All summer long, an ant lugged kernels of corn back to the burrow he shared with his husband, a grasshopper of independent means. Meanwhile the grasshopper sang and hopped about.
On the occasion of the first frost, the grasshopper hired three centipedes to haul in one hour what had taken the ant all summer to carry on his back. The grasshopper tipped the centipedes generously and entered the crowded burrow. The ant was sitting in the middle of his own stash of corn, gorging himself.
“Really?” the grasshopper said.
The ant ignored him.
“I asked you,” the grasshopper said. “At the beginning of the summer, remember? You said no. This happens every year. So fine, you don’t want those guys to haul corn for you. I support you on that. Does that mean I have to haul corn too?”
“Do we have any butter?” the ant replied.
“I mean, I think it’s great that you want to haul your own corn. Look what you managed to do all by yourself in one summer. It’s a real achievement.”
At this, the ant chuckled bitterly. He could haul corn all his life and his stash would never even begin to touch the amount of corn held by the grasshopper.
“What’s so funny?” the grasshopper said.
The ant only shook his head.
“No, tell me. I want to know,” the grasshopper said.
“I’m an ant. I haul corn. Okay? It’s what I do. But now you’ve effectively rendered my whole raison d’être an exercise in absurdity. I might as well spend the summer rolling a rock up a hill and watching it roll back down again. So thank you. Yet again you’ve taken from me the one thing I know how to do.”
The grasshopper looked shocked. “Jesus. I’m not taking anything from you.”
“Do you realize how condescending it is to tell me my pile is an ‘achievement’? You’ve got sixteen piles of corn in a federally insured cave and ten times that much in corn futures.”
The grasshopper didn’t see the destructiveness of his constant cheerleading and infantilizing gifts like designer vests, karaoke machines and scooters. He made big decisions without consulting the ant. The latest had been the purchase of their new burrow. He’d taken to pretend-asking after the fact. The irony was that the ant was extremely smart, with a good head on his thorax. He’d almost forgotten this about himself. The grasshopper blindly followed the suggestions of financial advisors and only gave lip service to the ant’s warning that he was too tied up in corn futures. The ant wasn’t even sure how much money the grasshopper had, and he was fairly certain the grasshopper didn’t know either.
But the most serious problem around money had to do with the way the grasshopper encouraged the ant to live as he did. Their prenuptial agreement spelled out exactly what the ant could expect if they split up. It was generous, but it wouldn’t guarantee him an idle life in perpetuity. He had to be very careful not to lose touch with his profession, especially now that he was growing older. He’d wanted to believe in “forever” just as much as the grasshopper. But it would cost the grasshopper nothing if forever didn’t come true.
The ant watched his big, green friend hop around in vexation. The grasshopper turned to him and said, “Did I really do that? Did I really take something from you? Because if that’s how you see it, I won’t hire those guys next year. I’ll carry my own corn. I swear to you I will.”
The ant covered his face with his legs. Move corn? The grasshopper, who’d been raised on corn brought to him on a silver platter, then mocked for his poor corn-gathering skills? It would never, ever happen. It felt almost cruel to fight with him. The grasshopper was much loved for his cheerfulness and kindness to small insects, but he was seen as a bit of a fool. It was only when he sat on a hillock and sang out toward the setting sun that others stopped what they were doing and listened.
The ant looked up and saw that his friend had reached out to touch him but had stayed his foreleg. The ant would have indeed flinched at soothing from the grasshopper. It was surprising that the grasshopper seemed to know this. A kernel of hope sprouted in the ant’s heart. It had been so long since either of them had responded to the other as actual insects.
As a cold wind moaned over the burrow, it was the ant who reached out a sticky, corn-mottled leg to touch the wing of his magnificent beloved. The long winter was setting in. Nothing had been solved. But for the moment it didn’t matter.
The grasshopper lost a considerable amount of his holdings in a corn blight. Luckily, he’d finally heeded the ant’s warning and diversified with alfalfa and wheat. The ant felt he’d contributed something to the grasshopper, and the grasshopper learned to trust he ant. They found a beetle specializing in mediation and drafted an agreement to address inequality in their partnership. Then they tucked it in a drawer and lived.