The Ant Farmer
Kelsie Hahn

Daddy bought Rebecca the ant farm in a fit of father-daughter bonding that, on his side, was quick to fizzle back into mildly irritated half-attention. But while it lasted, they poured finely grained sand, mixed sugar water, crumbled bread, and released the colony into its narrow home.

Daddy pointed to a bulbous ant in the corner. “This colony has a queen, that’s how you know it’s a good one,” he said. “That means it will keep going, and they won’t all just die out.”

And sure enough, the queen laid eggs, just as, sure enough, Daddy disappeared into his armchair and his Numismatic News, grumbling that his 1893 Liberty Dollars had dropped in value another few cents.

Rebecca’s dedication, however, did not fizzle, and she continued her daily reports on the number of eggs (400), their size and shape (round and white, like the pills on a sweater), and the way the daddy ants treated the eggs (nicely). She had decided that since the queen was the mommy ant, all of the other ants were daddy ants.

Mom listened to the reports first and made appropriate noises. She would stop what she was doing and sit and give Rebecca her full attention, asking questions, the ideal audience. But Mom was only the dress rehearsal, and the full performance was not nearly so satisfying. Daddy would barely look up, and when Rebecca had paused long enough to indicate the report and its subsequent speculations, plans, and predictions, was complete, he would say, “Glad you’re enjoying it, Bunny. Go on and have fun now.” Even when Mom called questions or observations from the doorway to keep the conversation going, Daddy’s attention could not be held.

Despite Rebecca’s attentive monitoring and care, only one of the eggs changed: grew bigger into a dotted grain of rice, then into a stiff, waxy white ant (she tearfully reported that the baby had died), and then an unfolded ant, black and gleaming with a magnificent carapace that Rebecca marked with a dab of nail polish so she wouldn’t lose the baby (a girl, she announced) among all the daddies.

Rebecca carried the whole set-up to Daddy in the den, gentle of the delicate tunnels, and pointed.

“This one,” she said. “That’s the baby. And this one’s the mommy, and all these are the daddies.” She speculated on the many more babies to come, now that this one had been born.

But something was wrong, and the queen laid no more eggs, and the unhatched ones were eaten, and the queen died, and then all the daddy ants, and the baby toiled alone, stockpiling gobs of honey and dribbles of egg yolk and the other foods Rebecca deposited daily, and then most days, and then the baby too was dead and looked like all the others except for the nail polish.

It took Dad two weeks to realize the colony was finished. Rebecca didn’t tell him, and he hadn’t noticed the cessation of daily reports. He offered to buy her a new farm, one from a different company that wouldn’t cheat them with a defective product. Rebecca shook her head. He started to say something else, but Rebecca flipped to the next page in her book. His voice trailed away. She watched him at the edge of her vision. She waited. After a time, she stopped.

Kelsie Hahn holds an MFA in fiction from New Mexico State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Barrelhouse, 1/25, NANO Fiction, SpringGun, and others. She lives in Houston, Texas.