This is an odd short story I wrote while studying abroad in London. Later, I recorded myself reading it out loud for an audio-zine one of my friends put together. Originally titled, “Shopping Cart Freedom,” I think that I found a much better title that suits the story.
A Sensible Ant
Kylie Louise McCormick
Every day Walter woke up at 6:05 am. He removed and folded his nightly socks before setting them in the laundry basket next to his other neatly folded dirty clothes. Then Walter made his bed. A ruler placed in the drawer of his nightstand ensured that the comforter hung evenly on each side. Walter showered for exactly twelve minutes, touched the light switch three times, and then brushed his teeth for 2 minutes and 34 seconds. Every weekday morning Walter put on a suit and tie. He touched each of his twelve ties three times before selecting the next in line and fashioning a Windsor knot around his neck. For breakfast, he ate two eggs over easy with toast and a cup of tea. While eating he read the morning paper, and made hrumph noises. The noises were not so much in reaction to the news; rather they ensured him that his vocal chords were still functional.
Walter lived in an apartment complex on the top floor. Each day just as he finished his tea, he could hear the morning alarm go off for the couple who lived below him. It disturbed him that they used the radio as an alarm, and he wondered how they could wake to such unknown probabilities. He imagined the woman, young and pretty enough, looking tired, sleeping on her stomach with one leg hanging off the edge of the bed, groaning at the sound of the pop song. Walter shook his head at the thought of her bad habits, and imagined her mate covering his eyes and shouting,
“You turn it off!”
Right on cue, Walter stood up and placed his dishes in the sink to be washed later that evening.
In order to avoid unknown probabilities, Walter walked to work each morning. Because he lived in the city, it was only a twenty-two minute brisk walk from the front door of his apartment complex to the bottom of the stairs of his office. Walter waited at the bottom of the stairs for thirty-three seconds before ascending. He used the time to sanitize his hands.
His office building was a building of glass and it compelled Walter to think of stones and many rude jokes he had heard as a boy. He had a distaste for these thoughts and always ensured that he use the metal handle on the glass doors in order to enter. At the front desk, he said a brief hello to Martha and the security guard Calvin before informing them that the doors, once again, had smudges. Martha would ensure him that the issue would be quickly resolved then moved swiftly into small talk.
“Terrible about the weather, the news said we would get some clear skies tonight, but what good does that do us? We don’t get a wink of sunshine, haven’t for weeks.” Martha remarked most every day on the weather and Walter would look out towards the front doors and hrumph an agreement. Then Walter would move anxiously to the elevator and press every odd button to get to his office on the eleventh floor. Work involved filing papers from one pile to the next and switching his desk lamp on and off at every half hour. Occasionally, Walter’s boss Howard would stop by to ask about a meeting or certain pieces of data. Walter always pleased Howard and therefore continued filing paper each day.
After work, Walter would stop by the grocery store and pick up food for his dinner and the next morning’s breakfast. He only bought enough for what he needed, yet he always grabbed and sanitized a shopping cart to push down the aisles of food. A small carton of four eggs, a small loaf of pre-sliced bread, a box of macaroni, a can of tomato paste, enough carrots for a single vegetable serving, and one pint of milk. One pint of milk. Walter stared at the milk. The small pint sat a shelf below the much larger jug. A jug of milk. Who would ever use an entire jug of milk? Walter’s hands gripped the sanitized bar of the shopping cart, his knuckles turning white. Something changed that moment, something Walter couldn’t quite put his finger on. He never moved his hands from the bar as he pushed the shopping cart out of the store, not bothering to check out with Lisa on check stand two who worked evenings on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
He had made it halfway down the city block before she came out after him, yelling for him to come back. Since it was just a part time job, she felt no urge to run down the street to retrieve the stolen goods or property. Walter, however, heard none of her fuss half a block away. His eyes were locked forward and his mind was racing. He thought of his desk lamp, on and off, on and off, on and off, on and off, and on again. He thought of his dirty socks neatly folded in their basket. He thought of his dirty dish sitting, waiting in his sink. And as he thought, he walked with his knuckles white around his shopping cart.
Inadvertently, Walter had retraced his steps and pushed the cart to the base of the stairs leading to the glass office building in which he worked. Walter looked up at the sky for the first time in years. Surprisingly, much of the morning’s cloud cover had lifted and through it, Walter could see a single star. However, tall glass buildings blocked most of the sky. Walter thought that even if there had been no cloud coverage, the sun still wouldn’t reach the sidewalk. Then Walter looked down. Through the metal bars of the shopping cart, Walter saw his dull brown shoes against the grey sidewalk littered with old gum. He thought about the last time he saw an ant, at his Grandmother’s house in the country, fourteen years ago. The sun always seemed to be shining in his memories of her, though he was certain it never actually did. His brown shoes under the metal cart reminded him of an ant, sensible. An ant would surely be sensible enough to not build a glass house.
His office building filled him with distasteful thoughts. The glass panes reflected back the harsh street lamp and before Walter knew what he was doing, he felt his hands let go of the bar attached to his cart and reach for his small carton of eggs. He opened the grey, recycled box slowly revealing four large and speckled, farm fresh eggs. They sat, waiting for a life that would never come. The ant worked each day, building a house that would never be finished. Walter pulled an egg from the carton and let the air escape from his lungs. Its smooth shell pressed into his palm, almost daring him.
“Who shouldn’t live in a glass house?” Walter screamed as he hurled the egg at the building. It slammed against the smudged doors and he quickly reached for the next egg.
“Nudists!” His cackled laughter followed the egg, reverberating off the building.
“People in glass houses!” Walter screamed tossing his third egg.
“Shouldn’t” He breathed out and in, “THROW” another breath, “STONES!” His last egg sailed through the air, gracefully cracking and leaking its yellow yolk down the side of the glass. Walter laughed maniacally, dancing under the street lamp as he spilled his macaroni and tossed each slice of bread to make an organic welcome mat.
“Don’t eat in the living room,” his grandmother always said, “crumbs bring ants.”