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Let’s say there are eight worms on the asphalt in the car park of the hotel by the service station. Your mum has already rescued two of them, using the brochure from the hotel and the back of her keys to scoop the little creatures into the weird garden bushes that they keep along the car park’s perimeter to give the illusion of homeliness. You are watching with the dog and it’s raining. You remember reading somewhere that car parks have a real problem with water pollution: it’s why there are so many worms here now. Let’s say that your mum’s fingers are also worms and that you do really love her very much. Say she’s beautiful. Let’s say that there are now five worms here on the asphalt.
There are five men, only men, in a meeting room and it looks like the sort of place you’d see on television, but that’s only because you’ve never had a job. One of them is wise and hungry and he is passionately drawing criss-crossed lines and boxes and diagrams on a four-by-eight feet whiteboard. Unfortunately for him, not everyone else is quite as passionate about urban planning. He is thinking that if they could just paint themselves onto the black tar then maybe they would understand. One of the others is thinking about detective shows. Be glad that so far no one has asked for your opinion, and from now on it would be best if you’d remember that you are very small and unnoticed and that without hands you will struggle to collect peoples’ coffees.
Imagine there are two children and you do not know their names and their names are listed in bold on a note somewhere, but you are pretty sure you’ve lost it. Both of them are digging. The ground is very soft and pleasant and when they get far enough in, they will find the little wriggling creatures. Let’s say it’s true that these things really do have two heads. Let’s say that when you cut them with the trowel one body becomes two bodies and then they both wriggle off in opposite directions. Later you will find them under a bush that’s in a car park of a hotel by a service station; both sections joined together, both sections actually enclosed in a very slim tube of slime. You think they are fucking. You know that worms are supposed to be hermaphrodites, but by looking at them it’s hard to work out which end is supposed to be entering which here.
Suppose you are your mum and your son is a worm and he is kicking his feet up by the car. He might be six years old. Maybe twelve. For some reason, it’s hard to recognise him. You tell him to stop fooling around, but then he trips and falls into the endless hole that appeared one day in the car park. You spend the next ten years in various legal battles with the local council, but by the end of it all you’ve won is a placard inscribed with his name placed on a wall by the scene of the accident. Sometimes you go there and leave flowers. Sometimes you take pictures.
Due to an unforeseen mix-up, one of your car parks now has a seemingly unending hole in it. On average two children fall in each year. Your lawyer has told you not to speak to anyone while they are not present and you are spending most of your time indoors. Your phone wouldn’t stop ringing so you’ve changed your number. You no longer open emails. Let’s say your bathroom is a bright avocado green. Let’s say you fucking hate avocados.
Suppose, actually, that you are dancing with your mum and it’s Christmas. The dog is staying in the car because he’s not allowed in your aunt’s house. You are both doing a sort of pretend waltz and both of you are quite drunk. Later you’ll go out with your cousin and smoke a joint and then you’ll both forget to come back for dinner. This will become an anecdote people never stop bringing up to you. Jurassic Park is playing on the television and it’s at that scene where we find out that the dinosaurs are all hermaphrodites because of something to do with frog DNA, though you are pretty sure that frogs aren’t actually hermaphrodites. Someone told you that at a party once, but it’s the only thing you can remember about him now. You are dancing with your mum and you love her very much and you’ve just told her something that should make you feel terrible. You feel small again. You are much taller than her, but you try and crawl inside her arms. You are trembling. Your legs are made of hundreds of little worms all woven together.
Asphalt as it turns out is a nonporous material. You don’t quite understand the details but basically the molecules are too close together so water doesn’t have much choice except to run straight over the tarmac. It’s what makes car parks these perfect conduits for floods. It’s also what keeps drowning the children. Sometimes when you sleep you imagine whole cities comprised of nothing but car parks and it’s all rather wonderful until a storm comes and suddenly everything is under water. Last time you brought your boss a coffee he was on his knees with his face on the carpet, talking into the carpet. You placed the coffee on his desk and left without saying anything. You are not sure if this was the right thing to do.
