You squat over the lip of a sidewalk, your tiny feet separated for proper balance. When it rains, the worms are freed from flowerbed soil. They always, always emerge to swim in the collecting waters. You’re a social worker, a professional strictly scheduled to work on rainy mornings in a pair of purple cotton pants that softly outline the globe of your Pampers. You rub one muddy finger against a shirt already slickened to your nipples.
He’s a frail one, fussing about in a concrete depression. You can’t quite decide which end is his head, which end his tail, what your school librarian once read to the class about worm anatomy from a colorful hardcover library book. But you know there isn’t enough water here for swimming. You take him in hemisphere hands; he labors amongst the raindrops harbored between your fingers. You shush him. He has no ears. His head or his tail rises confusedly to your fingernails, then whips back down.
In the apartment, you pull a plastic bowl from a toy crate; take it to the bathroom sink and wrench at the faucet. When it’s entirely full, you slide your worm into the bowl like an old shoelace. Mama emerges. Her hair is inflamed and deafening. It bows with her head and her head bows to your hands and it’s as if all deterrence has begun to overflow onto your toes.
Young lady, he shouldn’t be in there. You snuff mucous back through a nostril. The bowl quivers, water dribbles over the rim.
Put him back. There is no looking up at her. Excuse me; I’m talking to you. Did you hear me?
Her hair is her only shadow.
Your worm is swimming like a champion.
Excuse me. Take him out of the bowl and put him outside right now.
That narrow body ribbons under the water. He makes tiny beads of air. He twists himself into characters you’ve never seen in the alphabet. You lend your index finger to the bowl, run it along the worm’s slippery curves. Again. A third time. A fifth. A hundredth, if the math is correct. The water softens his little muscles.
Young lady, I’m serious.
He drifts in suspension. You lovingly stroke that pointed end which lifts to the surface in muted gratitude. It could be his head. It could be his tail. You don’t need library books to love, no books to love, just your one earthworm-chubby index finger to caress him—gently.
Jeannine Hennawi is a junior Writing, Literature & Publishing major who has always found fulfillment in poetry, but is now wetting her toes in the nonfiction realm as well. Once a steady contributor to her high school’s literary magazine and writing club, she is slowly reclaiming the habit of sharing her writing as often as possible. Hennawi has recently joined Emerson’s Simmer Magazine team, writing reviews for Boston’s tastiest eateries and experimenting with new recipes in her apartment kitchen. Any time not dedicated to poetry, reading, cooking, or studying is spent posting too many Facebook photos of her cats.