The Sentiments of Worms
A Short Story
“Jenny! We’re going outside!” yelled Maggie. She was nine years old, a tomboy, and always up at the crack of dawn.
“Ok, Mag,” I said sleepily. I had been at work not 10 seconds before I was officially “on the job”. People tend to think that being a summer nanny is easy. They must not know what a hangover is like. It was hard to believe that only about five hours ago, I was trying to hang on to a somewhat attractive no-namer with my conversational wit. I was unsuccessful and, as usual, left the bar with no prospects.
“Jenny!” yelled her younger brother Jordan, bounding down the stairs. The noise of his 4-year-old body descending the staircase sounded like a stampede of wildebeests. He ran up to me and gave me a hug around the waist. I gently combed my hand through his dark, shiny hair.
“You goin’ out, too, Jordan? Wear shoes. I’m gonna make a cup of tea.”
I grabbed a canister of instant iced-tea and prepared a nice, tall glass of it. I stood over the sink and took a glance out the window to make sure that Maggie and Jordan were already out in the yard, distracted by the many stimulants of the summer world. I stirred it up and felt the cool perspiration form on the outside of the glass. I was thirsty as hell. I took a long swig of it and carried it over to the counter where my purse sat, beckoning me. It was like a little demon lived inside that purse. One that couldn’t leave me alone. Always tempting me.
I sighed. A hangover is nothing but an alcohol withdrawal anyways. Might as well give the body what it wants. I reached in my red canvas bag and pulled out the little chrome flask. I unscrewed the cap and quickly poured a shot into my tea. I put the flask back in its little red home and joined the kids outside.
The sky was a heavy dark gray and it looked like it was just about to burst open with thick tears. I could smell the worms already. Those worms always got me thinking. How was it that the rain could just go and unearth them like that? Who ever heard of a living creature suffocating in their own home? It was too early for that kind of thinking but, one thing about being a summer nanny is that I always had time to wonder about stuff like that. It was like I was free to be all childlike and carefree and stuff, but I couldn’t get out of this 19-year-old mind.
Jordan ran out of the garage in his Darth Vader mask swinging a plastic light saber that was twice his length.
“Jenny! Do you think I have the Force?”
“I don’t know. What do you think you can do? Lets see some magic,” I said stooping down to his eye-level.
“Hmmm. Ok, well I’ll work on it.”
I sat down on the back porch swing and continued to sip my drink. I watched Maggie kick around a soccer ball and thought about what I would do if I had the Force. Repel creepy old men and nerdy boys. Attract someone like me for once. Jordan reached an open palm out to the ominous sky and held it there. I walked over to him, curious as to what he was doing. Sure enough, a fat raindrop fell right into his hand. He pulled off the mask to reveal an excited smile.
“I made it rain!” He cried out, “I really do have the Force!”
“Ok, kids. Back inside.”
Rainy days were the hardest. I stirred up a big pot full of hot macaroni ‘n cheese, the kind that’s unnaturally orange but strangely tempting, and called for Maggie and Jordan to come get their lunch. Before they managed to fight over who’s turn it was to turn off the TV and run up the stairs, I hurried to the pantry, grabbed the half-empty bottle of vodka out from behind the grinning Mrs. Butterworth’s and splashed some in my tea. It was my third drink of the day. I told myself I would always supply myself and never break into my boss’s stash but those raindrops that kept falling outside kept making me so thirsty. I wondered how the worms were doing. I wondered if, maybe, they secretly liked the rain even though it could suffocate them. Maybe they liked getting out of the dirt for a change.
I sat in the lumpy armchair in the corner of the family room and watched Maggie and Jordan tend to their “family” of Barbie dolls on the carpet. Ken just drove his Jeep off of a cliff but, luckily, he was able to reach into his pocket, pull out his iPhone and call Barbie before he crashed to the ground. Needless to say, Barbie immediately mounted her white stallion and headed out into the wilderness to rescue him. On their way back home after the day’s events, they stopped at the pet store and bought a hamster, just like Maggie’s.
“Hey, Maggie. How is Frankie doing, anyway?” I asked
“My hamster?” She said turning to face me, Barbie and stallion still in hand. “Well, he’s getting pretty fat so I’ve been trying to get him on a diet. I think it’s working, but he hasn’t moved in a while. He’s so lazy. Its like he’s half-dead.” She said with a small laugh.
I usually trusted her to take care of her pet, but this time I was just a little curious. I got up and walked over to the other corner of the room where the hamster cage sat, smelly and silent.
“Frankie?” I said softly.
No response. I opened up the little door and poked him with my finger. He was completely stiff. Oh, God. I never had to explain death to a kid before.
“Maggie…” I said apprehensively, “Frankie’s dead.”
“Oh! My! God!” She shouted, “Gross! Jordan! Get a shoe box for Pete’s sake!”
Jordan waddled out of the room hurriedly and ransacked the laundry room closet in search of a cardboard coffin for poor old Frankie. I finished off the rest of my fourth drink and prepared myself for the funeral.
The rain was pouring down on the three of us as we stepped lightly toward the garden. The world was spinning a little all around me and I dared not look above me at the falling raindrops for fear that my stomach would turn. I stepped on a fat, juicy earthworm and realized that I forgot to wear shoes. The muddy yard was like a battlefield of struggling worms, creeping to the surface, holding on to their fragile lives.
When we reached the garden, Jordan dug out a small hole amongst the weepy red impatients that were all bowing their heads. Maggie lifted the Hush Puppies box above her head.
“To Infinity and Beyond!” She announced gravely, obviously putting her faith in some kind of afterlife for the poor, neglected creature, “Now would anyone like to say a few words?”
“He was fat, but I still loved him,” Jordan choked out through tears. His tiny voice was muffled by the heavily falling rain.
Maggie lowered the box into the humble grave and Jordan helped her cover it with mud and the occasional worm. Frankie would learn more about the sentiments of worms now then I could ever hope to know.
I took each child by the hand and felt the mud squeeze itself between my fingers. For the first time all day, I didn’t feel thirsty. Still hand in hand, the three of us walked back to the house in a solemn silence. A worm danced on the back porch step delighting in its soggy freedom. I wondered when it would be my turn to come up for air.