Restitution for Collateral Damage

by Jonathon (Yonatan) Maisel

All creatures great and small.

Don't really know where it's from or, for that matter, who said it. Coulda' been Jesus, coulda' been that Ross Perot fellah who ran for President some years back, coulda' been Lynyrd Skynyrd for all I know. Truth is, I never really thought about it too much. Before today...

* * *

Seeing as the pink, baloney-colored tongue, the one connected to my panting eight year old Collie Fletch, was nearly draggin' on the ground, I picked a fine looking bench under a nice old shady maple tree to take a few minutes of well-deserved rest and relaxation.

I reached down to the side to scratch my four-legged friend's sweet-spot, that place halfway down his back that if you hit it just right makes one of his back legs jerk spasmodically, and...Oh crap! I thought, glancing down at the very spot on the sidewalk which my left, size eleven, Caterpillar steel-tip work boot now occupied. To its left, a long row of black ants departing, to its right, those arriving. A long, little black train of 'em. Hundreds upon hundreds. And under my muddy boot, I had a sneaking suspicion, I would find more. The warm April sun baking overhead, I gingerly lifted my boot, dreading what I might find.

Now I, thirty-eight year old Nate Cromwell, am a live-and-let-live guy, no matter the species, no matter the color, no matter the size. So it was with a growing sense of trepidation that I gathered my thoughts, said a little prayer…and peeked.

Yup. Collateral damage. At least eight dead by my reckoning, another, sorrowfully, in the last throes of its short miserable existence on this green earth.

It hurt to the core seeing the damage I had unknowingly inflicted. Now I've been told by more than a few women in my life that I can be rather heartless, but since that ultrasound Old Doc Teller ordered to check my arteries a few months back, I've got the proof in pictures that there is in fact a heart beating inside my chest. A little blocked up and hardened, according to the exam, but it's there. This emotional proof was just icing on the proverbial cardiac-cake.

So having wiped out nearly half-a-score of ants, and racked by pangs of guilt, I felt obliged to somehow make restitution. I began to ponder how. That's when I noticed that some of those little fellahs, the lowly workers in their caste system, I presume, were carrying pieces of green leaves back to their humble abode. Each piece of leaf outsized its carrier at least five-fold, and, and this is just me guessin', by at least ten times its bodyweight. Would be, I contemplated, not unlike the time my '93 Ford Escort broke down on the side of Route 646, instead of calling Fran "Don't-Fuckin'-Call-Me-Francis" Tucker for a tow, throwin' that ton and-a-half lump of Detroit Crap over my shoulder and carrying it twelve miles down the road.

Now from where I was sitting I could see that the entrance to their colony was about twenty-five feet away, and the way they were struggling with their awe-inspiring loads, I judged it to be a matter of no less than an hour's journey. I truly felt bad for the poor little suckers. And with that, a plan was hatched to cleanse my guilty conscience. A plan which thankfully would mitigate my need to go to church.

Ever so gently, Fletch looking on as though I'd lost my mind, I picked up the leaf pieces one-by-one, their little black carriers dangling precariously below, adamantly refusing to release their grips of steel. Effortlessly, I proceeded to transport each and every one, dozens of feet through the air, to the entrance of their hole, where I daintily set them down.

"Whatcha doin' there sonny?" inquired an arthritic old-timer walking by with the assistance of a wooden cane.

"Trying to give back a little to society," I answered, looking up at him, proudly holding aloft for display a shard of green leaf with one black ant dangling below. And suddenly feeling more than a bit ridiculous.

"By golly!" He stated, "You younger ones are gettin' crazier by the day." He proceeded to ramble off, his legs painfully bowed as if he had spent half his life straddling a horse, the cane tapping a note on the pavement with each step he took.

"You have a nice day sir!" I called out to the departing figure.

"Leave me alone you nut," he blurted out in reply, not turning back.

And with that, rather introspectively, I got to wondering just what the hell them ants must have been thinking of this sky-scraping bipedal giant who began by viciously murdering, then with a sudden change of heart, altruistically, proceeded to alleviate their painstaking burden. I began humming "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," that old classic Hollies tune, as I toiled away on my mission to make things right.

When I had placed the final black creature down ever so gently before my refreshed dog and I departed for home, I stood for a moment and stared down at that last little worker ant. And you know, I can almost swear he looked up at me, nodded in appreciation, and smiled before turning and heading down into the shaft which led to his underground home.

* * *

As Fletch and I walk through the front door, and he makes a mad bullet-like dash to his water bowl, my old lady calls out from the kitchen and asks if I would like a nice pot roast for dinner. "No," I answer back emphatically, "No meat tonight please. Enough blood has been spilled for one day."

She asks rather inquisitively, "What's that supposed to mean Nate Dearest?"

I reply, "Never mind it's not important, but let's have lasagna instead."

She tells me her friend Delores, her co-teller from the bank, will be joining us for dinner which is okay with me, sort of. I mean she's quite pleasing to the eyes and all, but I hate those kinda' people who think that an associates degree from Community College gives 'em some sort of license to use words like "sacrosanct" and "deleterious" in the same freakin' sentence.

After lasagna, a nice glass of Chablis, and having to hear crap from Delores like "That new teller Marcy Troxell fails to enunciate her words clearly whilst addressing her customers," my mind drifts back to all creatures great and small. I vow to look up that old proverb on the internet and see just whose insightful mind it was that gave birth to such profound words of wisdom.