If the traffic’s good then your aunt’s house is maybe twenty minutes away from the hotel. Your mum is driving. For the past five minutes you’ve been playing with the window seats and your mum has told you to stop this. She has threatened to turn this car around and drive right past the hotel and halfway across the country to go straight back home missy. The five men are somewhere in the backseat. They all have the same name and you can’t remember the name and you should have written it down somewhere, but you didn’t. When you arrive your cousins will all be sitting quietly together in a circle, whispering to each other. Please don’t talk to them. I think the front right window is jammed.
Here: listen. You are not your mum and you are not any of your sisters. Your client is threatening to find another lawyer if you don’t pull yourself together and there has been another scandal in the papers. A five-year-old.
Go and bring water to the dog in the car because your aunt doesn’t let the dog inside the house. The dog is panting and its tongue is out: if you look the tongue seems as if it’s covered in a thin tube of slime. You like the dog. You named it after your son. Sometimes you take it for long walks and you do this because you don’t like the idea of being at home, but you don’t tell anyone this. You usually don’t even tell yourself. Perhaps there are certain problems at home that you haven’t quite figured out yet, perhaps you are just being ridiculous. These things do that to people. Perhaps everyone else is ridiculous and the fact that you are uncomfortable is the most natural thing in the world. The dog that is your son with the worms in his mouth has dipped his nose into the bowl and there is water now all over the carpet in the car boot. It’s hard to know how long it’s ok to wait here before people start to notice that you’ve gone.
No it’s not ok and how were you supposed to possibly know and yes you always had the best intentions and no officer the children are fine, actually, a bit damp maybe but fine. Everyone gets wet. Maybe you should spend more time teaching them to swim but no one ever thinks of that. Blame the symptom not the cause. Let’s say work was boring today and you are still working below minimum wage because as it turns out interns aren’t real people. You make tacos with pork mince. You would like this to be an old family recipe but your mum never did cook much. There are the same stories on the news on the television and you worry briefly about whether there were tapeworm eggs in the mince. It’s never been totally clear whether they’d been eradicated in this country or not and you’d rather not take chances. Consider the logo for a company that you used to work for appearing behind a smiling, television-faced reporter, the reporter talking to your old boss. For a minute, there the world is a very safe place and you are completely loved.
Imagine that one of the mothers is back to leave flowers. You are watching from one of the weird garden bushes and once she’s gone you will sweep up the flowers and put them in the compost with the rest. Let’s say that you’ve gotten quite used to using the broom without hands thank you very much. Let’s also say that actually there really aren’t as many mothers this time of year anyway so maybe you shouldn’t even bother. Somewhere inside the house you’ve got a long list with the names of every mother who’s ever come here to leave flowers and take pictures. You’ve thought about giving it to the press but honestly you haven’t quite found the time.
You’ve lost your cousin somewhere and you’re sitting with a girl talking about zoology. You’re almost certain that you’re boring her but you can’t stop now. A rough estimate for the total number of hermaphroditic species is around sixty-five thousand. Most of these are simultaneous hermaphrodites, gastropods, where sexual material is exchanged via spermatophores. Earthworms are another example, but they actually possess both ovaries and testes, and when they copulate the pair will take turns between which is one acting male and which is one acting female. People always think of frogs, but that’s really just because of Jurassic Park. Granted, there are a few fringe cases of sequential hermaphroditism within the species, but even then it’s rare. More often, frogs actually have pretty standard sex lives. Your beer is getting warm and the girl turns and starts whispering something to her friend. You hope it’s her friend. It’s highly likely that you will be hungover for work tomorrow, but you try not to think about this now.
Then let’s imagine you are walking along the white lines that form the faint squares in the car park. Let’s say that you are not your mother, but these days you do look a lot like her. Let’s try and think about how truly, mortifyingly horrifying this is.
