Slugs are Best Un-salted

“Leave ‘em alone!” I screamed, my eyes growing wide.
“We won’t hurt them, Hannah,” the big kids sniggered, “Slugs love salt.”
I was working my three-year-old mind as hard as it had ever worked. Had I heard that before? That slugs liked salt? Would they lie? And who, on earth, would want to hurt a slug?
“Are you sure?” I asked doubtfully.
“Of course.” Amy answered with a smile.
It was a beautiful day in Rutherford, New Jersey. The sun warmed the grass on front lawns and the asphalt driveways, both of which were still moistened from the recent rain. I trodded in and out of puddles, letting the water soak through my socks to my feet. It felt refreshing as the sun rose higher above our little street. Frowning, I noticed a worm wiggling around in the mud at the bottom of the puddle. Drowning, I decided. I lifted it carefully and tossed it into the grass. With the worm safe, I decided to look for other creatures—slugs, perhaps. It was not that I enjoyed the company of slugs in particular, just that besides earthworms, they were all I could catch with my dumpy toddler limbs. Worms were boring. They didn’t do much but wiggle and poop. Slugs, I felt, had personality—when they had gotten to know you and felt safe, they would stick out their tiny eyes and slide across your hand. When they were scared, they pulled their eyes into their heads and scrunched up as if they were trying to disappear. I spied one sliding gracefully across a blade of grass. The slug was about half the size of my pinky finger and shiny, almost sparkly in the light. I picked it up, smiling as is moved slowly across my hand.
As the afternoon wore on, I collected more slugs, marveling at how different they were. I went undisturbed until Amy saw me. Amy was eight, and several other neighborhood kids trailed behind her, all between the ages of five and nine. In other words, BIG KIDS. They looked down at me, sitting on the sidewalk with a particularly nice slug.
“Wadder you doin’?” she asked disgustedly, wrinkling her brow and tilting her head slightly to observe me.
“Playin’ wif a swug,” I answered, happy to have someone to show the slimy creature to. So, naturally I was surprised by their reaction.
“Eeewww!” came the chorus of children, “Why would you do that?”
I shrunk a little, just as a scared slug would. “I don’t know. I like them.”
Amy grimaced, then smiled as an idea popped into her piggy and under-sized head.
“Hmmm… Hey, Hannah, guess what?”
“What?” I asked innocently.
“You know what slugs love? Salt!” she told me with a grin. The others nodded in agreement.
Salt? Was that really true? I wasn’t entirely sure. They wouldn’t lie, would they? What reason would they have to lie to me? I couldn’t think of a single one. I was sure I’d been perfectly nice to them. These kids were older than me, and therefore, I decided, smarter than I was. When I reasoned the decision in my head, it seemed the logical thing to trust them… But something inside me said otherwise, noticed the smugness in their smiles, the glimmer of guilt behind their eyes.
“Are you sure?”
“Oh yah, of course. We’ll even go get some for you.”
At that moment, the conflict within me was immediately resolved. I had no doubt in my mind that something was very wrong.
I took a step back, my eyes growing large.
“I don’t know…. I don’t think--- I gotta ask my mom first!” I stammered before wobbling as quickly as I could to our small backyard. I climbed hastily up the familiar wooden staircase of our deck, where my mother was watering a large plant with leaves that looked like an elephant’s ears.
“Mommy… do slugs like salt?” I asked.
“No, it shrivels them up and kills them. Who told you that?” she answered with that worried sort of look that only a mom can have.
I felt sick to my stomach. My heart dropped all the way down to my waterlogged feet. A lump the size of a tennis ball formed in my throat. And then I felt warm, salty tears pour from my eyes and drip down my cheeks. “The big kids,” I sobbed.
My mother grabbed my hand and marched into our front lawn.
“Why would you tell her that slugs like salt?”she scolded the children the moment they came into view.
“Umm,” one of them mumbled unintelligently.
“She’s only three! Get out of here, go play in your own homes!” my mother fumed.
At this point, I think we were both quite sure that the big kids had learned their lesson. They would leave, maybe coming back later to apologize.
We were correct in one aspect of that assumption—they did leave. The problem was, they came back, and this time with the salt they had promised to bring me. Together, they scoured the neighborhood, killing any slugs they could find, and leaving the bodies on the sidewalk. I couldn’t play without seeing them, the shriveled little corpses of slugs. I tried to work just as quickly as the big kids did, hiding each and every slug I could find in my mother’s prized elephant-ear plant. I was good at finding them, searching through the leaves and blades of grass, thinking like a slug in order to anticipate where they would hide. I wanted to save every one of them, to keep them all safe. Before then, I hadn’t had any idea someone would intentionally hurt another living thing. I tried to work it all out in my head. What were they thinking? Something that was moving, breathing, alive- to stop it. To reduce it to a wrinkled blob on the sidewalk.
“Hey Hannah,” a voice called behind me. It was defiantly a big kid, bit I recognized his voice. A wave of relief washed over me. It was Adrian, Amy’s little brother.
“Adrian!” I called.
Running up to him, my face flushed and covered in tear stains, I quickly told him what had happened.
“Do you want me to help you hide them?” he asked kindly.

“Really? C’mon, their mostly in the grass over here…” I told him happily. Adrian and I hid slugs for the better part of an hour. I don’t know how many we really saved, or even if Amy was still killing them, but we were trying, and that made a difference to me. It amazed me how different he was from his sister—how she could kill while he saved.

It was later that I realized that I liked Adrian. In fact, I adored him. What had they called it on TV? Ah, yes. A crush. I had a crush on Adrian. I had a crush on Adrian. My mother and I were in the car on the way to the supermarket. It was about four o’clock, and I remember blurting out, “Mommy, I love Adrian! I have a crush on him.”
I said the same to my dad, our two cats, and even, eventually, Adrian. We were sitting on a bench in the neighbors garden, and, without any warning, I said (quite loudly, if I remember correctly), “ADRIAN! I have a crush on you!”
“Oh…” he said.
Despite the fact that my frequent “I love you”’s made him slightly uncomfortable, we remained friends until I moved away with my family to Ramsey. Looking back at my old diaries, I found dozens of little love poems I’d written about Adrian. I was about eight when I finally got over him, but though I never saw him again, I never forgot him, and how nice he had been. Nor did I forget his sister, and how cruel she had been. Together, their actions form the strongest memories of my childhood, actions that they found insignificant and most likely have little or no memory of today. Remembering this story, I can’t help but realize that anything you do can affect someone’s life. Whether it’s a tiny hello that brightens someone’s day or a mean joke that pushes someone over the edge, you never exactly what the consequences of your actions will be, and how they will make others feel. I guess that, knowing that, all we can do is make every gesture, every act we make something that you would want someone to remember you by, to remember their life by. Think of it this way—an afternoon hiding slugs in flower pots can change someone’s life forever, and maybe your own, knowing how happy you’ve made a girl who no one would stick up for.





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hannah mulligan said...
Jan. 27, 2009 at 10:45 pm
just a note--
in the original version, dialog at the beginning of the story is in italics.
 
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