June 20, 2021 by The Citron Review
by Kristen Zory King
There was a funny turn to Mother’s mouth when she saw the ants each summer, a tightness to the lips so that they were colored only by a faint over-layer of the paling pink tint she put on in the mornings. It was a color both too young and too old for her, evoking the light, pollen-like powder puffs of a more glamorous era and the uncertainty of a teenager who’s just agreed to a ride home from the school quarterback. There were traces of it everywhere: a rosy blur on the rim of her milky coffee cup, the butts of half-ashed cigarettes. She even kissed-closed the notes she’d send along in our lunch boxes, a reminder of her love and the reach of her surveillance. Every July she’d stand at the window and watch as the ants made a steady and solid trail over the sink and toward any crumb my brother or father or I had left lingering, her eyes narrowed, her fingers holding a single bleeding ice cube to the soft pulse on her neck. She was quick with immediate attacks—white domed traps in every corner, bottles of Windex which flattened their small bodies on impact and left a chemical taste to the air—but her favorite, the most unforgiving, was boiled water. Circling the perimeter of the house, she’d calmly watch for any small movement, cracks in the sidewalk, a glowing blush from the sun on the back of her neck. And then she’d return to the kitchen with a walk I’d describe as relaxed if I didn’t know better, couldn’t see her shoulder blades arched sharp through the back of her summer linen, and place a large pot of water to boil on the stove. Once it hissed, she’d return to the spot, handling the grenade from the kitchen with yellow gloved hands and pouring the scalding liquid directly onto the shivering mass. Only way to kill the queen, she’d say, giving no consideration to the small burns rising in the naked space between her dress and house shoes. Task complete, she’d return to the house, taking her place by the sun soaked window to watch over her kingdom, something gleeful, dangerous sitting patiently in the small corners of her lips.
Kristen Zory King is a writer and teaching artist based in Washington, DC. Recent work can be found or is forthcoming in Electric Lit, Emerge Literary Journal, mac(ro)mic, Tiny Molecules, and SWWIM, among others. Learn more or be in touch at www.KristenZoryKing.com.