Photo Credit: Facundo Gastiazoro
Fernando lifts limp worms out of puddles and carries them in his dirty, rain-splattered, open palms to the garden behind his house where he pokes his finger into the ground, makes a hole and stuffs the worms in. He goes back and forth between street puddles and back garden. Fernando’s older brother, Paulo, rides his bike through the ditches with the neighbourhood boys, Daniel from two doors down and all three of the Ribeiro boys, Joe Junior, Julio and Jorge. Gianna walks out onto the front lawn and sees her youngest son Fernando crouched in the ditch water. Tying a kerchief on over her curlers she tells Paulo to put away the bike, to stick close to the house, there is feijoada in the oven and he should take it out when the timer goes off. She tells Paulo that she is walking to the corner store and may stop at the beauty parlour to visit her friends.
Fernando is content to stay close to home. Easter has just passed and Fernando is busy thinking about resurrection. Fernando reflects on Christ when he buries the worms in the garden dirt. He knows other kids would leave the deflated pink worms floating in their pavement puddles but Fernando feels certain that once in the ground his tiny worms will regain life. Fernando is sure to put a pebble over each worm burial site. He will check on the stones tomorrow to see if the worms have pushed them aside like Jesus did when he walked right straight out of his tomb. Fernando imagines Jesus marching out of his tomb, arms swinging and knees raising like Frank and Joe Hardy on a mission. The young boy in too-big rain boots smiles to think of all the worms he is helping to resurrect and walks towards his house. He carefully steps around the tangle of bikes the older boys left on the damp grass. He wants to hold his cold hands under warm water from the kitchen tap.
Inside the kitchen Paulo, Daniel and the Ribeiro boys stand shoulder to shoulder along the counter watching Gianna’s new stand-up mixer turn. The boys jostle each other for a place nearest the contraption and marvel at the mixer mixing. Fernando shakes off his rain boots and pushes past the boys to warm his hands at the sink. The older boys mix something into the grinding beaters saying, “Ugh, gross!” and “Put another one in!” but Fernando only wonders about Good Friday and why if Jesus died on the Friday, it is called Good Friday. He dries his hands and sees a worm dangle from his brother’s fingers and drop into the mixing bowl. Fernando pushes through between Jo Junior and Jorge’s elbows and in one swift move lifts his small body right up onto the counter beside the turning mixer. Fernando is on his knees on the counter shuffling forward towards the bowl. His rain jacket squeaks as he leans in. “Let’s try this,” says Paulo and he switches out the mixing beaters to the knife-edged beaters and cranks the dial to the sausage-making setting.
Paulo tosses another worm in and Fernando plunges his hand into the bowl to rescue it. There is an awful crunching noise and the beaters stop turning. Daniel screams. Jorge pulls up on the stand mixer and it shudders back to life, the beaters spray worm guts and Fernando’s blood across the boys’ shirts and over the cupboards and up onto the ceiling light. Jo Junior curses in Portuguese. Paulo yanks at the mixer’s cord and unplugs it from the wall. Paulo pulls Fernando away from the mixer and holds up Fernando’s mangled right hand. The pointer finger is not there. The Ribeiro boys pull shirtsleeves, hit each other on the back of the head and circle around in a panic. “It’s alright,” says Fernando. Paulo wraps a tea towel around Fernando’s bleeding hand. Fernando is calm. He leans into the bowl of worm mush and with his good hand plucks out his severed finger. The boys stop and stare at it. Daniel covers his face, peeking his eyes out to look wildly from the finger to the front door. The oven timer buzzes. Paulo yells at the Ribeiro brothers, “Clean up!” The boys bump into each other and smear bloodstains and worm bits across the counter. Daniel takes the feijoada out of the oven. Paulo turns for Fernando but his little brother is not there.
In the back yard Fernando sticks his good hand into the garden dirt and makes a hole for his dead finger. He stuffs the finger in the hole and pats the dirt back over top. He selects a nice flat black rock and places it over top of the burial site. Paulo races across the backyard to the garden edge, reaches down to Fernando and hauls him to his feet. He wraps a white apron around and around the dishtowel and cinches it tight. He ties the long apron strings around Fernando’s chest over his rain jacket. Fernando’s wounded hand is tucked tightly over his heart.
“Where’s the finger?” Paulo asks looking at Fernando’s empty good hand and then the grass around where they stand. Paulo is frantic, “Where is your finger?” Fernando glances at the garden and at the long line of similar black rocks. One of them marks his finger. The rest mark worms. Fernando looks to his older brother’s wide eyes and shrugs. Paulo yells, “You’ve lost your finger?” “It’s okay,” says Fernando, “it’ll be alright.” Paulo leads Fernando roughly around the house to the jumble of bikes on the front grass. Paulo stands up his bike, straddles it and lifts his little brother onto the front handlebars. He gives Fernando just a few short seconds to grip the handlebar with his one good hand and get his wet sock feet balanced on the front fender before they are off, peddling down the street and bumping up onto the sidewalk towards the hospital.
Fernando leans back into his brother’s arms, his small body to one side so Paulo can see where he is pedalling. “It’s okay,” Fernando says again. They zoom past the beauty parlour. Paulo pedals fast and breathes hard in Fernando’s ear. A feeling of peace comes over Fernando as he tips his head back on his brother’s shoulder, he knows exactly where they are from the lean and bump of the handlebars under his bum. They zoom in under the covered area in front of the hospital and in one strong motion, Paulo screeches the bike to a stop and lifts Fernando into his arms. “I’m sorry, Fernando,” says Paulo. “It’s alright,” says Fernando. He lets his head lean against his older brother’s thumping heart. Paulo pushes through the hospital entrance doors. Fernando hears the nurse’s shoes squeak across the polished floor. Under the glare of the bright lights, Fernando says to Paulo, “Don’t worry, when my finger grows back, I’ll forgive you.”
A longer version of this story won second place in the 2014 Short Grain Writing Contest and first appeared in Grain Magazine 42.2.