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To Fear Worms

The toddler in diapers was screaming at the door of the cheap white trailer-house.

"I think his diapers need changed." My mom looked across the street with concern. We were digging worms from the front flowerbed, a flowerbed that didn't grow anything, so that we could go fishing. The kid kept screaming at the door. It made my mom uncomfortable, but I didn't care.

A few weeks later my mom and I were unloading a pickup truck load of small wooden blocks into our driveway. They were scraps from a company that made beehives and we burned them in our wood stove, as kindling. Across the street lived a black family, which was unusual in a small town in Montana. The young teenage boy from that family was chasing the toddler, tormenting him with a worm.

I say the boy was a toddler because he was wearing diapers, but he was really too old to be wearing diapers, and he walked quite well. My mom grimaced and then her huge "I AM THE LORD THY GOD" voice came out and the teenage boy skittered away. The toddler wandered over and began playing in the huge collection of blocks with me.

“Why were you running from Bubba?” I asked.

“He had a baby snake.” said the boy.

I went to the dead flower bed and dug a worm and brought it to the boy. He cringed.

“It’s just a worm.” I said with contempt.

“It won’t hurt you.” My mom took a softer tone.

“Wanna hold it?” I asked. He pulled away.

"What's your name?" my mom asked.

"Chris-Crash, because I fall down alot." he said. He was two years younger than me. He quickly grew to be my size. My mom gave us the same bowl-over-head haircuts. My grandma started slipping him money when we went to visit, and she never slipped me any. I'm pretty sure he was even my mom's favorite. He was pretty much, a brother.

He always had lots of nice toys, like transformers, and hotwheels, and he had one of those large rubber balls with a hoop on one end that you sit on and bounce. We liked to ride bikes like in "Cops" and we played army like in "M*A*S*H" and we played good guy and bad guy like "The A-Team" and aliens like "V."

My mom used to wash my hair in the kitchen sink. My scalp is super ticklish and I would giggle and squirm. Chris came to the open front door and peeked around the corner.

“Hi.”

“Come in.”

He stood there and watched the hair washing with his mouth open. Then he got the giggles and soon he was rolling on the floor with a red face and a worse case of laughter than I had.

One of our neighbors was an old saddle-maker named Buck. We snuck up to the door of his shop and tip toed in while he was working. He stopped and looked at us and we ran giggling. Then we did it again. After the third time, Buck pulled a bullwhip from a nail on his shop wall and he cracked it a few times. Oh the terror I felt as I ran screaming. I don't think the old man had enjoyed himself so much in years.

One of the neighbors would pay me a penny each for worms. Mom would water our lawn, and the neighbor’s lawn. She let Chris and I stay up past dark and take our flashlights out to hunt night crawlers. You can see them laying on the lawn and you pinch them quickly, like a bird would, and gently pull them all the way out of their worm hole. The most we ever caught was two hundred and fifty of them.

We went camping with my family. My uncle threw an old mattress in the back of our truck and my cousins, Chris and I rode in the canopied back. We ended up at Dog Lake. We found little tree frogs. We threw rocks in the water. My mom got the bonfire going. We were given salad tongs and flashlights that night, and we caught crayfish the same way we’d caught worms. They were boiled in a pot in the fire.

“Can I have one?” I asked my mom.

“You wouldn’t like them.” she said. “See..” and she gave me one claw to crunch on. I believed her.

I remember my mom helping me with my math homework. I tried to work the multiplication problems by adding eights to each other, but Chris just blurted out the answers. No matter what kind of math we worked on, he always had the answer before I’d even had a chance to start thinking about the problem.

Chris was so much younger than me, and he was a boy, so we didn’t play at school. I didn’t have friends at school, but every time I saw Chris, he was playing football with a bunch of other boys.

Chris's parents worked for a feed company. His dad was a truck driver and his mom worked in the office. Sometimes they rode in the truck together on long trips. They were supposed to be delivering dozens of truckloads of grain to a rancher in Eastern Montana, but actually they took the grain to Pier 88 in Seattle and sold it to the Russians. They stole millions of dollars worth of grain, and got away with it, kind of. They never got caught. They couldn't really use the money though. They lived in fear, which turned into depression, which turned into lots of other stuff, but not into any good stuff like taking care of kids and being married.

Bob bought a silo full of fertilizer that he hoped to sell and launder the money, but the silo was leaky and the fertilizer was ruined. He put money into the stock market to try to launder it. He just lost it. He gave a lot of it to his shiesty mother, and she was a happy woman, who drove a new green car, but he never saw a penny of that money again. Soon, all the money was lost. 

Both sets of parents were cheating, and playing, and out of town for two weeks at a time. The blue healer on the steps kept people from coming near the trailer. Chris stayed home alone and saw no one for several weeks.

“I saw his shadow in a window. I know he’s there.” My mom said before she went to Buck’s to use the phone to call and report the neglect. Once Chris’s mom got home, we weren’t allowed to talk or play together because my mom called the authorities.

I missed him.

A year later mom and I moved.

A year after that Chris’s picture was in the newspaper. He had been shot and killed within the frame of his front door.

The story was that he had become friends with a boy, whose family was going through a divorce. The other boy brought a forty-five, that was in his dad’s stuff in the garage, over to show Chris. He dropped the gun and shot Chris through the arm and head.

“I don’t believe it.” said Ruth Partente, an elderly neighbor. “I saw those boys out in the field shooting at each other with twenty-two rifles. I yelled at them. Those boys ... had no fear of those guns."

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