An undersized, ripe plum exploded in our two-tiered fruit basket. The stone fruit’s juices dribbled down over the apples in the bin’s bottom story. We didn’t notice; we were on holiday.
At first, the only indication that maturity had overcome regulation was a small purple stain beneath the lower bowl. Later, a smell, as well, indicated where goodness had evolved past safety. We didn’t take heed, however; we were still on the road. In certain district, it is wise to travel slowly.
A black queen, though, had become aware of the abundance. Earlier, her workers had fanned out in search of sustenance. One sister, meant to carry a crumb of rice cake, had picked up the scent of the spoiled fruit, instead. In a manner natural to her kind, she had telegraphed the treasure’s location.
We saw nothing; we were busied with being stopped at our neighborhood check point. In the Middle East , regular people carry knives and guns into ordinary villages.
Hundreds of kin came to partake in their newfound goodness. Tasking according to size, those hordes, likewise, raided our bananas, peaches, and grapes, and stole from the handful of cherries that our young had failed to eat. Those dark, minute multitudes made off, as well, with the tiny puffs of potato chip crumbs and with the sweet bits of cereal, which we had missed while packing. Their children would not go hungry.
The red queen, meanwhile, maneuvered her units. Incensed that her tribe, all of which were larger, faster, and stronger than the black army, had not claimed the booty, the red queen sent her infantry to battle. In the open terrain of our kitchen counter, red bodies flung themselves at black ones, heedless of operational use of force, combat drills readily yielding to the instinct for preservation.
Triumphant, the red troops returned home with bites taken from ambushed fighters; the dead ought not to be wasted. Their queen laid extra eggs that night.
The black queen’s successor watched from her choke point between our napkin holder and salt shaker. No red adversary had thought to look high, to regard the top of our diningroom table. She accepted her colony’s economy of force.
We were delayed at the checkpoint for hours. A mysterious package had been dropped off by an unmarked vehicle. Roads were closed. Cars were scrutinized.
Quivering, the new black queen signaled her workers away from the melee. They would outwait the red soldiers, choosing, rather, to concentrate their efforts. Obedient to a one, those social insects hurried back to their nest, porting few enemy carcasses.
At our neighborhood checkpoint, an elite unit defused the charge, separating twinned donor and acceptor bombs. Those brave youngsters disabled the dangerous bomb pallet.
When we were again allowed passage, our bleary-eyed children were disinterested in discarding their soggy clothes or in strip off the bathingsuits beneath them. They scattered muddied toys and well stained dressing gowns throughout our salon as they shuffled to bed. Our stairwell suffered their dribbled pretzels, pieces of muffins, and dregs of soda.
Within her hive, the red queen solved the problem of permanent conquest. She considered exploiting force dispersal, camouflage, and perfidy, but she never had the chance.
While picking up doffed jumpers and leftover orange rinds, I espied small, ruby pests hurrying toward a crevice that linked our pantry to our yard. I quickly prepared a sugar and borax treat for those invaders. None of those red trespassers, though, at least during my watch, brought home my gift, so overstuffed were their mandibles with victory’s prize. One of the black daughters, however, who had somehow not smelled the command to regroup, had scooped up, in defiance of the skirmish lost, some of my crystals.
In the morning, our phone kept blinking. The Internet, too, newsed us that an event had detonated at our neighborhood check point just minutes after we had been ushered through. Assailants, masquerading as our people, had succeeded in murdering one of our guards; the parcel had been only a distraction.
The sister who groomed the gatherer of my powder, in turn, introduced that substance to her queen. That insect monarch tasted the poison thoughtlessly as she filled more egg cases. Tomorrow would be time enough for war.
Elsewhere, red ants prepared to engage in fire and movement. Jaws locked open, those warriors shook while their sensory hairs remained immobile. Even the stridulitraem of their overwatch unit were quiet. Their queen had dictated stealth over strength.
Eventually, their ebony opponents emerged. The black’s wedge formation proved useless against the red forces. Many dark fighters were taken, in pieces, to the reds’ district.
Not until a week after the tragedy did I remember the ant bait: I had been preoccupied with attending funerals and with visiting the homes of the deceased.
Upon sweeping up the dregs of my mixtures, I found neat piles of stiffs. Both red and black has succumbed. It seems that strategy can overwhelm even the best of tactics. False flags make for neighborhood incommensurabilities.
by KJ Hannah Greenberg