Not easy for an ant to cross sawdust. Would it feel like when he clambered over boulders and rock to get to Adriana on the beach? Or like some un-named mother on tv news, at risk of treading on a landmine, picking her way over girders, chunks of wall, smashed pavements, to rescue her child from a pulverised house? He’d been afraid Adriana would recognise him, not as her broad-shouldered hero, but a bookish youth, about to crash into the gap between two identities.
As a boy, playing alone, he’d kicked down ant’s nests, dropped lighted newspaper onto the fleeing insects, stamped on the one that might have got away.
Today’s ant, instead of skirting the shavings on the shed floor, went head first into trouble, antennae flailing, floundering for toeholds on its ramshackle progress to nowhere.
If he carried on whittling, more shavings would rain round the ant like bombs. Adriana, Libbie, Kath, Annie, Wendy – each time he’d recovered his life, another female would upon his world. Devastated – though in the midst of life, distracted by hope, he’d have called that an exaggeration.
Love attained, enjoyed, neglected, betrayed, destroyed. In an elegant simulation, the ant was showing life’s absurdity.
Except here he was, still, accompanied by the shed door’s friendly creak, the sunlit curtain’s fluttering. He whittled, unconcerned about the result. He had his folding table, kettle, camping stove, a mug for tea. He had the power to drip boiling water on the ant, grind out its life under his boot. Would it be kind, or cruel, to put it out of its misery?
Instead, he tore off a corner of newspaper, scooped the ant up, whisked it outside, watched it scurry over a pebble and disappear into the grass.