The first time I saw Tilly MacGregor, she was face down in a pool of water.
Not that worms really have faces, making it difficult to utilize the term ‘face down’ with any measure of precision, but the part of her anatomy that I understood to be a face-like element was certainly submerged in the murky pond that resided under my branch.
At least I was fairly sure it was Tilly MacGregor, the worm. Her reputation preceded her.
It preceded her because Tilly was not merely any worm. She was a worm who gave herself airs. Not airs as in the fresh airs of a wind, but airs as in the hoity-toity huffy-puffy I'm better than you airs: the nasty airs of an entity hovering at a level it doesn't have the praise-worthiness to deserve. She thought she was better than us leaves because she stomached her way over the earth and was actually mobile while we perforce stayed stationary. I knew this because our comrades from other trees told us about her atrocious, socially unacceptable behavior. Looking upon them with her face-element thing, she would flick the top half of her wormy body in a show of contempt for their immobility, then she would wriggle away.
Well, needless to say, she wasn't a popular one among us, and now I saw her squiggling about on the surface of the pond, trying desperately to make it back to shore before a nice fat rainbow trout came and gobbled her up. Already I saw the telltale, iridescent flash of a fin as one circled her in anticipation. The rest of my leaf buddies whispered in a soft cacophony around me. "It's her, it's her! Where's her airs now?"
But as I fluttered on my branch, enjoying the lovely sunshiny day and the breeze sliding across my red-veins and green flatness, I gazed down upon Tilly struggling for her life on the surface of the water, and I felt sorry for her. Yes! I did! After all, she could never hover suspended in air as I could. For, oh, what a wonderful life it was hanging from a tree branch! Being part of an entire community of like-minded and like-bodied individuals who fluttered and whispered in sync with me whenever the wind set us to rustling in unison. Yes, this was the life, and I'd lived a full one, including having been splattered on in fly-by's by birds, which was always a break from the routine day.
And poor Tilly would never experience that. Even if by some miracle she survived long enough to get back ashore, she would be condemned to worming her way over the dirt all her life - which looked like it was going to be a short one.
I couldn't stop my self pity, and, having lived my own full life, decided to do something magnificent with the rest of it.
I wrenched myself as hard as I could, fluttering for all I was worth. Ungh, ugnh, uuuuuuugh! Flutter, dammit! Flutter some more! Uungh! Flutter for all you’re worth, Leaf Number One-Thousand-Three-Hundred-Twenty-Two! Uuungh!
Then – at last, at long last! – it came: a tiny popping snap.
Success! My chloroplasts all zinged for joy!
Then I was wafting through the air. I alit upon the glassy surface of the water close to Tilly. Catching sight of me, she worked her little wormy way over to me and wriggled onto my red-veined surface. She couldn’t speak, just as I couldn’t, having no mouth with which to emit anything, but I knew she was grateful. After all, I was bearing her back to a life where she would have a second chance to climb high and experience the wonders of dangling from a tree...
Wait, wait, what was that? Had the ungrateful worm just taken a nibble out of my epidermis? She had, that sneaky, close-relative-to-a-snake! Oooh, I was quaking mad now. How dare she! Is this how you treat your rescuer? I couldn’t let her get to my vascular bundles.
I considered capsizing her, but knew down to my cuticles that this was my crowning glory in life. I had to get her ashore even if she consumed my epidermis and all my vascular bundles, too. I could do this.
I had to do this.
For the glory of all leaves, to prove our collective worth.
And so I fluttered some more, drifting along just peachily – even if I was getting a bit holey where Tilly’s face-element was chewing me down to my mesophyll – but then a shadow passed over us, and it wasn’t the leafy branch I was used to shadowing me.
It was one of the flying splatterers!
The flap of its wing snipped the air, then came the whoosh of the swooping feathered predator and the flash of its sharp beak, and suddenly Tilly was snapped in two and gobbled up by the mighty, fearsome, horror-inducing WREN, scourge of all wormkind!
I watched the bottom half of Tilly topple back into the water close to my stem.
Crud. There went my purpose in life. The reason I abandoned my branch and set out into the wide world.
So now what?
So now, my dear fellow flutterers, now I take with me a valuable lesson learned for my next life: Don't help others, 'cuz they’ll only eat you down to your vascular bundles, get chopped in half, and leave you adrift with nothing to show for your efforts but holes.
Worm Your Way Out of This One
Sonya Lano |