Chloe and Emily have been friends for nearly three years, they flat share, both work for the university, and share the journey into work – in Emily’s car. Chloe isn’t a morning person, but Emily has gotten used to that.
“… so, what I am saying is this, that by observing ants closely, you’ll see they don’t do anything stupid,” Chloe said, “they always walk in orderly lines, carrying leaves, twigs and so forth, back to the nest.”
“Well not always, they sometimes fall off branches,” Emily interjected, looking left and right for an opening in the queue of traffic, “that doesn’t seem too clever.”
“Okay, I suppose, but see, a fall doesn’t kill an ant, does it? You could drop an ant from the roof of a house and the fall would in no way prove fatal.” Chloe said as she double-checked both directions too.
“Well I don’t know, I’ve never carried out such an experiment. Have you ever thrown an ant off from the top of a building?”
“No. I haven’t.” Chloe’s widening eyes rolled heavenwards as she exhaled audibly in a long deep breath.
Emily pulled away from the junction with a lurch, her fingers located the heating control and made a minor adjustment to the temperature.
“I guess you’d need at least two people present,” Emily said, “one to throw the ant off the building and the other to monitor and record the outcome at ground level.”
Her concentration drifted away from the car in front of her. As the registration plate began to blur, she imagined herself wearing a researcher’s lab coat, cradling a clipboard and peering through horn-rimmed spectacles up to the roof of a typical suburban family home. As the sequence played out, Chloe could be seen ready and in position, holding tweezers in one hand and a glass beaker in the other.
“It’d be really hard to keep track of an ant as it was falling from a roof, even if you shouted a warning.” Emily concluded, shaking her head back into the present.
“What, like – I am releasing the ant, now!” Chloe laughed.
“We could tie a piece of rainbow coloured cotton thread around the ant, to help.” Emily suggested.
“Why not, because it would interfere with the experiment? You anticipate the ant panicking and in the struggle, getting all tangled up in the thread?” Emily engaged the windscreen washer and stared through the blur as the wipers swept back and forth several times. “I suppose one might assume the ant had died on impact, whereas it may have been due to a mid-air strangulation.”
“Look,” said Chloe, “I am just saying, ant society is structured and co-supportive. There are no stupid ants! They don’t question their role, they aren’t lazy, and they don’t forget what they’re supposed to be doing. They understand and fulfil their obligations for the common good of ant society. And, there are certainly no evil ants.”
Immediately ahead, the traffic lights switched from green to amber and then to red. Emily braked, coming to an abrupt stop, front tyres coming to rest upon a faded white line on the road.
“Why did you stop?” Chloe asked, smarting from the sudden loss in momentum.
“The light turned red.”
“It hadn’t, it had just changed to amber, you could have easily gotten through.”
“No Chloe, it was red.”
More rush hour traffic poured in from a junction, only to join the bumper to bumper crawl, backed up in both directions. Pedestrians made noticeably better progress. Cyclists travelled at supersonic speed in comparison to the cars, vans and lorries, all sharing the same useless road space.
“Soldier ants are evil.” Squinting under the sun visor, Emily watched for the traffic lights to change. “Did you ever read those books in the school library, the one’s about unusual phenomena around the world? Giant sinkholes, the Loch Ness Monster, UFO abductions, spontaneous human combustion – piranha attacks!”
“And army ants?” Chloe said.
“Yes! That’s right, army ants. They’d be a grainy black and white photo too, showing an overweight man in his forties, stripped to the waist with lots of stings covering his swollen face and body.” Emily’s eyes widened, her grip tightened around the steering wheel. “What were those books ever doing in a school library? They used to totally scare the shit out of me!”
“Yes, they were pretty grim,” Chloe agreed.
“I’m sure I’ve seen old films too with ants attacking people, crawling all over them and inside their mouths.” Emily shuddered, quickly thumbing an itch on her shoulder, her forehead and along the side of her nose.
The traffic lights finally changed, signalling new hope for progress and an escape from the monotony of the morning rush hour. Not long afterwards, Emily flashed her lights and waved an encouraging hand to a driver to pull out of a small side road and join the queued traffic.
“What are you doing?” Chloe asked sharply.
“I’m letting her out.”
“Well, that guy on the other side let her through.” Emily continued motioning her hand. “Yes – yes, you! Go – on, go – on, go – on… go on then!” she let out an exasperated sigh, “I’ve noticed you barely ever let people out. Why is that?”
“Simple,” said Chloe, “because if a motorcyclist slammed into the side of her right now, it would be you who’d be held culpable and your insurance policy does not cover being an idiot.”
An uncomfortable silence stretched out between the two friends, time enough for the queues of traffic to resume their static uniformity.