the worm the wyrm the snake the wormhttps://i0.wp.com/barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/shayna12-scaled.jpg?fit=1143%2C1600&ssl=111431600Christopher JamesChristopher Jameshttps://i0.wp.com/barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/christopherjames.jpg?fit=96%2C96&ssl=1
She had a cut in her tummy, a slit, after another thing that happened, and while she was sleeping, a worm crept inside her.
A worm? she asked her boyfriend, who’d watched it happen.
A big worm. Or maybe a small snake. He held his hands apart to indicate the size of a big worm and the size of a small snake.
Why didn’t you stop it?
He looked at her face, shocked by her sharpness, but his hands were still making big worm small snake big worm small snake.
I don’t know. You looked ok.
She felt otherwise. The slit in her tummy was bleeding again, slowly, like tears down cheeks towards the end of a good ugly cry. She felt the worm inside her, wiggling and wriggling and tickling inside her, under the skin of her tummy.
Does it hurt?
The boyfriend shrugged, as if there were nothing more he could do, so already it must be over.
Call a fucking doctor, she said.
He passed her the phone; he didn’t know the doctor’s number.
She called a doctor, who said he’d come soon.
The house is a mess, complained the boyfriend, while they waited. I told you to clean it last night.
There’s a worm inside me! she reminded him.
I’m sorry, he apologized, taking her hand. I’m just worried about you.
Also, it might be more of a snake.
Were you drunk when it happened? the doctor asked.
When what happened? said the boyfriend, who was thinking about the other thing.
When the worm went inside.
No, she said. I’d had maybe two drinks. I was sleeping, that’s all.
The doctor looked at her pajamas, short shorts and a top that exposed a little midriff. Is this what you were wearing? he asked.
Why does it matter what I was wearing? she asked, and Yes! said the boyfriend at the same time. The doctor spoke to the boyfriend. She ought to wear something that covers any cuts or skin. You’re not from here, but there are many worms in this area.
I’ll make sure she does, said the boyfriend. Two men fixing everything, righting the world.
I am from here.
It looks as if you might have a worm inside you, dear, said the doctor, like he was talking to a child.
Or a small snake, said the boyfriend, nodding wisely.
I’m afraid so.
Why are you afraid? she asked. Can’t you do anything?
Probably best just to wait and see, said the doctor, talking again to the boyfriend. Things like this, they normally work themselves out.
Did you hear that, honey? asked the boyfriend.
I’m right fucking here, she said, causing much gnashing of teeth and exiting of medical professionals.
The worm, which by now she was quite sure was a snake, didn’t work itself out. It stayed right where it was, inside her tummy, and over time it grew. She grew with it. There were days when she wore the swelling ashamed of the way she looked, and she hid around the apartment and on trains and at work in half-drunk cups of coffee and tea, counting the seconds and minutes for time to be over so she could leave the company of people behind. She was sure her workmates spoke about her when she was in another room, and several times she’d come into the breakout room and they’d stopped talking. What are you talking about? she typed in all caps, back at her desk, the office equivalent of a scream.
Other days, she strode tall and dared anyone to say anything, made aggressive amounts of eye contact with strangers on the street, opened the door to the fridge section in the local market and leant back into the cool air from within, rubbing her belly, sighing like this was the greatest fucking show on earth.
Other days she crieth and wished that she could dieth.
And the other thing, the slit, that didn’t heal either. The boyfriend had said it was a game. A joke. First, he’d rested the cool flat of the blade against her cheek and taken her hand to his lap and wrapped her fingers around his cock. I don’t really like this, she’d said, it’s just a game, he told her. Second, he held the point to her throat, and entered her without a condom, it’s just a game, just a game. He ran the point over her chest just a game. He ran the point up her legs just a game. He pushed the point into her tummy just a game it’s not even a sharp knife he pierced the skin she said ow just a game he didn’t stop he was almost done he came and he apologized after coming it really hurts she said, shh, shh, shh, he said, it was just a game.
After several months, she went again to see the doctor. The snake still hadn’t left, and she was already enormous.
There’s no snake inside you, he told her, for christ’s sake. Whoever told you that? You’re pregnant.
You’re with child.
What is this, an echo?
Can you get rid of it? her friend asked.
It’s too late, she said.
In this state, said her friend, pointedly.
In any state, she said. The doctor thinks I’m seven months gone.
Jesus, said her friend.
And what about Adam?
I can’t leave him now, can I? I’m about to have his child.
Labour, when it came, was early. She was in the backseat of the car, it had been a long day, and she was crying. They didn’t even reach the hospital. They hit a speed bump, going at speed, and the baby fell out and slithered away. Just a snake after all. And who was she, to bring a snake into this world?
Christopher James lives, works, and writes in Jakarta, Indonesia. He has been published online in Booth, SmokeLong Quarterly, Tin House, and Wigleaf, among others. He is the editor of Jellyfish Review.