Vaila And The Ant
The shadow of the courthouse clock stood like a new thought above Vaila’s head, but if she was aware of it, it didn’t show. What held her attention more, as she sat cross-legged in the sun, her back against the war memorial and her bare, eight year-old shoulders slowly tanning, was the ant trapped beneath her magnifying glass, heating up far quicker than its inquisitor.
“Are you hot, little ant?” asked Vaila, her free hand metronomically transferring salty chips from the bag by her side to the hollow of her loose-lipped mouth.
The ant’s movements were fractured and uncertain. It was indeed hot. Much too hot to respond to Vaila’s questioning.
“Where did you think you were going?” The ant cycled its legs heroically. This was the extent of its response.
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Vaila shuffled awkwardly against the memorial. Her shoulders felt tight and she was light-headed. Probably the salt in the chips. She licked her lips and eyed the ant suspiciously.
“Did you think you could escape your fate?” Vaila tilted her head, but there was no reading the ant. Whether it thought it could escape its fate or not was, in the end, irrelevant. It would die soon enough. Meanwhile, the shadow of the courthouse clock slipped away, taking up temporary residence over by the firehouse bell.
The square had long emptied, most of the townsfolk lured into sleep by dark rooms and cool bed-sheets. Only Vaila remained, her right hand now resting inside the bag of chips, not moving. The temperature had soared into the low hundreds, the heat blowing the last of the clouds out like birthday candles, and a searing pain had started to shoot across her shoulders with each new rise and fall of her arm. It was safer now to leave her hand where it was. Her lips had dried too. She popped them apart and winced as a sliver of skin came away.
Vaila blinked against the sun. Water. She needed water. A trickle of sweat invaded her right eye and she automatically brushed it away with her free hand, the hand that had been resting in the bag, the hand now covered in salt. Vaila shrieked. It was a double pain, and she couldn’t tell which was worse: the salt in her eye, or the burning in her shoulder. She blinked again, slower this time, then let the eyes stay shut, scant protection against the brutish sun.
Vaila’s shoulders slumped. She was weakening. Lying lop-sided against the memorial, she slid slowly south, both of her eyes closed, the image of the ant still large behind them.
“Did you … sink you … wouldn’t … da?” Vaila was mumbling now, her lips a red rebellion. A large broiling patch of pink had appeared on her right shoulder, bubbling at the edge. There was a strong smell of burning.
The magnifying glass fell to the ground with a soft clink, barely audible, yet still louder than the breeze of Vaila’s last breath.
The ant, freed, took a gulp of hot, dry air and staggered quietly into the shadow of the war memorial.