First Story Draft - "Daniel and the Old Woman - Earthworms"
"Watcha doing?" Daniel asked.
The Old Woman looked up. She was sitting crossed legged on the grass before one of the raised beds of her garden along the fence between her duplex and his. She had a large plastic bowl in her lap full of dark earth. There was another to the other side of her with nothing in it.
"Hello Daniel," the Old Woman said. "Home from school already?"
It was early March and Daniel still wore his jacket from school. He's left his backpack with the books inside. The sun was out but it was still a little chilly. It was last years jacket and now a bit small. He'd grown over the Winter and couldn't zip it up anymore. His Mom said she would buy him another one in the Fall. Daniel was thirteen.
"Whatcha doing?" he asked again.
The Old Woman had her hands in the big clumps of fresh earth in the bowl, and was breaking them up.
"I'm counting earthworms" she said.
She held up one hand and in it, was a worm. Daniel took a step back. It was huge, almost as long as his hand.
He's seen earthworms before, usually on the driveway of their apartment, all shriveled up and black. Ants picking at the remains. This was the first one he had seen alive. It was bright and pink. Both ends wiggled between the fingers of the Old Woman like it wanted to get loose. The Old Woman dropped it into the empty bowl and reached into the dirt in the bowl again.
"Why?" Daniel asked.
Daniel and his Mom had moved into their new apartment last year, after his Mom and Dad had broken up. That had been the bad times. Lots of yelling. Better now it seemed. When his Dad came to get him for the weekends Daniel got to spend with him, they were almost nice to each other when they spoke. Not like all the fighting before.
The Old Woman held up another worm.
"Earthworms are kind of like Nature's pit bulls," she said. She scooped up two more and dropped them into the second bowl. "They tell me about the dirt."
Daniel leaned against the chain link fence which separated their apartment from the one the Old Woman lived in. Not apartments, Duplexes they were called he remembered. Houses where two families lived side by side. Unlike the last place he and his Mother had lived, a big cramped box of apartments. That place had always had someone in the stairs when Daniel had climbed them to get to their place. This new one even had a bit of real yard that Daniel could play in. He had been asking his Mom if they could get a dog but so far no luck.
They had moved in last Summer and the Old Woman had introduced herself with a gift of fresh vegetables. She had a row of garden beds along the fence between them, with lots of plants. It was the first garden Daniel had seen up close.
In the months after they had moved in, Daniel had peeked out his bedroom window. He had seen the Old Woman in his garden, tending to it. Daniel had watched her water it, pull weeds, even talk to it, which was very strange. Still every once and a while the Old Woman would knock on their door with a basket of produce. Daniel liked it then because his Mom was really happy. Instead of microwave meals his Mom would actually cook. Last time she had made spaghetti with the herbs and tomatoes the Old Woman had given them. Daniel and his Mother had a contest to see who could slurp up their noodles the best that meal. He's won but he thought his Mom had let him.
"Pitbulls?" Daniel asked.
The guy down the street had a couple of pit bulls, big mean dogs and they barked when he walked past to where the school bus stopped. His Mom had told him to stay away from them.
The Old Woman chuckled, dropping a few more worms into the second bowl.
"They break down organic matter so the plants can use it. They eat almost their entire weight a day." She said. "A healthy garden has a lot of them."
She dropped a couple more into the bowl.
"Its when they disappear that you need to worry."
His Mom had told him to watch out about strangers but she had also told him if he ever had any trouble, to go next door and ask the Old Woman for help. She didn't get home from the place she worked until late after Daniel had gotten home from school. She seemed to trust her, so Daniel did too.
The Old Woman took one of the worms out of the bowl and held it up.
"Earthworm crawl through the dirt and as they do they loosen it up. Make little tunnels. Its important." She said. "They are very strong for their size. All that work makes it so air can get to the roots of the plants. The plants need it to grow."
She turned her hand over and the worm wiggles up past her fingers.
"They don't have any lungs, did you know that? They breath through their skin as they travel through the soil. That's why they come to the surface when it rains. All that water makes it hard for them to breath. Sometimes they get lost and crawl out onto the sidewalk."
"Here," she offered the wiggly worm to Daniel. "Take it."
At first Daniel was scared. It wiggled so much but then he reached out his hand.
It did wiggle but in a good way.
The worm wasn't as slimy or yucky as he had first thought. It was kind of neat. It had no eyes so he didn't know how it found its way but it crawled around his palm like it was looking for something. Every once and a while it would look up at him.
The Old Woman finished his investigation of the dirt, with the result being a bowl full of worms.
"Can I keep it?" Daniel suddenly asked. "I've got a jar in my room."
Where the Old Woman had dug up there was a shallow depression in the soil of the garden bed. He took the bowl of earthworms and dumped them into it, then dumped the bowl of broken earth on top of them.
"What does it eat?" Daniel asked.
"Almost anything organic, old bits of plants and twigs in the ground." The Old Woman said, wiping her hands with a rag from her skirt pocket and standing. "It would be lonely if it lived in the jar, not being able to see its friends, don't you think?"
Daniel considered it.
"Yeah I guess."
The Old Woman knelt to dig a shallow depression in the dirt near the fence. Daniel knew what to do. He dropped the worm into the depression and the Old Woman with a quick flip of the wrist covered it up with dirt.
It was Marty, his friend who lived further up the street. He was down by the sidewalk and had his soccer ball.
"I better go," Daniel said.
The Old Woman just smiled and nodded...