The Ants Go Marching 

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My hand tightens around the walkie-talkie the principal gave me moments earlier. Across from me, Chi-Chi clutches his presentation—oversized handmade ants, fake grass, paper logs. The edges of the cardboard base under his fingers are curled and stained from his sweaty palms.

“Shelter in place. You’ve got the boy’s lavatory. Anyone there…lock yourselves in. Wait for my clear.”

She didn’t say drill like she usually does. But it has to be, I remind myself as I stare at Chi-Chi. He is not in my class but his mom does some of the teachers’ taxes. She helps out in the schoolyard at lunch, too. I wonder if she is here today. She would be searching.

I crouch across from him with my back against the stall, not wanting to sit all the way, grateful I wore flats. He sits criss-cross next to the old-fashioned, column radiator and bobs one knee. His eyes, big as golf balls, dart around the room. They land on the keys coiled around my wrist. I finger the one that locked us in.

I try to recall the rules, the protocol. Sweat curls the hair at my neckline.

A smell finds my nose. Pungent. I dip my chin to sniff the sweat gathered under my blouse. It’s stronger though. Vinegar? Ammonia? I spot a puddle under Chi-Chi. Thankfully no other kids are here.

Sadly, the students understand this more-frequent-than-fire-drills activity. Even still…it doesn’t get easier. We can’t call it a game. We get to laugh in games. We all know we are not supposed to talk but I risk it as I reach up and grab a handful of paper towels.

“I like your bugs,” I whisper.

He looks at the black-smeared egg carton sections, pipe cleaners jackknifed out of each side, craft-store googly eyes overglued on top.

He shrugs and whispers back, “They’re carpenter ants.”

“You did a nice job.”

“My mom had to cut the holes for the legs though.”

I smile. He rests one side of the project on his knee, takes the paper towels I hold out and shoves them under his pants. I look at my watch.

Seven and a half minutes. I want to check my cell phone but know the screen glow is dangerous. Just a drill. It has to be.

“You’re very brave,” I say to Chi-Chi, too aware of the bulk of my tongue.

He shrugs again, half smiles.

We both flinch when my two-way crackles. All Clear.

Our eyes connect and we breathe out loudly together. My body cools and I shiver from the dampness covering my back. I push up from my squat, my feet tingling. The wet towels squish under Chi-Chi’s sneaker as he stands.

After I unlock the door, I put my hand on his shoulder and guide him out to the nurse in the next room. I sing softly, “The ants go marching one by one…”

He falls in. “Hoorah! Hoorah!”

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Lisa’s short stories have received honorable mentions in the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Contest and have been published in Parnassus Literary Arts Magazine and Voices: A Merrimack Valley Literary Journal. She teaches for UMass Lowell and Florida Keys Community College.

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