The dog saw the worm before I did. Moments before we jumped away from two mountain bikers on a narrow forest path. That adventure sealed our friendship. She wagged her tail, and looked up faithfully; I caressed her and said, “Good, Lucy, good.” Then I sniffed some more on the way, until I came across the wriggling worm. Or rather: the writhing halves of the worm. bicycle victim.
“Shut down, Lucy, away,” I said. And when I passed the worm, “Bye”—my dog’s language repertoire was still limited. Helplessly, I watched the two halves drift further and further as they wriggled. They were not quite alike, one about twice as long as the other, and a striking dark grey. With a stick I tried to push it from my head to tail, or from tail to head, it seemed nicer to die as much as possible as a whole in two parts. I no longer believe in the tale of the divided earthworm living happily ever after. But the glue attempt failed: the head and tail continued to move in opposite directions.
Come on, Lucy, come on, I cried. Those faithful brown eyes again, as if we’d been friends for years, when my week as a dog-sitter in Belgium had only begun that morning. Her boss left a three-page instruction before leaving. “Lucy suffers from separation anxiety: she can’t be alone for long, she needs closeness,” was at the top of the list, and that was one of the reasons I instantly attached to her. After all, I had a similar fear in previous relationships. I wanted to forget those times when I clung to a treacherous friend, but in Lucy’s presence, those episodes suddenly seemed a lot less awkward.
“Of course they weren’t real earthworms,” I said as we passed the rye field. Swallows flew low, a thunderstorm was coming. “So grey, so soft…” After a moment she exclaimed, “Maybe it was a slow worm, Lucy, the first slow worm!” Shaking again, she is as excited as I am. I searched for information on my phone. The color and length seemed appropriate. Not a real worm, but a legless lizard. A kind that is already able to drop its tail and live happily.
On the way back, the two halves were gone. Spoiled or eaten? At home, Lucy and I cuddled up on the sofa, close to each other, she on her favorite blanket, and I under her. With a flash of lightning, I read to her from a scientific article on asexual reproduction in zoo crocodiles: a female who had not seen a particular thing in sixteen years, yet produced a fully developed but stillborn fetus. “He’s really lonely,” I told him, and got up to go to the toilet. When I came back two minutes later, Lucy was high. It shook and twitched, spinning on its own axis, as if it were the slow worm and I the returning tail.
Gemma Finnhuizen Biology Editor at NRC and writes a column here every Wednesday.
A version of this article also appeared in the June 21, 2023 newspaper.
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