‘We can’t afford another one of your toys,’ said Sarah.
‘It’s not a toy,’ said Ben as he eased the box onto the kitchen bench. ‘It’s a worm farm. And anyway, it’ll pay for itself.’
‘Really?’ said Sarah, moving the box to the table. ‘Like the socket set, the angle grinder, the welder and the 90-piece drill kit? You haven’t used any of them.’
‘Anyway, how does a worm farm ‘pay for itself’?’
‘It turns organic waste into compost. Food scraps and stuff. We can start using it straight away.’
‘And how much did it cost?’
‘Only ninety bucks. Plus worms.’
She felt she had him now. ‘Plus worms. And how much did they cost?’
‘Only fifty bucks, but that’s for a thousand. And you can’t have a worm farm without worms.’
‘Fifty dollars for some worms! You can dig them up for free.’
‘These are special worms,’ said Ben. ‘You can’t use ordinary earthworms in a worm farm. They only eat soil. These worms are from the rainforest. They live in leaf litter. They eat all sorts of stuff. Anything organic. And the guy at the store did me a deal. Said these ones are extra tough. Extra hungry, too. Special batch from a mate of his, works in the industry.’
‘What ‘industry’?’ asked Sarah. ‘The worm industry?’
‘Look, he just said they were extra good eaters. And they breed up in no time. Sells them as fish bait. In a few months we can start selling them ourselves. Think of that. Fifty bucks a go, just on our scraps. I’m telling you, a worm farm pays for itself.’
She let it go. He’d bought it now, it was no good trying to get him to take it back.
Ben started opening the box and pulling out black plastic trays and bits and pieces.
‘At least do that outside,’ said Sarah. ‘I don’t want that muck in here.’
‘They’re very clean,’ said Ben. ‘And they can’t be outside, it’s too cold.’
‘Too cold! You said they were extra tough? Even Jessie doesn’t get to sleep inside.’
Hearing her name, Jessie looked up and wagged her tail.
‘They are tough. But they’re used to the rainforest. The frost would kill them. Jessie’s got fur, and plenty of blankets in her kennel.’
‘Well, they can’t stay in here. Put them in the garage.’
‘We want them handy so it’s easy to feed them. I’ll put them on the back veranda. Beside the kennel. The north-facing wall will keep them warm.’
Ben started gathering up the pieces and Sarah grabbed the car keys.
‘I’m going to the market to get some things for dinner.’ She left him to his ‘investment’.
As Sarah stirred the minestrone that evening, she started to concede that this time Ben might be right. He had taken away all her vegetable scraps, which normally filled the kitchen bin. The worms’ first feed.
He’s gone gaga over those worms, she thought. But the kit had come together neatly enough, and the black box now stood discreetly at the end of the verandah. She had to admit she was not averse to having some green cred with her girlfriends. The box had a spout at the bottom with a small bucket underneath, which Ben said was for collecting the liquid it would produce.
‘Great for the garden,’ he’d added. ‘It’s like a tonic. Bigger lettuces, sweeter tomatoes, all from our waste.’
‘But won’t the worms fall out?’
‘They’ll be fine. They’ll stay near the top, where the food is.’
What surprised her most was the behaviour it had brought out in Ben. He’d vacuumed the whole house, swept up the dog hair from the sofa and the biscuit crumbs in her study, and emptied it all into the worm farm.
‘They’ll eat anything organic,’ he assured her. ‘Paper, fluff, hair, dead flies, the cardboard box the farm came in.’
He’d even emptied the grounds from the coffee pot, which he never did.
So if they didn’t end up selling for fifty dollars a batch, thought Sarah, perhaps it was still worth the ‘investment’ if it made Ben tidy up.
Next morning Ben brought her a cup of tea in bed.
‘Sorry, no coffee. We’re out.’
‘But I got some yesterday. Don’t tell me I left it at the register.’
‘Wonderful, your precious organic coffee that costs twice—’
‘Don’t start that again, Mr We-needed-a-welding-torch. I can pick it up when I’m there next. I’m sure Maureen will have kept it.’
‘No, I’ll get it. I’ve got to take Jessie to the vet.’
‘What for this time? She hasn’t cut her nose again, chasing the rats from next door? I knew those chickens would bring rats.’
‘The fur’s gone patchy on her back. Probably just rubbing with fleas, but better get her checked to be safe.’
‘More likely she’s been gnawing herself again. You know we can’t afford more counselling for that dog.’
‘Jessie doesn’t need counselling. She’s a very laid-back dog. There’s only one stresshead around here.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘Nothing. Just relax, okay? I’ll deal with it. And I’ll get the coffee after.’
‘So what’s the verdict?’ Sarah asked when Ben returned.
‘Just some fur loss, that’s all. Some sort of insect. I need to spray her kennel, and there’s a cream to rub on twice a day.’
‘Did you pick up the coffee?’
‘I dropped in on the way back. Maureen was sure you took it with you. Anyway, I bought some more.’’
‘Fantastic. So now we’ve paid for two lots.’
‘Well, we needed some, and I couldn’t find the first one.’
‘What are you accusing me of now? That I lost it? That I’m some stress head that can’t keep track of things?’
Ben sighed. ‘I hate it when you get like this. Always the same. Whatever I do I always come off as the bad guy. I can’t so much as close a window…’
‘Don’t start that again. Fresh air’s good for you!’ Sarah stormed out, slamming the door.
That night, as Sarah sat in the bathroom, she was still angry. She was angry because Ben was right. But that didn’t prove PMT. That just proved he could follow a calendar.
She wrapped the pad and placed it in the empty bin. Ben had already cleaned it out—the cotton balls, nail clippings, hair from her brush. She could imagine his smug little catch cry ‘all good, all organic’. This obsession of his was getting out of hand.
She made her way to the bedroom and saw he’d shut the window again. She slid it partway open, breathing in the fresh night air.
Getting into bed, she lay on her side, facing away from the door. She heard Ben locking up and switching off the lights. When he got into bed he lightly touched her shoulder, but she shrugged him off and rolled over further, pulling up the blanket.
When Sarah woke, she could hear Ben already in the shower.
Her head felt cool against the pillow. She reached up to pull back the sheet and recoiled. Her hands! She stared at them. The nails were gone. No blood, just strange, shapeless pink flesh at the ends of her fingers.
She reached to her head and that’s when she screamed.
Ben rushed in, naked, dripping wet.
He froze at the sight of her shiny bald head. ‘What happened?’
Sarah looked at the pillow. It was clean.
She jumped up. Pushing past Ben, she ran to the bathroom.
The bin was empty. ‘What have you done with it?’ she cried. ‘Where is it?’
But she knew the answer.
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