beside her on the floor of her little room. In Emily’s repeated dream she was attending a banquet
where she was compelled to crawl from table to
table, sampling the brilliant food: pink glistening
hams, small crispy birds on beds of edible petals,
smoked fish of all colors ranging from the deep
orange of salmon to the pale yellow of butterfish.
And then: salads within whose leaves lurked living
oysters recently plucked from their shells, eager to
be nibbled by Emily; the mauve feet of pigs, lightly
pickled; headcheese, the fragrance of calf still
floating from its crock. And vegetables: eggplant
stewed with squash blossoms; a pumpkin, its hat
o=, stu=ed with crème fraîche and baked. And
desserts: melons the color of peaches and peaches
the size of melons, fig preserves in hazelnut cups;
and, at last, a celestial version of brie en croûte, the
croûte made of moth wings, for Mr. da Sola allowed a few moth grubs to hatch and mature and
deposit their larvae before he gently pinched them
dead and removed their new wings, and he caught
butterflies too, in the outside garden, and sewed
wing to wing to make several round fairy quilts
and sugared and steamed them and laid them out
on the carpenter’s table and plopped into each a
light cheese faintly curdled; and then he molded
several croûtes and baked them. He did all this o=-
dream. Emily plunged into the pastries. When she
awoke there was often white exudate on her teeth,
which she removed with her forefinger. Then she
rubbed her fingertip dry on the unvarnished floor
of the room while watching Mr. da Sola awake
from his own glorious adventure, whatever it was.
She suspected Alice was its heroine.
THE REST OF HER TIME in the little room, Emily
studied. She was master of the ant heart — like the
hearts of all insects it was a primitive tube —and
had now turned her attention to the complicated
stomach. She was soon to give a lecture on the ant
stomach to the middle school and to anyone else
who wanted to listen. Caldicott students were encouraged to share their interests. Wolfie Feather-stone had recently talked about utopian societies,
and her sidekick, Adele Alba, had analyzed figures
of speech and the power of syntax.
And so, one Tuesday, Emily stood on a platform
beside an easel where her diagrams were propped.
“The abdomen is the segmented tail area of an
ant,” she rasped, pointing with her father’s hiking
stick. “It contains the heart, and would you believe
it the reproductive organs too, well you probably
would believe that, and it contains most of the di-
gestive system. It is protected by an exoskeleton.
And get this”—she licked her lips and let her
pointer hang vertically between her pipecleaner
legs until it touched the floor, making her look like
a starving song-and-dance man — “the ant has not
one stomach but two.”
“So does the cow,” drawled a fat girl.
“The cow’s two stomachs only serve the cow.”
“Serve the cow only,” corrected Adele.
“Whatever. The ant’s larger stomach, called
the crop, is at the service of all. As an ant collects
food and eats it, the nutrient is dissolved into a
liquid and stored in the crop. When a fellow ant is
hungry, its antennae stroke the food-storer’s head.
Then the two ants put their mouths together, to-
gether, together”—she controlled her unseemly
excitement with the aid of the soothing smile Mr.
da Sola sent from the back of the room — “and the
liquid food passes from one to the other. And in
addition to the generous crop, each ant has an-
other, smaller stomach, its ‘personal belly.’”
Alice, wearing a faded denim dress, said, “Then
the larger stomach belongs to the community.”
“Yes!” said Emily. “And if philosophers had
brains in their heads they would realize that the
ant’s collective pouch is the most advanced device
that evolution or God if you prefer has come up
“A soup kitchen,” interrupted the fat girl.
“And the ant feeding her associates through
her mouth out of her own belly is the fundamental
act from which the social life, the virtues, the morality, and the politics of the formicary — that’s the
word for the ant as a society —are derived.” Alice
saw that Emily used no notes. “Compared to this
true collective, Wolfie, Brook Farm is a sandbox.”
A few girls were gagging or at least making
“The ant is being exploited by her pals,” said
the irritating fattie. Her size six jeans were big on
her and she wore her little sister’s tee. A strip of
pink flesh showed between the two, like a satin
ribbon. “When does she eat?”