I was at work holding onto a trowel and my father wasn’t dead. I argued this point to my colleague, Mary Anne, who was afraid of worms.
Here’s the gist, Mary Anne, I said. We are at work. We are gardening. You are afraid of the worms writhing between your fingers, and on top of that, my dad isn’t dead.
Mary Anne screamed. There was nothing else to do but scream about the ringed pink flesh of the worms.
Everything was drippy from yesterday’s rain. The juniper bush and the ivy leaves strangling it dripped on us. Our feet sank in the wet dirt. We had long hours, so we filled them with talk.
My parents are in an unhappy marriage, but they’re alive and well, Mary Anne said.
Mine aren’t like that, I said. They’re in a happy marriage and ailing slowly.
Your dad is all done ailing, said Mary Anne. He’s dead.
I laughed and laughed. The juniper bush dripped, and I deadheaded the agapanthus. We talked about parking lots, hungry children with shiny eyes, and how the sun drowned every evening when it set over the bay. We could see it gasping above the waterline from the hill where we gardened.
Imagine drowning every day! Mary Anne said. We were crouched around the birdbath, hunting for crabgrass. With the rain, it had inched its way through networks of other plants, infiltrating their systems. I had to extract the crabgrass but not the poppies. I didn’t like poppies very much, but we had to preserve them. Our supervisor came out to check on us sometimes.
There’s a dead possum in the green bin, she said when she came out. Please take care of it.
I went to the green bin and kicked it onto its side. Dirty water dribbled out of the corner, wadded-up bundles of weeds slumped at the mouth of the bin, and underneath them I saw a beady eyeball surrounded by fur. I retreated, walking backwards while staring at the eye.
Mary Anne was still under the bird bath. I was starting to resent her for moving so slowly. She picked at crabgrass with a sense of leisure and twirled ivy like long hair when she ripped it out of the juniper.
There’s no dead possum in the green bin, I told her. There’s a possum in there alright, but it’s alive and well, just playing dead until it can make its getaway.
It had better go quick, Mary Anne said. She wrapped her hand around the neck of an invasive plant and yanked it out of the ground. She saw the worms intertwined with the torn roots and flung them away, sending specks of dirt onto my eyelids and cheeks. The sun was getting ready to drown, which meant we had to fill the green bin and clean up. The juniper still dripped on us while we tossed piles of weeds into the bin, which had no possum anymore but was full of new dead things.
This story was published in print only with the title “Worms” in Pratt’s literary magazine, Ubiquitous, in 2018.