Joe’s eleven-year-old daughter wrote a children’s book and got it published. It was about a little girl eating a jar of cookies while her parents slept. Scholastic loved it. Joe was upset because he had also written a children’s book, although the manuscript was locked away in the bottom drawer of his desk. He’d never shown it to anyone. Joe wanted recognition for his work, but he also didn’t want to be laughed at.
His book was about a colony of ants that farmed aphids. The ants did not eat the aphids. Rather, when the aphids’ backs were stroked, they produced a sugary substance called honeydew, which was a reliable food source for the ants.
The story followed an ant named Red who liked one aphid more than the rest. While everybody was sleeping at night, Red would sneak out of bed and find the aphids huddled in the moonlight. He would stroke his favorite aphid’s back gently. She would wake up. Red would stroke harder. Honeydew would well on her back. Red would take his time eating the honeydew. He would touch the aphid’s sleepy face and drink from her, finally returning to bed once he’d had his fill.
But one night, Red decided that he didn’t want to go back to bed. He stayed with the aphid. He kept stroking her. She produced less honeydew. He kept stroking her. She produced even less honeydew. Kept stroking her. She produced no honeydew. That upset Red because he wanted to keep going until sunrise, romantically. He said, “I want more,” but his favorite aphid didn’t say anything at all because she had been stroked to death. The moon was in her eyes, but when he looked up, he saw that her eyes were not in the moon. Red did not say the aphid’s name because she was not given a name.
Joe did not congratulate his eleven-year-old daughter on the publication of her children’s book. He did not talk to her or touch her for many years afterward. Only when she was moving away to college did he shake her hand.
Wynne Hungerford‘s work has appeared in EPOCH, Subtropics, Blackbird, The Brooklyn Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, American Literary Review, The Normal School, and SmokeLong Quarterly, among other places. She received her MFA from the University of Florida. Read more of Wynne Hungerford’s work in TLR: Clean Exit.
read next: Lisa Allen Ortiz “Filling Station“