An arts magazine at the University of Pennsylvania
Art by Ivanna Dudych
Writing by Haley Creighton
Gumballs were 25 cents down at the barber shop on Nettle Street.
Dad took you to get a haircut there once when you were small. And he said, the Big Bald Man said, your hair was too long, it was too pretty, you wouldn’t like the way he cut it because he only cut little boys' hair, not yours, he would mess it up. But you crossed your arms and you told him, cut it, with the authority of a bossy six-year-old, and he did, he cut it. And it was bad and crooked, but you liked it anyways.
When Dad sat in the Big Brown Chair to get his hair snipped, you stood on the couch by the window. And when he told you, your shoes are making the leather dirty, sit, you giggled and wiped your feet on the cushions. So he sighed and gave you two quarters and he said, go, look there, right outside the front window, yes, see that gumball machine? Go and get two gumballs, one for you and one for me, and we’ll chew them and blow bubbles. You took the quarters and put them in your mouth and made a silly face in the barber-shop mirror, looking like some wild thing with hair all crooked and silver in your teeth, and Dad said, no, no, don’t do that, you’ll choke, but you laughed and spat the quarters out into your hand because you’d just done it to make him tell you to spit them out. But then you saw his drooping eyes, so you stood straight and smiled and ran outside to get the gumballs, and you heard the Big Bald Man chuckle behind you, that’s a good little girl you got there, Jim, and Dad didn’t say anything (but you could feel his gray smile). You stood in the doorway of the glass front door and stuck the quarters in the slot, one, two. You gave Dad the blue one and you took the red, and your mouth was stained scarlet all evening. And when you went home Ma was in bed, and she got scared because she thought your mouth was bleeding, so she screamed, and she wanted to get up and help you but her legs wouldn’t work, so you told her quick that no, Ma, it’s jus’ from a gumball, I ate a gumball after my haircut, Ma, no blood, and Dad helped her calm down and he checked her forehead gave her the pills and went into the next room and cried. And you went to bed that night with your crooked-hair and your scarlet mouth and you thought about how the Big Bald Man cut, cut away your hair, and how the wind cut, cuts away at Ma and Ma cut, cuts Dad’s heart down to a pale blue gumball, and you fell asleep and dreamed. Dreamed of wild things with teeth that gleam silver, and of gumballs that never lose their flavor.