The First Big Rain of Spring
Let’s cut it in half, says Belly Anne.
He crouches in a puddle across from his sister. The air is thick with fumes of wet asphalt. Between them the worm twitches on the driveway. He has no idea where she got the knife.
Both halves move separate if you cut them, she says. It’s crazy.
He watches the pulse of its rings and the way its snout nubs onward. His socks are soaking wet in his light-up shoes. He pokes at the worm as it inches along.
I wanna bury it. I want it to live in the dirt.
What? She opens the knife and hands it to him. It feels too heavy in his fist.
Come on cut it. It’s like a dissection, like science. Don’t be a sissy.
I don’t want it to die.
It doesn’t have a central nervous system. It doesn’t even know it’s alive.
He’s more scared than he’s been in his five years of life. He looks at Anne and at the knife and then down. He doesn’t know what a central nervous system is. He claws up the worm and bounds off the asphalt to the mud. He tries to bury it. Digging and covering quick so she can’t find it.
Something hits him hard on the back and he bites dirt. When he looks up Anne is standing over him dangling the worm.
She grabs it on both ends and pulls it tight. She kneels and says, I told you to cut it. I’m the big sister you listen to me.
He feels a tear part the mud on his cheeks. I’m gonna tell mom and dad.
No you’re not. I’ll tell dad you cried and he’ll whup your ass.
Don’t say that word.
You better cut it. Cut it or I’ll eat it.
She lifts the worm high and throws back her wet blue hair and sticks out her tongue. Mucus drips from the tail to her mouth and she moans like she likes the taste.
No, he whines. Please Anne don’t eat it.
She lets it touch her tongue and pulls it back.
All right. She grabs him by the wrist and closes his dirty palm around the worm. How about this. You can feed it to the tarpon. The big one under the boat. It’ll be okay because it’s the food chain.
He watches the wet pink coil poke around his hand. He doesn’t want it to die but he can see from the gleam in Anne’s eye he has no choice. He figures this way it might make something else happy. He cups the worm in both hands and they head down the road.
The rain smacks heavy on rotwood and the torn leather seats of the boat. There are palm fronds and clumps of dirt everywhere and the trees are whistling offkey. Belly Anne steps on the dock and spits in the water. A few seconds later two giant lips smack at the froth.
The tarpon is the biggest fish he’s ever seen in his life but it’s not as big as a shark he doesn’t think. Its silver scales shine bright under the rainswept water. It frowns and waits like it knows what he’s about to do, like it had talked all this over with his sister already.
He takes one last look at his squirming prisoner. He tries not to think about the inside of the tarpon’s mouth. He grits his teeth so hard one comes loose. He lifts his hand high.
Belly Anne pulls him back so hard he feels a ripple on the chub of his cheeks. No you can’t just drop it in, she says.
He looks at her. His gut feels loose.
You can’t just drop it. You have to feed it to him or he won’t know it’s from you.
I don’t wanna do it Belly Anne.
You have to. It’s for science and you have to. I’ll tell dad you cried.
She grabs him by the cuff and forces him onto his stomach. His face is very close to the tarpon’s face. It’s watching him closely. It doesn’t have teeth but its mouth looks hard and sharp like it’s made of a knight’s armor. He feels like throwing up. He’s crying without sniffles or tears somehow.
Hurry up, says his sister. I’m getting hungry.
He dangles the worm over the waiting fish.
Say here you go tarpon.
Here you go t—
The fish snaps upward. Faster than he can see it takes the worm and in a tremendous splash it vanishes under the boat. He’s stunned. He watches the water settle to raindrop glass.
There’s something else dripping into the water. He glances at his hand and screams. The tarpon has ripped the skin clean off of his pointer finger. All he’s got is stringy red and a little white.
He turns to Belly Anne and shows her his ruined finger. She smiles and claps. He buries himself in her soaking wet jacket. She hugs him close.
You gave him some extra, she says. It’s like the whole food web. You did so good.
Don’t tell dad I cried, he blubbers. Please don’t tell him.
She holds him very tight and rocks him back and forth until he’s quiet. Eventually they go home. Mom wants to take him to the hospital but dad just wraps the finger and puts a little piece of wood under it. Anne tells dad he tore his finger trying to climb a tree. She says he was the bravest she’s ever seen him. She says he didn’t cry a wink. She doesn’t stop smiling all night.
In the morning more rain summons more worms to the asphalt. He sneaks out at sunrise while everyone else is asleep. He checks over his shoulder. He picks them up one by one and buries them in the mud, as deep as he can get them. Then he slips back inside, washes his hands, and crawls into bed.
Karter Mycroft is a nonbinary author, editor, musician & fisheries scientist living in Los Angeles. They are a co-creator of the Los Suelos, California project, a multimedia anthology benefitting rural farmworkers. Karter's short fiction has appeared in Flame Tree Press, Surfaces, Misery Tourism, and elsewhere
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