Where will the subdivided go?

I was surrounded by a thousand tiny landmines and Sophie was staring at me like I was about to rollerblade over her cat. The ants had trickled across the floor, collecting in pools around crumbs that shook free on the last round of toast. A few intrepid climbers circled the rim of a jar of gooseberry jam my grandmother had given to me last Autumn. My grandmother died a few weeks ago.Sophie moved back and forth like a sheepdog trying to herd the ants into a corner. “I vaccumed the sand and wrapped the glass in newspaper, so leave them alone. They’re not like the others.”The others were regular visitors. Every two weeks Nick would leave a roast chicken carcass in the living room. A hundred thousand ants would carry it away molecule by molecule, a massive pyramid construction project in reverse. There were three or four half-empty containers of ant rid under the laundry sink.But like she said, this was hardly an Egyptian plague. I tried to forget about the jam and looked towards the bin. “I’m more interested in what happens when they finish. If you left the ant farm back in the laundry, I guess they’d have gone back there.”“They’ve probably got a queen to go back to.” Sophie looked guilty all of a sudden. “I didn’t think of that.”I picked up a crust and tried to tempt the ants away from the gooseberry mash. “That’s bees, isn’t it?”“I thought it was ants as well. I’m sure the instructions said something about queens.”The door slammed, and Nick and Souter yelled their way into the hallway. Propitiatory chip smells wafted into the kitchen. I grabbed a bottle of sauce and hurried out to join them in the living room, Sophie a few steps behind me. They already had a bottle of sauce, “couldn’t remember if we had any here, figured we’d use a whole bottle anyway.” Nick poured it into four puddles around the chip paper and we began mining the grease.After a few chips and the beginnings of a potato cake, Nick looked up at Sophie apologetically.“Sorry for smashing your ant farm Soph.” He ran fingers through his oily hair. “We were trying to be careful, but it was a really fluky shot – bounced off the ironing board and the shopping trolley. We’re really sorry though, we’ll get you a new one.”Souter nodded in agreement. “Totally. Hey how are the ants doing?”“They’ve made it to the kitchen. I’ll show you after.” Sophie looked down and wiped her hands on her jeans. Souter swallowed a particularly large mash of chips. A python gorging itself on a huge ice age mammal pushed though my mind. I realised I was doing the same thing and I felt a little bit sick. I leaned away from the chips for probably ten seconds, then reached for another one.But Nick had stopped eating and he looked across at Sophie. “What if we built a kind of nest for them outside? We could pile up the sand and…what else do they need? They need tunnels, yeah?”Sophie pushed herself up, sitting straight on the couch. “They’ll dig their own tunnels.”“Well, to show them it’s their space we could just put a lot of sugar around, make it into a Willy Wonka ant utopia. We could stick the remnants of the ant farm there. It would look like one of those futuristic cities where all the old buildings have been incorporated into the new ones. On a desert planet.”Sophie rolled the leftover chips and paper into a grease ball and threw it in the fireplace. “Okay. C’mon, lets do it now before the germs in the kitchen kill them all.”We walked out to the garden and scanned the corrugated iron garden beds for the best place . Sophie settled on a small, slightly elevated scrap of dirt covered in leaves. None of us had much in the way of tools, so we scooped with our hands to clear the leaves out of the way and pushed a mound of dirt together like a sand volcano on the beach. We were enthusiastic, part of a United Nations relief effort.Sophie retrieved the ant farm fragments out of the bin and stuck them into the mound at random angles. A few survivors from the initial smash began walking over the mound uneasily. She looked at them with concern. “It’s still Mars. C’mon, lets get some sugar.” Souter ran ahead of her and returned with the house cafe sugar shaker. He rained it over the sand like manna from heaven. Nick stuck a couple of Violet Crumbles into the mound like flakes into soft serve ice cream. Souter was good enough to throw a mango on to the pile. I almost added the last piece of my birthday cake, but Sophie could tell that I didn’t want to. She stopped me, so I gave it to her.The ant mound was looking pretty appetising, certainly better than the chips. But no-one seemed clear how we were going to encourage the ants to emigrate. I saw Nick staring at the vacuum cleaner but he looked away when he saw me watching him. Souter picked up a funnel, then put it down again. Even Sophie seemed at something of a loss.I, however, had been thinking about this, and let the words drop slowly like a timpani roll leading into a symphony.“A sugar trail. We’ll slowly make a sugar trail out to the mound.”Everyone turned, and Nick nodded. “That’s great. It’ll be like Hansel and Gretel. Sort of.”We had used up all the sweet things in the house, so Nick ran back up to the corner store and bought another half kilo of sugar. He was back inside five minutes. Sophie ran the sugar out like an hourglass from a few points long the ant line, uniting them just outside the kitchen door. A few ants took notice, and tributaries formed. The ant line gradually shifted gear, turning slowly like a massive ocean liner. We got chairs out and set them along the route, and at regular intervals we would offer commentary on the migration.“Look at the little bastards.”“They’re still heading out there.”“I hope they’re not cold.”Even Nick and Souter stuck it out for a couple of hours, till it started to get dark and they justifiably wandered back inside to think about tea. I sat for a little longer with Sophie.“You happy then?” I asked.She sat quietly. There was no moon, and I could only just make out her pale face. “I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before. It’s not like letting canaries go, is it?”“How do you mean?” I picked up a stick and started breaking it into pieces.“I’m sure they’ll survive in the wild. We didn’t really need to make the ant mound, did we?”I smiled and hoped she returned it. “I wouldn’t worry about it either way. Think of it as the last act of a welfare-minded government before the voters chuck them out.”“I guess. It was nice of everybody to help out.” She sat a moment longer, then got up and walked over to the ant mound, careful not to stray into the path of stragglers. I could just see her silhouetted against the excuse for a fence, holding herself like she was about to walk on stage to make a speech. Then she dropped down and buried her hands into the mound. I started up from my chair, stopped – watched as she scrambled the evening’s work.Sand hit the fence like pebbles dropping into water.She clapped her hands together, breathing deeply. I let her inhale and exhale, then moved towards her. “I’ll tell them the dog from next door did it. I caught him and managed to hit him with a potato.”“No.” Sophie started towards the light stumbling weakly from the kitchen window. “If they notice, tell them I did it.” She looked back towards me. “And tell them the ants will work their own land from now on.”

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