out the kitchen curtains and then sucks them back to the
screen. It is hot in the room, but cooler than outside. Melissa
sits at the table swinging her legs as she watches her mother
work at the counter. Her mother stops what she is doing and
picks up the metal screen flyswatter with the twisted wire
handle. She scans the room.
“There's a fly in here,” she says,
listening and looking, flyswatter poised. Crack! She brings it
down on the counter then flicks the fly to the floor that she
will sweep after dinner. “I got him.”
Her mother smiles to herself and
hangs the flyswatter on its nail by the refrigerator. It is
summer and flies get into the house despite the screens. She
pursues them with a resigned relentlessness.
Melissa slides off her chair, then
wanders across the dining room and out the front door. She
stands on the vine-covered porch feeling bored. She balances on
the arches of her white double-strapped sandals on the edge of
the porch, wiggles her toes and lets her feet slip down onto the
step with a slap. Then she slips down off the step onto the
earth and watches the puffs of dust she made settle between her
toes. Off the porch, the sun beats hot on her skin and the air
smells like dust as it streams past. Her hair lifts and
stretches in the wind, pulling at her bow barrette. Sometimes
her curly hair fills her face, sometimes it stands straight up,
and sometimes it blows stinging into her eyes.
A gust of wind puffs out the legs of
her pink checked shorts and draws her white sleeveless blouse
away from her little girl body. She scans the yard, the road,
the porch then turns toward her brown-haired brother. He is
sitting on the step breaking off pieces of a twig and tossing
them out into the grass.
“Let’s look for bugs,” she says.
He shrugs his tee-shirted shoulders,
making the stripes lift and settle over his thin chest. “Okay.”
“Where do you want to look?”
Both children gaze into the yard
again. They don’t really have to look for the bugs. They are
farm kids and know where the bugs are.
“Why don't we pick tomato worms?” he
“Okay.” Melissa bounces back up the
steps, slapping her sandals loudly as she ascends. Jump, Slap,
Jump, Slap. She hops three times with both feet across the porch
toward her brother. “Worm pickin’. Worm pickin’,” she singsongs
as she hops into the shade. Her brother rolls his eyes.
She finds a dense patch of telltale
little black poop pellets on the porch floor and begins to lift
vine leaves above it. There it is, a pudgy three-inch long soft
green cylinder with a horn at one end. “I found one!” she calls
She bends to look. Her nose almost
touches the worm. She tilts her head this way and that so she
can see under it and along its sides. She inspects the segmented
body and the tiny pairs of hooked feet that cling to the stem of
the vine. At the front is the mouth; at the back is the horn.
Her brother comes over to look.
“Pick it off, Missy,” he says with a
“No, I don’t want to touch it.” She
has felt tomato worms before and doesn’t like how squashy they
feel under her fingers.
“It won’t hurt you,” he says. “Stick
out your finger, maybe it will climb on it.”
She points her finger at the worm
for a second, then pulls it back. “You do it!” He is a big kid,
almost nine; she’s only five. But he doesn’t seem to want to
touch it, either. He runs off and comes back with a stick.
Melissa goes to get her own stick.
“Let’s see if it will climb on
He points the stick at the worm. It
raises its front segment. He pushes the stick a little closer
and the worm raises two more segments. They wait. The worm
doesn’t seem willing to walk onto the stick, so they start to
push it in the middle to see if they can dislodge it. It’s not
so easy. Finally, her brother gets his stick under the back end
of the worm and lifts it up until it falls onto the floor. They
watch as it rights itself and then begin poking at it to see
what will happen. The worm twists this way and that trying to
attach itself to the stick. They push harder and harder into its
side. Poke, poke, poke… soft. One of the sticks breaks through
the skin. Green-black ‘stuffing’ oozes out. They prod some more,
a larger area opens and more goo comes out. Missy leans in to
get a good look. There are no separate parts like chicken
gizzards or livers. It just looks like slime, like bug insides.
Missy and her brother push around
the worm until there isn’t much interesting left. He flicks the
worm off the porch; she watches it roll and pick up grains of
dust on the sticky ooze. They pry a couple more worms off and
drop them into a rusty can part full of water. They set it in
the sun to see what will happen.
There doesn’t seem to be anything
more to do. Her brother starts walking across the yard.
“Where are you going?” she asks.
“I’m going for a walk. There’s
nothing to do.”
“Can I come?”
“No.” He keeps walking.
Melissa goes inside the house. The screen bangs shut behind her.
“I’m thirsty,” she says to her mother as she walks into the
“What have you been doing?” Her
mother is making pie crust and doesn’t look up from her work.
“Oh, just looking at bugs. We killed
a tomato worm with a stick.”
“That’s nice.” Her mother wipes her
floury fingers on her apron, gets a jelly glass out of the
cupboard, fills it with tap water and sets it on the counter.
Melissa picks it up and wanders out, crossing the dining room
and drifting onto the porch to sit on the step. She looks at the
broken worm as she drinks. Ants have arrived to cover the gooey,
As she watches, Melissa notices a
line of ants working its way across the step. They are black
ants, not the red ants that bite. She gets down on her stomach
to watch and puts her finger out for them to crawl over. Up and
over they go, heading for the same place. She smiles as the tiny
feet tickle her finger. She lets more ants march across her
finger, then drags her fingertip over an ant and rubs it into
the concrete, watching the smudges of black settle between the
grains in the surface. She does it again. She picks up one
between her fingers and tries to pinch it. It doesn’t work. She
tries again. It takes a pinch with her fingernails to kill it.
This surprises her.
Melissa finds a rock and begins
smashing ants one by one. Snick. Snick. She takes the
rock again and carefully mashes half of an ant. It twitches and
wiggles. She surgically crushes halves of a few more ants and
watches to see how long it takes before they stop moving. She
works away for a few minutes longer. Smashing and watching.
Then she stands up and drags her
sandal across the line of ants. The swipe erases a whole lot of
ants. She does it again. She begins to tap dance on the ants and
watches to see if they die. Some do, some don't. The ant trail
becomes confused and the ants scatter. She looks around for
something else to do. She checks the worms roasting in the sun.
Nothing. The goo glob in the dirt. No change, just dirt and
Melissa walks back into the shade of
the porch. She picks up her baby doll from her bed, cradles it
in her arms and looks at it carefully. “Oh, Baby, you’re all
wet,” she says. She changes the baby’s diaper and shirt and
wraps it neatly in a blanket.
too, aren’t you?” she asks. She feeds the baby a bottle, lifts
it to her shoulder and burps it. Then she holds it gently,
rocking it. When she’s sure the baby is asleep, she kisses it on
the forehead, puts it back into bed and tucks it in just so.
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