Grasshoppers and Ants

She was walking her whole neighborhood of cul-de-sacs, eight of them. The grasshopper was fat, and virile, and in the middle of the sidewalk, and would be eaten. She had no shoes. The grasshopper had no leg.

“Look at this guy,” I said.

“Pick it up!” the kid said.

“You pick it up,” I said. I brushed my cell phone case against the grasshopper’s side, trying to turn him so he could walk.

No, that other leg was not hiding somewhere. It was gone.

“I guess we can’t help him,” I said. The kid and I walked on. “I guess we need to call and get him on a leg donation list so he can get a new leg.”

Kid was busy approaching the next house. Ring doorbell. Step back. “Hi, I’m having a car wash and I wondered if you’d like to come.”

I’m struck at how she reveals only a sliver of nerves at each door. As an adult, when I’ve done political canvassing, I’m nervous every time I go to a door. As a child, I would never have gone to all the doors in my neighborhood. I was on the cusp of door-to-door becoming Too Dangerous.

Once things become Too Dangerous for kids, they rarely return to the right side of things.

I got wrapping paper, cookies, candy to sell, to fund our school, to pay for a trip with the orchestra. I handed the sheet to my parents and they took it to work. This was never super successful, as my dad’s office had no more than four employees.

Kid was wanting to go to every house. I was finding this a bit dull, but appreciating getting my steps in, so I could go home that afternoon and not move again.

Most doorbells, blessedly, create no action.

“Don’t you need to put shoes on?” I said as we left the house.

“No, I don’t wear them to play outside,” kid said.

Being in the “auntie” position, I could either insist on shoes as a safety measure, or shrug. This time I decided to shrug. I couldn’t believe her feet could handle hot pavement. And the basic spectacle of a barefoot person wandering the neighborhood appealed to the Huck Finn in me.

“You’re either Huck Finn or a Beverly Hillbilly,” I said.

No response from kid.

“I’m on a call right now, but I could have a car wash in a little bit.”

Kid thrilled.

“Okay, I’ll see you!” Kid runs back to the house to assemble hose, bucket, soap, sponges.

I go inside and return to some grown-up nonsense that is calling to me.

We just left the grasshopper in the middle of the sidewalk. He was doomed, wasn’t he? A bird would get him? I could have moved him into the grass, but what would that matter?

I set my coffee on top of the car. I drove away. My lovely ceramic mug holding the perfect blend of coffee and chicory and oat milk was flung by gravity onto the asphalt of 11th Street.

At about that same spot, about 100 years ago, a man accidentally ran over a child with his automobile. It was one of the first cars in town. I never could figure out if the child made it or not.

I put the car in park, and got out. It did occur to me that I could be hit while picking up the pieces, but it’s a small town. I grabbed the big fragments and hurried back into the car.

Yesterday my mom told me that a family friend was ill. I considered having a panic attack, but instead took a dose of the medicine that keeps me from hiding under the bed all day.

The day before, I read online that a local school district was switching to all in-person school. A few weeks figuring out the complications of two days in person, two days online, and arranging for child care help (I was a helper). Fury shot up my spine and my head was screaming.

When my coffee cup flew up and away, I wasn’t stressed. “Well, that sucks,” I thought, even though it isn’t easy to find a ceramic travel mug. Ceramic is a comfort material for me. I’d find another one. I liked that one. But I wasn’t in love with it. And I had plenty of time to find a new one. Maybe an exact replacement, even.

I keep thinking about that grasshopper.

How I want to walk back over there (it would only take three minutes) and carefully pick him up and put him in a shoebox full of kleenex. I would say, “I’m sorry I let you down.” I would be the Samaritan, not the priest.

“You like touching bugs!” another kid said.

“I don’t want to!” kid said.

I would carry the shoebox back to the house. I would call for a grasshopper ambulance.

When the ambulance arrived, I would ask them to speak softly, and share the grasshopper’s vitals with them.

As he was carried away on a stretcher made of fireplace matchsticks and gauze, he would put his big agony grasshopper eyes on me and I would know he felt safe. And taken care of.

As we walked back to the house, crickets popped up in the grass, and butterflies appeared and disappeared, and ants, too tiny to be noticed, went about their work.

Image: “Six Stages of Marring a Face” by Thomas Rowlandson, 1792, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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