by Edvige Giunta

To Mary,
for showing me the way to the garden

She liked to squat and peek between her legs. Her white cotton underpants partially blocked her view. She rocked back and forth, her head hanging between her knees. She was a rag doll, and her hands swung as if attached to her wrists through strings. The pressure of the sides of her knees on her temples felt good. If she pressed hard, she could feel a beating inside her head, painful and pleasurable.

Her father loved the garden with passion, not unlike that he felt for his children. The children were his. He took care of them. He wanted to protect them from anything, from anybody. But the children were unpredictable, chaotic creatures. Instead, the garden was quiet and orderly, though sometimes it, too, rebelled. When he didn’t look after it, all traces of his work vanished. That was when he’d get up at five in the morning and work incessantly. When the children woke up, they’d find the garden transformed, its paths cleared of gravel, the raised borders so softened by the hoe that, if you made a hole with your finger, grains of earth filled it instantly.

Carnations, violets, lilies, roses, orange and lemon trees, asparagus patches, grape vines, huge zucchini hanging above the grown-ups’ heads offered a spectacle of beauty. Lined up in attention, they responded to his command. But the children thwarted his yearning for order. Sometimes they provoked him with malicious stubbornness. His rage would explode, sending balls of fire through their tender flesh. After, everything would go silent for a while. The aftermath of his rage like the lava that flowed down the flanks of Aetna after an eruption and destroyed whatever obstructed its course.

The children knew it was better to stay away. But often they aroused his rage again, despite themselves. They made noise with their games and arguments. They made a mess everywhere. Things got lost. Keys. Papers. Then the mountain’s rumble would echo in their ears and they would run to hide.

She kept rocking, watching the ants crawl between her feet. She was strong and powerful. She was a giant. She was Gulliver watching the Lilliputians. She would help those little creatures who worked so hard. She loved the story of the ant and the cicada. Once she had read a book with illustrations of the intricate kingdom the clever ants built under the earth’s surface. She often imagined dangerous situations and played at accumulating provisions for the hard times, just like the discerning little ants.        

She sprinkled bread crumbs and watched the little black creatures rush for them, greedily, trying to carry crumbs bigger than they were. One big ant was especially happy to grab a huge piece because it had many little children to feed. With a small stick, she tried to help the ant carry it. But the ant ran away, dropping the crumb.

‘I want to help you,’ the girl said.

She didn’t have to speak. Insects had antennas and heard her thoughts. She moved the stick here and there, delighted that the ants didn’t know that she was moving it. They all ran towards the holes. She was determined to show them that she was their friend. Didn’t she bring food for them? Why didn’t they like her?

The stick went down on one tiny body and split it in half. Then it moved towards the holes and started digging, first slowly, then furiously. She wanted to follow the ants and see their little houses. But she also felt a funny feeling for which she had no words. She watched the work of the stick. The stick administered violence with great care, while the ants scurried in terror. When one of them thought it was safe, the stick would hit.

This was war. This was a natural disaster, like the earthquakes and floods she saw on television that left so many children orphans.

Tiny bits of dark bodies lay everywhere. A few survivors scampered away. The hand with the stick kept moving at random. Whitish crumbs floated in yellow water. The rag doll’s head rolled back and forth.

Born in Sicily, Edvige Giunta moved to the United States to study literature. Her books include Writing with an Accent: Contemporary Italian American Women Authors, and the coedited anthologies, The Milk of Almonds, Embroidered Stories, and Personal Effects. Her memoir, poetry, and flash nonfiction have appeared in Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, VIA, Literary Mama, and other publications. She teaches creative writing at New Jersey City University.