Worms All


Half a worm writhes in lantern light sixty inches below ground level. I stoop to lift the half-body and set it in the grass next to my measuring tape. Maybe that’s a useless gesture. Maybe it’s nothing but one more mistake.

Who knows.

In elementary school, they taught us that both halves of a cut worm can regrow their missing parts. That’s not always true. It depends on the worm — and what’s been lost.

Dirt crumbles from my fingers onto tobacco as I roll a cigarette. Familiar sounds — the rasp of the lighter, the crackle of igniting paper — then the relief of nicotine.

I lift my head and blow smoke toward the stars. I wonder if you can taste it.

I doubt it.

Let’s say this worm is one of the lucky ones. Will the two new worms remember when they were one? Will they remember the pain of the shovel splitting them in two? Or will they turn soil and recycle nutrients in blissful ignorance?

I carve a hole in the dirt wall with my finger and bury the half-smoked cigarette. An offering.

The shovel bites into the earth. I move the dirt up and out of the hole, into the growing pile. I’d watch out for worms, if I could, but there’s too much to look out for in this world.

We always knew that, you and I. We really know it now.

***

Sixty-six inches down. In the center and at all four corners.

Dirt crumbles into this cigarette, just like the last one.

Worms weren’t always wriggly pieces of gut waiting for a bird beak or fish hook. In the old days, the word meant dragon. Through the ages, dragons lost and gained feet and wings as humans revised their legends. Some dragons breathed fire. Others didn’t. There were good dragons and bad ones, red dragons and white. Some were greedy — or even noble.

Some dragons ate the dead.

Worms all.

I bury this cigarette next to the first one — I don’t want you running out — and pick up the shovel.

***

My back is nothing but pain. My hands shake so much I can barely work the measuring tape from its case.

We were both raised better than to do sloppy work. Or to have others do for us what we can do ourselves, especially on our own land. Part of why I’m out here digging tonight. The other part being you’d do the same for me.

I double check all four corners and the center.

Seventy-two inches. Six feet under.

We always shared cigarettes. Not all of them — we were fraternal, not conjoined, after all — but more than half. So we’ll share one more. It’s got lots of dirt in it. I want to believe it’s true God made dirt so dirt can’t hurt.

More than that, I want to believe you’re no longer in pain.

Call me squeamish, but I’m not burying you in the garden or the orchard. I believe you’ll like this spot up here on the hill. You can help me keep an eye on the place.

I lay the last dead cigarette to rest and heave myself up onto the grass. The worm is still there, still wriggling. Half of what it was this morning.


Photo by Angel Luciano on Unsplash


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