Saturday, July 08, 2006

 

Antfarm

The ant farm arrived precisely on time. He had recorded in his daily log the date it was ordered and when the company had promised delivery. It was definitely on time. He was happy about that. The ants were expected in no more than three days after the farm arrived. That was also recorded in the daily log. He also recorded that Timmy was excited about the idea of an ant farm.

He had made notes about the farm and how to build a base for the farm. Timmy, his grandson was going to help him make the base. They had spent several evenings designing the base and several evenings building it in the garage. There was scant room for all his old shop tools. Most had been sold to friends and neighbors. He had been stubborn about some of the tools and now he was glad he had. Otherwise, how could he and Timmy build the ant farm base.

"Well Timmy, I'm glad I saved these tools," he said to Timmy as they both worked in the garage. Though to himself, he often cursed about the missing tools and how easy it would have been to make the base. They were his pride and his comfort. His escape from the daily cares, a way to be alone and think.

He often told Timmy about the large shop he had had once, the benches, tables saws and jointers.

"If I had my old shop, this would be much easier," he said to Timmy.

"What happened to your old shop? " Timmy asked.

And he explained about the selling of the house and that there was no room for the shop in his daughter's house. And it all had to be sold. Timmy listened carefully.

He still had some pieces of wood that he kept, stacked in the corner and out of the way, and the router and the bits to make the nice curved edges. The old machines were sold. He carefully priced each one and the day of the sale he stayed in his room, the TV on to drown the noise.

The base was just the perfect size for the ant farm. He still prided himself on his artistic sense. Timmy like it too and he held his hands cupped over his ears as the router whined and screamed.

And so it was built in the corner of the garage and Timmy helped stain it and apply varnish and lightly sanded it to give it a finished look.

"Gran, " as Timmy called him, " Gran it sure looks nice. Now all we need is the ants."

"They'll be here, you'll see," he reassured Timmy.

He lived with them now. They had added a room for him at the rear of the house and he and Timmy shared a bathroom. The room was enough, he always reminded himself. It was enough to hold him and all his personal things. Old pictures, old books that he still read. The picture of him and Sarah, bright faced at the wedding, looked down on him from an old dresser that was part of their bedroom set from when they married. And on the small desk a log book for the current year and the closet full of old log books from other years, dusty and full of notes and list of things to do. He sometimes took one of them down and paged through it. The pages were full of schedules and notes and dimensions of sides and shelves. But the current one was not as full as the previous ones. And in fact there was not much entered in the pages for coming days.

Timmy often joined him in his room in the evening and they shared quiet moments watching the small television he had. Sometimes he read to Timmy. Old books that he kept from the time when he was a young father.

The room was quite crowded, but big enough for his old rocking chair and another chair that Timmy always sat on.

Often Timmy just came into the room when the door was slightly ajar or even when it was just shut, but not locked.

"What are all those bottles Gran ?" he asked once.

The dresser drawer was open and Timmy could see the collection of bottles of medicine that lay there.

"Oh, just pills, Timmy. When you get to my age, you always need pills," he laughed about how old people need their medicines.

"Is that like the beer you always have, Gran?"

He merely raised his eyebrows and smiled a yes.

"Even that full bottle there?" Timmy asked pointing to a large bottle full of pills.

"Those are for pain," he said and pushed the drawer closed.

Often he brought down the 'picture book' as Timmy called it. The old albums. And they would spend a rainy afternoon looking at the old pictures. He would reminisce about the people in the pictures and Timmy would ask who they were and where they were now.

Mostly they were gone. And the log books, he often brought them down and paged through them. Jammed packed books. The writing small and sometimes not clear. But he could still understand them. Plans for pieces of furniture, schedules of when the material would arrive, finished plans, what kind of finish, varnish, shellac, oil or wax. He had tried them all. The time spent on each project neatly tabulated. He was definitely neat and tidy.

The ants did not arrive on time. The log book entry said they should have arrived the day before. He wondered if he had he forgotten a post office holiday. He looked at the calendar again. No, the ants were definitely late.

He and Timmy looked at the calendar pad that he kept on the drawer top, which served as a desk for him. They counted the days from when the farm arrived until when the ants were to have arrived. They were definitely late.

But there they were. In a small plastic tube with an instruction note wrapped around it. He carefully unrolled the paper and read the instructions out loud for Timmy to hear. The way to release them into the farm, the feeding and watering schedules. He made a weekly feeding schedule, neatly drawn lines parallel and equally spaced for each day and set it next to the farm and showed Timmy how to mark the days when they fed the ants.

The ants did not do anything for a day or so and Timmy was alarmed. But there in the instructions was the note about the ants and the fact that they would be lethargic for a day or so. They counted the ants. Time and time again they counted the ants. Never did they get the same number. They were so small and bunched in a small pile. And when they did finally begin to move about they were still so small that it was difficult to count them.

He was spending more and more time in his room alone. There was not enough space in the garage when both cars were parked. So he did not do any work in the evening.

He wrote in his log book that the ants had arrived and checked off the to-do list. The log was still empty. There were some notes that only he would understand about his will and burial. He did not like to dwell on those events. But the log book was clean.

He and Timmy watched the ants each day.

Each morning, Timmy checked on the ants. He always tapped on the glass and watched the ants scurrying about. Each day new tunnels appeared, or the old tunnels were longer. Sometimes he used a pen to mark where the tunnels were so he could see their progress. And Gran was always there also.

"See how busy they are," he would always remind Timmy as they watched the progress.

"They are hard workers. Ants always work," He reminded Timmy.

Feeding the ants was Timmy's job. And he enjoyed it.

There was a recipe for the food. So much sugar and water mixed and then fed to the ants. A few drops according to the schedule. He was surprised it took so little to feed them. No grain or meat, just the sugar water.

They were easy to keep, he thought. Even less trouble then he was.

The mixture of honey or sugar and water trickled slowly into the ant farm. The ants seemed to ignored the mixture. They never saw them eat the food, but it did disappear. The tunnels deepened. The ants were always busy. Like his old log books, they always seemed to have something to do.

But his current log book had nothing in it.

The ants had tunneled down to the base of the farm.

"Gran, why is it called an ant farm?" Timmy asked one day as they watched the ants scurrying around. It was a good question. The farm was just a thin collection of sandy soil sandwiched between two sheets of glass and a lid so that the ants could not escape.

They each carried a piece of dirt up to the top of the tunnel and placed it jut so and then back to the tunnel they went for more. Some ants took the same route each time and other ants used different tunnels. It was hypnotizing. He and Timmy sat and watched for hours.

"I think it's because the ants try to make a farm out of bacteria that grow in the soil. " He thought he remembered that from somewhere in his readings.

The tunnels were getting longer and deeper into the base of the farm.

And then one day the ants were not moving. Timmy was concerned.

He did not understand. There was no action in the farm. He tapped the glass to see if the ants would move, but there was no movement. They were dead. Scattered about the tunnels they lay, not moving. He was sure he had fed them. In fact, he could still see some of the sugar water along the side of the glass. But they were dead.

He must go tell Gran. He was excited and sad as he ran to Gran's room. The door was shut and he could not open it. It was strange to find the door shut and as he tried the handle he found the door was locked. It was never locked before. He called his name and then pounded on the door. There was no response.

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