Egg and Soldiers
Toby lies in pyjamas on the dew-damp lawn, tearing up grass. His eyes follow an ant as it surmounts a toppled dandelion, hauling a grain of rice spilled at last night’s silent supper. Toby grabs another tuft and observes his giant’s hand once more shake the creature from its landscape.
Toby’s hungry but Mum’s in bed. He’d love a runny yolk cradled by barely solid, gum-squeaking white to dip evenly-sliced, buttered toast into, but he knows Mum won’t be up to that today. Never is when she sleeps late. Toby considers reaching up on tiptoes for a bowl from the sideboard to tinkle a mound of Cheerios into.
The ant’s two feet away now, rice held aloft like a flag, pressing on up a thick blade of grass – those ones that can almost give you a paper cut. Toby remembers helping to load Grandma’s things into Dad’s Ford Mondeo the week after the police found her wandering the high street in her nightie. He’d heaved that bag that looked like a tapestry even though Mum said to leave it for Dad, and his face felt really hot afterwards. Mum had cried for days before and after, but Dad said the nursing home was the right place for her. That living here was no longer safe.
Toby commando-crawls to the ant and places his hand before it. It clambers up and across the fleshy hill, and he marvels at how so much effort feels like nothing on his skin. Nobody has touched him for what seems like an age. Not since Grandma’s funeral. Toby wanted his friend Ethan to attend but Dad said numbers were limited, because of the virus. Ethan would punch him on the arm occasionally when he told a terrible joke. Toby misses him. Almost as much as Grandma, who was soft and comforting as a pillow.
The ant marches its rice-flag through a crack in the paving and disappears.
Toby goes inside and clicks the kettle on. How hard can it be to cook an egg?