She found me digging up worms in my backyard. Just plopped down beside me and started wriggling herself when I found one in the freshly turned soil. Later, her mother was angry about the worm dirt on her dress, but she came back the next day.
“My name is Mara,” she said this time. What a pretty name on her lips, she smiled just a little on the “ar” and I saw her dimples. Her lips were pink like a worm.
“This one’s name is Cara-Beth,” she said, pointing. She named each worm we found: Mariel, Nathaniel, Courtney. She wouldn’t touch them, but demanded I house each in a plastic cup, which we then placed in the shade.
Digging them up, they dry up.
When one died, she would say, “Poor Cara-Beth” and hand me the emptied cup, ready for the next worm.
If you cut off the head of a worm, it doesn’t hurt it, my teacher explained. Each end just keeps squirming away. When I told Mara, she squealed with delight. She said we had to try it. She dared me and double-dog-dared me, and still I held my twig over the wriggling body, preparing maybe, maybe just hearing her tell me to do it, wanting her to tell me again to do it.
“This way we’ll have two!” she cried. She pulled at her shoelaces fiercely. “Make one bigger and one smaller, so one can be the baby! The mommy is Melanie and the baby will be Veronica.”
I touched the worm with the twig. I pushed lightly and it bent just a bit, and the curve around the point was too shiny and slimy and vortexed. I dropped the twig. The sun shone on the curved skin, if it even was skin, that smooth and hilly hard jello.
Rachel R. Taube is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and former Editor-in-Chief of the Penn Review literary magazine. She currently works in Acquisitions at Penn Press, studies English at UPenn’s Master of Liberal Arts Program, and is a teaching assistant for a Penn creative writing class.
Photo credit: L’écureuil on Flickr