The divorce mediator sighed.
“You were both doing beautifully,” he said. “Are you really going to tell me that we’re going to spend another hour arguing about this?”
On the table, the bullet ants moved back and forth inside the glass farm.
“I just don’t understand why this is so important to you,” said the mediator.
“And how could you?” said Eugene. “To you, it’s just a group of insects moving back and forth in a glass case, but to an entomologist…”
“Hello?” said Hortense, sitting at the other side of the long table and waving her hands as if signaling to a ship from a lifeboat, “entomologists, thank you very much. Singular, not plural. There are two entomologists in this room. You’re not the only one.”
“Hortense,” said the mediator, “I honestly think he just meant it as a figure of speech. I think he was just saying that because I’m not an entomologist, I can’t see the real value…”
“No, you can’t,” said Eugene. “The Bullet Ant rates a four plus on the Schmidt Sting Index.”
“Schmidt Sting Index?” said the mediator.
“It’s a rating system for how painful a sting is,” said Hortense, “named after Justin O. Schmidt, an entomologist who submitted himself to countless stings so that he could rate them on a four-point scale.”
“Oh,” said the mediator, not really sure how to respond. “Got it. Thanks.”
“And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let you take our honeymoon souvenir,” said Eugene.
“I had just gotten tenure, and I want a token of that moment.”
“Well, I had just gotten my fellowship,” said Hortense. “Don’t you remember that it was my idea to honeymoon in South America? Remember when I said ‘darling, let’s both take part in the adulthood ritual and see if the Bullet Ant really deserves a 4+ rating?’ Do you remember that at all?”
Eugene hesitated, frozen by Hortense’s words.
He took a deep breath, the fight draining out of him.
“Yes,” he said, finally. “And I still remember when the natives slipped the mittens on our hands.”
“Mittens?” said the mediator, feeling the negotiations slip away from him.
“In South America, some indigenous people conduct an adulthood ritual in which they sew bullet ants into mittens that they make out of reeds, so that the mittens are lined with stingers,” said Eugene, falling deep into reminiscence.
“And to prove that you’re worthy of adulthood, you have to wear the mittens for ten minutes,” said Hortense, with the same far away look on her husband’s face.
“Come again?” said the mediator.
“Oh, honey, how could I be so insensitive?” said Eugene. “When I said that I wouldn’t let you eat me if we were Preying Mantises, I only said it because it would mean less time that I’d get to live with you. If you needed me for my protein, I’d kill myself right now.”
“But I was being insensitive, too,” said Hortense. “when I called you a drone, it was just a term of endearment, not a value judgement.”
Eugene looked at the ant farm.
“We can find that passion that we lost,” said Eugene solemnly.
"Yes," said Hortence, "we can sew another set of mittens. Be bonded in that ritual of pain. For old times' sake."
For a moment, they were silent.
“So,” said the mediator, who now felt as if he were waving goodbye to clients who were in a rocket taking off without him “I guess that maybe you two…”
“Let’s open a bottle of wine, take some of the ants out of the farm, and spend an evening remembering the excruciating pain of our honeymoon,” said Eugene, a dreamy look on his face.
"I’m with you, Water Bug,” said Hortense, standing. She picked up the ant farm and tucked it under her shoulder as if it were a textbook.
“My little June Bug,” said Eugene.
“My little Water Bug,” said Hortense.
They walked arm in arm out of the conference room. Eugene turned his head on the way out.
“Send us the bill,” said Eugene.
The mediator sat in his chair for a minute, staring into space. Then he shook his head, and gathered his papers into his briefcase. A wasp landed on the table, but instead of picking up a manila folder to kill it, he just watched it knead its front legs together, and then take off, making lazy circles around the room.