She looked at the ant for a long, long time, and she thought, and she wondered what to do, and she wondered if there was a way where she could get away with doing nothing, but then she supposed if that were an option, she wouldn’t be thinking about it, she would just do it.
Elisabeth looked at the ant.
It was not the largest ant she had seen. A larger one had crawled all over the kitchen countertops the week before until she had discovered it and squashed it with a folded-up magazine. This ant, the one before her wide eyes now, was, under her estimations, only half that size. Maybe even smaller.
Yet something about the ant gave Elisabeth room to pause that the larger ant, or, for that matter, any other ant that had come before it, had been unable to achieve.
Perhaps it was the size of its antenna poking out from its compact, beadlike black head. Or the sight of one it’s legs always twitching, as if the ant was scared that at any moment Elisabeth would obliterate it, which, had she acted upon her earlier impulse, she would have done by now without any thoughts as to the consequences.
The ant moved on its way up the living room wall. The wall was a creamy vanilla white, which did not help the ant’s prospects of survival. Then again, not one wall in the apartment was painted any color but that particular shade of white, so it was not as if the ant had stumbled upon a death zone inside Elisabeth’s residence.
“Ju-ju-just get it over with. Like jumping off the high dive. Going to take some guts, but you’ll be okay afterwards. Like Mom always—” Elisabeth said to herself. She could visualize herself killing the ant.
But then that part of her mind that was busy imagining the ant’s death also came to wonder what the ant was thinking at the time. If the ant had any thoughts. Do ants think? Elisabeth wondered. She hoped that they didn’t, but, of course, she had no way of proving this.
For a moment she held a trembling finger over the ant. The ant paused in its journey up the wall. Elisabeth could tell that the ant was aware of the shadow that had passed over it. Then Elisabeth raised her finger. She cursed under her breath. She dared herself to get out of her mind and do it, commit to removing the insect from her living room rather than deal with all the considerations she could feel flooding her mind.
If this had wings, a small voice inside Elisabeth asked her, would you kill it? Elisabeth could see the ant now as a gorgeous butterfly, spreading out its delicate wings just as it was about to take flight. Elisabeth knew she would never kill a butterfly.
Then why would you do differently with an ant? the persistent voice asked. It’s not as if there’s anything about this ant that’s dangerous to you.
But it’s not as pretty as a butterfly, Elisabeth replied to the voice.
So you’re just going by looks? How scary or disgusting it appears is the only thing that matters?
Elisabeth thought over this for a while, put a finger to her lips to signal to herself that she was getting lost in her mind, and answered the voice in the affirmative.
Doesn’t it bother you? asked the voice. This double standard. You don’t run over cats and dogs in the middle of the road, and you look down on all those drivers that would do such a horrible thing like that. But if it’s a bird or a squirrel, you could care less about squashing it. I’ve seen you driving when there was a—
You don’t have to bring that up, you know, you really don’t have to since all it’s going to do is make me feel like a sack of—
—mouse trying to cross the road, and it was as if—
—you sped up just to—
Elisabeth slammed the palm of her left hand against the wall. There, she thought. That should get rid of it. She was thinking of the voice.
But, as Elisabeth removed her aching hand from the wall, she noticed around the tip of her index finger moving something small and black and alive, and she could feel the voice crawling back into her head.