So it turns out the local council is suggesting shunting the runoff into retention basins just outside the city. You’ve been sent to manage the construction. The next time it rains all the water flows through the little pipes and tubing and ten miles away it deposits itself into the artificial wetlands. When you inspect the lake a week later you will find a number of petals from different flowers: roses and lilacs and sunflowers, floating around in a semi-spiral in the water. Dead worms floating with them in the water. Take a picture of this. You think it would be very clever if you made it black and white. Afterwards you send it out to a number of photography competitions, but so far you have not heard back from any of them.
Wait: actually, without hands you only think about taking a picture and actually, that makes you rather sad. Never mind.
You are the asphalt and you are on the asphalt in a car park of a hotel by a service station. Please suppose there are five – no, ten – versions of your mum using the brochures from the various hotels and the backs of keys, plastic straws, twigs to scoop the hundreds of little worms littering the tarmac. Say that you love her but you have not told her this for a long time and say that you’re not actually completely sure what it means to love anyone, but you hope that you do. You have not slept the night before and you are exhausted. You have not seen your aunt’s side of the family for a long time and you don’t remember most of their names, and your mum’s given you a list of them that you’ve got stuffed in your back right pocket.
Actually, you think your favourite of the Platyhelminthes might just be the tapeworm, i.e. the Hymenolepis Nana. It’s an auto-infecting parasite, mostly residing inside humans, that self-fertilize its eggs and then passes them straight through the host’s bowels and out into the stool. Luckily it’s pretty much eradicated in this country, but you never know. Anyway, later tonight you will stumble and spill red wine onto the carpet. You will place a cushion over the stain and shortly after that you will leave the party. You will never tell anyone about this.
Let’s say you are your mum again and you are five men in a meeting, you are the intern getting coffee with no hands, you are your sisters. Maybe you’ve painted yourself onto the tarmac. The man who made all those deep holes is coming to the car park later today and you are that man too. I want you to watch him looking into the hole and I want you to know that clownfish are also examples of sequential hermaphroditism. As are Lysmata, a genus of shrimp. You should go dance with your mum now. I think you should tell her all the terrible things. Let’s say she reacts better than you could possibly have hoped for and let’s say that for whatever reason this outcome is worse. At dinner you will not talk to anyone. Afterwards, please lay in bed and make shapes of something that is important to you with the ceiling.
We actually enjoy the car parks a lot, thank you very much. We think it would be quite nice to set up a little observation unit here somewhere. We know you saw some worms fucking at some point and we assume that will drum up at least a little interest. We’ll set it up right by the hole with all the children in it too, maybe have a take-one-leave-one policy. The car’s broken down and it doesn’t look like you’ll be making it for Christmas anyway so maybe you and your mum would like a complimentary coffee? You can bring the dog. We used to do a lot of things together here, and it would be really nice if we could do that again. You think you saw your mum rummaging through the boot of the car and then resting her head against the roof of the car, talking into the car. You thought about going up to her but that’s not your job, is it? Anyway the design philosophy of a car park is a constant tension between entry and egress and neither should ever override the other, understand? I really hope that you understand.
Let’s say you are walking with her now and you don’t know what to say to her and you think that she loves you, but you don’t know what it means to love anybody and maybe that’s ok and maybe you can work on this, but then maybe you can’t. There are five worms and they are all fucking in a ring around you. Please consider the water running off the asphalt. I want you to hold her hand now. I want you to hold her hand because you are very afraid of what will happen when you don’t. Let’s say that, actually, there are hundreds of little chemical bonds connecting you both and it is your job to examine each one of them to make sure they stay intact. Please make sure they all stay intact. It really could be a very nice Christmas if you’d just put some effort in, so please put some fucking effort in. Here is the brochure and your car keys. Maybe it would be best if you could go dance with your mum now.