She gathers up a few loose strands of hair and spins them around her finger. She winds the hair gently at first, delighting in the softness of its glossy caramel shine, but then more tightly, so that the flesh of her finger swells in the gaps of imprisonment. Staring down at her finger, she watches as the bitten arcs turn white and the skin between glows first red and then purple with deprivation. Release brings a tingling rush of normalcy, but normalcy is not what she wants in this moment; fascinated, she spins the strands again, winding them deep and tight, welcoming the pain.
In the house in which she used to live, there were three moss-covered steps that led down from the house’s side-yard to a basement door. The door was rarely used and so the steps were rarely used; the moss grew quickly and carpeted the concrete steps in a thick perfect lushness of green. Doors that do not open serve the same function as walls, and so the fact of the door held little sway in anyone’s world.
On the other side of the basement door that was rarely used, there was a cheaply carpeted room, and it was this room she was vacuuming when she came upon the worm. The large earthworm was stretched out still and thin just a few feet from the door under which he had somehow managed to slither. His body was oddly elongated, as though some unseen outside something had held his worm ankles as he tried to flee. She removed the hose attachment of the vacuum, thinking to vacuum up the small dead refugee, but then a small fleshed pulse of desperation caught her eye, and she bent to inspect the worm.
He wasn’t dead.
He was trapped.
He was trapped beneath individual tiny looped fibers of the carpet, perhaps twenty in all, filament-thin bindings that pinned his body in cruel tourniquetting loops.
She sank to the floor beside him as she realized that the worm had struggled forward again and again, each time working to pull the entirety of his body through a ring of tortuous imprisonment only to find that every forward motion required new surrender . . . new submission . . . new pain. Even now, his entire being pinioned to the carpet, he undulated weakly forward seeking the next ligature.
What had he hoped to find here on the other side of the door?
What small hopes and dreams had driven him?
Why had he not turned back?
She lay on the carpet beside him, heartbroken for the tiny anguished being. She ran an investigatory finger along his length, thinking perhaps she could cut him free; his flesh swelled against hers in the gaps of imprisonment. She went to get a small pair of sharp-tipped scissors, apologizing and explaining as she set to work.
“The thing is, Mr. Worm, you’ve let your hopes get the best of you.”
“Look at you, you’re a captive to dreams.”
Snip . . . . snip.
“You’re like a tiny Gulliver, although you’ve stepped willingly into the bite of these ropes.”
Snip . . . snip.
She stared at the sudden small ooze of muddy red.
“Alright, Mr. Worm . . . I’ve cut you a bit, but it’s not serious. Let me work from your other end.”
Snip . . . snip . . . snip . . . snip.
“I think this will work, Mr. Worm! You must promise me to never try this sort of thing again.”
Snip . . . snip.
“Yes, stay away from the dreams that tighten their nooses as you insert your head, Mr. Worm.”
Snip . . . snip.
She worked until all that remained was one excruciating loop around the worm’s middle. This loop was tighter than the rest, making it difficult to gain purchase with the scissors. Complicating matters was the fact that the worm’s mostly freed circulatory system was working to regain equilibrium, and the worm’s damaged body swelled in protest against this final restraint. She watched as the carpet’s single fiber disappeared into flesh until there was a cutting and another small spill of brick-red blood.
She worked to find a bit of slack that she might cut.
There was none.
She stared at the doomed worm.
“Sometimes, forward motion requires surrender.”
She opened the scissors wide and cut through the middle of the worm, severing the carpet loop as well as his being.
Ends of life, freed, continued.
She stabbed at the separate pieces of him until all was a messy still.
Messy . . . still.
The girl lifts her hand to her head and follows the path of her hair into her mother’s hand, and without turning around, the girl unwinds her hair from her mother’s finger, reclaiming what is hers.
The woman leans back and breathes into the pain of normalcy’s return and does what she always does.
She moves forward.
Strains to get her head through the next tourniquet of hope.