Written by Esther Harris


Short story: The Worms

It’s National Storytelling Week and Esther Harris has penned a doozie.

blackbird with beakful of worms
I felt ‘the worms’ again last night. Nagging, restless, in the pit of my stomach. I walk up and down my pretty tree-lined street, watching the soft blossom waft through the air like confetti, and I feel a burning desire to go and screw some shit up. Maybe shoot some drugs, down a bottle of vodka, sleep with someone unsuitable. All three. Why does everything with me come down to sex? I think it’s the only part of me that isn’t numb.

I’ve had ‘the worms’ since I was 13 years old. My mum says it all started when I dabbled in Ouija boards, my best friend puts it down to this one time we went to the woods with these boys and they jizzed over all our stuff… but me? I blame it on being the accidental child my parents never wanted, the one who was routinely locked in her bedroom to save them the hassle of parenting. That’s when I started giving out blowjobs for free. It was nice to be wanted.

I’m 45 now. And considering the jizzing, the blowjobs and the neglect, it’s all turned out OK. I married a nice man, am competent at my job as office manager, have three lovely children. But the worms can be dangerous… So I go into overdrive to keep busy – take on extra work, start a Pilates class, drive my son to even more after-school clubs (the one who talks to me that is – the eldest fell out with me over an incident involving his friends, my naked body and tequila shots at his 18th).

And I screw my husband into next week. I’ve just had the most painful, heavy period. I read on the internet that you can have one last monster biggie before it all shuts down. A final blood bath, a surge in hormones and then – boom! Menopause. My body, the only thing that ever worked for me, is turning its lights out. So, when that goes… then what?


“Mum! Can we go please? The party started half an hour ago…”

I reverse the Mercedes out of our driveway, stealing a glance at my 16-year-old daughter, sitting next to me. The Blonde. I ache at how beautiful she is. It’s not the gorgeously flat stomach in the tight blue jeans, or the top that so nonchalantly rides up every now and again to reveal that seductively flat tummy. Actually it is. But it’s also that amazing nonchalance. Don’t know. Don’t care. Don’t give a f… She has her headphones in and is WhatsApping but still clocks me: “Stop looking at me, Mum. It’s annoying.”

“I’m not,” I lie. It’s the freshness of her too. She might be angry, confused, and hateful but she is untarnished. I roll my lips together to blot my lipstick and check the result in the rearview mirror. Amy grimaces. Everything I do bothers her.

“Amy is deathly pale, with panda eyes, and her eyes dart constantly to the phone next to her on the table, which is constantly vibrating with new messages. Party gossip and photos.”

Our eyes meet, and I see me as she sees me: ageing parent, Puffa jacket, Boden jumper, predictable blonde layers. I’m not a person. I’m a driver, a cook, a shopper, a signer of forms, a hander over of money – someone whose life operates on some other mind-numbing level involving mortgages, power steaming kitchen floors, recycling and other trivia I dredge from the swirling black pit of middle age.

I blink and just for a second, there is a flash of recognition. And we’re not just mother and daughter, we’re Lara and Amy. But then she looks away, and it’s gone. We pull into Sussex Place and stop outside number 14.

“I’ll see you in.” I say.

“Don’t stay for a drink,” she warns me and I see a look of terror on her face.



A gaggle of teenaged gorgeousness answers the door and Amy is swept away in the middle of it all. There is whooping, long limbs, swishing hair, perfume and OMG, BTW and totes emosh. Some boys pass me on their way in. “Corr! MILF!” they say. And I feel a twinge. Maybe there is some life in the old dog yet…? I check my reflection in the hall mirror and see a curvy 15-year-old with desperate eyes. WALK AWAY. CLOSE THE DOOR. YOU CANNOT BE TRUSTED…

“‘Scuse me…” I look up at an older teen who is right behind me, all cheeky grin, rough swagger, lined eyes. Fresh out of prison and going back in. Just how I like them. “Coming in?” he smiles.

I step in behind him. Pausing. Savouring. Feeling knock out drunk already and not a drop has passed my lips. I can hear music, muffled voices. The odd shriek, bottles chinking. I know it’s wrong. I know it is SO wrong. Prison Boy turns to me from the front room where he has lobbed his jacket and plonked a bottle of cheap spirits. “You live around the corner right? You’ve got this hot denim dress you wear in the summer?” He noticed me. I’m his. I down a shot of something shit, pull him into a cupboard. Before I know it my legs are on his shoulders. And oh god, it feels so good to be alive and involved in the middle of a selfish, childish, intense, intoxicating screw.


At the breakfast table at home the next morning I’m all content; like a druggie that has had her fix. I’m more than happy to play the overheard in Waitrose housewife again, now I’ve been a bad girl. I lap up the sounds of the radio and the cereal spoons mindlessly scraping the bowls; the monotony is a good counterpoint to last night’s outrageousness.

“I’ll make us these smashed avocados on sourdough that I read about…” I tell my husband demurely. He nods but he’s busy on his iPad.

Amy is deathly pale, with panda eyes, and her eyes dart constantly to the phone next to her on the table, which is constantly vibrating with new messages. Party gossip and photos.

Thank God I managed to get away last night before she came downstairs. Although it did all get hazy towards the end. I shouldn’t have stayed drinking spirits. I won’t do again.

Suddenly: “What’s that on your chest, mother?” She flings out. I look down and see a green line on my chest. Marker pen? I cover it quickly and mutter something about some paint.

I escape to the bathroom and take off my clothes. I am covered in green marker pen.





Names stare back at me in the cabinet mirror. Now I feel a punch in the gut. Then I hear an animal screaming. God, make it stop! Has someone run over our cat? I run out and it’s Amy – with her hands over her ears, and the most terrified look in her eyes. She’s glued to the flickering film on the iPhone. There’s snuffling, jeering, jizzing and laughing. It’s me. It’s me being violated by the boys at the party.

She is still screaming when she looks up and then points to my chest. I’ve forgotten to re-tie my dressing gown and it hangs limply open, revealing my sagging flesh and my new nicknames. The skin feels different but they are the same as my old nicknames.

“It’s hard being a girl…” I hear myself say – why do I sound 14 again? I want my daughter to stop screaming. I want my husband to stop punching the walls.

I want to see that flash of recognition in their eyes again. But it’s gone.


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Written by Esther Harris

Esther Harris is (still) writing her first novel and tweets @writer29