The bubblegum girl at my cousin’s 9th birthday party tells me that sugar-free gum doesn’t pop as well as the kind with sugar, but I’m not sure I believe her. She’s some friend’s sister and I’ve never met her, but we’re older than these kids and that’s how we end up sitting alone in the shade of the bouncy house while the kids go eat cake and open presents at the picnic table.
The bubblegum girl exhales translucent pink bubbles and waits for them to pop. She only speaks in between the blowpopchew.
The bubblegum girl asks “Do you ever think about death? Like really think about it?” I shake my head, swatting at a fly that buzzes by my ear, staring at the colorful ceiling of the inflatable.
Blowpopchew. The kids shriek as my cousin opens a present, and the bubblegum girl says “I think death is probably a lot like this.”
“Like this?” I think she means sticky hot, I think she means boring, I think she means eternity. I don’t think she means the bouncy house, with its strange smell and the blue and red columns pretending to be castle spires.
The bubblegum girl nods. She bounces a little when she does, making me bounce, too. Blowpopchew. “Like a snap of the fingers. One minute you’re there, and the next you’re not.” Blow. Pop. “One moment you exist, one moment you don’t.”
“Huh,” I say. “What about after?”
“Haven’t you ever thought that far?”
The bubblegum girl shrugs and offers me a stick of gum. I take it.
Auden Patrick is a genderqueer writer who thinks too much about life, death, bubblegum, and—lately—Hamlet. His work can be found in HAD, Beaver Magazine’s Love Sprung issue, and rejection letters. Find him online at audenpatrick.com and @patrickauden on twitter.