THE EARTHWORM by Jennifer Ritenour

Earthworm unfurls from an egg. No siblings. Only this one worm of two sexes. E wiggles in fluid and then presses herms face against the soft wall of the cocoon. A beat comes from the other side. Aware of hermself, E is now alive. E thrusts and pushes until the wall tears. Darkness, slick cool mud. The cocoon is now deflated behind herm. The lub dub, lub dub, lub dub is the pulse of Mother Earth and also the beat of herms five hearts.

Earthworm slides through the dirt. Stomach pangs. E opens herms mouth. Soil flows in and through herm. Pebbles and stones grind the rot, dead leaves, old fruit, animal bones and fungus deep beneath the trees’ roots. Out comes the castings. Earthworm feels the life sprout somewhere above herm. 

E falls asleep and dreams of an Earthworm, just like herm, and there is a flash of light when they touch.

Earthworm wakes and notices a ring has formed. Inside the cocoon are nine empty eggs.

The other Earthworm, from the dream, slides up beside herm. They touch, skin to skin, and release their fluids. Their ten hearts pump in a rhythmic sway, lub dub lub dub lub dub. A shared warmth, a swirl of light, a ring. 

Can it be this way, like it is right now, forever? Earthworm thinks. 

I will see you again, The Other thinks, in the glow. 

The Other slips away.

As Earthworm pushes forward, the eggs inside herms ring bump against each other erupting herms incubating children into giggles. 

A knowing, an instinct, a flash. Earthworm could have done this with hermself. An exact copy. If E couldn’t find The Other to share the warmth, to make the light ring, then E could have given herms own fluid to herms own eggs and be born again.

But for now, herms children are not clones and they aren’t alone. They will hatch, be curious about the lub dub, the sparks of light and rushes of warmth. They will eat rocks and dead plants and help the grass grow. They will meet An Other and share fluids and leave each other or share the warmth only with themselves. 

The cocoon detaches from herms body. Slides right off herm and nestles in the dirt. Earthworm rises up. There is no time left. 

The breakthrough of this surface is cold and harsh. Rain droplets pelt on herms delicate skin, but the crisp air and  dead moss call herm to eat. Opening herms mouth, E never tasted such mulch without the dirt and the rocks to grind it and E became fuller than ever before. 

The shush of rain stops. Warmth breaks from above and beams on herms body. E stretches hermself up into the air where there is no mud or dirt. E has a strange feeling of having done this all before.

Earthworm, with herms tiny eyeless face, stares into the Sun, mouth open, and absorbs all the light, the glow.


Jennifer Ritenour Jennifer Lorene Ritenour was born, raised, and presently resides in San Pedro, California. She also lived in Las Vegas, Nevada at one point in time. Her writing is informed by place. Her style has been described as dirty fabulism. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Witness Magazine, the Santa Monica Review and Waxwing, among other places. For more information visit: jenniferloreneritenour.com

Art by Crow Jonah Norlander.

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