliet's body. I look closely, and I see his antenae jerking and sweeping in all directions. I see his jaws working, opening and closing. He puts a front leg to his mouth and then rubs it on an antenna. This is quite fascinating.
Is Romeo doing this because of Juliet's death? Is this an ant way of expressing emotion? A ritual?
Is Romeo angry? Can ants be angry? Is he sad? Is he mourning?
I need to get up early in the morning.
Romeo walks around a little, but he never gets far from Juliet. He never leaves her.
He goes back to her and does the ritual with his antannae and jaws and legs. He sits by her.
Now I am getting angry, but also sad. I am angry because Romeo is acting like he is more than just an ant. He is acting like he has feelings. I am also angry that I killed Juliet, because it seems like a cowardly thing to do. I am sad...
I don't know why I'm sad.
A breeze blows outside, and I hear the scratching of twigs against my house. There is a tree right outside my room. When the wind blows, the branches scratch.
Romeo is still with Juliet, and there is only one thing to do. I'll kill Romeo as well. Then maybe I won't feel so angry and sad. After all, the person Romeo died in the play as well. He died because he thought Juliet was dead. So must Romeo the ant.
I plan to kill Romeo quickly, but there is a bottle of perfume on my desk. I wonder if ants can smell. I wonder if they react differently to perfume than they do to Vix.
The perfume is the kind that you spray. So I take it off the desk, point it at Romeo, and spray. Romeo jerks as if he is on fire. He begins to run frantically, back and forth, in tight little circles. He curls up on himself like a cat. He stretches out and rubs his head agains the rug.
Another gust of wind blows outside, and the branches scratch the house loudly. I need to call a trimmer to trim the tree. I need to call an exterminator. I need to get up early in the morning. I'll get around to it. I'll get around to all of it.
Romeo is on his feet again, staggering and nearly collapsing. He jitters when he walks, because some of his legs are stuck together. He is still moving fast, but he never gets far away from Juliet. Why the fuck won't he get further away from Juliet! Even now, when he is in pain, he is staying close to her. Do ants feel sad?
Romeo's jaws are opening and closing so quickly, as if he is chewing gum. As if he is suffocating on perfume. I spray the perfume again. Maybe it will kill him now.
He jerks and squirms over to Juliet. He lays down next to her, just like in the play. Does he want to cry because he will never see her again? Do ants cry?
For crying out loud, do ants cry?
How do ants have sex? Do they enjoy it like humans do? Do they make love?
I know so little about the ants that I observe. So damn little. It makes me mad.
Romeo keeps rubbing his legs against his head, as if he is trying to get the perfume off. His jaws are gaping and snapping. His body is twisting in so many ways, like a balloon-puppet. Did you know that ants look like ballon puppets?
Romeo just keeps struggling. He keeps rubbing his head.
Will Romeo miss having sex with Juliet? Will he miss waking up next to her? Do they have children? Will their children miss them?
Those branches! Scratching. They must get louder every night, those fucking branches.
Romeo is still alive. I think that maybe perfume can't kill ants. At least not this kind of perfume. Maybe different perfumes can kill ants. Wouldn't that make a great commercial? "Wear our perfume, it kills ants." Ha ha.
Do ants fuck?
I've decided to help Romeo instead of kill him. He has fought so desperately to stay alive. He deserves my help. But here's the thing: is he fighting to stay alive, really? Does he want, more than anything else, just to live?
Is he horrified of death, because he understands that death is just nothing at all?
Does he know that if he dies, he will be nothing at all? Nothing but a dead ant in the trash can. Is that what he is afraid of?
I think that maybe it is just Instinct. Or just an automatic reaction. Like a chicken reacts when its head is severed. Surely, a chicken does not think or feel as it thrashes and smears the remains of its neck against the chopping block. Surely, ants are not smart enough to be afraid, or to love. That is foolish. Why won't Romeo leave Juliet? Why?
In any case, I am going to help Romeo now instead of hurt him. He is tired. I am not cruel.
I wonder if Romeo knows I exist. Probably not. I am too big for him to understand. And if he did know that I exist, he would think I am cruel. But I am not cruel. I only want to understand. I want to know why ants struggle, why they try to live.
