Words and image by Marc Alexander Valle.
The boy looked down at the worm, squirming on the backwoods trail. A ray of light illuminated its dark-pink hue and a warm breeze hit his face.
“Eat it,” she said. “I’ll kiss you.”
“No,” he said.
“Then no,” she said.
But he had wanted to kiss her all summer, floating in the deep end of the pool, bumping her hand at the movie theater as he reached for his soda, lying on the grassy field with the late-morning sun warming him enough to feel a sense of bliss.
He looked back down to the trail. The worm kept squirming and picking up dirt.
“It tastes like nothing,” she said. “Go ‘head.”
He thought of candy, then reached down and picked it up. He could feel the worm’s life force as it wiggled and expanded on his palm. “Candy would be pointless,” he thought, “It’s too fleshy.” He imagined roast chicken instead.
“I’ve done it,” she said, “You won’t get sick.”
He popped the worm in his mouth.
He could feel it slither and contract.
The dirt turned to grim.
He attempted to limit the bug’s movement by controlling it with his tongue, the texture feeling like raw salmon, the taste reminding him of runny eggs.
He swallowed it and closed his eye. It slide down his throat quickly. He could feel it move. And like everything else he ate, the feeling disappeared just before reaching his stomach.
He opened his eyes and looked to her.
“Yuck,” she said.
He stepped forward and closed his eyes again.
His lips touched hers. But he felt nothing in return.
He held the kiss and waited for her to reciprocate. But he felt nothing in return.
He stepped forward and moved his face closer to hers. But he felt nothing in return.
He could feel nothing but dead lips, hear nothing but the cicadas and crickets chirping. Just the dead lips and live bugs and the hope of something in return.
She pulled away and jabbed his stomach.
“Gross,” she said, “I’m not kissing bugs.”
As he held onto his gut, crunched over, he could see her walk away down the path and out of sight.
The pain spread across his abdomen and he wasn’t sure if he needed to go to the bathroom. He could hear the birds singing and an animal moving in the brush. Sweat began to break out from his forehead.
He had to go home now. If he was late for dinner one more time, he’d be grounded.
Rays of light disappeared as a cloud rolled in. A cooler breeze hit his face. He inhaled a deep breath then let it out. He stepped forward onto the path.
Then he wondered what boy he’d get to tell first.