by Aj Jones

“I get tired walking on my tiptoes,” she said to the worm. He squirmed about in her palm, slimy. He painted her skin with mud. “I used to like the rain.” 

She spun the clouded diamond of her engagement ring, too loose on her slender finger now, back to the outside of her hand, away from the worm. 

Rain fell in heavy lines around her as if the droplets were sliding down thousands of invisible strings. Water pooled at the edges of the sidewalk, puddles of fogged, rusty muck with sharp blades of emerald grass sticking up. Pale, bloated worms littered the cement in front of her feet, like the fettuccine alfredo she’d dropped on the kitchen floor the other night as she scrambled out of her husband’s reach. She cupped her hand, sealing her palm and its contents beneath her fingers one by one, gently, carefully, as if the worm were made of glass. 

Her husband would be home soon. 

He had told her to collect the worms when the rain came. He’d left a metal pail by the front door that morning, half-filled with loose, dry dirt. This worm was the only one she’d picked up so far and she didn’t want to let him go. 

She leapt over a pair of worms to her right, spreading her arms wide for balance, a dripping ballerina. The worms choreographed her footsteps and she wove through them, following their lead. She mirrored them with her own movements and her pointed toes landed delicately next to each wriggling, miniature body. She paused within a semicircle of worms waving like little arms, reaching for her. “I never realized there were so many of you.” She lifted her index finger and peeked in at the life she carried. 


“I mean, you’re everywhere.” She twirled and pointed at the worms with her free hand: one, two, three. She counted twelve within the borders of a single crumbling sidewalk square. She kneeled. One long, fat worm crawled along in front of her, his flesh dark. He was the biggest. 

“I never knew,” she thought, “how easy it is to end a life—especially the smallest ones. But he showed me.” 

The tiny creature pushed himself against the cracks between her fingers, tickling her palm. She opened her hand. His skin was raw by his tail—or maybe his head—how could she tell? His insides were red, like hers. 

“Safe,” she said. “You’re safe with me.” 

The rain clung to her, drenching her clothes, making her wild hair hang in tangled strands like snakes around her face. 

She heard him from around the corner, the sloshing and the crunching of his cruel feet over gravel, over life; the same feet that once sank into her, which he swore was an accident, he was sorry; the same heavy feet that treaded back and forth on the hardwood floor outside their bedroom closet, day after day, where she hid with tiny creatures she’d found in the shadowed corners of their house, locked in, waiting for a chance to sneak outside to freedom. She held the worm close to her, shielding him from the rain, still crouching there on the sidewalk. 

Her husband glared when he saw her. 

“Drop it.” 

She shook her head, her hair spitting raindrops in a veil around her. 

“Drop it. Or I’ll take it myself.” He stepped forward, squishing a worm under his steel-toed boot, and she rose as his foot flattened against the ground. 

“Murderer,” she whispered. 

He stomped one foot forward, onto another worm, and she slipped farther away from him. He extended his hand and she clutched her arms against her chest. He had done this before, too, grabbing her small hand in his, crushing her fist with his strong fingers so the lives she tried to protect turned to mush. 

Not again. 

He lunged for her. 

And she popped the worm into her mouth, cradling him with her tongue, safe behind her teeth clenched tight as her husband’s arms wrapped around her shoulders. She twisted and slid free, her skin slick with rainwater, and she ran, still on her tiptoes, dipping, weaving, spinning through the rain, cautious of the small, precious lives scattered and vulnerable at her feet.

%d bloggers like this: