by Beth Bosworth

We were walking down Ludlow Street when you said you weren’t sure. What do you mean? I asked, turning. I don’t care about you as much as I did, you mused. What’s wrong with me now? I asked. You snap your gum, you said, and you leave wads everywhere. This morning I found one under the coffee table. It must have been someone else, I said. And you lie, you said. Let’s play that back, I said. Sure, you said: We were walking down Ludlow Street when you said you weren’t sure. What do you mean? I asked, turning. That’s not what I meant, I said. Whatever, you said. I hate it when you use that word, I said. What word? you asked. Whatever, I said. Whatever what? you asked. The word is whatever, I said. Then I stopped in my tracks, which were also, until then, your tracks. We were walking down Ludlow Street and there were tourists right and left. They were taking selfies with and without selfie-sticks and a little girl in a red tutu was twirling—just twirling by the curb. She didn’t seem to care about the people trying to pass her. She was being very egotistical, you said. She began to cry. Leave that girl alone, I said. Little girl, I said, where are your parents? Where is your family? I don’t know, she said. She had gone from radiant to prone in about a second. What are you prone to? I asked her. That is so typical of you, you said. Who’s that? she asked. That’s your father, I said, and I am your mother. Well, tell him to keep his ideas to himself, she said. Tell him women got the amendment in 1920 and we are 100 strong in Congress now. Tell him the patriarchy is down for the count. What planet did you say you were from? I asked. That’s a rude question, she said. I felt I had a choice then. I could say I was sorry and we would be a family. Or I could refuse to apologize and she might go away. Watch this, I said, stalling. I took out a piece of bubble gum, the old Bazooka kind with its own Bazooka Joe comic. I unwrapped it and handed her the comic, which was never funny but taught us how to make surprise lines like quotation marks in the air. I stuck the gum in my mouth. Hey, she said, I want some. Too late, I said around the hard square on my tongue. It had an indent down the middle for sharing. I don’t mind ABC gum, she said and bent down and picked a wad of chewing gum off the sidewalk and stuck it in her mouth. Don’t take without asking, her father said. Don’t try that stuff on me, bald guy, she said. Watch this, I told them. That gum was already softer. I could chew it, releasing delicious chemicals, and I could soften it with my saliva. I could remember everything when that flavor was released. I remembered my brother doing wheelies. I remembered my mother crying hard at something my father had told her. I remembered my father, our father, taking us to the five-and-dime, and walking us over the train tracks to safety. Right there on Ludlow Street I remembered all this and then the bubble I’d been blowing burst against my upper lip, my nose, my cheeks. I had bubble gum all over me. Ellen, I said, peeling bits of the stuff off my lip, my nose, et cetera, and shoving them back into my mouth: Ellen, never talk to strangers. I know, Mom, she said. So this is famous Ludlow Street, I said, observing the cafés and boutiques. You always say that, Mom, Ellen said. I do? Your mother is adorable, you said, stopping to kiss me on my nose. So what if she’s not very neat? She works for a living and does pro bono work. She even throws out the garbage if I say please. That’s gross, she said. What’s gross? The way you talk about her when she’s right there. It’s very condescending. If I mind something, I’ll say so, I said, still peeling. But you never do, Ellen said bitterly.

Beth Bosworth’s The Source of Life and Other Stories was awarded the Drue Heinz Literature Prize and published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2012. Stories have appeared in KR Online, AGNI, and She teaches at St. Anne’s School in Brooklyn, NY and edits the St. Ann’s Review.