Ant Nurse and The Peppercorn Tree

The peppercorn tree was bleeding again.

There were ants camping around the sap. Sucking and fingering the yellow sticky mess.

I pushed my hands into the outside of the crusty surface and pushed harder. My finger punctured it and the gooey liquid attached itself to my finger tip.

I tasted it.

It wasn’t sweet like honey. I thought it was supposed to be sweet.

It’s not honey darling.

I looked at my arm and watched ants scurrying across my hands, musing underneath the sleeve of my black and white striped shirt.

I tried to pick them off one by one and put them back onto the ground.

I attempted to save them all.

I couldn’t.

I wondered if it mattered if I killed them. Tiny little ants. Did they matter?

I tried to poke the pieces of crusty sap back into place. I pushed at it, connecting it again like a jigsaw.

You can’t put it back together again, it’s broken.

I was sorry that I’d ruined their home.

I wasn’t sure why the ants liked the peppercorn tree so much, it smelled bitter and the honey from it wasn’t sweet like the golden honey my mother made toast with.

I looked up into the branches. There was a large dark hole in the trunk but it was too high for me to see into. I wondered who or what lived in the hole. I couldn’t imagine living in the peppercorn tree. It was smelly and sticky and would certainly be uncomfortable with all of the little black bits falling underneath your feet. The green tiny leaves weren’t much good for collecting. I always collected leaves and put them in a paper bag. I loved to sit on my bedroom floor and tear open the paper bag, placing the leaves on the floor. I would sort them into sizes and colours and good or bad. The ripped ones would never get thrown away. They were the broken ones that needed reshaping. Carefully I would rip around the edges of the broken leaves and try to make them into new shapes. I never collected the peppercorn leaves though because they were so tiny and smelly and messy.

At night, I lay in bed and thought about the peppercorn tree. I had been missing my old climbing trees since the day we’d moved. There were no trees worth climbing in this town. There were old trains and buildings and sheds and wheat mills. But not many trees. No cedar pine trees.

Perhaps I was too old to climb trees now.

The ants owned the peppercorn tree.

I would never stick my fingers in their sticky sap again.

That was their home and food.

My home reminded me of the peppercorn tree.

We were less than comfortable, we had little food and some of the walls had holes in them too.

I didn’t want to be like my father, bashing holes in walls and ruining a home. I knew what it felt like to be moved to new houses so I didn’t want to scare the ants and I didn’t want them to scurry up my arms and get lost and fall onto the ground. They might never find their real home again.

I didn’t want to leave the ants without their food. I knew what it felt like to be hungry, that gnawing feeling eating at the walls of my insides.

I promised myself that I would never stick my fingers into the ants home and pantry again.

Tomorrow, I would find something else to climb.

And I would take the ants a piece of honey toast.

Just to be sure they didn’t hate me or go hungry.

I was sure they’d like my honey better than their own anyway.

I would help them.

© ryan

Ant Nurse and The Peppercorn Tree

PJ Ryan

Melbourne, Australia

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