Tag Archives: Fire Ants

“Fire Ants” – Fiction by Perry Lopez

The Ants - Salvador Dali, 1929
The Ants – Salvador Dalí, 1929

Get toasty & tropical with “Fire Ants,” a surreal & revolutionary piece of short fiction by Perry Lopez from our Winter 2016 issue.

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THE CUBAN’S SKIN IS BLACK WITH SMOKE. He sits beneath the shade of the palm, cross-lashed with sunlight through the fronds, rolling a dead ant between his fingertips. As he toys with it, the soot comes off his pads and encases the ant in a sticky ball that grows and grows until there is no more ant-shape to it. Just a tiny planet of pitch, smoothly gyrating and gathering and dereticulate, obeying the laws of form. He is shirtless and shoeless and thin, his eyes are blood-webbed and watching. Thermo means heat means fire.

He cannot smell himself. Cannot smell the ocean either, though he can hear it. That mellow storm of crash and suck he has heard all his life. He cannot smell the rotting plantains, but tastes them when he breathes. Sweetness and salt in the air that burns in his raw throat, sticks there piquantly burning. His own smell covering everything, but then he cannot smell himself. All he smells is smoke.

“Ah Cristo, my eyes are stinging. I think I will go blind soon.”

Arlo is drunk. He may in fact go blind. They went to the University of Havana together where he studied science and Arlo studied culture. Now he is drunk with a bottle of fine spiced rum in each fist and is crouching over the anthill, squinting and rubbing at his eyelids with the back of his hand, spitting dark gobs full of cinder-grit down on the mound— the mound that sits between the two men and pulses with their frenzy, those thousands, those millions, their knobby red bodies strung together like simple molecules. Swarming along their prickly vortices, building up their warren of dirt on the shore.

He rolls the ball of grime back on his thumb then flicks it into the beach-grass, shooting out so fast and small that his eyes cannot follow as it disappears soundlessly into the airy shush between breakers. He looks back and searches for another.

“But so what if I do, eh? A man should go blind after seeing such a miracle as I have; the rest of the world would only disgust him! Make him wish he was in the dark, alone with just the memory.”

There are hundreds of them at his legs, drawn in by the acrid smell. They tickle-fight atop his toe-crests and caravan down along his shins; at his knees they eddy and trace out in strange ellipses, caught up in the foci of his body’s landscape, skirting his mountains. They are red and his flesh is black and they travel him without rest, cherry bright in the morning sunlight through the fronds, their tiny antennas held out like dowsing rods, silly stupid things, searching him for their need, something to carry back to the mound. They are hundreds but he cannot feel them. They cannot bite him and he cannot feel them. The smoke-crust is far too thick and they will find nothing to eat of his body today.

One ant stands motionless atop his kneecap, waggling its tendrils and watching the others scuttle-dance by. He reaches down and carefully crushes its head between his thumb and middle-finger, then pinches it up and sets to rolling again just like the last.

Across, Arlo spits and drinks and bares his teeth at nothing.

“And can you believe the fool had no guards posted? Only a Captain could be so stupid, so secure. Pah! What do you think it was that finally woke him, uh? The whole damn town knew his house was burning before he did, the pig! How he ran out still naked from sleep and batting embers from his beard to find everyone watching! How he looked back and screamed Oooooooh Mi Madre, Mi Madre, Dios ayuda a mi Madre…”

Between them and the sea is a comb of palms, their scaly shafts serried close like whale teeth, the kind used for straining. And will they hold out the tide? No, no, of course they mustn’t. See the salted, sandy bands about their trunks, a meter high where the surge-tide has risen and will rise and rise and rise again. Carrying it all back out to waste until…

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