They are so small. Do they know that? They have no real purpose in life.
I will help Romeo by washing him. I will wash all the perfume off of him. So I nudge him onto a piece of paper, and I carry him to the bathroom.
I dump him onto my palm. He is still struggling, but slowly. I turn the faucet on in the sink. Just a trickle. I let the water go into my palm.
I move my hand around, swishing Romeo in the water. I won't leave him there too long, or he'll drown.
My hand is over the sink, and I tip it a little now, to pour the water out. I can't tip it too far or...
I wonder now, about what it is like inside the drain. I wonder if the drain just goes on and on, an endless tunnel. Or does it stop somewhere? I wonder how long Romeo will live in there. I am so angry. I think I'm sad, too.
I try to imagine what Romeo is going through. He is floating along an endless river, rushing through the curving pipe. Where will he end up? In a sewer full of shit? Will he die among the shit?
Maybe he won't die. Maybe he'll just float. Or maybe he'll come up someplace underground. Someplace dry enough to walk on, but still wet and dark. Maybe he'll have a new life in the ground. What will he eat, and will he think of Juliet? Or maybe he'll just drown.
I feel guilty as I return to Juliet. She is still laying there, and I feel guilty because I killed her and then sent Romeo down the endless river. And I only meant to help him. Really.
I need to go to bed now. But I can't.
Juliet is on the rug. Maybe she isn't dead. Maybe she is unconcious, like in the play. I crouch over her and breathe on her. The breath of life? She isn't moving. I blow on her. She isn't moving. Why won't she move?
I take her into the bathroom, and cup her in the water. I swish her around like I did with Romeo. Can water reverse this? Will she get up and be ok?
She won't get up. She doesn't want to make me feel better. She is making me angry. All she does is lay there and pretend to be dead. And she is just pretending. I know it. She can get up. If she wants to, she can get up and make me happy. She is not really dead, because Juliet was not really dead in the play.
Angry, I throw her at the drain, and she sticks on the rim. I turn on the faucet all the way.
She is gone, to the same place as Romeo. Will she live when she sees him again? Will she even see him again?
I smash my hand against the faucet, and it breaks. It sprays water everywhere.
I need to call the plumber. I need to call the trimmer. I need to call the exterminator, and I need to go to bed so I can get up early this morning!
I go into my bedroom, and the light is still orange. The branches are scratching as if they are crafty and know that it makes me angry.
There is an ant on my desk. My house is infested with ants, did I tell you that?
There's an ant on my desk and there's a lighter in my drawer. There are tweezers in my medicine cabinet, and there is a sewing kit in my closet.
I will hold a needle in the tweezers. I will hold the lighter below the needle. I will make the needle hot.
I go to the bathroom, to the medicine cabinet. I get the tweezers. I go into my closet and get the needle from the sewing kit. I pull the lighter from my drawer, and my hands are shaking while I try to make the needle hot.
The ant is on my desk still, because ants are not smart. They don't want to live. They aren't afraid of death, because they know nothing about it. They do not love and they do not fuck!
I press the hot needle to the ant, and we both scream together. I can not hear his scream because he is very small. I am very big.
The branches scratch, but I can't think about that now. I need to go to bed and sleep, so I can get up in the morning. It is morning. It is four oclock in the morning.
I have the Vix, and I have a hell of congestion problem. I put on a little Vix.
I pull the nightlight out of the wall, and the room is dark like the sky. I lay in bed and listen to the branches.
One of the branches scratches my window now, making a screeching sound.
The wind outside. There is no wind outside.
The branch scrapes along my window. Surely the window will break soon, and surely there must be wind outside. I just don't hear it.
Branches have legs that look like ants. Ants have legs that look like branches. If ants were trees, then branches would be legs. If the branches are legs, then the trees are ants, and I don't hear wind blowing. So why is the window scratching?
What is scratching at my window?
I'm not afraid to die. I was supposed to get up early anyway.
But I'm afraid of Vix. Oh God.
I'm afraid they have Vix.